Do You Know This Woman?

The Mystery Of Hattie Reams Vande Riet – Part 1

What we know

“Hattie” Reams Vande Riet sat still in an ornate wicker chair at New York Art Gallery at 305 E. Broad St. in Richmond VA approximately one hundred years ago. This posed cabinet card captured her green, light hazel, or dark blue eyes and brown hair rolled into an ornate nest Gibson Girl above her head. Her neck scarf collar and broach with necklace and pinky ring are all carefully selected indications of her class. She was stunning and when I found her at Luxor in 2010 and fell in love.

What I know so far is that Hattie is a nickname for Harriet, Henrietta, Henriette, Helen, or many other traditional female names. Based on the type of cabinet card, photography chemicals used (gelatin bromide over Baryta I think – cannot confirm without damaging the photograph), and the style of attire, the photograph is from the 1890s – 1910s. Hattie appears to be at least 16, placing her year of birth to be in the 1880s – 1900s if she is exceptionally young looking and in her 20s. Given her lack of pierced ears, her jewelry, and her ring placement, she is educated and affluent or hoping to appear as such. It is unclear whether the photograph is pre or during World War I given the hairstyle, though the Gibson Girl fell out of fashion after World War I and during the Influenza Epidemic placing the photograph as no later than the 1910s.

One possible option I tracked down is here. There is some conflicting information between the name on the card and the name listed here. The cursive on the back of the card lacks the spaces and capitalization. So far this is my best lead, but unfortunately, all of the relatives listed on this family tree are deceased.

Based on the year of marriage listed to John Van De Riet, could this have been her bridal/bachelorette portrait? The hairstyle and dress are accurate to Virginia in November of 1906.

Do any of those names look familiar to you? Are they your parents, great grandparents, or great great grandparents? Is Hattie your family member?

Why?

I collect cabinet cards, but Hattie is special. Whenever I obtain a cabinet card with more information than a face, I can’t help but try to find out who these pictures captured. Early photography was a synergistic art form between timing, chemistry, and the capturing of minutes as opposed to hours in time in a way that was lifelike and included human flaws, and thus souls in the opinions of some, unlike portrait painting where commissioned manipulations by the upper-classes were more common (a study of the portraits of Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous on this topic).

Hattie is someone’s relative and because I have her name I want to reconnect her though this archiving. So this is where our story begins with the first cabinet card I hope to digitize and reconnect with her descendants.

At the time I purchased her photograph, I also found one of an unnamed blond-haired post-mortem (the 1860s – 1880s based on photography method) toddler boy forever alone in his Christening clothes and forgotten by the family that knew him so briefly. I find it important that he never be alone again. I will never digitize his photo for ethical reasons. (I have a love of Hidden Mother Photography and other early child portrait methods. They fill me with warm fuzzies. I will go into these in another post dedicated to early child portrait photography.)

The Cabinet Card Descendants Project

The first cabinet card that is part of this project is Hattie. She was the first cabinet card I purchased with this level of detailed information and therefore I will focus on her first.

Very few cabinet cards have enough information to connect them with their families once they’re separated. My mom’s family is lucky enough that every cabinet card we’ve ever had taken is still in our family’s possession (that we know of) – including the (sometimes broken) glass negatives. Photography became related to spirituality in the South, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as family members died farther and farther away from home without the constant love and contact they once had. Families dispersed across the United States, mailing cabinet cards through the United States Postal Service to loved ones back home with the superstition that each one of these cards contained a small piece of their soul – a gift to be cherished. This bit of superstition was one relayed to me through family legend and is not one I can put much stock in (hope you enjoy the pun there), but many did at the time the photos were created.

I do not fault families for giving these away. Superstitions die over time and are entirely relative to where you are from. The belief in a soul and the afterlife is questionable in the face of modern skepticism. That said, I am making an effort to digitize every cabinet card I get that has names associated with the faces. I will then provide research to attempt to reconnect to the original portrait studios to see if I can start adding names to the other cabinet cards. This way they can be digitized and added to other genealogy websites.

A Note On Cultural Differences

For readers in the UK, please note there are cultural and chemical differences in cabinet card photography between our continents. I have run into the issue previously with discussing old photographs where readers from the UK (and for some reason only the UK) try to impose assumptions on antique photographs from the US based on cultural history and expectations associated with the Edwardian and Victorian eras elsewhere in the world and argue this without doing their research and fact checking. Please do not do this. This is not how history works. At all. Seriously.

