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Posts Tagged ‘siberia’

Raise your hand if you were taught that one day centuries ago people in Siberia woke up and crossed a land bridge to North America and became the first Native Americans.

That’s OK as far as it goes, but history doesn’t stand still, and new discoveries suggest that before they got to North America, the Siberians stayed over on the bridge for a few thousand years. Who figured out the new chapters? Archaeologists and geneticists. And linguists.

Nicholas Wade writes in the NY Times, “Using a new method for exploring ancient relationships among languages, linguists have found evidence further illuminating the peopling of North America about 14,000 years ago. Their findings follow a recent proposal that the ancestors of Native Americans were marooned for some 15,000 years on a now sunken plain before they reached North America.

“This idea, known as the Beringian standstill hypothesis, has been developed by geneticists and archaeologists over the last seven years. …

“Though often referred to as a bridge, the now sunken region, known as Beringia, was in fact a broad plain. It was also relatively warm, and supported trees such as spruce and birch, as well as grazing animals.

Writing in the journal Science last month, John F. Hoffecker, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado, summarized the evidence for thinking the Beringian plain was the refuge for the ancestral Native American population identified by the geneticists. ‘The shrub tundra zone in central Beringia represents the most plausible home for the isolated standstill population,” he and colleagues wrote. …

“Linguists have until now been unable to contribute to this synthesis of genetic and archaeological data. The first migrations to North America occurred between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, but most linguists have long believed that language trees cannot be reconstructed back further than 8,500 years. …

“But in 2008, Edward Vajda, a linguist at Western Washington University, said he had documented a relationship between Yeniseian, a group of mostly extinct languages spoken along the Yenisei River in central Siberia, and Na-Dene.

“The Na-Dene languages are spoken in Alaska and western Canada, with two outliers in the American Southwest, Navajo and Apache.” More here.

This is why it’s important for someone to be interested in studying mostly extinct languages spoken along the Yenisei River in central Siberia.

Map: Science, a journal, and the New York Times

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Andrew Sullivan‘s Nov. 24 “Face of the Day” leads one to a delightful website about a photography adventure in Siberia.

“Two years ago,” writes Sasha Leahovcenco, “I had the amazing opportunity to go literally to the end of the earth to photograph people who never had their photo taken.

“At schools, churches, homes and hospitals I could give people a moment to forget their troubles and just smile for the camera. But while shooting with nomadic reindeer herding families it was me who was most deeply touched by the experience. For although my hosts had few material possessions they shared with me something rare in the world – a sense of peace and satisfaction with life.

“This March we are going back on a new journey across Chukotka. We are going to travel over 1,000 miles and reach out to the most unreached places in Chukotka. We will visit people who have never had visitors in their life, stopping by every village and tribe on the way, giving them warm clothes, shoes, gifts, and simply showing them grace and love.

“The very exciting part of the trip will be taking pictures of the natives, printing them on the spot, and handing them to the villagers. This will be the very first time that these people had ever had their photo taken. …

“Our documentary film about this journey, will bring the voices of this land to people all around the globe. We hope to engage humanity’s deep rooted fascination with nature and desire to understand humanity. Perhaps by getting a glimpse of this nomadic way of life we will reflect on this modern world and what in our lives is truly important.”

Check it out here.

Photo: Sasha Leahovcenco

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To paraphrase a character in the Brian Friel play “Translations,” if you impose a language on people, one day you may find that their speech “no longer fits the contours of the land.” Language is critical to identity. People can always learn the language of the power group later, once they have learned how to learn.

That is the rationale behind a new effort in Haiti.

“When Michel DeGraff was a young boy in Haiti, his older brother brought home a notice from school reminding students and parents of certain classroom rules. At the top of the list was ‘no weapons.’ And right below it, DeGraff still remembers: ‘No Creole.’ Students were supposed to use French, and French only. …

“DeGraff is now an associate professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he is using his influence to try to destroy the barrier that essentially fences off most of Haiti’s children from a real education.” Read the Boston Globe report here.

The dominance of a few languages was one of the concerns behind creating Esperanto as a bridge. With a bridge language, Esperantists hoped, less common languages would not die. It hasn’t turned out that way.

“There are more than 7,000 languages in the world, and if statistics hold, two weeks from now, there will be one less. That’s the rate at which languages disappear. And each time a language disappears, a part of history — a subtle way of thinking — vanishes too.

“A new documentary called The Linguists, [which aired August 4] on PBS, follows ethnographers David Harrison and Greg Anderson as they race to document endangered languages in some of the most remote corners of the world.

“From the plains of Siberia to the mountains of Bolivia to the tribal lands of India, Harrison and Anderson have hopscotched the globe, but they sat down for a moment with NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss their race to capture the world’s endangered languages.

“Harrison, a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College, specializes in sounds and words; Anderson, who directs Oregon’s Living Tongues Institute, is the verb expert. Together, they speak 25 languages.” Read more here.

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