We are all aware of similarities in words between different languages, and also how much some words vary between cultures separated both in time and location. Often it is the most common words in a language that retain a strong similarity to their origin languages: for instance, the English word brother and the French frère are derived from words in ancient languages: the Sanskrit bhrātr and the Latin frāter. It is obvious, therefore, that the distinctive sound of a word can remain associated with the same meaning for thousands of years. But how far back in time can we go to find common words?
A 2012 PNAS paper, “Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia“, attempted to answer that question, with surprising results. Researchers noted that these early ‘root words’…
…can be predicted from information independent of their sounds. We showed in a sample of Indo-European languages that the frequency with which a word is used in everyday speech, along with its part of speech, can predict how rapidly words evolve, with frequently used words on average retained for longer periods of time
We have recently extended this result to include speakers from the Uralic, Sino-Tibetan, Niger-Congo, Altaic, and Austronesian families, in addition to Indo-European, plus the isolate Basque and the Creole Tok Pisin. Even in languages as widely divergent as these, we found that a measure of the average frequency of use predicted rates of lexical replacement as estimated in the Indo-European languages.
The study uncovered 23 “ultraconserved words” that “point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia”. How deep? This subset of words, the researchers believe, “have remained associated with their particular meanings independently in separate branches of this superfamily since the end of the last ice age.”
The 23 words identified by researchers included obvious ones (in terms of common usage) – “I,” “we.” “who,” “not,” “that,” “mother,” “man” – but also less commonly used words today which nevertheless were likely very important some 15,000 years ago, such as “fire,” “ashes,”, “bark,” and “worm”.
Researchers noted that their unique approach in predicting these words independently of their sound correspondences “dilutes the usual criticisms leveled at such long-range linguistic reconstructions, that proto-words are unreliable or inaccurate, or that apparent phonetic similarities among them reflect chance sound resemblances.”
I am a ‘freedom of speech absolutist’. That means, I believe that anyone should have complete freedom to say (write) anything that they feel moved to express, and that everyone should be free to hear (read) any ideas that they feel inclined to consider, or to reject and ignore them.
Are there any limits ? There may be. In which case I’d have to adjust my position. There are certainly plenty of ideas that I consider repugnant and dangerous and which I’d prefer did not exist or get spread around. But the problem is, that is my subjective appraisal, and if I wanted to censor others, then I too must accept that I might be silenced.
There’s plenty of things that I see and smell and taste that I do not particularly like, but banning people’s ideas seems to me to be a lot less important than trying to stop people being maimed and killed, or poisoned by pesticides, etc. Sticks and stones.
And it is very difficult to see any clear line which could be drawn which would resolve this situation equitably. So, I arrive at the absolutist position, where all ideas go into the public domain where they live or die according to whatever merits they may have.
I think this is the generally accepted stance arrived at by the philosophers, for example, Stefan Molyneux. I see it as similar to the idea of democracy. That democracy is a ghastly method to use to run any polity. But, sadly, everything else that has been tried over the millennia, seems to have turned out to be even worse, hasn’t it ?
We cannot achieve any perfect utopian ideal, but we can find a workable compromise which makes the best of a bad situation.
I was driven to have these thoughts because Theresa May is arguing for a more tightly regulated internet, as her response to the recent terrorist events. I doubt very much that anything like that will work, but the idea can be promoted and enforced to serve vested interests who benefit from limiting and restricting public discourse.
Hyde Park Corner is interesting and pertinent.
Public riots broke out in the park in 1855, in protest over the Sunday Trading Bill, which forbade buying and selling on a Sunday, the only day working people had off. The riots were described by Karl Marx as the beginning of the English revolution.
The Chartist movement used Hyde Park as a point of assembly for workers’ protests, but no permanent speaking location was established. The Reform League organised a massive demonstration in 1866 and then again in 1867, which compelled the government to extend the franchise to include most working-class men.
The riots and agitation for democratic reform encouraged some to force the issue of the “right to speak” in Hyde Park. The Parks Regulation Act 1872 delegated the issue of permitting public meetings to the park authorities (rather than central government). Contrary to popular belief, it does not confer a statutory basis for the right to speak at Speakers’ Corner. Parliamentary debates on the Act illustrate that a general principle of being able to meet and speak was not the intention, but that some areas would be permitted to be used for that purpose.
Since that time, it has become a traditional site for public speeches and debate, as well as a major site of protest and assembly in Britain. There are some who contend that the tradition has a connection with the Tyburn gallows, where the condemned man was allowed to speak before being hanged.
Although many of its regular speakers are non-mainstream, Speakers’ Corner was frequented by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell, C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney, Ben Tillett, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and William Morris.
Its existence is frequently upheld as a demonstration of free speech, as anyone can turn up unannounced and talk on almost any subject, although always at the risk of being heckled by regulars.
Lord Justice Sedley, in his decision regarding Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999), described Speakers’ Corner as demonstrating “the tolerance which is both extended by the law to opinion of every kind and expected by the law in the conduct of those who disagree, even strongly, with what they hear.” The ruling famously established in English case law that freedom of speech could not be limited to the inoffensive but extended also to “the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome, and the provocative, as long as such speech did not tend to provoke violence”, and that the right to free speech accorded by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights also accorded the right to be offensive.