The United States experienced a massive social upheaval from the 1840s through the 1940s in a very different way than that of the UK and rest of the world. Every culture and even subgroup has its unique history that can be contributed and needs to be exposed as opposed to erased. This project is about exposing what is objective. I cannot work based on incorrect cultural assumptions here and I need to be able to make corrections so I can reconnect individuals. Some of the unique experiences in the United States had to do with the size of our country and how its population spread out with the rise of the railroad and westward expansion. The rise of the Spiritualism movement (very different from Spiritualism in the UK) also had a role to play in photography at the time, but likely had to less to do with this particular photograph.

How You Can Help

If you have information that can help track down Hattie’s living family members, either by knowing someone that shares a name or if you recognize her face as a relative of yours, please feel free to share any leads you may have. I will take my time to check out each one and provide updates on this website. If anyone wants, I may even start a YouTube series dedicated to this project and tracking down the descendants so they can meet their long lost great grandparents through photographs.

You can send tips to lopotterwrites at gmail dot com. You can also help by liking, sharing, and talking about Hattie! Let’s help find Hattie together.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this today. I look forward to helping Hattie find her family and moving on to the next cabinet card in my collection with information and will continue to post information on cabinet cards and the history of portrait photography and how it relates to superstition and spirituality in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Twitter Is A Strange Tool For Geospatial Analysis Of Emotion

The Sentiment Tool

Previously, when I discussed onemilliontweetmap.com I left off a feature from my discussion. Today, I’m going to show you why.

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:38PM 30 July 2020 US MT – baseline sentiment

Time for The Sentiment Tool.

To get an idea of how people feel about a certain keyword or hashtag you can look at how it is being used in association to the connotations of the words in the same tweets. The idea is that words within a language have connotations that can be used to convey how someone is feeling on a subject. The above map is the baseline prior to implementing any keywords or hashtags to narrow it down.

For these I decided to include the Daytime/Nighttime layer since this is a 24 hour visualization. I’m not doing top 5 countries for these images, and instead am focusing on the overall sentiment patterns and I’m going to explain why I’m not the biggest fan of this tool.

1. Keyword: Party

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 1:45PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword party

This one is fun because it is so ambiguous. “Party” can be related to a birthday party or a political party. Some would claim the word “party” has a preexisting positive connotation. Some regions of the world are more negative than others. Africa and the Americas are the most negative based on the tweets from the past 24 hours.

What’s fun about this tool is that you can zoom in on specific tweets to see what some of the positive vs. negative examples are. What I did find was that there’s a lot of inconsistency as to what is counted as “positive.”

Here’s a false positive via Hawaii:

Well… that doesn’t seem very positive.

Let’s try another one! This tweet turned out to be a true positive and is way more wholesome:

What about the negatives?

Oh, well that is sad. A Back To The Future V watch party would be fun.

2. keyword: Election

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 1:56PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword election

Well, more people feel negative or neutral, rather than they feel positive on a global scale. That’s… not good? Maybe the world hates politics! Election itself has a fairly neutral connotation, so I would have expected a neutral sentiment overall.

Based on example 1, we can tell that tweets inclusive of the string “Hitler” can still be detected as positive with a combination of words that still convey a positive connotation by the sentiment algorithm used by onemilliontweetmap.com – so, there’s some work that can be done in regards to reliability.

In summary, many of the positive, negative, and neutral tweets in the US have to do with the suggestion that Election day be moved. Due to consistency, I’ll spare the examples.

Let’s do something more fun!

3. Keyword: Chocolate

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:05PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword chocolate

The assumption often goes that everyone likes chocolate, right? Maybe not! I assumed chocolate would have a neutral or positive connotation to it because it’s food and not everyone likes the same food. But 70% of the world is tweeting “positive” things about chocolate. Delving into the connotation question more, it seems that this is a major barrier for ESL speakers and authors, particularly because the words selected, though direct translations, may not be appropriately based solely on connotation instead of denotation.

4. Keyword: Sadness

To get an idea of how untrustworthy the sentiment tool is I decided it was time to do a test.

Source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:09PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword: sadness

Okay. Hold up.

