fun stuff, world

Old Books on Language

In the last couple of weeks, I have learnt about the existence of three Very Old Books – all of which have an interesting history and share the theme of language. In order of increasing age they are:

I. The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg (~20 years old)

Found this at a second-hand book fair. Outlines how English emerged and evolved from 500AD to present day.

Fun facts:

• Experts in linguistics believe that if you travel to Friesland, Netherlands and listen to the locals talk, you will hear something that closely resembles the ancestor of English.

•Apparently and very importantly, the word ‘cake’ is Old Norse in origin.

• The first English dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall and appeared in 1604. Which brings me to…

II. This tattered dictionary (~32 years)

Almost as old as A Table Alphabeticall me, this was left at our house by a Roommate of Years Past and appeared during a spring clean.

Going through it, I have learnt that a hyponym is a word for something which falls under a broader category (eg a poodle is a hyponym of dog), and that Dunlop is a Scottish cheese. Sounds yum. Maybe some fellow bloggers have tried it?

III. The Voynich Manuscript (~600 years old)

One of the world’s unsolved mysteries. I learnt about this one while traversing an internet rabbit hole. This book is therefore not in my possession, but rather sitting in a library of ye olde manuscripts and books at Yale University.

Image credit: wikimedia commons

You may have heard about it, as it is a famous world mystery. The Voynich Manuscript is a handwritten, hand-drawn handbook and resembles (probably loosely) a Girl Scout’s log of plants and star signs, and written in a weird code, dubbed Voynichese, that linguists and cryptologists have been trying to crack for over five centuries.

The majority of it still remains untranslated, but people have made a tiny bit of progress. I enjoyed the late Professor’s Stephen Bax’s explanations on how how he decoded the word Hellebore, and a few words from there.

This is a very interesting topic to delve into, if you have the time.


Know any fun facts about English/another language? Do you like codes? If you’ve tried Dunlop cheese, would you recommend it, or rather another kind? Have you heard about the Voynich Manuscript? What’s the oldest book you own?


Lost in transit, not translation

I ordered Indigenous Writers of Taiwan in November last year from Blackwell’s UK. Nothing arrived for three months, so I wrote to them and asked for a refund. Blackwells’ was surprisingly good about it. They declared the book Lost In Transit, and credited money to me.

Then my book arrived. Cue feeling like a goose.

Image credit:

I wrote to them again to tell them and PayPal’d them the proper amount to buy the whole guilt-free, if red-faced, reading experience.

This book is the first ever anthology of books written by Indigenous Taiwanese writers translated into English. Looking forward to reading about village life/warrior life as it was in Taiwan, and some general opinions from fellow Taiwanese people.

Some facts:

•According to archaeologists, humans have lived on Taiwan for 15000 years.

• Indigenous Taiwanese folk are divided into two broad groups: plains people and mountain people, the former whom were just about entirely assimilated by Han Chinese (sad)! Once upon a time these two groups were made up of 14 tribes.

• All tribes kept pigs and chickens, however eating chicken used to be seen as a social taboo (I have pet chickens, and think they would totally get behind this).

• The tribes were/are very diverse. The language spoken by one tribe was not necessarily understood by another ie not mutually intelligible.

• There are currently concerted efforts to keep these languages alive.

• Japan occupied Taiwan between 1895 and 1945, and according to the introduction, many Indigenous Elders still identify with the Japanese.


I wrote in an earlier blog post that my family thinks Great-Great-Grandma was an Indigenous lady. It turns out this notion is not a full consensus as some family members disagree, they think she emigrated.

The historical fact of women having restricted travel is still there however.

I don’t suppose we will ever be entirely sure, but Dad also found a family tree written by a cousin, and Great-Great-Grandma’s name was on it, and translates to [Surname] Yellow Sweet. That was nice.

In conclusion: the patience muscle is an excellent one to exercise. This was a timely reminder because it turns out there’s one more week until online classes start.

Anyone waiting for something to happen?


Short Post Saturday

I found this!

The tiny print says, “ᴀɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇɪʀ ᴅɪsᴄᴏᴠᴇʀɪᴇs ᴀs ᴏʀɪɢɪɴᴀʟʟʏ ʀᴇᴘᴏʀᴛᴇᴅ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴘᴀɢᴇs ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ ɪʟʟᴜsᴛʀᴀᴛᴇᴅ ʟᴏɴᴅᴏɴ ɴᴇᴡs”.

