Category Archives: Anthropology

Dialects

This is a fun video. It includes a few pronunciation sweeps we don’t usually see.

Do you know the phrase “The furnace is broken, call Earl the oilman!” Which, in certain American English dialects sound like “… Oil the earlman.”

And you know “Paak the caa in Haavaaad yaaad” form the dialect that the “r’s” except the ones that aren’t there. When I lived in that region, I need to learn the specific dialect of Somerville Mass, otherwise it was impossible to do certain things like get off the bus. If you are in the back of the bus, you yell out “rear door” so the driver will open the back door for you. But if it doesn’t sound like “Reaa dohaaa” you will miss your stop.

I’m told I have a thick dialect. Amanda and I were at a restaurant the other day, and for reasons I can’t remember, the region of birth of the waiter and everyone else came up. He said to me, “you’re from New York, right?” and I said, “Yes, how did you know?” and Amanda and the waiter broke out laughing. I checked to see if I was wearing a hat or T-shirt that said something on it, but I wasn’t.

OK here’s another one:

I’ll tell you two Minnesota dialect stories. First, I’ll mention that Minnesota itself has multiple dialects, and at least one of them runs well into Wisconsin, but not Milwaukee or the cities down near Chicago.

When I first moved to Minnesota, I got a local friend who ended up showing me around the Twin Cities (mainly Minneapolis), showing me the ropes and all that. I noticed she had certain mannerisms of speech other than the usual Minnesota accent. I didn’t hear these things from anyone else, so I figured it was just her.

Then, I met my wife, years later, and got to know a lot of people in the western Suburbs. Eventually I realized that my wife and my friend had the same mannerisms. Turns out this was a eastern Plymouth/Golden Valley accent, pretty much developed in the Robinsdale school district (Neil Armstrong High).

One of my first times out state (the increasingly considered no-no-term for “rural Minnesota”) and which is roughly like “up state” in New York, this happened. We had been up to Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi (and no, “Itasca” is meant to sound a little Indian but it is actually derived clumsily from the Latin, something about a head). Up there, you don’t meet too many local people, and in fact, I didn’t. But on the way back, we stopped for a brat at a local S.A. (all hardware stores, grocery stores, and gas stations in Minnesota are also little restaurants, or at least, were when I first moved here, but many have dropped that tradition with the arrival of fast food). Anyway, I ordered the brats, gave the young girl (maybe 15) the money, and she returned my change. Then, she said as I was leaving, “Gudatcha!”

I said, “what?”

She said, “Gudatcha!”

That happened a few times. Finally I smiled and said, “you too” and left.

Eventually, I figured out what it meant. Can you?

I’ll end with this one. It is a classic. NOT WORK SAFE MAY BE OFFENSIVE

Native Americans Actually Do Exist

The law works differently in different countries. If you commit a crime in one country, and jump over the border to an adjoining country, what can or might happen to you depends on the arrangements that have been made between the two countries.

Similarly, the law that applies, and the actual application of the law if any, is complicated when it comes to non-natives committing crime on native lands, which are separate nations, within the United States. I am very far from an expert on this. What I know about it comes from conversations with my friend Shawn Otto, who wrote a novel set in this boundary space between native and non-native lands (Sins of Our Fathers: A Novel, excellent story, go read it).

PZ Myers commented on something related in a recent blog post in which he notes a recent study suggesting that nearly half of non-Native Americans do not believe that Native people exist.

Recently, a host on a wildly popular podcast, who is Indian (as in from the Indian subcontinent, in Asia) took to referring to himself and his compatriots as “real Indians,” a reference to the idea that Columbus got it wrong when he referred to the indigenous people he ran into in the Caribbean as “Indians,” thinking he was in Asia while at the same time not having a very clear concept of what “Asia” might actually be.

I found that reference deeply offensive and I’m neither Asian-Indian or American Indian. Its just that Native Americans have enough trouble being taken seriously that I’m pretty sure they don’t need some over privileged Hollywood type from California suggesting that Native Americans are in some way non-real.

I grew up in Upstate New York, and later moved to the Boston area. That was, in a sense, going backwards in historical time in relation to Indians. From my own studies of regional history and archaeological work in the time period, I knew that a very large percentage of the Native cultures near Boston, and anywhere near Boston, were wiped out way early in the Colonial Period, while Native groups played a more persistent role in US history in New York and nearby areas of Canada. Putting this another way, we are not even quite sure of the full range of tribes that existed or what they called themselves, along the Massachusetts coast, while the New York area Haudenosaunee and some Algonquin groups are well known in history, and very much present both on and off reservations.

