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September 30, 2007

Endagnered languages

From one of my favorite blogs, The Numbers Guy at the Wall Street Journal:

Numbers Guy reader Sabahat Chaudhary noticed the recent spate of press coverage claiming that half of the world’s 7,000 languages are endangered, with one dying every two weeks. The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters all reported these alarming statistics, released by linguists associated with the Enduring Voices project, which aims to preserve and document languages.
But not all these threatened languages face equal risks. Linguists do agree that hundreds of languages are nearly certain to expire in the next few decades, but many of the other roughly 3,500 languages defined as endangered have a much better shot. These include languages still spoken regularly in small but stable communities, but considered “endangered” because a natural disaster might wipe out the speakers. Other languages, such as Sora in Eastern India, are defined as “endangered” because city dwellers have shifted away from them, though rural speakers haven’t.
...
These are estimates in a field where exact numbers are difficult to pin down. First, defining a language compared with a dialect is difficult. Two people generally are speaking in dialects if they can understand each other, but Catalan and Spanish qualify as separate languages even though there is generally mutual intelligibility. The distinctions “don’t always jive with socially perceived language barriers that exist in some communities,” Dr. Anderson said. Nonetheless, linguists generally agree that there are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages in the world — nearly half of them in two diverse language groups, the Austronesian (mainly from Pacific islands) and Niger-Congo. Establishing the extent of language usage is also tricky; relying on national censuses doesn’t suffice because many countries don’t conduct regular counts, and those that do may not report languages spoken by fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, Dr. Anderson said.

Read the whole thing here. It's pretty interesting.

Posted by Will at 05:20 PM

September 28, 2007

21-13

A much needed diversion from the tedium and monotony of thesis writing: the USF Bulls upset the #5 team in the country, West Virginia here in Tampa. Of course our football team gets good when I'm about to leave...

bulls.jpg

Posted by Will at 11:38 PM

September 17, 2007

Art of Living

bearhalluncw.jpgYesterday I received a letter in the mail (the real mail) from Tom Schmid, the chair of the Dept. of Philosophy & Religion at UNC Wilmington where I was an undergrad. The letter was about signing up for the department alumni listserv. A rush of emotion hit me with his letter because it was signed - a rarity these days - and it included a handwritten note that referenced one of my blog posts from over two years ago (predating Nomadic Thoughts).

During the 2005 Spring semester at UNC Wilmington I took a philosophy course taught by Dr. Schmid entitled "The Art of Living." It was my senior year, and in retrospect proved to be one of the most important learning experiences of my life. The class was a seminar that focused on various philosophies related to what it means to live a fulfilling, moral life. Far from being some new age checklist of how to become one with God or nature, it was more an exploration of what it means to live a life in the best way possible, for yourself and everyone you come in contact with. The course didn't teach me what I needed to do to be happy. It taught me what I needed to do to figure those things out on my own. It was a refreshing alternative to what I had been taught in church and in popular culture, both of which I became disillusioned with as an undergraduate.

Part of the Art of Living course was to keep a blog for the semester where we talked about readings, philosophers, personal reflections, etc. Mine was appropriately entitled Will's Art of Living. I was browsing it tonight for a little nostalgia and came across the following passages. It reminded me of those all to short critical semesters when I learned much more than any textbook or academic could teach me. Sometimes while writing my thesis I get very frustrated and want to throw my research materials out of the window. This wouldn't be a good idea because library books are rather expensive. Instead, I take a break and think about what's really important in my life: family, friends, and freedom. My philosophy courses, and one teacher in particular, truly made me the type of person I am today. If you're so inclined, I've included some passages from my Art of Living blog that helps me put my current situation in perspective. They're below the fold. Thanks, Dr. Schmid.

