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‘Tis the Season: GeoCurrents 2013 Year-in-Review—And Exciting Plans

Submitted by on December 29, 2013 – 5:49 pm 5 Comments |  
ScienceNordicIn January 2013, GeoCurrents focused on linguistic issues, with articles on the Roma origins and distribution of cognates for ‘onion’ in languages of Europe. A four-part mini-series examined maps of language families around the world, ranging from Indo-European and Tai-Kadai to Tungusic and Eskimo-Aleut. In another three-part series, GeoCurrents responded to a revisionist history and classification of the English language, widely reported in the major media. In their controversial paper, linguists Jan Terje Faarlund and Joseph Emonds claimed that English is a Scandinavian language, more closely related to Norwegian than to Dutch or German (contrary to the consensus view). Their argument was based on the grammatical similarities between English and Norwegian, which include the Verb-Object order, the possibility of stranding a preposition (What did you talk about?), the possibility of splitting the infinitive (to boldly go…), and the phrasal genitive (Mom and Dad’s favorite restaurant). In this series, GeoCurrents considered each of these phenomena more closely and showed that alternative explanations for these patterns in English are called for, which are only indirectly related to the influence of Norse-speaking Vikings in the late Old English and early Middle English periods. All in all, GeoCurrents agreed with Sarah Thomason’s conclusion that “It’s English, not Engelsk”.

Italy 2008 election mapIn February 2013, GeoCurrents was focused on elections that had taken place in late 2012 and early 2013, examining closely electoral maps posted by Electoral Geography 2.0: Mapped Politics. We began with a seemingly minor but nonetheless intriguing election, the Austrian Conscription Referendum of 2013. Other elections considered in separate posts include the Czech Presidential Election, the Israeli parliamentary elections, the South Korean Presidential Election in late 2012, Ghana’s December 2012 presidential election, and the 2013 Italian General Election. GeoCurrents commentary focused on the economic, ethnic, religious, and regional divisions reflected by these voting patterns.

Meat consumption WorldMarch 2013 was the most prolific time at GeoCurrents: we posted 23 articles that month. We continued to consider recent elections, with articles on the December 2012 Constitutional Referendum in Egypt, the 2013 Kenyan Election, and a three-part referendum held in Switzerland in early March. Among other topics that we discussed in March are the geography of happiness and of sin. Somewhat related was a GeoCurrents mini-series on global patterns of food and alcohol consumption, focusing on wine and other types of alcohol, milk and cheese, as well as meat and fish. Also in March, we examined birch bark documents from Old Novgorod, water-related issues in Central Asia, and global missionary efforts of Evangelical Christians.

chechnyaApril 2013 was another busy month for GeoCurrents, as Martin Lewis and Asya Pereltsvaig did a radio interview for Stanford University Radio, KZSU and posted 20 articles on a wide range of topics. That month, GeoCurrents responded to several news items from the major media including the New York Times article on economic development in China and Southeast Asia and the flubbed cartograms used to illustrate this article; an article in Health Affairs on the rising female mortality in the USA; and an article in the Economist examining Britain’s north/south electoral divide. After the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were identified as immigrants of Chechen origin, GeoCurrents took a closer look at their homeland, Chechnya, and its bloody history. Around the time of the Jewish celebration of Passover, GeoCurrents examined two groups on the periphery of the Jewish world: the Samaritans and the Karaites. Other topics included the global patterns in cell phone use, heath infrastructure, and fuel prices.

India Fertility MapMay 2013 saw the publication of two GeoCurrents mini-series: Martin Lewis examined the plummeting birth rates in India and elsewhere, while Asya Pereltsvaig wrote several articles on Soviet-era ethnic deportations and the effects they had on the ethnic map and current tensions in Russia. Another important—and popular—GeoCurrents article took on the article by Mark Pagel, Quentin Atkinson, Andreea Calude, and Andrew Meade entitled “Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia”, published in PNAS. In this joint effort, Asya Pereltsvaig examined the article from a linguistics point of view, and then Martin Lewis critiqued it from a cartographic perspective.

South America_ejectives elevationIn June 2013, GeoCurrents responded to the article by anthropologist Caleb Everett published in PLOS ONE, “Evidence for Direct Geographic Influences on Linguistic Sounds: The Case of Ejectives”, which claimed “that the geographic context in which a language is spoken may directly impact its phonological form”. According to Everett, ejective sounds correlate with high altitudes, a claim that GeoCurrents refuted. Other language-related topics tackled by GeoCurrents in June include mapping American English dialects, the death of the Livonian language, and the newly discovered “mixed” language in Northern Australia. We also provided background to a range of current events items such as tensions surrounding Ethiopia’s building of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, the meeting of the Arctic Council in mid-May 2013, religious tensions in Ethiopia, and the 2013 Iranian Presidential Election.

