A year ago I featured an interview with Cambridge University linguistic anthropologist Stephen Leonard. He was about to depart for Northwest Greenland, where he would live for year with an Inuktun-speaking community. He got there just in time to document and archive this rapidly vanishing language. Now he’s back in the UK with some sobering thoughts on why the language and culture of the Polar Inuit are faring so badly. Some excerpts:
“Out in the Arctic wilderness, hunters dressed head to toe in skins would answer satellite phones and check their GPS co-ordinates… Some Polar Eskimos may live in tiny, wind-beaten wooden cabins with no running water, but Amazon delivers. “
“Most 8 year-olds who live in Qaanaaq and the remote settlements have the latest smartphones. Media entertainment will, however, never be produced for a language of 770 speakers because it is loss-making. Technology, be it mobile phones, DVDs or video games may support the top 50 languages maximum, but never more than that. Some languages are not suited to these technologies: Greenlandic words are too long to subtitle and to use in text messaging. Polar Eskimos tend to send text messages in Danish or English because it is easier.”
A Grammar for Cities
In South Korea, the grammar of urban organization is lacking a few key signifiers. I can attest to this. In 2002, I spent three weeks reporting there. Every day I got lost. Or rather, I would fail to reach my destination, because I couldn’t decode the addresses.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the numbers on most South Korean buildings have nothing to do with their location, and so have no correlation to the numbers of buildings around them. Instead, they constitute a record of when the buildings were constructed. It’s a chronological thing. So helpful…
It’s not just me who found this utterly impenetrable. South Koreans do too. So the government is overhauling its address system.
For more on the language of architecture, the seminal work is A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein. Much in urban planning has changed since it was published more than three decades ago, but many in the field still swear by it.
English Language Learning
Under US Justice Department pressure, the state of Massachusetts is revamping its training for teachers who have English Language Learners among their students.
So it’s a good time for a visit to a Massachusetts elementary school that’s become a model for teaching English to non-native speakers.
In 1967, a young typist working for a London temp agency got the call to head over to the hotel room of a rock star. She was to type up some lyrics .
Pauline Butcher was the typist– prim and, as she says, naive. Frank Zappa was the rock star– eccentric, bombastic, satirical, profane.
Butcher typed the lyrics accurately, when she understood them. Sometimes, when she couldn’t follow what Zappa was saying, she just made stuff up. Not surprising when you consider some of the fabulously nonsensical verses from the 1967 album Absolutely Free:
Call any vegetable, call it by name.
Call one today when you get off the train.
Call any vegetable and the chances are good
The vegetable will respond to you.
And I know, I think, the love I have for you
Will never end (well maybe).
And so my love, I offer you
A love that is strong, a prune that is true.
Pauline Butcher completed the typing job. It went well. She followed Zappa back to Southern California and worked for him for several years. She’s just written a memoir of that time.