Thursday, November 30, 2006

For March: Putin's Russia

For our March 18 meeting, we have selected the late journalist Anna Politkovskaya's, Putin's Russia. Be sure to participate in the Holiday Card Action offering condolences to her family and friends. (Note: This book will be available in paper on December 26.)
Hailed as “a lone voice crying out in a moral wilderness” (New Statesman), Anna Politkovskaya made her name with her fearless reporting on the war in Chechnya. Now she turns her steely gaze on the multiple threats to Russian stability, among them President Putin himself.

Putin’s Russia depicts a far-reaching state of decay. Politkovskaya describes an army in which soldiers die from malnutrition, parents must pay bribes to recover their dead sons’ bodies, and conscripts are even hired out as slaves. She exposes rampant corruption in business, government, and the judiciary, where everything from store permits to bus routes to court appointments is for sale. And she offers a scathing condemnation of the ongoing war in Chechnya, where kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture are begetting terrorism rather than fighting it.

Sounding an urgent alarm, Putin’s Russia is both a gripping portrayal of a country in crisis and the testament of a great and intrepid reporter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Caltech Event: International Human Rights Day Film Night

In honor of International Human Rights Day (December 10), Amnesty International Group 22, the Caltech Y's Social Activism Speaker Series, and the Caltech Falun Club will present a screening of Sandstorm, a film by Michael Mahonen.

Sandstorm tells the story of He Tianying, a mid-level Chinese police officer. For twelve days and nights, He and his wife have been trapped in their home during a massive sandstorm covering a large area of China. His wife is running out of life-sustaining medicine, their young daughter is missing in the storm, electricity and phone communication have been cut off, and their food and water are running out. As He Tianying cares for his dying wife, in this isolation and confinement, his conscience starts to emerge. As a policeman, he has been involved in the vicious persecution of common Chinese citizens who follow the spiritual practice of Falun Gong. In a series of flashbacks, he painfully recalls one particular Falun Gong practitioner whom he had been attempting to force to renounce her beliefs. As He Tianying consumes the last of his food and water, he is visited in a dream by an apparition of his daughter who helps guide him toward deeper truths and hope.

Date: Sunday December 10, 2006 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Location: Beckman Institute auditorium - Find on Campus Map

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Endangered Languages

Here are some general resources on endangered languages to supplement our reading of Spoken Here: First there are several organizations involved in this issue: Society for Endangered Languages, TerraLingua and the Foundation For Endangered Languages. Chicago Public Radio has an interview with the Foundation's Chairman, Nick Ostler. One thing I'll say is that these groups are very academic and their cause could really use some PR aimed at the layperson. In any case, there are some fun langauge sites to explore: Why not start translations the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? More language samples available at the Language Museum. Numbers in over 5000 languages can be found here. My favorite is a series of essays from openDemocracy on untranslatable words,
Every language has words that trigger personal truths, national histories, or cultural peculiarities; words that resonate in heart and mind as well as on the tongue. Can we translate the untranslatable?
Finally, UNESCO has a recent special issue of their newsletter the Messenger dedicated to endangered languages, and an interactive map of Africa.

Spoken Here: Mohawk

Time to visit Canada on our Spoken Here journey. Start with Omniglot's Mohawk page or links from Native American Langage Net. Here's a cool idea-- Mohawk lessons via podcast. Or visit the Kahnawake Language Center. Recommended features: Photo archive and radio, just to hear what the language sounds like. There's also a bit of Mohawk in this audio documentary about Mohawk ironworkers who worked on the World Trade Center from Lost and Found Sound.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Spoken Here; Provencal

More encounters with the endangered languages of Spoken Here. Probably, if I was capable of searching in French, we'd have better links for Provencal, but here's Omniglot's Occitan page, with orthographic comparison. Otherwise, I get a lot of dead links... not a good sign for an endangered language. I suggest going back to your Manx lessons or planning your own linguistic fieldwork (with sidetrips) in Provence.

Spoken Here; Manx

Next stop on our Spoken Here journey is the Isle of Man and we are full of amusements! For you serious types, you can check out the Manx language Omniglot page. But then its time to visit the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, the Manx language primary school, and check out the pictures of Leslie Quirk. Try this site for some Manx lessons with audio, or play a little vocab game here. If you get more serious you can try the Learning Manx blog. If you just want some good visuals (or to plan your vacation) visit Manx National Heritage Web Site or Isle of Man Guide,

Spoken Here: Yuchi

Continuing with our Spoken Here adventures, our visit to Oklahoma is a little thin on resources, but here's a page of Yuchi links from Native American Language Net and here's the tribe's official site.

Spoken Here: Australia

What's a travel book without pictures? And a travel book about languages without sound? Bear with me for a series of posts related to Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages that will fill in some of the audio-visual gaps. Beginning with Australia, I encourage a visit to the Postcards From Halls Creek website, poke around for pictures and give a listen to the audio program featuring voices of residents talking about their community, including some Jaru speakers. Wadeye Aboriginal Community has a similar friendly site, while the Tiwi Islands site features tempting photographs for tourists but a less personal feel.

If you want to explore some more, Aboriginal Languages of Australia might be a good place to site or the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies (check out this map). For less academic wanderings, try Aboriginal Art Online.

Happy wandering!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Good News! Helen Berhane Released

Coming into the season for giving thanks, we are grateful for the release of Eritrean gospel singer Helen Berhane (see previous post). Official Amnesty press release here. There is still much work to be done, however. Click here for an action urging the government of Libya not to return refugees to Eritrea to be tortured. Libyan authorities rounded up and detained 300 Eritrean refugees in August, including 80 women and five children between the ages of two and six. Refugees need protection, not further persecution.

Our November Author: Mark Abley

Here's a little background on Mark Abley, author of Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. First, a little bit of biographical information, as well as a bit about his other books, is available here. A couple of interviews are available online, one from his publisher and one from the Montreal Review of Books. He drops hints about his next book:
It's kind of a follow-up to Spoken Here. The topic is a huge one - how English and the other major languages of the world are changing, and what the future might hold for the way we speak and write.
Finally, the Foundation for Endangered Languages shares one of his poems.
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