Friday, June 29, 2012

Revealing my Exotometer

"Where are you coming from?" "I am flying in from Laos". The security person at Istanbul airport stares down at me with a look that almost makes me want to confess that I am a terrorist: "there is no such country" he asserts. I reply softly, "Sir, I can assure you there is a country like that. It is next to Thailand".

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Life and Death of Written Languages

First: a quiz: how many "primary written languages" are there in the world? By "primary written languages" I don't mean languages that merely have an orthography (writing system) developed in academia - I mean languages which are truly written in the real world - in other words, languages which their native speakers (or other nationals of their respective countries) use as their language of choice for reading and writing. Examples: English, Amharic, Bahasa Indonesia, Japanese. Examples of languages that are widely used verbally, but their native speakers do not use them as their primary language for writing: Swiss Deutsch, Hausa, Balinese, Zulu.

Monday, June 25, 2012

On the Perceived Directionality of the World

In the past few months I have been fortunate to be able to visit some places in which Salafi Islam has a strong following - countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and the Kashmir valley in India. It was when I was sitting in a tea shop having strong Somali tea and chatting with some Somali elders on a quiet Friday morning in Hargeisa, that it suddenly occurred to me.