Deep origins: language

Warning: longer essay-style post.

David B Anthony in his extraordinary book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How the Bronze-age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World tells us that language normally changes so that speakers 1000 years apart cannot understand each other. As an example here is the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer in a conservative, old-fashioned version of Modern Standard English:

Our Father who is in heaven, blessed be your name

Here it is in Chaucer’s English of 1400:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, halwid be thy name

Now try Old English of 1000:

Fæader ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod

When British jurist Sir William Jones arrived in Calcutta to become a member of the Bengal Supreme Court in 1783 he was already famous as a linguist for his translations of medieval Persian poetry amongst other works. At that time he already knew French, German, Latin, Greek, Welsh, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and Gothic, the earliest written form of German. In order to do his job he decided to tool up on Sanskrit. In 1786 he announced an amazing discovery. Latin, Greek and Sanskrit stemmed from the same original language. Just had to be. He also found that Celtic, Gothic and Persian probably came from the same source. Indeed he was right.

Very common words tend not to change much. The word for mother, for example is strikingly similar across a range of languages. Hence we have Middle English moder, Dutch moeder, German Mutter, Irish máthair, Tocharian mācar, Lithuanian mótė, Latin māter, Greek meter, Russian mat’, Persian madar and Sanskrit mātṛ.

The original Proto-Indo-European word has been reconstructed as *méh₂tēr.

You can find more related words here.

In fact all European languages belong to what is now recognised as the Indo-European language group (list here) except Basque, Estonian, Finnish and Magyar (Hungarian).

To the east the Indo-Iranian sub-group includes the majority of modern languages of India including Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

I’ve included here a chart of the Indo-European language taxonomy from David Anthony’s book:

Figure 1: Twelve branches of Indo-Eoropean language family
Figure 1: Twelve branches of Indo-Eoropean language family

Some of the individual languages are barely legible, but the overall picture is clear.

This Dan Short page provides a useful broad family tree divided into the so-called Centum and Satem groups, divided according to the word for hundred. Neither of these taxonomies helps with the timeline. Anthony gives the following as the best branching diagram, based on the Ringe_Warnow_Taylor (2002) cladistic method: Continue reading Deep origins: language

Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Back in 2002 an Earth Summit (World Summit on Sustainable Development) nick-named “Rio + 10” was held in Johannesburg. As I recall there was a big push on to transfer the main carriage for environmental matters from the UN to the WTO. There was dancing in the aisles by environment ministers when the move failed. The mind boggles for those who recall our environment minister at the time, one rather stiff and formal Dr David Kemp.

One wonders, though, whether climate change negotiations would now be in better shape. Probably not. Since Cancún in 2003 the WTO has had its own problems. Not surprising then that there has been a report suggesting a radical rethink of the UNFCCC process. Problem is the UNFCCC would have to agree and that would take at least 20 years.

There is always much talk of ‘pathways’ and ‘stepping stones’ at UNFCCC meetings. Graham Readfearn on the way to this year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw asked Will Australia cause a slip on the climate change stepping stones in Warsaw? He suggested that Australia may be there using its elbows to push the process off balance. According to his final report How rich countries dodged the climate change blame game in Warsaw he was on the money: Continue reading Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

You’ve been warned!

I did have a restful Christmas, albeit wrapped in the warmth of Brisbane’s humidity, but in the still of the night reality has a way of breaking through. I’ll begin with the ending of this story, as it were, by quoting what Carl Sagan said about the photograph of Earth taken from Voyager 1 as it left the Solar System:

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives … Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Here’s the pic:

Voyager pic_4wq9db2n-1368400770_500

That’s from a article by Andrew Glikson done back in May as CO2 levels in the atmosphere of 400 parts per million were recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Glikson highlights the changes this implies when the full effects become apparent, according to the paleo record when CO2 levels were similar in the Pliocene: Continue reading You’ve been warned!

Climate clippings 90

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable for readers to contribute items of interest. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition begins with a couple of items on extreme weather, but is mainly about solar electricity. Once again, thanks to John D for providing some links.

1. Snow in Egypt

Recently snow fell across the Middle East, with pictures from Egypt, Israel, Syria, The Lebanon and Iran.

EGYPT-WEATHER

Conditions in refugee camps in the area must be horrific. Flooding was general throughout the area, including Gaza.