I remember moving to Milwaukee for a year, and discovering that Wisconsin had what was referred to as the “Indian Problem” by some people. It sounds a little more obnoxious than it actually was. The problem was disagreement over fishing rights and regulations in commonly held territories, and it was a problem that involved claims by Indian groups vs. claims by the state. I heard the term “Indian Problem” later, and read it in older documents, when I moved to Minnesota. The process of taking land from Indians, and otherwise pushing them out, moving them aside, or starving them off, was very recent in Minnesota. There are living people who’s grandparents had artifacts from the Dakota War(aka “Sioux Upraising” or “Little Crow’s War”). Some of those artifacts may have been body parts from Native Americans executed after the uprising was put down. In historic documents, the “Indian Problem” seems sometimes to refer to the constant threat of Indian attack in areas near Minneapolis or Saint Paul, well within the current boundaries of the Twin Cities metro area, early in the 20th century. These attacks are memorialized in stories and newspaper accounts, way post-date the Dakota War, and I’m 100% sure they never ever happened. They were used as a publicity stunt to make the idea of traveling out to the Twin Cities to stay in a hotel and take in the fresh air more exciting for New Yorkers and others out east.

The study mentioned above is described here. The study shows that Native American erasure from common or popular understanding in the United States is partly due to the way Native people and issues are treated by the media. Also, Natives are largely underrepresented, or absent, in educational programs, or where they appear, it is as historical figures or factors as though they existed in the past, but not necessarily now.

I actually don’t see this as a huge problem in Minnesota, and I assume it is more of a bi-coastal and possibly Southern thing. Native American presence in Minnesota is pretty out front, and I think it would be very difficult to find that more than a tiny percentage of Minnesotans think Native Americans don’t exist. Of the several individuals running for Governor or Lt. Governor in Minnesota this year, at least one is a Native American. This does not mean that the attitude about Native people is good. It probably isn’t on average. Native American reservations are often discussed in the same light as really bad urban neighborhoods, as places to avoid. At best, Native Americans are interesting or quaint.

(I note that the above mentioned Shawn Otto write the script for a brand new planetarium show in our local natural history museum, in which a kid bonks his head and ends up in an oz-like world where he learns about the history of the universe. The role is played by a young Native boy. That was helpful.)

A few years ago there was an effort by the state, I think through the Department of Education, to have more reference to Native peoples in schools. The way they did this was, in my view, not smart. Although the standard itself was somewhat better defined, they essentially required that every core course taught in the schools incorporate something about Native Americans. That’s it. Simple. This, of course, required that, say, the physical science teacher, or the math teacher, be sufficiently expert in Native American studies of some sort, to come up with something, and sufficiently enlightened to not end up doing something harmful, misleading, or hateful. There are a lot of ways to get a key bit of subject matter into a curriculum. Telling each teacher to come up with ten minutes on that topic no matter what they are teaching has never been done before, for any topic. Why this topic? Clearly, the mandate was not being taken seriously.

From the Women’s Media Center coverage of the above mentioned report:

When exposed to narratives about Native people that included factual information about present-day Native life, more accurate history, positive examples of resilience, and information about systemic oppression, respondents from all demographics showed more support for pro-Native policy and social justice issues. Information that was shared with respondents included simple statements such as “The government signed over 500 treaties with Native Americans, all of which were broken by the federal government. From 1870 to 1970, the federal government forcibly removed Native American children from their homes to attend boarding schools.” On key issues such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, racist mascots, and tribal sovereignty, 16-24 percent more people supported the position of tribes after being exposed to these new messages.

That large a shift in public support can easily be the difference in an election outcome, a bill’s passage, or the actions of large corporations, such as sports teams. Positive and accurate portrayal of Natives in the mainstream media has the potential to significantly advance Native rights in this country. Alongside the report, Reclaiming Native Truth released a guide for allies on how to improve coverage of Native Americans. The guide includes examples of positive messaging and questions for media makers to ask themselves, such as “Am I inadvertently contributing to a false or negative narrative by not taking into account or including contemporary Native peoples in my work?”

“The research really challenges the media to do their job better. The media has a deep ethical responsibility to not fall into these standardized tropes,” said Echo Hawk. “We can do a lot in terms of empowering Native voices and telling Native stories, but we can’t do it on our own. We need non-Natives as allies who are also talking about us and championing accurate representation.”

Photo above: Minnesotans learning about Native Americans at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum, in Minnesota.

The Story of Ollie and his Flashlights

Ollie Andersen and his wife lived much of the summer in a cabin in northern Minnesota,where Ollie fished, watched birds, and spent considerable effort keeping his boat in repair, while his wife made canned goods and embroidery to bring to the market a few times a year down in Walker, not to make money, but to sell for the Leech Lake Area Benefit Association, her favorite local charity.

One day Ollie came up to the cabin after a couple of weeks down in the cities, and his mail box, out on the county road, was full of junk mail and a few good pieces of mail. Ollie had noticed over recent months that more and more mail was coming to the cabin address, and on more than one occasion he found several days worth either soaked because a bad rain had blown into the box, or found the mail knocked out by the wind and strewn around in the ditch by his drive. So, he decided, about mid August, on a plan to do something good and healthy for himself and deal with the mail box problem at the same time. Every evening, after dinner, Ollie would walk up the drive, out to the county road, and check on the mail.

