Mycenaean Gods

Ever wonder which Greek gods are found as far back as in Mycenaean inscriptions? A footnote in Wikipedia brought me here. Notable is Dionysus (DI-WO-NI-SO-YO) who before Linear B was cracked was widely believed to be a foreign deity, brought only recently into Greek culture — not back in Mycenaean times, that is, the 12th-16th centuries BC, before the Greek Dark Ages! These Greeks were the stuff of myth and legend to even the most ancient of what are usually understood as ancient Greeks — Homer and Hesiod. They didn’t write in Greek letters; those wouldn’t be invented for centuries after their own script (Linear B) was forgotten. That’s how old these folks are. And yes, they worshipped Dionysus, the god thought “new,” “foreign,” “non-Greek,” “Asiatic” by Classicists before Chadwick deciphered.

You just never know.

BTW, as you can see from the link, they are not known to have worshipped the uber-Hellenic Apollo, unless you identify him with Paean, which only much later Greeks did and not always consistently. (Paean was a physician-god to Homer, and was not clearly the same god as Apollo, the plague-bringer, though they would eventually be unambiguously united; one who brings the plague can heal the plague, after all!)

This post brought to you again from the ease of blogging with Ecto, where I drop a link onto the task bar icon and I’ve got a new post started.

NVC, Orang Asilie

Interesting bit from Marshall Rosenberg, in which he suggests that not every culture works via domination and labeling…

That’s why in the United States we call these institutions penitentiaries. The whole idea is you have to make people realize they are evil, so you need a language that does that, you need moralistic judgment that implies evil or bad, with words like: good, bad, right, wrong, abnormal, incompetent, etc.

All kinds of words that make you wrong.

There are whole cultures that have not gone that way, where there is almost no violence. They don’t have this language.

Question: “Where are these cultures?”

Marshall: Every one wants to move there! Fortunately there are a lot of them.

Fortunately anthropologist Ruth Benedict has done a lot of research in this area. A good place to start is an article in “Psychology Today,” June 1970, entitled “Synergy—Patterns of the Good Culture”. She has written many books on the subject since the 1920s. She’s found them all over the world. When she started out she wasn’t sure she would find any. The tribe I have had some contact with is Orang Asilie tribe in Malaysia. I’ll never forget what my translator was saying before we got started. He was going over how he was going to translate. He pointed out his language has no verb to be, like [you are] good, bad, wrong, right. You can’t classified people if you take away the verb to be. How are you going to insult people? You take away ninety percent of my vocabulary! So I say what are you going to say if I say “You’re selfish”?

He responded, “It’s going to be hard. I’d translate it like this: Marshall says he sees you are taking care of your needs but not the needs of others.” He says, “In my language, you tell people what they are doing and what you like them to do differently, it would not occur to us to tell people what they are.” He then paused and he looked at me in all sincerity and said, “Why would you ever call a person a name?”

I said you have to know who to punish. Punishment is a totally foreign concept in these tribes and cultures. He looked at me and said, “If you have a plant and it isn’t growing the way you would like, do you punish it?” The whole idea of punishment is so ingrained in us that it is hard for us to imagine other options. It is totally foreign to people who haven’t been educated in domination systems culture. In many of these cultures they look at people who hurt others this way: they are not bad, they’ve just forgotten their nature. They put them in a circle and they remind them of their true nature, what it’s like to be real human beings. They’ve gotten alienated and they bring them back to life.

Question: What’s the tribe’s name again?

Marshall: The Orang Asilie. This is interesting. It’s not their name, it’s the name the surrounding cultures call them and it means “primitive people”.

People usually ask what were you doing there teaching them Giraffe [nonviolent communication] language when they have their own Giraffe language? It’s sad; they were doing quite well. They live in the forest where trees have great economic value in the outside world, so now logging companies are intruding on their space. They don’t know how to speak Giraffe with Jackal speaking people. They have one senator who represents 60,000 people. In Malaysia, they heard about my work and asked me if I could do something. He says “You know there are consultants who will show us how to use guns, there’s no shortage of these, to get our land back.” The senator hoped there is another way.

It is not fashionable, anthropologically or linguistically, to suggest that language can actually influence how people think and act (a/k/a the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). So it might be worth pointing out that there is no particular reason the causality has to flow in the language->culture direction for the Orang Asilie, rather than the other way round.

UPDATE: Initially-forgotten link here; thanks to Ed Hand for asking for it in comments. For the record, if you go on to read the rest of the piece, it moves into some areas where I do not find myself in agreement with Dr. Rosenberg, e.g. the worries about violence in media as an indoctrination technique and the wholesale acceptance of Walter Wink’s ideas about “Domination Culture.” But I thought this Orang Asilie stuff was interesting.


My son loves the game Spyro the Dragon. I wondered if it had a Wikipedia pages. Yes, it does — with many linked pages for the main characters and villains! One of them contains the following cryptic note:

Since her introduction in Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage (Gateway to Glimmer in Europe), there have been many speculations that she and Spyro had a relationship growing, however, since Vivendi Universal Games left her out of the more recent games, the “Elora x Spyro” shipping has lost popularity.

“Shipping?” What’s “shipping?”

Clearly I’m not fanboy enough to know. The term originated with X-Files and was popularized by Pokemon, and refers to one of the big pastimes of online fan communities.

Wikipedia keeps me up to date.

For more uniquely fannish words I’ve learned of late, see Fanon and Retcon.

How can I be on the net so much and be so out of it?

Stanley Fish Assigns Conlanging

I’m just going to quote this whole mofo. What a cool class.

