November 2017 letter
It has been over a year since I wrote anything for this site. And this is a small contribution because I am still busy settling down. I now have my Canadian passport renewed, have a permanent address in Canada, and I don’t see any hurdles ahead. I am busy getting what I need and getting it working. Winter has come – a proper cold, windy, snowy start. I am very afraid of falling so walk in it as little as I can. But thank goodness I have not forgotten how to walk in winter – feet put down square not heel first and center of gravity always over the feet, good winter boots. I am making sauerkraut for the first time. If it works well, I may try lots of fermented food. I fancy making fermented salsa.
I’ll put in a plug for a friend’s book – a short novel but a good one. The Black Caravel by Harry Nicholson. He was the host of Mom, Mel, aunt Marjorie and uncle Walter in Yorkshire when Walter had his gall bladder attack. And he is the person who started the Barmby family tree by going through the church records for the area. The book is a historical adventure. The history is accurate as is the Yorkshire tongue. The sailing scenes are accurate – Harry was a radio operator on merchant ships in his youth. The book is a sequel to Tom Fleck.
I have rejoined Toastmasters and it feels like home. I may join other things in time. But not yet. First I need to get my things and my place in order and then use my time to see some people that I haven’t seen for a long time. I am very determined to get a well organized apartment – Ciara who is in her early 30s said I had not been in a well organized and completed finished house since she was a young child. How true. I am expecting to be given a cat soon.
This month just 2 items: my take on a recently discovered civilization, and my take on the French language. Enjoy.
Surprising Old Europe culture
There are a lot of interesting things that I have recently found out about the ‘Danube culture’ or ‘Old Europe.’
1. Why did I not know about this culture? Information was not available to the public in the English speaking world because the archeology of the Balkans was not really started until the beginning of the last century and did not progress very much due to political instability. It got going in earnest after WW2 but was hidden for western eyes by the iron curtain. After the cool war weakened, it took time, when they were available, to translate the science from Russian and various Balkan languages. Even then there was some resistance to the information because some of it conflicted with accepted theory. There were accusations of forgery, of inaccuracy of carbon dating and that what appeared to be writing was not.
2. Why is it important? Old Europe was probably the oldest civilization, period. Appears to be started with a migration of early agricultural people from eastern Turkey to the Balkans and the Danube valley. There is a number of firsts in their culture including: cities of proper houses with rooms made of wood covered with mud and thatched roofs aligned on streets; very good pottery and professional craftsmen (and craftswomen) class, kilns that could reach 1000 degrees and produce copper from ore, breeding of cows they brought with them from Turkey with wild native bulls to result in animals more suited to local conditions, very long distance trade, very early wheeled vehicles and the beginning of writing. It calls into question whether civilization spread from Sumeria and Egypt or from Old Europe. Sumerian cuneiform writing was 2700 BC and Egyptian writing even later, but Danube writing was 5000 BC.
3. What is different about this particular civilization? It lasted 2 millennium, 5500 – 3500 BC, and its towns and cities seem to have no trace of fortifications during that long period. In other words, it was a peaceful culture. All the houses were the same style and more or less the same size, so the culture was probably fairly egalitarian. But there was some stratification shown in grave goods. The cities did not seem to have important civic, administration, palaces or even religious buildings, so there was basically a consensual political system. There were an enormous number of female figurines that appear to have religion significance especially in the home. There is some evidence of a matriarchy, although some dispute that (surprise or another case of not accepting the evidence?) Marija Gimbutas put forward the idea of a matriarchy and of a religion based on a goddess cult in two very influential books – her detractors say she has all the facts available, is very knowledgeable but is poor analytical thinker. The place was very rich with a lot of gold compared to other places and, of course, pretty well the worlds supply of copper goods.
4. How did the culture disappear from the Balkans? There are several theories. Climate change is one but it happened after the culture collapsed. The rise of the Black Sea is another but the rise near the right time was minor (the first rise was bigger and about right for forcing the original migration to the Balkans). Degraded environment has been mentioned but there turns out to be no evidence for that. The reason that is now accepted by many is an influx of Yamnaya from the neighboring Steppe. These were horse-riding warriors and they introduced Indo-European language to Europe. There may be resistance to the idea of Old Europe being matriarchal but there is no doubt that the Yamnaya were patriarchal with a capital P.
