Friday, 22 January 2010

Australian Aboriginal place names

I took a trip on the Smartbus yesterday, pretending to be a tourist in my own city, and it was most enjoyable. A friend and I boarded the bus at Heidelberg and went to Mordialloc, breaking our journey at Chadstone Shopping Centre.

When we were sitting on the beach at Mordialloc, enjoying the overcast but warm day, I was struck by the fact that Mordialloc sounds as if it might be an indigenous place-name and that it phonetically resembles Woori Yallock, the name of a town in the Upper Yarra Valley.

When I looked on the Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames in Victoria, I found that the traditional name for the beach I was sitting on was Murdayaluk, with murda meaning low/short and yaluk meaning river or creek.

Woori Yallock means running creek.

There were other places in the database with Yallock in the placename.

As I sat there, I wondered who had rested on this beach in the past, and how they had lived. And I wondered when they had told the newly-arrived Europeans what they should call the place.

Given that before the nineteenth century place names were recorded orally rather than in written form, I guess it's not surprising that the written forms of names were not consistent.

At the Victorian Government's Land Channel, it says:

The widespread use of Indigenous names provides a strong connection to our Indigenous heritage and acknowledges Indigenous culture. However some names may not be strictly accurate because of unfamiliarity with Indigenous language and culture at the time they were originally recorded.

Most of the Indigenous languages did not have a written form when Victoria’s places and features were being named under European settlement (although some Indigenous communities used message sticks to convey information between groups).

The people who first recorded fragments of these languages were not linguists paying careful attention to subtleties of pronunciation they were generally surveyors and explorers, who were usually the first Europeans to travel through the land and record names in their maps, charts and fieldbooks.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

a new punctuation mark available for purchase

I've just read on Slavenka and Obi's blog about a new punctuation mark that is available for purchase. As it so succinctly suggests in the name, SarcMark, it's for letting readers know your sentence is sarcastic.

It might have been useful when a British woman said, "It's jolly decent of them to let me have a half share of my win,"as a court awarded her only part of the prize in a lottery after the winning ticket fell from her pocket and someone else claimed to have won.

Yes, that sentence could have benefited from a specific punctuation mark.

I looked at the YouTube commercial for the SarkMark and, at first, I thought the examples weren't actually sarcasm, because they were so unsubtle and heavy-handed. But when I visited The Online Etymology Dictionary, where there is a table of types of humor (from Fowler's Modern English Usage, 1926, I began to think the British woman's remark may have been sardonic rather than sarcastic, because they were possibly self-directed and aimed at dealing with adversity, rather than aimed at a victim or bystander and intended to wound.

The SarcMark YouTube examples certainly fit the definition of sarcasm at WordNet - expressing or expressive of ridicule that wounds.

I was thinking of downloading the symbol - it's only a couple of dollars - but now that I've become more aware of the hurtful aspect of sarcasm I'm not going to do so.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The poet, the murderer and the Global Financial Crisis

The Poet and the Murderer is the story of a forged Emily Dickinson poem and of the man who made it.

The forger, Mark Hofman, was brought up in the Mormon faith, but became disillusioned with what he saw as the hypocrisy of the leaders of his society, and eventually began to forge documents to discredit the whole movement. However, he may not have taken this direction if not for an interest in electroplating when he was fourteen. He changed the mint mark on a historic Mormon coin using electroplating and discovered no-one could tell it was a forgery.

On page 77 the author, Simon Worrall, writes this about the word credit:
The experience also showed Hofman that most people, unless they have strong evidence to the contrary, are extremely trusting. Above all, it taught him how thin is the membrane separating the real from the fraudulent. Value, he instinctively understood, is not absolute, but relative. Ultimately it depends on an agreed set of assumptions. Credit, it is worth noting, derives from the Latin word credere, to believe.
It seems to me that the recent global financial crisis also showed how thin is the membrane between belief and disbelief. As long as we all believed debts would be paid and that credit would be endlessly available, the world economy worked. As soon as we no longer believed in each other, the credibility of that system was lost.

What an important word that is: credit.