Devoid of Content

Published: May 31, 2005

WE are at that time of year when millions of American college and high school students will stride across the stage, take diploma in hand and set out to the wider world, most of them utterly unable to write a clear and coherent English sentence. How is this possible? The answer is simple and even obvious: Students can’t write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.

Most composition courses that American students take today emphasize content rather than form, on the theory that if you chew over big ideas long enough, the ability to write about them will (mysteriously) follow. The theory is wrong. Content is a lure and a delusion, and it should be banished from the classroom. Form is the way.

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students. The language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the distinctions – between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like – that English enables us to make.

You can imagine the reaction of students who think that “syntax” is something cigarette smokers pay, guess that “lexicon” is the name of a rebel tribe inhabiting a galaxy far away, and haven’t the slightest idea of what words like “tense,” “manner” and “mood” mean. They think I’m crazy. Yet 14 weeks later – and this happens every time – each group has produced a language of incredible sophistication and precision.

How is this near miracle accomplished? The short answer is that over the semester the students come to understand a single proposition: A sentence is a structure of logical relationships. In its bare form, this proposition is hardly edifying, which is why I immediately supplement it with a simple exercise. “Here,” I say, “are five words randomly chosen; turn them into a sentence.” (The first time I did this the words were coffee, should, book, garbage and quickly.) In no time at all I am presented with 20 sentences, all perfectly coherent and all quite different. Then comes the hard part. “What is it,” I ask, “that you did? What did it take to turn a random list of words into a sentence?” A lot of fumbling and stumbling and false starts follow, but finally someone says, “I put the words into a relationship with one another.”

Once the notion of relationship is on the table, the next question almost asks itself: what exactly are the relationships? And working with the sentences they have created the students quickly realize two things: first, that the possible relationships form a limited set; and second, that it all comes down to an interaction of some kind between actors, the actions they perform and the objects of those actions.

The next step (and this one takes weeks) is to explore the devices by which English indicates and distinguishes between the various components of these interactions. If in every sentence someone is doing something to someone or something else, how does English allow you to tell who is the doer and whom (or what) is the doee; and how do you know whether there is one doer or many; and what tells you that the doer is doing what he or she does in this way and at this time rather than another?

Notice that these are not questions about how a particular sentence works, but questions about how any sentence works, and the answers will point to something very general and abstract. They will point, in fact, to the forms that, while they are themselves without content, are necessary to the conveying of any content whatsoever, at least in English.

Once the students tumble to this point, they are more than halfway to understanding the semester-long task: they can now construct a language whose forms do the same work English does, but do it differently.

In English, for example, most plurals are formed by adding an “s” to nouns. Is that the only way to indicate the difference between singular and plural? Obviously not. But the language you create, I tell them, must have some regular and abstract way of conveying that distinction; and so it is with all the other distinctions – between time, manner, spatial relationships, relationships of hierarchy and subordination, relationships of equivalence and difference – languages permit you to signal.

In the languages my students devise, the requisite distinctions are signaled by any number of formal devices – word order, word endings, prefixes, suffixes, numbers, brackets, fonts, colors, you name it. Exactly how they do it is not the point; the point is that they know what it is they are trying to do; the moment they know that, they have succeeded, even if much of the detailed work remains to be done.

AT this stage last semester, the representative of one group asked me, “Is it all right if we use the same root form for adjectives and adverbs, but distinguish between them by their order in the sentence?” I could barely disguise my elation. If they could formulate a question like that one, they had already learned the lesson I was trying to teach them.

In the course of learning that lesson, the students will naturally and effortlessly conform to the restriction I announce on the first day: “We don’t do content in this class. By that I mean we are not interested in ideas – yours, mine or anyone else’s. We don’t have an anthology of readings. We don’t discuss current events. We don’t exchange views on hot-button issues. We don’t tell each other what we think about anything – except about how prepositions or participles or relative pronouns function.” The reason we don’t do any of these things is that once ideas or themes are allowed in, the focus is shifted from the forms that make the organization of content possible to this or that piece of content, usually some recycled set of pros and cons about abortion, assisted suicide, affirmative action, welfare reform, the death penalty, free speech and so forth. At that moment, the task of understanding and mastering linguistic forms will have been replaced by the dubious pleasure of reproducing the well-worn and terminally dull arguments one hears or sees on every radio and TV talk show.

Students who take so-called courses in writing where such topics are the staples of discussion may believe, as their instructors surely do, that they are learning how to marshal arguments in ways that will improve their compositional skills. In fact, they will be learning nothing they couldn’t have learned better by sitting around in a dorm room or a coffee shop. They will certainly not be learning anything about how language works; and without a knowledge of how language works they will be unable either to spot the formal breakdown of someone else’s language or to prevent the formal breakdown of their own.

In my classes, the temptation of content is felt only fleetingly; for as soon as students bend to the task of understanding the structure of language – a task with a content deeper than any they have been asked to forgo – they become completely absorbed in it and spontaneously enact the discipline I have imposed. And when there is the occasional and inevitable lapse, and some student voices his or her “opinion” about something, I don’t have to do anything; for immediately some other student will turn and say, “No, that’s content.” When that happens, I experience pure pedagogical bliss.

Fictional Language Created for Xbox Game

Tho Fan, via James. Cool article, giving the whole history of the language and its creator.

I used to dabble in conlanging for roleplaying game cultures. What killed me as a conlanger was getting stuck in the idea that I needed to know everything about how real languages work to do it “right.” I ended up endlessly studying real-world linguistics, and never actually creating anything.

I would advise anyone starting a creative project to learn as little as possible about the field before diving into it. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing — too much knowledge is lethal.