See more photos of extreme weather.

Lest you think global warming has gone away, November 2013 was the globe’s warmest November since records began in 1880, and the 345th consecutive month with global temperatures warmer than the 20th century average. Continue reading Climate clippings 90

Experts have a say on sea level rise

The recent IPCC report estimated sea level rise (SLR) thus:

SLR by 2100_cropped

For the scenario RCP8.5 (the most likely) the rise by the year 2100 is 0.52 to 0.98m, with medium confidence.

A new study (Horton, Engelhart and Kemp) asked experts in the subject for their view. For the RCP8.5 scenario they came up with 0.7 to 1.2m, as shown here:

Horton_SLR_Survey_580

Fully 65% of experts expect SLR greater than the IPCC forecasts.

The dotted lines on that graph represent NOAA projections of December 2012.

Meanwhile if, against the odds, we can hold temperature rise to about 2°C, then what happened during the last interglacial, the Eemian, has some relevance. This from the IPCC report: Continue reading Experts have a say on sea level rise

If a tree falls in the forest…

…does anybody hear?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few days you will have heard/seen Joe Hockey say that the budget is in terrible shape and he’ll have to clean up Labor’s mess. You see it’s all Labor’s fault.

Chris Bowen has been saying that $20 billion of the $17 billion budget deterioration since Labor’s pre-election statement is due to Hockey’s own decisions, that Hockey is setting us up for swingeing cuts in the budget in May next year.

I think the $20 billion is across the forward estimates (four years) and the $17 billion is just this year – it’s confusing.

Anyway, the AFR provided this helpful graph, which was sourced from Treasury, but I can’t find there:

951e60a8-66d4-11e3-b959-55a7b594860c_MidYear-onlineV3_cropped_580

Laura Tingle says the budget has been mugged by the deteriorating economy as well as alarming spending blowouts. There is a need, she says, not to “crunch a soft economy facing a continuing decline in national income, yet in the medium term there is a need to profoundly re-engineer the budget – and voters’ expectations.”

Yet there is so far a complete lack of what she calls “fiscal rules” to measure Hockey’s performance. There are no yardsticks or performance indicators. The future is completely open. We await the National Commission of Audit and the Government response with some trepidation.

Bruce Cockburn’s song If a tree falls sees vast swathes of forest felled. Yet single trees falling also go unnoticed. What’s happened in Queensland in the last couple of years foreshadows what we can expect. Ben Eltham’s report on the massive cuts to small and medium arts organisations in Queensland, for example, warns of worrying reverberations through the entire national arts sector. Cuts of that kind may not impinge directly on my experience, but I feel the life blood is being sucked out of the place. Yet the Newman government are now telling us how worthwhile the whole exercise has been. They are very proud of themselves. Continue reading If a tree falls in the forest…

Real clothes for the emperor

“When I look at this [CO2] data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet.” Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist

That’s one of the favourite quotes by Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University and the Tyndall Centre (personal website here) who, like James Hansen in the US and John Schellnhuber in Germany, is a leading climate scientist who speaks plainly about the dangers of global warming and the situation we’re in. Much of his important work seems to have been done with Alice Bows, now Bows-Larkin. In this piece I’ll refer to “he” or “they” depending on my perception of the source.

Real clothes for the emperor was the title of a talk Anderson gave to unionists in June 2013 (slides here).

Their basic point is that no real progress has been made since the Rio Summit in 1992 from which international action flowed through the agency of the UNFCCC and the IPCC. Policy makers in nations with ostensible targets seriously fudge the game so that economic growth is not inconvenienced.

Another favourite quote of theirs is:

“… dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily [until low carbon energy supply is widespread], for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations…” – Anderson and Bows, 2011

I’ll proceed by stating their main summary points in turn followed by a brief explanation. Continue reading Real clothes for the emperor

Analysing the polls

Dr Kevin Bonham has a post Abbott Fastest Ever To Lose Poll Lead with this helpful advance summary:

  • 1. Following the recent Newspoll, the new Abbott Government has lost the two-party preferred polling lead.
  • 2. This does not necessarily mean the government would lose an election if one was held now.
  • 3. The Abbott Government has lost the 2PP polling lead much faster than any other new government elected from Opposition in federal polling history.
  • 4. Tony Abbott has also recorded negative personal ratings much faster than any new PM elected from Opposition in federal polling history.
  • 5. While polling taken at this stage has very little if any predictive value, governments that have lost the lead very early in their terms have a historically greater risk of defeat at the next election.
  • 6. Bill Shorten’s polling as Opposition Leader appears good, but is nothing unusual by the standards of other Opposition Leaders at the same stages of their careers.
  • 7. Furthermore the strength or otherwise of an Opposition Leader’s personal polling after only two months in the job has no relationship with their success at later elections.