Prior to the ruling, prohibited speech at Speakers’ Corner included obscenity, blasphemy, insulting the queen, or inciting a breach of the peace.
In the late 19th century, for instance, a combination of park by-laws, use of the Highways Acts and use of venue licensing powers of the London County Council made it one of the few places where socialist speakers could meet and debate.
There is a Speakers’ Corner in the Domain in Sydney, established in 1878. The speakers talk every Sunday afternoon from 2 pm until 5 pm, and have a website. Official outdoor “free” speech first appeared in the hustings and hanging grounds of Hyde Park Sydney in 1874. Free speech in this form was banned following a serious riot between Catholics and Orangemen. However, following the formalisation of free speech in Speakers’ Corner in London it was decided in 1878 that The Domain would be the place for free speech in Sydney.
In ‘Diary of a Voyage to Australia, New Zealand and other lands’ (published 1896), Robert Roberts notes that “On the west side [of a particular location] is a feature peculiar to Sydney in all the world – a preaching park. There are of course, parks in other cities where open-air spouting is practiced on Sundays, such as Hyde Park, in London : but there is no city in the world where a park on such a scale is used by all classes of religious people. It is a wooded enclosure, like a nobleman’s park in England, kept in capital order, both as regards the turf under foot, and the tall and noble trees that give shelter overhead from the sun.”
“All the sects and denominations use it. There is none of the sense of infra dig that associates itself with out-door preaching in England.””Every denomination has its own tree.” “The various religious bodies hold their meetings sufficiently apart to make no interference one with the other. It is a sort of weekly babel of religious tongues – recognised and patronised by the whole community”
In the Netherlands, there is a permanently designated speakers’ corner called the Spreeksteen in Amsterdam. Lawfully, every person has the freedom of speech as a matter of right. In practice, there is considerable ambiguity which gives mayors and other authorities the semi-lawful powers to prevent or distort free speech.
The ‘Spreeksteen’ is open for free speech 24-hours a day, and was established to allow complete free speech. The ‘Spreeksteen’ has been located in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam since 5 May 2005, and has been erected by a citizens action after the brutal murder of film-maker and columnist Theo van Gogh. Plans for bringing the Amsterdam Speakers’ Corner online with a permanent camera and microphone are in a phase of installation. In the meantime the speakers are filmed with a hand-held camera.
The Spreeksteen was involved in controversy when they allowed Michiel Smit, a far-right activist, to speak on 1 October 2006. Antifascist demonstrators used noise to prevent Smit from being heard (as happens often when there is a public demonstration of the far-right).
Which reminds me, one of the factors which prompted the swing towards the right, in my own personal political stance, is the attempts by the left to close down freedom of speech, exemplified by the freedom of speech rally in Portland, a few days ago, where the so called Antifas were carrying banners with slogans like ‘Love not hate’, whilst simultaneously carrying bags of half bricks, stones, and other missiles and weaponry, intended to silence anyone with any alternative viewpoint that differs from their own.
This is similar to the violence shown in Europe by some Muslims who tried to stop members of the public from eating and drinking at restaurants, because of their own obligations to the rules of Islam. It’s a fascinating tension that arises constantly in soceity, as different groups or strata strive to advance their causes and restrict others.
I am myself deeply offended by those who advocate for paedophilia and who distribute child porn, but we will always have vile and depraved individuals, and so it’s better that they are out in the open and known about, than concealed in the dark.
As I see it, in the context of processual anacyclosis, the right can see certain problems that presently exist, and wish to address them. The left do not care about these problems, because they have a basic Marxist-type of view, where they envision some far distant utopian ideal towards which they wish to move everyone, regardless of any negative results on the way.
Still, all these questions and dilemmas have to be addressed by folks who are above my pay grade, nobody is going to take any notice and change this world because of this humble blog, are they. The power rests with those who control the money and the guns and make the laws. So maybe better for me to amuse myself with more pleasant stuff.
I have become somewhat obsessed with this piece of music called Alexandria, composed by the Canadian guitarist Don Rooke. One reason I love it, is that it eludes the usual genres. It’s hard to say what kind of tune it is or which category it belongs to. Most recorded music falls inevitably under one of the typical labels, folk, classical, jazz, hiphop, etc. It pleases me to find something that’s original and unusual.
I tried to learn it when I first came across it a few years ago, and failed, and so that has bugged me ever since. It’s a challenge, and so now I have another attempt.
Here is the proper rendering, which I imagine was processed in a regular studio.
And here is Rooke himself, attempting to play it for the youtube audience.
Here is my first effort. It’s recorded very badly using the worst way of getting it onto computer and the internet, so bear that in mind. And all I have done so far is to find some of the right notes and chords. Also the tuning. I replaced the sixth string with a third string, and tuned it up to A. It sounds horrible to me, but I guess it’s recognizable as approximately the same tune, squeezed through a mangle. 🙂
I suppose I could try playing it with a slide, no real reason why not, but I’d still have to learn the tune. I’m certain there are many musicians who could have mastered this much faster and better than me, there’s zillions of incredible guitarists on youtube, let alone all the ones nobody heard of. But I’m doing this because I LIKE it, not to win a competition or make a career. It’s still arduous hard work, mostly because my poor old brain gets tired of the demands.
