Saturday, August 15, 2009


If your language is not and never has been written, and you decide to start writing it, you have a few options. One is to wait for someone to invent an alphabet (or set of signs) for your language. A second option is to wait for some missionaries or conquerors to apply their alphabet (or set of signs) to your language. A third option is to create your own alphabet (or set of signs). Finally, a fourth option to voluntarily (or semi-voluntarily) adopt someone else's alphabet (or set of signs).

Recently a minority tribe (consisting of about 60,000 people) centered in the Indonesian city of Bau-Bau decided that the perfect script with which to capture their language was . . . Hangul, better known as Korean. While it may be that the Korean alphabet (and yes, Korean uses an alphabet) perfectly captures the sounds of Cia-cia, it is still an odd choice for a number of reasons. First, Hangul is not used for any language other than Korean, and is not "official" anywhere outside of the Korean penninsula. Second, none of Bau-Bau's neighbors use Hangul to write. That seems obvious from point one, but remember that it also means that literacy in Cia-cia and another language will require literacy in multiple alphabets. It also means relatively few people will be willing or able to learn written Cia-cia. Third, there is no historical, cultural, or other tie between this tribe and Korea. It was more or less chosen out of the blue.

Meanwhile, Korean perspective on this is interesting too. A Korean institute actually markets the use of Hangul internationally, and they are supplying books and a Korean center in Bau-Bau. The Yonhap article linked above talks about linguists hoping this will help spread Hangul globally, and allow a demonstration of the "excellence" of Hangul worldwide. So, part of this is national pride for Korea. A more tenuous note comes from Kim Joo-won, who is quoted as saying "in the long run, the spread of Hangeul will also help enhance Korea's economy as it will activate exchanges with societies that use the language."

I'm not sure the Koreans have thought the economic/societal exchange issue through. I mean, written Vietnamese uses an adapted Latin alphabet, and is part of the eastern Mon-Khmer language family. The missionaries who adapted the Latin alphabet to Vietnamese were Portuguese and (presumably) spoke Portuguese. Portuguese uses the Latin alphabet and is part of the Iberico-Romance branch of the Romance languages. I don't think the common alphabet has sparked an economic boon between these countries. Similarly, Korean is a linguistic isolate (!), while Cia-cia is on Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian languages. In other words, not so related.

In any case, it is very interesting that this decision was made. It will be interesting to see if the alphabet is maintained if Korean support wanes, and whether closer relations do materialize.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I just finished John Drummond's "Thirty Years in the Trenches Covering Crooks, Characters, and Capers." I can't say that it is a tremendous piece of literature. It is real, like Bulldog always was. It does capture a series of turns of phrase that you don't see so much anymore. Check these out:

"As time went on the park became a haven for jackrollers and male prostitutes."
Apparently a "jackroller" is a prostitute who robs her clients. In fact, when I googled "jackroller" we got an urban dictionary definition that is 5 up, 3 down. And that did not require that the "jackroller" be a prostitute. says it is a prostitute who robs her customer. Any clarification? Anyone?
"Although critics of the magazine called it a rag, Kahn claimed his publication enabled 'visiting firemen' to know where the action was."
Clearly no magazine could be a "rag" if it shows "visiting firemen to know where the action is." I am pretty sure that it doesn't mean "visiting firemen" literally.
"Joe liked the sauce when he was young and by the time he was working as a short order cook at a North Side greasy spoon he was drinking heavily."
If I were a saucier as a younger cook and had to work at a North Side greasy spoon, I'd probably start drinking too.
"Pritchard was on bad paper with the warden."
I figured out that "on bad paper" meant in trouble. I just don't know why it means that. Is "bad paper" bad because it has too little linen in it? Or is a bad paper something like USA Today?
"Jaworskyj had gone into witness protection and was singing for his supper."
Cripes! Should Drummond have told us what the guy was doing for a living? I mean, in this day and age there just aren't that many live music venues, youo know?
"His wife, Pamela was doing a twenty year stretch at another Federal prison when Jack did the 'Dutch Act.'"
The Dutch Act? It took a surprisingly short time to find on line that it meant "to commit suicide." You know why? Me neither. This page claims that it was coined by the St. Louis Police Department because so many prominent German ("Dutch") St. Louisans killed themselves. Others claim that it has to do with the English-Dutch rivalry in the 17th century. Of course, that page does not indicate whether the Dutch Act is or was used by Britons . . . I guess I lean closer to overly emotional Dichtern und Denkern killing themselves than some foolishness from the 17th century.
"Middleton's CIA ties didn't keep him out of a Federal hoosegow."
"Once an idol of fistiana in Chicago, Johnny Bratton for all practical purposes had been forgotten."
"Hoosegow" and "fistiana" are both words that, to quote John Drummond have "for all practical purposes been forgotten.
"Although the matches may not be the 'Real McCoy' wrestlers have got to know how to . . . choreograph a pier six brawl."
I didn't know about Pier Six's reputation. I knew about Pier One, and knew about Pier 39. The trick is getting from Pier One to Pier 39 without ending up in a pier six brawl.