This was meant to be my 100% of people don’t think this is happy. Something isn’t right here. Let’s look into this.

False Positive #1:

False Positive #2:

Most of these false positives are celebrations of life – cases where positive language is used in combination with language of grief. Clearly this confuses the heck out of the sentiment tool.

5. Keyword: Fantastic

source: onemilliontweetmap.com 2:54PM US MT 31 July 2020 keyword: fantastic

So what about false negatives? Well, those can happen too! Using the keyword “fantastic” with the assumption of 100% positive results, I was able to find an example.

In this case it looks like the algorithm may have been confused by the word “missed”? Otherwise, I am uncertain as to why this tweet was counted as a negative sentiment.

The Sentiment Tool In Summary

It’s important to remember how flawed these tools are in the face of judging human emotion. While it’s powerful to be able to look at large populations to gain an understanding of their overall attitudes, as you begin to break it down everything falls apart. There’s too much nuance to trust an algorithm to determine what is objectively positive, negative, or neutral without additional data. Each connotations is determined by social research that is flawed and fails to capture the diversity present within language, instead focusing on a standardization model that homogenizes word sentiment. This is done by some set of people deciding the connotations for words within the sets their algorithms scan for.

Connotations around language are based in culture and regional dialects, rather than the denotations found in dictionaries. Here are some examples of positive things to say where I grew up that would not be interpreted that way elsewhere:

  • Well, she/he/they ain’t ugly.
  • This food is just terrible – I’ll do everyone a favor and finish it.
  • I’d hate to meet you under better circumstances.

What are some regionalisms from where you grew up that don’t match up with the assumed connotations of words? Do you think these would be confusing to someone not from there?

What is your opinion of the sentiment tool? Would you find it helpful in writing? Do you think it’s helpful or does it introduce more confusion?

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Thank you so much for reading this and I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. If you like what you read, please consider liking, commenting, or sharing. This helps me know which posts my readers enjoy the most. And as always – thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to spend with me.

Twitter Is A Strange Place For Global News Insights

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ as of 28 July 2020 at 3:10 PM U.S. Mountain Time (US MT)

At any given time the major cities around the globe are lit up on the Twitter activity heat map. They don’t sleep, but you’ll see after 5 PM things start to get busier for countries that run on a Monday through Friday work schedule.

For those of you losing your minds over that last statement, there are, in fact, countries that don’t run on the stereotypical Western work week. While I would love to get into how this is a detail I have yet to see a single author include while writing about these cultures, for now I will link the Wikipedia article here.

One of the great things about Twitter is that we can use it as an analytical tool to see what people are talking about across the globe and where they are having these thoughts exploding out of their brains and into a space limited to 260 characters.

So let’s go on an exploration of where the world is having deep thoughts reduced to hashtags/keywords using the free analytics tool One Million Tweet Map. I do recommend everyone to have fun and repeat this with hashtags and keywords you’ve selected. Please pick more positive/silly words than I did. I’m still questioning why I went the serious route. If you do repeat this, please tell me about it in the comments!

As a few notes before we begin, I took these map samples at a few different times to try and get the most interesting maps I could to then research what the related current events in the countries lighting up could be.

A Quick Survey

1. #covid19

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ at 3:52 PM US MT with search inclusive of all tweets using #coronavirus #covid19 #pandemic #covid #virus #socialdistancing #stayhome #corona #quarantine #lockdown

The coronavirus global pandemic is in full swing with the second wave commencing.

Top 5 countries tweeting about this are:

  1. United States – well this one makes sense. The pandemic hasn’t calmed down much here. Our case growth rate has increased to 2% (at the time of writing) from when we had it down to just under 1% for that brief glimmer of hope amount of time… before everyone who doesn’t understand how disease transmission and eradication decided it was time to “go back to normal” without sufficient social structures and a Health Belief Model in place to protect everyone – specifically the most vulnerable members of our population.
  2. India – Currently holding at a 2.3% mortality rate, India has 1.5 million cases compared to 4.5 million in the United States. To put this in perspective, the population of India is 1.35 billion and the population of the United States is 327 million. It’s coming up in the news because, much like other disease outbreaks in India, the populations most impacted are directly linked to socioeconomic stratification. This is drawing media attention.
  3. United KingdomThe UK has the highest number of coronavirus related deaths in Europe. That seems like a very legitimate reason for it to be at the forefront of people’s minds.
  4. Mexico – Mexico, like the United States and the United Kingdom, is one of the most impacted countries. Partially due to the wealthy foreigners fleeing to tourism destinations at the beginning of the global pandemic. This has lead to the closures of over 150,000 businesses as Mexico struggles with to tackle providing economic support while stopping the spread. All of this during a time when Mexico reaches near record daily death tolls.
  5. Spain – Citizens of Spain fear that it is entering its second wave as talks of a second lock down loom. At the same time, Spain is attempting to save its tourism industry – a major source of strife during this global pandemic.