Farsi Language Map 8The coverage of Iran continued to preoccupy GeoCurrents, with two more articles published in July 2013 examining discrepancies in mapping Persian/Farsi and the tensions between the country’s more conformist core and its reformist periphery, as revealed in Iran’s elections. July also saw the publications of the most controversial and the most commented on post in the history of GeoCurrents (with over 200 comments to date) by a guest blogger James Mayfield entitled “Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe”. While many commentators denied that xenophobic right is as powerful in Europe as Mayfield described, some of the comments by other readers illustrated such tendencies better than any statistical figures or voting patterns could. Another post published in July that stirred controversy examined the history of the (Serbo‑) Croatian language in response to Croatia’s EU ascension. As the post and the comments from our readers made abundantly clear, even the labels for this language (or languages?) are contentious. Other posts worthy of note focused on the transformation of the global markets for asparagus and the geopolitical tensions over Indonesia’s newest province, North Kalimantan.

Syria-Religion-MapIn August 2013, GeoCurrents took a brief vacation, with only a handful posts published. One important contribution that appeared that month was a summary of GeoCurrents’ earlier posts on Syria, which provide extensive background on the current conflict, describing the linguistic, ethnic, and religious divisions in the region.


finctional_detective_saturationIn September 2013, GeoCurrents returned with a map quiz that concerned the global patterns in the left-hand and right-hand traffic directions. Other post-summer topics included the changes in hotel prices worldwide and the geography of detective fiction. Several other articles dealt with more serious topics, such as the geopolitical situation in Iran and in the Middle East more generally. Moreover, GeoCurrents offered Keynote and PowerPoint map overlays of Iran. GeoCurrents has also traveled to Southeast Asia, discussing the uneven economic boom in the Philippines and the controversies over ethnicity, affirmative action, and economic development in Malaysia. One of our most popular posts offered a response to The New York Times’ list of potential new countries, which included the breakaway territory of Azawad in northern Mali, the proposed Arabian Gulf Union, and the splintering of Syria.

2011-state-marijuana-laws-united-statesAnother potential remapping of the Middle East forecasted by Robin Wright was discussed in the first post to be published in October 2013. A couple of other articles dealt with the Middle East as well, focusing on the endangered Jewish languages in the region (and beyond) and describing a lesser-known ethno-religious minority in Syria—the Druze. United States also received significant attention in October, with articles dealing with state-level secession movements, particularly in Northern Colorado and Jefferson, the history of immigration to the US, and the historical geography of given names. GeoCurrents’ environmental concerns came to the fore in an article about the unnecessary environmental destruction from marijuana cultivation in the United States.

RadishchevJourneyNovember 2013 started on GeoCurrents with another map-quiz, one pertaining to primate cities. The following article took a trip through a dismal area between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, arguably Russia’s twin primate cities. However, most of the articles that month were concerned with linguistic issues. One post was a response to the published by Mark Dingemanse et al. in PLOS One on the near universality of “huh?”. A three-part mini-series addressed the Pirahã controversy. Yet another geolinguistically themed post investigated the gender assignment of country names in Russian and French.

division-2mThe issue of gender in language and culture was taken up again in a post entitled “Islamic Fatwas, Grammatical Gender, and Translation—Or Beware of Those Sexualized Vegetables!”, published in December 2013. Yet most posts that month came out of Martin Lewis and Asya Pereltsvaig’s work on a forthcoming book about the Indo-European origins and history. In particular, Martin Lewis published a mini-series of excerpts from the chapter on the vexatious history of Indo-European studies, eliciting responses from our readers.

Rome_Festival_LogoAs we are wrapping up the year 2013, it is a good time to share with our readers our exciting plans for 2014. First of all, we are planning to complete our book manuscript about the Indo-European origins and to submit it, with some delay, to the publisher, Cambridge University Press. In the Spring of 2014, Martin Lewis and Asya Pereltsvaig will teach a course “The Global Geography of Language and Religion” at Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. But our most thrilling project involves an invited hour-long lecture at Rome’s Science Festival in January 2014. This four-day language-themed event, planned to attract 20,000 people, will take place at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome. The speaker list includes Noam Chomsky, David Pesetsky, Mark Baker, and many other notable linguists. Our talk is entitled “The History and Geography of Languages” and will focus on the Indo-European origins. The program of the Festival can be found here.

In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday season and see you back at GeoCurrents in the New Year!

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  • Randy McDonald

    I can’t wait to see next year’s posts!

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you, Randy! Happy New Year!

  • Muhammad

    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year, Madam Asya and Mister Martin! Hope you and your families are doing well. :)

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you, Muhammad!

  • Jagatheesan Chandrasekharan

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