Another busy week of news relevant to readers of this blog:
A few months ago, the Times Literary Supplement reported on the curious case of A.D. Harvey, who was unmasked as a serial creator of false personae who collectively had created a self-perpetuating network of literary fraud, of course all Harvey himself, until the false story of a meeting between Dickens and Dostoyevsky was unmasked and, with it, Harvey himself. Now, this week, the Guardian interviews Harvey, giving a fascinating glimpse into the sort of person who would spend decades creating false identities and fictitious scholarship.
Some of my readers who are keen on cryptography have probably already seen this article in Wired, discussing the fascinating Kryptos Sculpture and its secret decipherment by the NSA years before its official CIA decipherment. The Kryptos Sculpture is one of those things that, in the absence of context, would clearly cause Phaistos 0r Voynich-level excitement in future decipherers.
Not to leave my typography buffs out in the cold, this week the news has been going around about Paul Mathis, the Australian restaurateur who has created a new letter of the alphabet, a logogram ‘Ћ’ for the word ‘the’ to parallel & for ‘and’, at the cost of $38,000. Alas, I don’t see this one catching on, even though the sign already exists in most character sets as a Cyrillic character. I just want to know what costs $38,000 to develop an already-existing character.
The always-fascinating Language Log has a post this week about the fascinating Potosí miners’ language, a mixed language of Spanish, Quechua and Aymara used from the 16th century to this day by miners in central Bolivia. The survival of this fascinating variety is highly dependent on the continuity of traditional mining practices and a multiethnic speech community.
For those of you who have a PhD or are in a doctoral program, you may want to check out this visualization of the lengths of dissertations at the University of Minnesota. My field, anthropology, is second-longest (after history) and has the widest range of any discipline, unsurprisingly in a discipline that spans both natural science and humanities. As for me? My dissertation checks in at 663 pages and is an extreme outlier in any field. Woohoo!
Great news in Native American baseball sociolinguistics: the Arizona Diamondbacks hosted the first-ever baseball game broadcast in Navajo (or indeed, any other Native American language), in honour of their Native American Recognition Day. Now if only we could do something about those pesky mascots elsewhere in the league …
You may have heard this week that J.K. Rowling, the author of the blockbuster Harry Potter series, was unmasked this week as the author of a crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the name of Robert Galbraith. While some of the evidence leading to the break was ordinary sleuthing, there’s a neat discussion in Ben Zimmer’s column in the Wall Street Journal of the role of forensic stylometry, or the linguistic analysis of texts to ascertain authorship, in confirming and breaking the story, with a complementary essay at Language Log by Patrick Juola, who did the analysis, of the science underlying it.
I was so very pleased to see the first post in nearly a year over at the philology blog, Stæfcræft & Vyākaraṇa. And this one is great – a historical linguistic analysis of the Finnish expletive used by Linux developer Linus Torvalds, with digressions into Indo-European mythology. I hate to disagree, with Torvalds, though: there certainly are enough swear words in English, although the Finnish ones sure are fun too!
Stephen Houston and Alexandre Tokovinine write over at the Maya Decipherment blog about some newly-analyzed earspools and a hair ornament bearing Maya glyphs. It’s a shame to not have any provenance on these, part of the great tragedy that is looting in Mayan archaeology, but fascinating nonetheless to see Maya writing outside of monuments and codices, in a decorative context.
Lastly, Stefan Fatsis, the author of Word Freak and general expert on Scrabble, writes this week in the New York Times about the decision by Hasbro to fold the National Scrabble Association, effectively ending its sponsorship of competitive Scrabble. While the immediate effect may be slight – Hasbro’s commitment has been waning for several years and the independent NASPA is going strong, as far as I know – it’s sad to see the abdication of responsibility among game manufacturers for the cultures that keep them vibrant.