Articles in Europe
A recent report in India Today mentions a fatwa (Muslim religious decree) issued by a cleric associated with the Muslim Brotherhood to prohibit women from swimming in the sea. The declared reason is that the word for ‘sea’ is grammatically masculine in Arabic, and so when a woman goes swimming and “the water touches the woman’s private parts, she becomes an ‘adulteress’ and should be punished”. An earlier fatwa issued in Iraq in 2007 “warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders”. But are authors of these fatwas driven by grammar or by culture? And how do literary translators grapple with gender issues?
To follow up on the previous GeoCurrents post on the geography of first names, this post will examine that of surnames. The first map on the left shows the most common European surnames by country. Some interesting patterns emerge here. The geography of surnames in the US is considered as well.
As a university lecturer, I noticed that certain first names are common in different cohorts of students. A few years ago, I would often have two or three Jessicas in my classes, then it was Ashleys, then Jessicas made a come-back. This personal hunch is confirmed by a series of maps, published recently by Jezebel.com and reproduced at the bottom of this post. Based on data from the Social Security Administration, these maps show the most popular names for girls by state, for babies born from 1960 through 2012. While some parents select unusual names for their kids, most opt for safe or fashionable choices. As with clothing, certain names sweep the country, stay popular for a while, and then fall out of fashion, rarely to return.
The recent German federal election has been widely heralded as a major victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union party (along with its regional sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria). Taking almost 42 percent of the vote and nearly half of the seats in the Bundestag, Merkel’s center-right party had its best showing in almost …
Detective fiction is an increasingly popular genre with global appeal that tends to evokes a certain geographical sensibility. In exploring the geography of this genre, it is helpful to start with the geography of murder, as detective novels typically revolves around homicide investigations. As revealed by the global map of murder rates in an earlier GeoCurrents post, the United States as a whole is slotted into a medium-low category. However, as can be seen from the GeoCurrents‑made US murder rate map, a great deal of variation can be found the among states. While there are clear and persistent regional patterns in murder, a reader of mystery novels, unfamiliar with the actual statistics, would get a markedly different picture.
In an op-ed piece entitled “What You (Really) Need to Know,” published in the New York Times in January 2012, Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard University, called on universities to reduce investments made to teach students foreign languages. Yet the school he used to lead recently moved in the opposite direction, adding instruction in the Breton language at Harvard’s Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures. To do so, a collaboration agreement has been signed between Harvard and Rennes 2 University in the capital of the French region of Brittany, where Breton is spoken.
The last three decades have witnessed a remarkable rise in xenophobic, deeply conservative, and even extreme right-wing parties across much of Europe. Whereas thirty years ago most xenophobic parties failed to even pass the 5% minimum voter threshold that is typically required to enter government, they now constitute as much as ~28% of the parliament in countries like Austria, and arguably have reached the ~70% level in Hungary. Hoping to understand these surprising changes in the European political climate, this post will briefly analyze the characteristics of the xenophobic right as of 2013, underscore the diversity of xenophobic parties, and try to explain some of the patterns encountered when the far-right takes hold, as well as their exceptions.
With all the media brouhaha about Croatia’s EU ascension, one of our key issues at GeoCurrents has been largely ignored: the issue of the Croatian language. But basic issues about what constitutes the Croatian language are far from settled and the linguistic situation in the region is very complex.
A recent trip to Tromsø, Norway reminded me that there is nothing more beautiful and life-affirming than spring in the Arctic: the return of the sun and the melting of the deep layer of snow allow the first fragile flowers to bloom. It is not this delicate beauty, however, that has recently attracted international attention to the circumpolar region. Six countries—China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore—exhibited renewed interest in the Arctic and were granted observer status in the Arctic Council during its May 15, 2013 meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.
On June 5, 2013, The Times published a brief article on the death of the last speaker of Livonian, Grizelda Kristina, at the age of 103. While it is heartening to see a major popular media outlet taking notice of the issue of language endangerment and death, it is discouraging to see even a short piece such as this one riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and misleading statements.
The spatial distribution of words for a given meaning can reveal interesting patterns of both language spread and language contact. While both factors are always at play, language contact is more evident in regard to words for cultural innovations, such as ‘tea’ or ‘computer’. Another interesting case is the geography of words for ‘book’, which many languages borrowed along with the general concept of ‘book’ and more often than not with one particularly important religious text.
An earlier GeoCurrents post mentioned Finns among the nationalities deported by the Soviets before and during World War II. As it turns out, the situation in the Finnish borderlands is rather more complicated than that. The territory between St. Petersburg and Helsinki is home to a number of ethnic groups whose histories range from cultural and linguistic assimilation to population transfer to outright ethnic cleansing.
Several earlier GeoCurrents posts examined the history and geography of culinary vocabulary, particularly words for ‘cheese’, ‘onion’, and ‘tea’. It has become clear that the distribution of such words in European languages tells a story of both common descent and borrowing. But a completely different picture emerges if we examine words for ‘cucumber’ (see map on the left). Here, areal patterns are more conspicuous than those of language-family relationships.
An interesting article in this week’s Economist examines Britain’s north/south electoral divide. The south, baring London, habitually votes for the Conservative Party, whereas the north generally opts for Labour. The article, quoting John Hobson, traces the division back to the 1800s, when a “southern ‘Consumers England’ of leisurely suburbs” was opposed to “a northern ‘Producers England’ of mills and mines.” …
Like the Samaritans, the Karaites accept only the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) and the Book of Joshua, and their identity as Jews has been questioned on a number of occasions. Unlike the Samaritans, the Karaites celebrate Passover on the standard date, though their observance of the holiday is quite distinctive.