Past Talking Gourds Speaker Hosts Ground-Breaking Linguistic Meeting | Around the Cone
by Art Goodtimes
Mar 24, 2008 | 442 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NAVAJO-SIBERIAN AXIS … Dr. Jim Kari, an old friend and a noted emeritus linguist specializing in Athabaskan tongues at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) Native Language Center, was a featured speaker at Talking Gourds a dozen years ago. Recently he was convener of a very important and groundbreaking conference in Fairbanks at the end of February, the Dene-Yeniseic Symposium. At that event, a long-sought connection between Siberian and North American language families was convincingly demonstrated by linguists from Washington and Alaska … Professor Edward Vajda of Western Washington University (Bellingham), a specialist on the Ket language isolate spoken by a shrinking number of elders living along the Yenisei River of central Siberia, by combining ten years of library and field work on Ket and relying on the earlier work of Heinrich Werner on the now-extinct relatives of Ket, has clarified the dauntingly complex morphology and phonology of Ket and its Yeniseic relatives. Vajda showed that the abstract forms of lexical and grammatical morphemes and the rules of composition of the Ket verb find systematic and numerous parallels in the Na-Dene proto-language reconstructed to account for the modern Tlingit and Eyak languages and the Athabaskan language family (whose members include Gwich'in, Koyukon, Dena’ina and others of Alaska, Hupa of California, and Navajo of Arizona/New Mexico) … The comparison was made possible by recent advances in the analysis of Tlingit phonology and Tlingit-Athabaskan-Eyak presented at the same symposium by Prof. Jeff Leer of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and by earlier work by Prof. Michael Krauss of UAF on the now-extinct Eyak language and on comparative Athabaskan, and on Athabaskan lexicography and verb stem analysis by Kari. Working independently, Vajda and the Alaska linguists have arrived at abstract stem shapes and ancestral wordforms too numerous and displaying too many idiosyncratic parallels to be explained by anything other than common descent ... The comparison also shows conclusively that Haida, sometimes associated with Na-Dene, is not related. The distance from the Yeniseian range to that the most distant Athabaskan languages is the greatest overland distance covered by any known language spread not using wheeled transport or sails. Archaeologist Prof. Ben Potter of UAF reviewed the postglacial prehistory of Beringia and speculated that the Na-Dene speakers may have descended from some of the earliest colonizers of the Americas, who eventually created the successful and long-lived Northern Archaic tool tradition that dominated interior and northern Alaska almost until historical times … Vajda's work has been well vetted. In addition to Na-Dene specialists Krauss, Leer, and Kari, who have reacted favorably, the symposium was also attended by historical linguists Prof. Eric P. Hamp of the University of Chicago and Prof. Johanna Nichols of the University of California, Berkeley, both of whom announced their support for the proposed relationship, and Bernard Comrie, Director of the Linguistics Department, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig and professor at UC Santa Barbara, endorsed Vajda's method … Hamp has called this a really large event in the history of historical linguistics. Basically a direct relationship has been established between a group of Siberian languages and a large group of American languages … Kari added, “While I have tunnel vision and only know about Athabaskan languages (those Na-Dene tongues distributed in Canada and the United States), here are some generalizations. Dene-Yeniseic (D-Y) is clearly the most widespread language family on earth held by a people with foot-based modes of transport. The recent opinions among Alaska’s leading archaeologists suggest that the 10-12,000 Before the Present (BP) period is the most likely time-frame for the Na-Dene to have entered Alaska. Since common D-Y must be some time prior to then, it may turn out that Dene-Yeniseic is the oldest language family on earth with this degree of resolution. Also at about 4000 years ago D-Y may have been the largest language family on earth in territorial distribution.” … The main Dene-Yeniseic Symposium web page is at