I’ll leave you to read the rest. Continue reading Analysing the polls

Deja vue all over again: the new NBN

Laura Tingle reckons the arrival of Turnbull’s NBN Strategic Review is deja vu all over again:

The raw politics of this is that, no matter how much the Coalition can complain that it has been left to clean up a Labor mess, a mickey mouse broadband network is now a mess that it owns and has insisted it will put its own stamp on. The cost of this decision is that we have to go back to the start to redesign NBN Co itself; the technological platform of the broadband system, the competition regime and a myriad of contracts.

This will take time.

There is going to be a cost benefit analysis and a review of NBN regulation. There will be changes to procurement strategy, renegotiation of deals with Telstra and Optus, of the special access undertaking lodged with the ACCC, reviews of NBN Co’s fixed wireless and satellite programs, a corporate plan, possible legislative and regulatory changes to access multi-dwelling units and utility infrastructure.

Tony Boyd spells out some of the detail. Significantly, the ‘multi-technology mix’ (MTM) is going to mean that

the entire NBN network technology management system will have to be redesigned. The IT systems will have to be changed and operational processes will have to be modified to support copper, HFC and FTTN.

Continue reading Deja vue all over again: the new NBN

The General goes

holden21_275Abbott, Hockey et al would have you believe that GM have made a decision to cease manufacturing in Australia. Kim Carr and Jay Weatherall have been saying that GM were willing to continue and had specified exactly what was required. My recall is that Weatherall said they wanted the Government to chip in $130 million. Carr told Waleed Aly that the price was significantly less than $150 million. Carr said further that the hectoring and bullying by Hockey, Abbott and others clearly let GM know they were not wanted.

I think Carr is right. The Government wanted to make the decision look as though it was made by GM alone and to a degree they have succeeded.

Tim Colebatch, in a column written before the decision was announced (sadly, his last) was clear that the decision was made by Abbott. He thinks it could precipitate a recession. And:

car programs cost $400 million a year, nothing like the $3 billion a year for diesel fuel rebates to mining companies, or the $5 billion to subsidise negative gearing. The budgetary cost of losing this industry will dwarf the cost of keeping it.

Continue reading The General goes

Assessing dangerous climate change

Seventeen high-profile academics with expertise across the climate research spectrum, from atmospheric science, earth science and environmental science, to economics, global change and public health led by James Hansen, now at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, have published a paper Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature which demands attention.

The bottom line is that “aiming for the 2°C pathway would be foolhardy” because it “would have consequences that can be described as disastrous”. The authors believe that humanity and nature, the modern world as we know it, is adapted to the Holocene climate that has existed more than 10,000 years. Departing from this climate by more than 1°C would have intrinsically harmful effects. At 2°C these effects become unacceptably severe. Moreover we enter a zone where further feedbacks, such as ice sheet response, methane release and vegetation change, are likely to push the climate towards further warming, of probably at least 3°C.

James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha have done a summary with discussion here, then there’s Joe Romm at Climate Progress, Tim Radford at Climate Code Red, Damian Pattinson, Editorial Director, PLOS ONE, at Huff Post and John Rennie with links to further material at PLOS Blogs. My partial summary is below. Continue reading Assessing dangerous climate change

Climate clippings 89

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable for readers to contribute items of interest. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is a mixture of science and implementation issues that found me rather than I found them. A couple came from Mark’s Facebook. The last item was drawn to my attention by John D.

1. Electric tents

If you want a tent for the holiday period that stands out from the pack and generates enough electricity to power computers, phones, cameras and loud speakers then
Bang Bang Tents is for you.

Bang Bang tents_cropped_500 Continue reading Climate clippings 89