It’s a bit like learning a poem by heart, so you can recite it without reading. That was something I could do quite quickly in my youth, but I guess all the neurons are stuffed full of crap from reading ZeroHedge, Twitter, and all the other stuff I wade through everyday.
Since I first joined in with the Cambrian Explosion of the Digital Era, whenever it was, sometime in the early 1990’s, decades behind many others, I’ve learned so much stuff, only to have to forget it all six months or a year later, because everybody has moved on. There’s so many names and acronyms that were briefly in all the computer literature, yet now completely forgotten. I’ve got a big cardboard box full of assorted SCSI cables, which might as well be something from the 19th century stashed in the basement of a museum.
Going back several decades, a proper recording studio with a sound engineer would occupy a fairly large room. Rather like the old mainframe computers, which took up whole buildings. Technology has moved on, and what once filled a room is now the size of a laptop. Not only more compact, but with vastly more functions.
So now I have purchased a 24 track digital recorder, which is about twelve inches by eight inches, and which can do a zillion different things, in addition to attaching to the computer and DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software. (Zoom R24 + Steinberg Cubase LE).
Thus I have given myself this massive new set of problems, from which my life was blissfully free a few days ago. Because the fact that this stuff can, potentially, do a zillion different things, every one of which can be adjusted and modified in almost infinite numbers of ways… well, (sigh) it’s all so fucking complicated, and there’s a whole new proprietary jargon language to learn…. Bloody technology ! 🙂
I am old, weary, jaded, burned out. But this negative attitude will not help me, will it. I need to try and apply myself to the task and get things set up and functioning. Hence, I put this very inferior Soundcloud recording into the public domain, because I am annoyed and ashamed of it, and this provides pressure to motivate me to strive to do better. Which motivation I DO NEED, as I wade through the manuals and pdf.s trying to resolve one problem after another. As soon as I get a better one done, I’ll erase it.
It’s there as a reminder to get me to remember to do it, amidst all the other distractions and endeavours that surround me.
It’s a bit like clawing one’s way up a vertical cliff face. Getting stuck for periods whilst trying to figure out the next move. At this stage, I’m only just off ground level. 🙂
Effing cables and wires all over the place. I want to get the guitar synth to mimic the pipe organ at the intro, and the duduk. Don’t know yet if that will be possible.
I regress back in my memories to when I was about eleven years old. I was rather lonely and unhappy much of the time, sitting in my bedroom reading a magazine. There was an advertisment for Bert Weedon’s Teach Yourself To Play Guitar course. I never did that course, but in the ad it said ‘Be the centre of attention at parties ! Get the admiration of all the girls !’ or some such, and that got me musing about the possibilities….
I cannot stand the guy or his playing, but that was way back in history….
So I mentioned the idea to my father, who replied that a colleague of his had bought a guitar for his daughter, for six pounds (which was a lot, in those days) and she’d had it a few months and given up. So my father bought it, cheaper, second hand, and it appeared on my lap.
I could not do ANYTHING with that fucker. The strings were miles above the frets, it really was a rubbish instrument, even though it looked very nice. Cheap and nasty junk, made in Spain, to exploit the niche in the market for fools who knew nothing.
And it was clear, God had never intended me to be a musician, because I was tone deaf. Whichever string I plucked, they all sounded exactly the same. Horrible. But that daughter had given up. Not me. I was not one for being daunted and beaten. I would prevail. So I struggled, every day. And it didn’t get any better, I couldn’t even get it in tune from the pipes they provided.
Eventually, I learned an F chord and a C and Dm (on the first four strings) and found a way to pick Greensleeves, after a fashion. That took me six months of misery.
It said that the tune was written by King Henry VIII, but seems that is not true.
The romanesca originated in Spain and is composed of a sequence of four chords with a simple, repeating bass, which provide the groundwork for variations and improvisation.
A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September 1580, by Richard Jones, as “A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves”.
Obviously, the Fates were observing my travails. I saw a lad walking down the road with a guitar on his back, so I approached and introduced myself, and we got friendly. He was a few months further down the road, and taught me A and E and B7 and how to make the Three Chord Trick into a Twelve Bar Blues.
So, it began to be fun and more rewarding. I forgot all about the parties and the girls part, because just learning to play new stuff got to be really interesting. And I never stopped. The greater portion of my lifetime is passed, and I still have this guitar thing for company, and the same buzz when learning new stuff. It’s been a good friend to me.
I also have the guitar synth I bought last week to master. Full of goodies, like the vocoder, which transforms guitar notes into something resembling speech. These kinds of novelty effects were used in pop music years ago, of course. But now they are vastly improved and advanced. Now we understand that any sound wave vibrations can be translated exactly into zeros and ones and thus into computer code and be manipulated and transposed in an infinite variety of ways.
Anyway, enough of this writing about my joys and travails, and back to actually doing it 🙂