Thursday, February 10, 2005
How about I talk about some light-hearted things for a change? This whole Art of Living thing is starting to drag me down ever so slightly...the class...the journal...the people. I've never taken a philosophy course before in my life. You don't have to ask such tough questions in archaeology. I'll stick to digging up old pottery sherds and medicine bottles as a profession. It's "what's the meaning of life and death?" vs. "what does this stratigraphic sequence of pottery suggest about the social status of those living here?" It's like philosophy is going into a dark cave to seek out the things you don't really want to think about but have to to give meaning to your life. And just when I think that it really, really sucks I tell myself that it's worth it. Philosophical inquiry is worth it.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Another aspect of my metamorphosis has been the realization that I lead an unusually comfortable and privileged life. I am healthy, live in a relatively free and safe society, I have no money problems, I have two parents who are married (to eachother!) that love and support me, I have friends who are there for me, and I have opportunity and a future. There is so much hatred, poverty, and negativity in the world but I have somehow managed to grow up in a privileged situation. That is not to say I am blind to this negativity but the fact that I have only recently realized the true scope and nature of it leads me to believe that it is because of that realization that I am growing as a person. I used to have a very bad temper but I almost never get angry anymore. I used to get very upset with my routine was disrupted or things didn't go my way, but now I just take things as they come and deal accordingly. While it still bothers me when things seem out of my control, I do not let the emotions rule me, which has proven disastrous in the past. For some reason I have matured to the point where I am now able to step back for a moment and really think about a potentially troublesome situation and how I should handle it. I can't tell you exactly where or when I learned how to do this, but I do feel it is connected with my trip to Belize and my present philosophy classes. One day it just snapped, and my temper and attachment to things going my way all of the time took a back seat to the more important things in life, which includes thinking more about other people and how I view them instead of how they view me.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Over the past four months, I have experienced a metamorphosis in the way I think about and view the world. This change, I feel, has much to do with the material covered in Philosophy 101. I believe that the format of the class has allowed me to not only learn about existential philosophy from an academic standpoint, but to apply existential concepts and themes to my own world. I have rejected many of the more extreme philosophies, such as nihilism and other overemphasis on death and despair. Conversely, I have embraced Heidegger's discussions of conscious awareness of death as the key to understanding and appreciating the nature of our existence. Although I have yet to fully grasp the intricacies of many of the philosophies discussed in class, they have made me realize that there is far more to life than simply existing.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
On a personal level, I can't think of a single more important concept than dialogue. Everything we do in life, every aspect of our existence, is governed by the idea that we are able to interact with those around us. Even the most reclusive hermit is influenced in his ways by the outside world. For this reason, it seems ridiculous to assume that anyone can progress through life by ignoring the ideas of others and not considering all reasonable options. In terms of my Art of Living, I have begun to incorporate dialogue into my everyday existence, the most significant manifestation of that being discussions via the internet. From reading blogs to posting my own thoughts on message boards, not only am I giving my opinion but I am nurturing and informing it at the same time. I am constantly disheartened at the amount of stubbornness that dominates many people's thought process, sometimes to the point of complete ignorance. While it is not my place to judge anyone for the way they think, I can only hope that science and reason will prevail in the end.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
So, as to avoid any awkward cliches, I will leave this journal the same person but with a new view of the world. In conjunction with my other philosophy course, I now fully realize that too much of our collective existence is centered around the individual...the "I." In a burst of bright light I came to the realization that my own existence does not begin and end with me. Unfortunately, I must live in a world where this concept goes unrealized. I do not loose all hope, however, as I refer back to my previous statement that such diversity is the only basis on which my life can have meaning and be worth living.

Posted by Will at 07:32 PM

September 15, 2007

Stanley

I've been watching The Office a lot lately. It took a few seasons, but it's finally grown on me and I realize that the writing and acting is absolutely unrivaled. Thanks to my friend who has Netflix, I've been able to watch it from Season 1. During the writing of my thesis I take a break every hour or so and watch an episode. I've come to realize that I relate the most with Stanley. If you ever wonder how I feel while in Tampa when I'm away from my loved ones in North Carolina, Stanley pretty much sums it up:

Posted by Will at 01:29 AM

September 12, 2007

It's "just a theory"

Been working on Chapter 2 of the thesis this week. It's the theoretical framework chapter...the one where I explain where my research is in relation to the decades of other studies that have looked at ancient communities and water resources. One reason this chapter will be one of the hardest for me is because I have to come up with a definition of "community" that is...get this...both archaeologically testable and recognizes the "imagined" aspect of social groupings. The first part is easy: you see a bunch of ancient house mounds grouped together it's pretty safe to assume that they thought of themselves as a community. Or can you? That's the hardest part about theory of this kind. You can't assume anything. You have to demonstrate it, show evidence, back up your claims, etc. My head hurts.

Today's monkey picture: a monkey utilizing a water resource? Was he part of a community? Prove it!

monkey-playing-with-tap.jpg

Posted by Will at 04:44 PM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2007

NYC

A short video clip I took in New York City on May 18, 2007:

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." ~Bertrand Russell

Posted by Will at 12:53 AM | Comments (1)

September 10, 2007

Stress relief

In keeping with my tradition (started two days ago) of posting pictures of monkeys doing things I describe in my posts, I want to share my number one source of stress relief this semester: working out (refer to the photo below of a presumably Asian monkey lifting an insanely huge barbell). I haven't stepped foot in a gym since last semester and haven't carried out a regular exercise routine since the ol' college days. My friend and I started lifting weights three mornings a week at the USF rec center. Three days a week we work different muscle groups and I literally feel the stress melt away. Aside from that it forces me to wake up in the morning instead of sleeping in, which would be easy to do considering I have no classes.