Entries are from 1842 to 1970.

Many years from now, this will be an old blog post (2021), about an old book (1976), containing an even older record from an old newspaper (1842 – 1970), about some of the oldest artefacts (34000 BCE)…

Which is quite recursive and fun to think about.


A little popular culture

I have finished consuming:

• 2021 Film, ‘The Dig’.

Very beautiful movie, capturing real human feelings, re: adventure, love, suffering, and according to an archaeologist on social media, it accurately portrays what it’s like to be at a dig site. It also apparently adheres quite well to historical events around the Sutton Hoo excavation, with the exception that the handsome blond pilot was thrown in entirely for dramatisation and eye candy (Hollywood being Hollywood).

Digression: What bugged me at first was that it was set in 1939 just before WWII and the little boy in the film was effusively chatting on about space – the first rocket wasn’t successfully launched until the 1960s. Although the idea of space travel had been floating around and the writer Jules Verne (19th Century) definitely wrote about them. In conclusion, one must fact check before shouting “aha! anachronism!” Not that I did, but lesson learnt anyway…

Hooray for the historical archaeologist Mr. Basil Brown, I am glad your name lives on. Go see it everybody.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

As mentioned in my first post. Today I took a wrong turn on a long drive and as a result I finished this e-book which was playing.

It basically talks about the beginning of life on earth, through evolution, and historical changes, up to present day.

The book focuses a lot on how we as a species have practiced domination and subjugation – whether it was the Neanderthals or the Aztecs or animals in factory farms. This is true.

‘Sapiens’ finishes very abruptly with a sharp reminder that humans have reached a point where we are playing as dissatisfied god(s) with our technological advances. The author does sound a little cynical about mankind; his reductionist materialist viewpoints don’t seem to lend much credence to human goodness, morality, virtues, kindness…

But for a sweeping summary of 12+million years it was sufficiently educational. Verdict: Alright I guess? (Review of the century over here.)

The main topic that interested me near the end was this: we currently have, or almost have, the scientific and technological wherewithal to bring Neanderthals back from extinction. Women have even volunteered to be surrogate mothers to the first Neanderthal child in 40k years.

This sounds so extremely unethical to me that I would have written a blog post just on this, but it seems like scores of much more qualified people have posted about it already.

I will just say though, we wouldn’t bring back their culture or language; the Neanderthal child would be viewed as some Frankenstein plaything of scientists. She would be subject to racism on steroids, and have an objective reason to feel like the loneliest person in the world.

Probably no ethics board would approve of this experiment, therefore I hope nobody goes rogue and makes it happen anyway, like that Chinese scientist who genetically engineered the HIV-resistant babies. Oops. I wonder how they’re all doing?

This all reminds me, I grew up watching cartoons about little girls that were created in a lab.

Powerpuff Girls. Extremely entertaining, would recommend the first 4 seasons of the original show only.

I am sure in real life, such events would be just as colourful, but much, much more serious…


Book Log

Currently Reading:

Three Stones Make A Wall: The Story of Archaeology by Eric Cline

Incredibly readable and engaging. Cline tells a really good story.

I like: the thought experiment/fictional universe where people from the future unearth Starbucks and decide that the mermaid must be a goddess. But (my thoughts) – what if in the far future, we are so removed from the idea of religion, that posterity mistakenly assigns the label of corporations to what were religions?

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Listening to this as an audiobook as I drive. The narrator sounds like a dispassionate old British guy.

Main takeaways for the day: the 1500s was the Scientific Revolution, driven by politics, economics and religion. And –

James Lind discovered the cure for scurvy by feeding James Cook’s sailors oranges 🍊

• Life in the Land of the Pharaohs by the Reader’s Digest

Has nice pictures. Today I learnt that in (ancient?) Egypt, there wasn’t a word for marriage, the expression was just “to make a home”. So if you found your favourite human and shacked up with him, you were wife and husband.


University Application Status at present: finally uploaded all relevant documents to the related uni application website. Am “Eligible for Consideration” for the graduate Archaeology course; not quite the archaeologist-fetus.