DAD’S SWEARING … Although I’m not sure it’s a good sign (or a bad one) in an 88-year-old man, my father has developed a daily habit of cussing up a blue streak at the mere mention of Pres. Bush’s name, or the sight of his name in a newspaper, or even at gratuitously random moments during his waking hours … “That #&@*%$*!,” he growls, sometimes three and four times for emphasis, his voice rising in anger and malice … Now I’m not one to take offense at colorful language in people of any age, and cussing seems a powerful evocation of emotion, but the sheer repetitiveness of the curses and the incongruity of a white-haired patriarch of a very patriotic nature (his custom has been to fly the flag daily in front of his suburban home) exploding into expletives four, five, sometimes 10 times during the day has been unsettling even to me – a live and let-live hippie … But for my dad, he rails against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken so many lives, the lies that got us there, the economy in shambles because of it, the compromised international human rights reputation of the U.S. after Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and this administration’s defense of torture during interrogations …. “That #&@*%$*!,” he growls.

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE … It’s quite a different world reading the Bay Area press from perusing the Denver metro dailies, even if the Hearst chain has taken over the venerable San Francisco institution, the Chron. Here’s a random sampling from my week back there … A great piece by Kevin Fagan about Rev. Louie Vitale, 76, “one of the most active peace protestors to come out of the Bay Area since the 1970s.” A champion of homelessness causes as pastor of SF’s St. Boniface Church until retiring in 2005, the Franciscan friar has been jailed more than 100 times for charges related to nonviolent peace demonstrations, most recently for a 2006 demonstration against Fort Huachuca in Arizona, which is known as the “U.S. military’s premier training grounds for torture techniques” and a Good Friday demonstration last week at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California where nuclear weapons are developed … An opinion piece by Dr R. Jan Gurley urging Big Pharma (the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry) to put some of their record profits into “developing a drug-removal process for water treatment” since so many pills, multivitamins, hormones, anti-biotics and other drugs are entering our drinking water through our urine … An editorial worrying that the recent outing of Admiral William J. Fallon as Mideast military commander after “a friendly Esquire magazine portrait saying Fallon would be key in staving off a possible war with Iran” might just be “a prelude to war with Iran” … A piece by Bob Egelko about the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco which ruled against an Oregon community which had argued it was entitled to maintain a drug-free workplace by requiring job candidates to be screened for drugs and alcohol. Not so, said the court. “A city can’t require all job applicants to be tested for narcotics and must instead show why drug use in a particular job would be dangerous” … And a piece by Ruthe Stein covering the movie Milk (starring Sean Penn) being filmed in San Francisco about the charismatic gay supervisor assassinated by a fellow supervisor wingnut in 1978. Harvey Milk was the supervisor from the district I was living in back then, and I would see him on the city bus and on the streets. He was completely approachable, listened to everyone (even me) and was a big inspiration for my getting involved in politics.

TIBET ALERT … Cyberace Lee Taylor warns that Chinese cyberhacks are attacking Tibet support groups and individuals with emails that may appear to come from a trusted person or organization. As Thomas Clayburn reported in Information Week, “A shadow war against organizations supporting Tibetan protesters has erupted in cyberspace, mirroring efforts by Chinese authorities to quell unrest in the Tibet. “ … Added Mikko Hypponnen, chief research officer at F-Secure, "Somebody is trying to use pro-Tibet themed e-mails to infect computers of the members of pro-Tibet groups to spy on their actions. And this is not an isolated incident. Far from it." … To enhance the cyberattack legitimacy, the messages contain information related to recent events in Tibet and may appear to come from a trusted person or organization. But the content is simply bait, a social engineering con, to get recipients to open the documents and trigger an exploit. “The exploit silently drops and runs a file called C:\Program Files\Update\winkey.exe,” explains Hypponen. “This is a keylogger that collects and sends everything typed on the affected machine to a server running at HYPERLINK "*http:/" And HYPERLINK "*http:/" is a Chinese DNS-bouncer system that, while not rogue by itself, has been used over and over again in various targeted attacks.”

© 2008 Art Goodtimes


Flash Point

Like an elk,

life sometimes jumps out at you

and totals your car.

It comes careening from around a curve

or down a mountain

and buries you.

It erupts from the depths of the earth,

or pours from the sky in liquid sheets,

sudden electric bursts

or powerful gusts of wind.

Like an elk,

life sometimes jumps out at you

and totals your car.

-Amy Hannon

Clinton, NJ

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