monkey_weights.jpg

Posted by Will at 08:41 PM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2007

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of the thesis is in the bag. It wasn't too painful, as it was only the introduction and consisted mainly of a summary of what the rest of the thesis will talk about. The most time-consuming chapters will be 4 and 5, which are my analysis and discussion, respectively. This semester really won't be as bad as I thought and the stress level is currently at a minimum.

chimptypewriter.JPG

Posted by Will at 11:33 AM

September 04, 2007

Monster

The satellite images are just frightening and I can't help but think about the two communities I worked in just a few months ago in the northwest of Honduras near San Pedro Sula. I can only hope at this point that Felix moves fast and doesn't linger like Mitch did in '98, but either way there will be destruction.

Honduras is the poorest country in Central America and most rural communities are simply unprepared for anything more than a heavy rainfall. In June whenever I would ask the locals about the landscape and how they utilize water resources, the conversation invariably mentioned Mitch which killed 7,000 people in Honduras alone. Local infrastructure (i.e. streams and runoff paths) had to be retrenched to allow water and springs to flow freely to collection tanks and the effects of erosion and flooding are visible on the landscape to this day.

The implications for environmental studies in archaeology are profound: one incredibly destructive hurricane in '98 and now a Cat.5 making landfall makes you wonder just how ancient inhabitants of the valley where I work dealt with natural weather events on this scale and how often.

felix.jpg

Posted by Will at 03:03 PM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2007

Maximón

maximon_atitlan.jpgTonight my friends and I are having a Maximón party up in Zephyrhills, FL (beautiful, sparsely-populated town just north of Tampa). While in Guatemala we became acquainted with one of the local folk saints, known as either Maximón or San Simon, depending on where you are and the specific practices. Wikipedia describes Maximón as:

a saint worshipped in various forms by Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala. The origins of his cult are not very well understood by outsiders to the different Mayan religions, but he is believed to be a form of the pre-Colombian Maya god Mam, blended with influences from Catholicism.

Essentially, Maximón is a life-sized mannequin or doll that is dressed up in any variety of clothing styles from traditional 18th century to modern neckties and sunglasses. He is propped up in a chair in a dedicated room, and dozens of candles are lit and baskets placed around him for offering of money and other objects. There are several interesting characteristics of the Maximón cult that I find fascinating. The most prominent is the offerings given to him by the local practitioners: alcohol, tobacco, fireworks, candles, and money are the most prominent. Each year the Maximón shrine is at a different house, with a different family responsible for his maintenance and making sure he receives the necessary offering so he will be pleased.

The Maximón/San Simon tradition runs very deep in rural Guatemala where we encountered him and I'm probably doing a disservice here by lumping the two together. There is a diversity of practices and beliefs associated with the cult and people are very serious about placating him with offering. The locals believe that if they do not do so they will not have their prayers answered. The prayers range from curing an illness to helping with revenge against a neighbor. In this sense, Maximón can be interpreted as both a benevolent and malevolent deity, although I've read that he is mostly viewed as the latter and you commit offerings to prevent Maximón from doing harm rather than entice him to do good.

The first photo below is of the Maximón in Zunil, a decent-sized indigenous town most famous for its shrine. It cost me five Quetzales to enter the shrine and another five to take his picture. You can just make him out in the back but the dozens of candles are quite prominent and created a hot, smelly atmosphere. The second photo shows a store right next to the shrine where visitors can purchase offerings. This is where I bought the alcohol and cigars shown in the third photo. The third is of the little Maximón shrine in my little apartment here in Tampa. You can see the little Maximón in his chair and I have placed a bottle of grain alcohol (too scared to even smell it), a candle with the Maximón story printed on the back in Spanish, two huge cigars (plus a Cuban), and some Quetzales. Finally, the picture at the beginning of the post is of a Maximón in Santiago Atitlan which we also viewed although I didn't feel like paying for another photograph. He is probably the most famous, my guess because the town gets the most tourists thus his photograph and story is overrepresented.

A Maximón shrine in Zunil, Guatemala. July 30, 2007:

maximon_zunil.jpg


Indigenous Maya woman selling offerings in Zunil. July 30, 2007:

maximon_store.jpg


Maximón shrine in my apartment:

maximon.jpg

So at tonight's party in Zephyrhills we are setting up a mini Maximón shrine complete with tobacco and alcohol, although this time there will be consumption of both by the "practitioners." We are even taking it a step further and buying some fireworks and firecrackers to celebrate. Welcome to the bizarre world of anthropology parties. Also, be sure to visit the world's first online Maximón shrine.

Posted by Will at 11:14 AM | Comments (3)