I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Whistling languages

Heard on NPR the other day...a story about Yupik in Alaska, who have a whistling language, apparently the only one (or at least the only one still in use) in the US. There are a few others around the world, and they evolved as a way for people to communicate across distance, since a whistle can be heard from further away than a voice. The Yupik whistles mimic sounds in the Yupik language. The women being interviewed whistled in English, to give an example, though English did not seem as amenable to translation as Yupik.

Anyway, a fun anthropological story. There is such great advantage to us being able to communicate across shared languages (or shared language, yes we English speakers have it easy) and yet at the same time it seems so important to me that the diversity of languages remain, probably because they are also a symbol of the diversity of culture and the diversity of humans.

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