Now, you have to understand a few pertinent facts. Continue reading The Story of Ollie and his Flashlights

Minnesota Northern Scowl

I call it the Minnesota scowl. It is a little like a Minnesota “stern look” but the latter is wielded as necessary and on demand. The scowl is always there, as a gumpy resting face. You’ve heard of Minnesota nice. This is the Minnesota scowl. Same thing, just more honest.

As far as I know it is an up north thing, not a city thing. In fact, just the opposite. I used to live in South Minneapolis in a neighborhood where everyone had literally gotten together in a series of meetings and decided that they would always smile at each other and say “hello” when out walking. There were hand-outs for those who had not attended the meetings. They also decided to walk around all the time. This produced a somewhat odd, almost uncomfortable, effect, at first. But in the long run, once people settled into it, it worked out pretty well. It made for a neighborhood that seemed friendly. It seemed like if you needed something – if there was some kind of an emergency – people would be ready and willing to help out. Continue reading Minnesota Northern Scowl

Black holes of isolation induced oddness

This happened once.

A major new venue was to be opening some time in the next year. A major existential threat was menacing the planet. A major star, one of the biggest ever, was said to be interested in performing a benefit concert, somewhere interesting, to help an important cause.

I suggested that the major star perform as the first ever act at the major new venue, in order to raise major money and awareness and stuff to address the major existential threat that was menacing the planet. Everyone involved in the conversation was pleased with the idea. A message was dispatched in the direction of the major star, via an available contact.

What happened next was interesting, disturbing, and expected. Continue reading Black holes of isolation induced oddness

Measurements of the human male kakadodo organ, does it matter and why?

This is a repost of an item I put up in 2013 based on some interesting scientific research. Today, I was told by Google that if I do not take the article down, I will lose my ad sense qualification. Google and companies like Google are giant behemoths that do not have humans to whom one can talk when they do something boneheaded like this. So, I’ll unpublish the original item and post it here with a change in title. Also, words that might be interpreted by an unintelligent robot at Google as violating policy have been changed. Continue reading Measurements of the human male kakadodo organ, does it matter and why?

A Thanksgiving Day Story: Fear, Loathing, Feasting, Family

What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a feast. But what is a feast? Anthropology is all about examining ourselves through the lens of other cultures. Or, at least, that’s what we used to do back in the good old days. Let’s have a look at this great American holiday from this perspective and see what we see. Continue reading A Thanksgiving Day Story: Fear, Loathing, Feasting, Family

The Untermassfeld Controversy

Ancient European humans and their near relatives such as late Homo erectus, “archaic” Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans all come from an African stock. While some of the variation we see in these late members of the genus Homo certainly arose in Eurasia, these groups all represent either African populations or stems coming off an African trunk.

There are two chronologies proposed for the early occupation of Europe, for the time before these branches are clearly visible. The “long chronology” has human relatives in Europe perhaps as far back as two million years, and the “short chronology” has these human relatives at around a half million years ago or later.

The truth is probably this: Continue reading The Untermassfeld Controversy

When translations go bad, bad things can happen

The gift shop had a key chain with a miniature hominid skull (KNM-ER 1470) on it. I saw the price tag, and it looked very expensive. I’m not sure if it looked expensive because I had just arrived in-county and had not yet adapted to the local currency, or if was because I had just spent the last 10 months living in an economy where you could literally purchase ownership of a prisoner for about five bucks (ransom? human trafficking? maybe there isn’t much of a difference). In any event, the price looked high, so I turned to the cashier and said, in a language that we both knew and that should have allowed a mutually intelligible conversation, “This useless object just grabbed me and threw me violently to the ground!” Continue reading When translations go bad, bad things can happen

That Columbus Day is Evil: A truth and a falsehood

Update: Long after I penned this essay, Cambridge MA (which is not Boston but is near and different from Boston) renamed Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day.”

The photograph above is of the Columbus Statue in the North End, doused with red paint in 2006.

Columbus Day has become a holiday of disdain, and there are many people who feel it should be taken off the books. It is a little like the Martin Luther King Jr. day maneno in reverse. If you were a progressive thoughtful American you’d have supported having a state-wide Martin Luther King Jr. day, and probably also a street named after the highly influential slain civil rights leader. If, on the other hand, you were a Republican and/or racist white supremacist type (and there are a lot more of those than gentile people like to admit) than you’d have come up with some lame excuse for not having a Martin Luther King Jr. day or a Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in your state or town. When the Federal version of MLK day was being debated in congress, it was the likes of Jesse Helms who opposed it. Numerous states resisted adding MLK day, and it was not until the year 2000 that all states in the US celebrated the only US holiday for the birth of a famous person who was not white by actually taking the day off.

Continue reading That Columbus Day is Evil: A truth and a falsehood

How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present?

The original post generated a lot of comments, including from expert historians who strongly disagreed with my post. I put those comments at the bottom of the post so you can see them. I am sticking to my story that the consideration of people murdered as witches should include the 13th century, and does not for reasons having more to do with quirks of the practice of history than to the behavior of the Europeans at the time. I also maintain that typical estimates accepted by historians are by nature conservative.

Now, on to the original post:
Continue reading How many people were killed as Witches in Europe from 1200 to the present?