Daily life in the West has finally been undeniably, indefinitely disrupted by the current COVID-19 strain of Coronavirus. It’s important to take precautions, but the situation isn’t so dire yet that we can’t learn a little more about what & why. Here is the more useful information that I’ve come across so far.
Writing systems — the ways in which we write down a language — are fascinating. They may not be as diverse and surprising as all the animals and plants of the world, but you likely may be surprised to learn just how differently we have found ways to write down information, each with strengths and weaknesses. And if you don’t get all the details right, then what you end up telling the world is not “follow your heart” but “coward”. Oops. (Countless examples exist that could fill up several blogs — it turns out failures in cross-cultural appreciation & appropriation go both ways.)
People believe that, in the timeline in human evolution, language evolves first as speech, and only later does writing evolve to record it down. For example, when new words (ex: slang) or spoken forms derived from spreading process (ex: “gonna”, “hafta”) get coined, if they persist long enough, they will become normalized and enter the vocabulary. Whether these new words are defined as “official words” depends on if you have a prescriptivist or descriptivist view of the situation, but that is a small example in our own experiences where we see writing changing according to speech. (Btw, Shakespeare was a master of introducing crazy, made-up words into a language.)
What is fascinating are some of the more apparent examples in recent history in which we make choices on how to write, or change how we write, a language, and the implications those choices have. Or in one case, it’s the other way around — it’s the act of recategorizing dialects as separate languages through how we write.
When I interviewed for my current job, I didn’t pass the interviews on the first time that I tried. When I applied again 1 year later, I passed, but I had changed my strategy in preparing for the 2nd time to correct all the mistakes I made during the 1st time.
There were other factors of my growth as a programmer beyond the whiteboard problem practice that helped equally as much, if not more so, in my success in the 2nd round of interviews. But the whiteboard programming aspect is more immediate and usually more stressful.
To help others who may need the help in the way I did, the following is a summary of how I prepared the second time:
A friend of mine has just finished a novel / book of interlinked stories in which the Tamil experience is an important factor. It begins with an Eelam Tamil family grieving about the end of the war in Jersey and connects stories across time/place. There’s also a chapter/story called “The Office of Missing Persons,” which directly deals with disappearances. The book has gotten really positive reviews from some well-known writers in the literary world. It’s coming out in a month, available on pre-order (links below).
By now, I have visited enough Tamil & other South Indian restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area to have some favorites (and not-so-favorites). Here are my favorites, “honorable mentions”, footnotes, and disclaimers. Enjoy!
The podcast story “Meet the last native speakers of Hawaiian” is a fascinating story about how to revitalize a language that almost (but not quite) went out of existence. The story of Hawaii and the Hawaiian language probably shares some elements in common with the story of many Native American languages and nations/cultures/tribes. The story of Hawaii is interesting because, despite the efforts to squelch the language from existence, there still remain pockets where the language is still spoken. Similar to the story of Myaamia, a concerted effort by community-based linguists and collective support from the community was crucial. The efforts are successful in that many kids grow up knowing how to speak Hawaiian because they go to Hawaiian-language primary schools. With the basic step solved, the next-step problems take their place.
The podcast story “How the Miami Tribe got its language back” is really fascinating. The Myammia (“Miami”) tribe and language lost its last speaker decades ago. The story of how and why the language went out of usage is not pleasant, but worth knowing. Regardless, thanks to the work of early linguists during the time when the language was spoken, there were historical records of the language (vocab, pronunciation, and perhaps grammar). And thanks to the interest of a Myammia descendent, a linguist, and a seed amount of resources, a lot of work coalesced in reviving the language into something that is spoken by a few hundred people on some basis. For a language that had completely died decades ago, that’s remarkable. Hearing the full story is worth it, especially for certain tidbits that do not appear in the written article.
The new post from the Google Design blog entitled “The New Wave of Indian Type” is very interesting. The differences already noticeable in the examples of Tamil fonts in the blog post is already striking. And the blog post, of course, is showcasing fonts with open-source licenses and encouraging people to use them as starting points to create their own. I like these ideas very much.
If you have seen the talk that Tim and I presented at Clojure/West in October on Learning Clojure through Logo, it should come as no surprise that topics of education, technology, and language are of interest. A couple of recent articles were published that caught my attention: