Articles by Asya Pereltsvaig
As GeoCurrents has noted in several previous posts, leading scientific journals and influential media outlets often favor research in linguistics that makes strong claims that resonate with the general public. A recent paper by anthropologist Caleb Everett published in PLOS ONE, “Evidence for Direct Geographic Influences on Linguistic Sounds: The Case of Ejectives”, claims “that the geographic context in which a language is spoken may directly impact its phonological form”, based on a study of ejective sounds.
A recent trip to Tromsø, Norway reminded me that there is nothing more beautiful and life-affirming than spring in the Arctic: the return of the sun and the melting of the deep layer of snow allow the first fragile flowers to bloom. It is not this delicate beauty, however, that has recently attracted international attention to the circumpolar region. Six countries—China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore—exhibited renewed interest in the Arctic and were granted observer status in the Arctic Council during its May 15, 2013 meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.
On June 5, 2013, The Times published a brief article on the death of the last speaker of Livonian, Grizelda Kristina, at the age of 103. While it is heartening to see a major popular media outlet taking notice of the issue of language endangerment and death, it is discouraging to see even a short piece such as this one riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and misleading statements.
Certain kinds of maps seem to have a perennial interest with the educated American reader. Maps pertaining to regional dialectal divisions are a prime example, as is evident from our earlier discussion of Rick Aschmann’s map of North American English dialects. A new set of maps of American English dialects produced by Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student in statistics at North Carolina State University, have recently received widespread media attention. Originally published in Abstract, a North Carolina State research blog, these maps serve to visualize the data collected by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder in the early 2000s.
The spatial distribution of words for a given meaning can reveal interesting patterns of both language spread and language contact. While both factors are always at play, language contact is more evident in regard to words for cultural innovations, such as ‘tea’ or ‘computer’. Another interesting case is the geography of words for ‘book’, which many languages borrowed along with the general concept of ‘book’ and more often than not with one particularly important religious text.
The Deportation and the Return of the Crimean Tatars—And the Controversial Issue of Collaboration with the Nazis
Crimean Tatars were among the many ethnic groups deported under Stalin during World War II due to the alleged collaboration with the Nazis. Today, this Turkic-speaking group constitutes merely 0.5% of Ukraine’s population, but historically, they held the key to the Black Sea shores that the Russian Empire (and later independent Ukraine) needed to gain access to warm sea ports.
When I was a college student in Russia, one of my classmates was a Volga German from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. At the time, her identity made no sense to me as Germany, the Volga River, and Uzbekistan are thousands of miles apart. Who are the Volga Germans? How did they come to live in Central Russia, and later in Central Asia? This post examines the twisted history of yet another group victimized by Stalin’s deportations.
One of the first ethnic groups deported by the Soviet regime on purely ethnic grounds was the Koreans of the Far East. Their deportation was conceived in 1926, initiated in 1930, and carried out in 1937, when virtually all ethnic Koreans were forcefully moved to unpopulated desert areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. This resettlement program was so brutal that it engendered enduring bitterness not only among the deportees themselves but also among many of their descendants as well. It is thus unsurprising that the two most famous ethnic Koreans in Russia are songwriters known for the subversive lyrics.
An earlier GeoCurrents post mentioned Finns among the nationalities deported by the Soviets before and during World War II. As it turns out, the situation in the Finnish borderlands is rather more complicated than that. The territory between St. Petersburg and Helsinki is home to a number of ethnic groups whose histories range from cultural and linguistic assimilation to population transfer to outright ethnic cleansing.
An earlier GeoCurrents post on Chechnya mentioned that the Chechens were deported from their homeland in the North Caucasus to Central Asia in February 1944. However, the Chechen nation was not the only one to suffer such a fate under Stalin’s regime. He took to gerrymandering the country’s ethnic map by moving whole nationalities around like chess pieces on the board.
Today’s post takes on a recently published article by Mark Pagel, Quentin Atkinson, Andreea Calude, and Andrew Meade entitled “Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia”, published in PNAS. First, Asya Pereltsvaig examines the article from a linguistics point of view, and then Martin Lewis considers it from a cartographic perspective.
Several earlier GeoCurrents posts examined the history and geography of culinary vocabulary, particularly words for ‘cheese’, ‘onion’, and ‘tea’. It has become clear that the distribution of such words in European languages tells a story of both common descent and borrowing. But a completely different picture emerges if we examine words for ‘cucumber’ (see map on the left). Here, areal patterns are more conspicuous than those of language-family relationships.
Following the death of President Hugo Chávez on 5 March 2013—coincidentally the 60th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death—Venezuela held a presidential election on 14 April. Chávez’s chosen successor and the acting president Nicolás Maduro won, but by a very narrow margin. His opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski had run in the previous election in October 2012, losing to Chávez by 11 percentage points. But this time the margin of victory was narrow, less than two percentage points.
Russian cuisine, as can be expected, is a multifaceted phenomenon, varying with time, space, and social class. Like much of Russia’s material and intellectual culture, Russian cuisine finds itself at the crossroads of West and East, having soaked up influences of neighboring peoples—Ukrainians, Tatars, peoples of the Caucasus and of Siberia—as well as of Western cuisines, chiefly that of France. Traditional Russian cookery, which is the focus of this post, goes back to the customs of the medieval period.
As the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings—Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, killed by police, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19—have been identified as immigrants of Chechen origin, it’s worth taking a look at their homeland, Chechnya, and its bloody history.