An Amazonian language with only 300 speakers has no word to express the
concept of "one" or any other specific number, according to a new study
from an MIT-led team.
The team, led by MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences
Edward Gibson, found that members of the Piraha tribe in remote
northwestern Brazil use language to express relative quantities such as
"some" and "more," but not precise numbers. . . .
The work builds on a study published in 2004, which found that the
Piraha had words to express the quantities "one," "two," and "many."
Terry Pratchett fans Hypatia and Jake get 1 Scribal point apiece and Erin gets 2 for the following:
Hypatia: They count "one, two, many" too. They're also better at it at low temperatures.
Erin: "one, two, three, many, many-one, many-two, many-three, many many,
many-many-one, many-many-two, many-many-three, many many many,
many-many-many-one, many-many-many-two, many-many-many-three, LOTS."
Jake: Kinda like base 4 roman numerals.
So the "secret" is they're not as dumb as they look. "One, two, three, many" is just the beginning of a base 4 counting system.
This photo of an Ainu chief, probably taken in the 1920s, comes from the Old Photos of Japan blog. The Ainu inhabited an island called Ainu Mosir before the Japanese colonized it, changed its name to Hokkaido, and "decimated" the population. The origins of the Ainu were a subject of speculation until genetic studies determined that they were “the descendants of Japan’s ancient Jomon inhabitants, mixed with Korean genes of Yayoi colonists and of the modern Japanese.”1
The New York Times reports (via Japundit )that just this year, Japan has finally recognized the rights of the indigenous Ainu. This recognition was apparently timed to coincide with Japan's hosting of an international conference of indigenous peoples on the island of Hokkaido (formerly the home of the Ainu) but it comes a little late for this rapidly disappearing culture:
In a study by the Hokkaido prefectural government in 2006, just under
24,000 people identified themselves as Ainu. Most were of mixed blood
and lacked the telltale fair skin or hirsute features that
distinguished older Ainu from the Japanese. But it is not known how
many live outside Hokkaido since Japan has never conducted a nationwide
census of Ainu.
is often considered a language isolate, that is, a language that has not been shown to have a particularly close relation to any other language or group of languages.
It is sometimes grouped with the Paleosiberian languages,
but this is merely a blanket term for several different language
families that were present in Siberia prior to the advances of Turkic and Tungusic languages there. The "Paleosiberian" languages do not form a true language family, that is, a group of languages descended from a common ancestral language.
The language is classified as moribund and near to extinction. There is an oral tradition of epic poetry called yukar:
Traditional tales describe floating worlds with "Ainu Mosir", or the
land of the humans (as opposed to "Kamui Mosir", the land of the gods),
resting on the back of a fish whose movements cause earthquakes.
1 Diamond, Jared (June, 1998). Japanese Roots. Discover Magazine Vol. 19: 86-94.
Based on nineteenth-century photo documentation of indigenous body art, Liam Brady of Monash University (Australia) has demonstrated that such body art matches the ancient rock art of the region, as Discovery reports:
For the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, Brady documented rock art drawings;
images found on early turtle shell, stone and wood objects, such as
bamboo tobacco pipes and drums; and images that were etched onto the
human body through a process called scarification. . . .
Brady determined that within the body art, rock art and objects,
four primary motifs often repeated: a fish headdress, a snake, a
four-pointed star, and triangle variants. The fish headdress, usually
made of a turtle shell decorated with feathers and rattles, was worn
during ceremonies and has, in at least one instance, been linked to a
"cult of the dead."
The triangular designs, on the other hand, were often scarred onto
women's skin and likely indicated these individuals were in mourning.
This page from an early 1540s Mexican manuscript lays out the career path of a successful warrior priest. For full details, see BibliOdyssey. At this point I'm not signing any contracts, but "Keeper of the Bowl of Fatigue" sounds like a great gig to me especially if all you need to do is bonk a few short people over the head with a shillelagh.
In the 1980s [Professor Tudor] Parfitt lived with a Southern African clan called the
Lemba, who claimed to be a lost tribe of Israel. Colleagues laughed at
him for backing the claim; in 1999, a genetic marker specific to
descendents of Judaism's Temple priests (cohens) was found to appear as
frequently among the Lemba's priestly cast as in Jews named Cohen. The
Lemba — and Parfitt — made global news. --Time
Parfitt now thinks he might have tracked down the Ark of the Covenant -- more info on that at the link. Via Mirabilis
A University of Copenhagen team has identified the gene which around
6-10,000 years ago underwent a genetic mutation in one individual who
eventually gave rise to all blue-eyed people.
Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular
Medicine began his research in 1996, when he "first implicated the OCA2
gene as being responsible for eye colour", as ScienceDaily puts it.
Over the next decade, he and his colleagues "examined mitochondrial
DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals" in countries
including Denmark, Jordan and Turkey.
Eiberg explained: “Originally, we all had brown eyes. But a genetic
mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the
creation of a 'switch', which literally 'turned off' the ability to
produce brown eyes."