A Very Confusing System Built Out Of Logical Components (rwblog S6E7)
Currently listening to: Endless Summer, Fennesz
Hello from a very windy, and not particularly summery, San Francisco. Was it always this windy in San Francisco? I certainly don’t remember it being this windy the past three years. Now I can barely stand up for all the wind. And it’s not just my neighborhood (Mission Bay) — the Mission, and Richmond district, and Japantown alike are all cursed with howling wind.
Pahlavi is the Worst Script
I once thought Japanese was the worst script, but as is often the case, it’s much more logical once you consider the constraints the medieval Japanese were working under. Virtually all educated men were writing primarily in Classical Chinese anyway, so importing thousands of kanji into Japanese wasn’t an issue.
However, Japanese is a fairly inflected language, using changes in word form to mark grammar, whereas all the varieties of Chinese are highly analytic, using word order and helper words instead. No problem — just invent an additional syllabary to represent all the inflections you might need and keep the kanji around for the word stems. Then Japanese imported a bunch of non-Chinese, mostly Western, terms, so use a separate syllabary to mark those as distinct. You end up with a very confusing system, but it’s built out of logical components.
(Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that, since sometimes you’re using kanji to represent native Japanese words and sometimes using them to represent Chinese words borrowed into Japanese, and sometimes you use the same character to represent different borrowed words from different stages of Chinese-Japanese linguistic interaction. So, it’s still pretty confusing. But the basic ideas are solid.)
Anyway, apparently you can’t do an analysis like that for Pahlavi, the main writing system for Middle Persian. It’s actually just the worst writing system ever invented. (Warning: Twitter link! Read it while you still can, I suppose?)
Do You Want To Read About A Farting Mythical Creature? Of Course You Do
I’m not sure I’ve properly praised the Public Domain Review here before. They’re a UK-based site that collects and comments on public domain art and literature. I donated last year, since one of my few deeply considered political positions is a commitment to an expansion of the intellectual commons, and in return I received some delightful postcards.
Anyway, they often feature medieval art, which is, after all, entirely in the public domain. So here’s a collection of medieval art about bonnacons, a mythical creature that supposedly escaped hunters by…. farting at them.
(Although keep in mind that medieval people didn’t have quite the same notion of “mythical” as we did and probably thought bonnacons were real, natural creatures out there in the world, just not very close. Except for unicorns, which were always a creature of literature, not folklore.)
If I Had Time, I Would Have Made This Title Shorter
Here’s an article by famed (book-length-)essayist John McPhee, who I have never actually read, but at least for this article you just need to know he’s a famed (book-length-)essayist. In particular, he talks about his history with creative nonfiction and how he decides what to include and what to leave out.
I’m linking to it especially for his discussion of “greening,” an editing exercise he makes his students do. It’s based on an old newspaper editing practice where, after all the editorial edits, further edits would be requested to fit an article into the available space. For instance, they might ask you to “green 4”, in which case you have to somehow cut 4 lines without meaningfully changing the tone or meaning of the overall article. What a fantastic little deliberate writing practice!
Robin Sloan’s latest newsletter jokingly referred to “Low View Count Scholarly YouTube”:
These days, when I’m investigating a subject, I tend to go straight to Low View Count Scholarly YouTube, which is of course the version of YouTube you get when you append the term “lecture” to your search. When you hit a tranche of videos between forty and ninety minutes long, with between 500 and 5000 views, you know you’re in the right place.
Which is, firstly, absolutely lovely, and secondly, wait, I love those videos too?
So I’m playing around with a little site to aggregate them, or at least the ones I come across. I imagine it will be a simple site - just a list of videos with thumbnails, maybe a simple tagging system, a link to a Google Form to submit more recommendations. Which, if you have them (recommendations I mean) — please send them my way!