Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Linguist Friend writes: Pirates of Lake Erie

Yesterday I was well into the second lab of the course in acoustics that I teach for our undergraduates, demonstrating how one could look at a voltage signal in terms of the wonderfully deep and unifying mathematics of Joseph Fourier, for students who have forgotten most of the mathematics that they learned in the small towns of northwestern Ohio that feed our local university. Suddenly I realized from a computer monitor display that someone of the students had recorded and analyzed an acoustic speech signal, longer and much more complex than the simple vowels that I had asked the students to look at. When I commented on this, one of the students piped up “It’s “Talk like a pirate” day! You record something too!”. Lo and behold, I realized that a theme of which I knew mainly from the comments of CC and Fausto had penetrated a region better known for its annual tractor pull contest.

This was but another testimonial to the unifying effect of the Internet in spreading cultural themes through very indirect routes. This should not be a great surprise. “Talk like a pirate day” on September 19 is not very old. The Socinian gives more background than I could dredge up and does a better job than I could of hosing the mud off the vital information. But I do wonder what routes this pirate idea has traveled through. It is fascinating, when realizes, for instance, that rulers’ names and horse-racing terminology current in the Mitanni kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia, of ancient Syrian small states, and of the Kassite dynasty of Babylon in the period 1700--1400 BC are in an early form of Sanskrit, the classical language of ancient India. It leads to an exploration of links in cultural history and the early movement of the Aryan peoples that could not otherwise be clearly demonstrated. “Talk like a pirate day” in demonstrating the expanding vitality of such currents of cultural diffusion also reminded me that our students, although not nearly as well educated as those of Singapore (which means something like “Lion City”, simha-pura, in Sanskrit, by the way), have their delightful moments.

Linguist Friend

(Item: Linguist Friend is a linguist, but he’s also a laryngeal physiologist. This has just never been relevant to anything I’ve written about him, so it hasn’t come up here. And somebody going "Arr!" in to his acoustical equipment is an idea that has CC laughing as she types this. -CC)


Dr. Forbush said...

I love it!

My PDA alarm went off at midnight September 19 and my wife asked me what it was. I hadn't remembered programming it until I looked and it said, "Argh, its International Talk Like a Pirate Day!" In the morning my wife told my kids and my six years old really got into it.

Dave Barry started this in his column several years ago, and my family has been talking like a pirate ever since. (Actually only on September 19 and maybe a couple of days after…)

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