Articles by Asya Pereltsvaig
insula_serpilor_map-by-bogdan-giuscaA recent mini-series of GeoCurrents posts by Claire Negiar discussed divided islands that were in the past, or still are, bones of contention between sovereign states. Other islands have become the subject of international disputes in their entirety. One case is Damansky (Zhenbao) Island, which has been disputed by Russia and China, as discussed in an earlier GeoCurrents post. Another example is Snake Island, also known as Serpent Island, or Ostriv Zmiinyi in Ukrainian and Insula șerpilor in Romanian. This tiny islet—with a total area of 0.066 square miles (0.17 square kilometers)—has been at the center of a dispute between Ukraine and Romania. Although the Snake Island is now officially recognized as part of Ukraine, with the territorial limits of the continental shelf around the island having been delineated by the International Court of Justice in 2009, some discontent remains on the Romanian side.
On March 14, 2014, The Washington Post online published an article by Reid Wilson entitled “The United States of smoking: The state with the most tobacco farms smokes most often”. Although much in this article is factually true and is instructive, I object to the title, on two grounds.
The first problem concerns the epithet “the United States of smoking”. Even …
Although for many Ukrainians and Russians the heading of this post may sound as a beginning of an anti-Semitic joke, Ukraine could conceivably soon have a Jewish president. At least, it now has a Jewish candidate in the running: businessman and philanthropist Vadim Rabinovich submitted his candidacy for the May 25, 2014 Presidential Elections. Rabinovich is a self-nominated candidate, not representing any political party.
A recent article in The Washington Post by Katie Zezima asked whether the country should be referred to as “the Ukraine” or simply “Ukraine”, without the definite article. Recent usage of the article with the country’s name by several American politicians apparently raised some ire on the part of certain Ukrainian pundits. It is time for GeoCurrents to dispel some myths about this issue.
As mentioned in an earlier GeoCurrents post, Zakarpattia Oblast in far western Ukraine is a perfect example of how ethno-linguistic tensions affect geopolitical outcomes. Even deciding on a neutral term for the region can be challenging. The Russian/Ukrainians toponym “Zakarpattia” translates into English as “Transcarpatia”, while from the Hungarian perspective it is called “sub‑Carpathian Ukraine”, the more neutral term being Carpathian Ruthenia. The latter term is related to the ethnonym and language name “Ruthenian”, which as we shall see below, is itself quite problematic. In the remainder of this post, the local toponym “Zakarpattia” will be used, for the lack of a more neutral term. So who are the Rusyn, how many of them are there, and what language do they speak?
The previous GeoCurrents post considered a number of proposals for various ethnic territories to either leave or join the Russian Federation that have emerged in the wake of the Crimean referendum. The most likely next candidate to join Russia is Transnistria, a narrow strip of land between the River Dniester in the west and the eastern Moldovan border with Ukraine …
Are You In or Out?—The Potential Unraveling of Geopolitical Tapestry in the Wake of the Crimean Referendum
As the Crimean citizens voted to secede from Ukraine and to join the Russian Federation, the territorial tapestry of Eastern Europe has perhaps begun to unravel. A number of countries neighboring Russia worry about a possible military incursion or even annexation of (some of) their territory on the grounds of “protecting the local ethnic Russian population”. Other ethnic regions want to either join Russia or to leave it.
GeoCurrents has extensively criticized the mainstream media for its gross misrepresentations of current linguistic research, with headlines such as “English Language ‘Originated in Turkey’”, which does little but deceive and confuse the public. The recent headline in The Daily Mail “Native Americans and Russians share the same language: Dialects reveal how ancestors migrated 13,000 years ago” is another example of such blatant inaccuracy that reveals ignorance of the subject being reported. Leaving aside the imprecise use of the term “dialect” (dialect of what? a language whose other dialects do not reveal the same thing?), the claim that “Native Americans and Russians share the same language” is nonsensical. This problem is not limited to the headline, as the very first sentence of the article states that “It’s been known for years that some Native Americans and Russians share ancestors”—a sentence that presupposes the unquestionable truth of what is in actuality a highly problematic proposition.
As we have mentioned earlier, Martin Lewis and I gave a lecture on the history and geography of languages at the ninth edition of the Festival delle Scienze in Rome in January 2014. The topic of our lecture was “What Languages and Their Geography Reveal About History”.
Here is the short abstract of the lecture:
Over the past decade, a well-funded …
As St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday celebrated on March 17, calls for setting aside the Lenten fast and enjoying good food and strong drink, GeoCurrents will take a quick break from the recent series of posts on ethno-linguistic and geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe and consider Irish cuisine. As is typical of many regional cuisines around the world, that of the Irish has been influenced by their country’s climate, geography, and history, with many factors melding together to create the culinary sensibilities of the “Emerald Isle”.
On February 9, 2014, Swiss citizens voted in a referendum on three issues, one of which concerned possible restrictions on immigration. Interestingly, the geographical pattern of the referendum results follows along the country’s linguistic divides.
The recent GeoCurrents post on the status of the Ukrainian and the Russian languages in Ukraine has generated a discussion of the status of the third—yet often disregarded—East Slavic language: Belarusian. It is the official language of Belarus, yet everything about Belarusian—the spelling of its name, the number of its speakers, and the peculiarities of its grammar—seems to be controversial.
In recent weeks, a number of mainstream news media outlets, including the CNN and The New York Times, have attempted to explain the current crisis in Ukraine in terms of a division between the more “Russian” eastern (and southern) Ukraine and the more “Ukrainian” western (and central) parts of the country. However, the easy slippage between ethnic and linguistic terms is problematic in the case of Ukraine because the ethnic and linguistic categories are not coextensive, although they do overlap to a significant degree. Moreover, speaking of the Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking populations are forming as two different language communities is somewhat misleading, particularly for the American audience not used to the high degree of bilingualism found in Ukraine.
To what extent do various parts of the world keep with astronomical time, I wondered? Math blogger and Google engineer Stefano Maggiolo answered that question by creating a map that shows the difference between “solar time” and “clock time”, that is the discrepancy between the time when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and 12 noon as it is officially reckoned. On Maggiolo’s map, places where the sun rises and sets later than it should are shown in red and those where the sun rises and sets earlier than it should are shown in green. The deeper the shade, the farther off the local clocks are.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Jim Yardley discussed the proposal by the Spanish government to end the siesta tradition and switch to a meal- and worktime pattern “closer to a 9‑to-5 timetable”. Such a reform would also “move Spain out of the time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy” and into a geographically more appropriate zone that includes Portugal and Britain. In response, Slate’s L.V. Anderson wrote that, contrary to the Yardley’s assumption, the Spanish mealtime pattern may be better for “personal productivity”, particularly for those who “like to eat” or “are not a morning person”. Both Yardley and Anderson seem to assume that the late-meal pattern is unique to “Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners” (as the New York Times headline calls it) and is due to the country’s climate. This assertion is not entirely true, however, as people in Italy and France traditionally dine relatively late in the evening as well.