5. Why did the Yamnaya move west? After a long period of a stable ‘border’ between the steppe culture and the valley culture, the steppe people moved west. There is some evidence of a plague in Europe just before the influx so that may have been an invitation. But there is an interesting fact – genetic evidence points to the migration having a gender ratio of 10 Yamnaya males for every 1 Yamnaya female in the westward flood. The reason for this is probably polygamy – this semi-nomadic herding culture had very strong men who would have big herds and lots of wives, leaving many men with no women to marry and small or no herds. So warrior bands appear to be the answer to seeking your fortune as a young man. There is a bit of a problem with all male conquest. Language of children is heavily influenced by the mother’s language and so how did Indo-European so dominate the creole that must have been created though marriage between invader and native? This may be because of a super male domination by the Yamnaya over his native wife all across conquered Europe. The Yamnaya also appear to have formed a strong ruling class and that could have dominated the language used for important communication.
6. What happened to the Danube people after the collapse of their civilization? Some not doubt died when their cities were each burnt to the ground in single events. Some probably stayed put and lived in a Yamnaya culture. But it seems many fled south to Crete and Greece and further south taking their culture and skills with them. Their genetic footprint is also known, the ‘Mediterranean outlier’, and it is still found in south eastern Europe, is frequent in Crete and common in Greece. The Minoan civilization is very similar to Old Europe include the similarity of Danube writing symbols and Linear A, the written language of Crete. The Greek language (which is IE from a later invasion by IE warriors) has many root words that appear to be from Old Europe – names of rivers and cities, words for a high level of culture and craft skills. The oldest Greek deities are goddesses. There also are some traces of Old Europe in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Before the Old Europe artifacts were properly dated, the similarity of them to some Sumerian ones was convincing enough for the idea that Sumeria had influenced Old Europe, but when the dates turn out to be the other way around, the same evidence was not enough to convince the experts that Old Europe had influenced Sumeria (funny that).
I think this is just the beginning. There will be much more information to be dug up (literally) and many more theories to be upset.
Observations on French
Well, after spending 11 years not learning French, I still noticed some things about it which I will risk sharing.
I observed that I was often nervous for someone speaking and afraid they would run out of breath. I realized that their natural phrasing seems to be a bit longer than English and I don’t remember feeling that hearing German. So speaking French may need less air or they breath deeper or something.
I found that it was almost impossible for me to learn French. I would forget it as fast as I learnt it. After three years I realized that I was not getting anywhere and spending a lot of time on it. I was making myself frustrated, unhappy and unproductive. I know it is mostly me, an individual problem, not a global one. But it occurred to me that it might be that the centuries that France and England were enemies may have resulted in two languages not just growing apart but being forced apart. Who knows.
I noticed that the French are very particular and careful about their vowels and a little sloppy with their consonants. On the other hand the English are sloppy about their vowels and pay attention to the consonants. The French did not seem to have a ‘schwa’ sound and the English tend to use it for all vowels except the accented one in each word.
French spelling is lousy. But it is consistently lousy; whereas English is inconsistently lousier.
The French are very unreasonable about the other languages spoken in France. They refuse to follow the EU Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which is a binding treaty. Every year for 25 years they have been reminded by the EU that they are not following the treaty. The answer seems to be some roundabout way of saying, “No, and we do not intent to follow it because it is sort of against our constitution, or maybe the spirit of the constitution if not the letter, or at least it not in keeping with the ideals of France. (I will not go into how the French revolution started this attitude.)
Actually the French have not problem with being bilingual, they encourage it as long as it is another country’s language. It is just that they feel it is wrong for French citizens to prefer to speak another language for everyday use while in France. It all matters: by citizen, normal use, in France. That appear to be an affront to the nation.
I know there are English speakers that wish that English had an Academy that protected the language from – well, whatever. I personally think it is an absolutely terrible idea. I cannot see the value of having a committee to imprison and bully a language. The purpose of language is communication and if it does not do that, well, what happens is that people change it all by themselves without an elite committee. The French do not seem to be annoyed when the Academy tells them how to use their own language.
And it is a business of who owns what. I have asked some French people whether they feel a duty to French and they all said they do, they have a absolute duty to the language. When I say the I own my English and it does not own me, I owe it nothing – they find that odd. The result is that they try to speak good French as it is their duty. However French makes great demands on the speaker who wants to be ‘Penelope perfect’ and that leads to a general feeling of guilt. Well educated, articulate people will apologize for their language because it could be better if they were not lazy.
I was in France for 11 years without enough French to do anything trickier that buy a loaf of bread. But it that time only one person ever criticized my lack of French. And from what I understood she had been living in England and was criticized often and rudely for her English. With that one exception people were basically helpful, friendly and kind. It could be my smile but it is more likely that they are just friendly people.