2. Keyword: economy

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ at 3:30 PM US MT with search term “economy”

The Top 5 countries tweeting about this are:

  1. United States – The United States economy isn’t doing so hot. The Federal Reserve is leaving interest rates at close to zero. Some are arguing that the last financial quarter is the worst in United States history. Even Fox News is saying that the economy is only going to get worse with a second downfall expected.
  2. United Kingdom – Brexit is at the top of many minds it seems. The London School of Economics and Political Science suggests that businesses that escaped the fallout of COVID-19 will instead be destroyed by Brexit. The World Economic Forum predicts a slow recovery in early 2021 if the country can get coronavirus contained and controlled by the end of 2020. At this time it seems most of the concerns are tied to the economic impacts of the global pandemic combined with Brexit.
  3. India – It seems that economists are pessimistic about India’s recovery. The Reserve Bank of India continues to cut interest rates and India considers itself the 3rd worst economically impacted country – the first being the United States and second being Brazil. The ongoing border dispute between China and India contributes to this economic crisis. Other blame India’s economic reopening plans. Either way, for a third economic quarter, India’s GDP suffers.
  4. Australia – Economic news out of Australia tells a different story compared to the rest of the world. Expecting contraction and deflation, Australia expects only a 5% decrease in GDP. But that isn’t the whole story. Large numbers of Australians are unemployed and underemployed and others predict that Australia is approaching a fiscal cliff.
  5. South AfricaThe International Monetary Fund has provided $4.3 Billion in emergency support to South Africa. Retail sales collapsed to less than 50% of what they were a year prior in April, suggesting insufficient economic support during stringent lockdown procedures. With massive business closures in multiple industries and significant declines in spending, tax revenues have decreased. Restaurants in Johannesburg are protesting government actions while Business For South Africa (B4SA) predicts that the country is looking at a minimum of two years before any economic recovery begins.

3. Keyword: Black Lives Matter

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ at 3:35 PM US MT with search term “Black Lives Matter”

Top 5 countries tweeting about this are:

  1. United States – There is so much news. There is so much information available. I am not going to even try to provide a summary with links.
  2. Canada – The majority of news here is in discussion of what is happening within the borders of their southern neighbor or local news stories regarding racial injustices occurring within Canada – such as whether or not police should be responding to mental health crises instead of emergency medical workers. In Toronto, Black Lives Matter protestors issued a list of requests, including the removal of racist statues and restructuring of the Toronto police department, including the defunding of many of its units and resources. In the same city, over 2,000 artists signed a letter in solidarity with the movement.
  3. United Kingdom – Between Elle announcing that Women are the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK, the announcement of a Black Lives Matter TV series, the cancelling of London Pride’s joint event with Black Lives Matter, and active youth participation across the country, the UK is not an inactive leaf in the stream of history. Statues have become a major topic, leading one man to be jailed, police departments at risk for litigation, and one museum digging in its heels over the display of a statue of a slave ship owner. These events are inspiring intense art exhibitions, with some of the art inspired by this global movement going on to be displayed in Westminster.
  4. India – The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked necessary and pre-existing controversy over the cultural relationship between social status and skin color. Skin lightener brands, such as Fair and Lovely, is one of many targets currently being called out as an example of this frustrating example of colorism found throughout the country. The problem is that discrimination based on the color of skin is more complicated in India than I, or any American, can understand. At this point, requests are for concrete and basic anti-discrimination laws – a very different concept of need compared to what the United States and United Kingdom are seeing as protesters seek to bring social injustices to light. Even the Catholic Church is getting involved.
  5. Nigeria – Between calling for museums to return stolen looted goods, pride in Opal Tometi’s role in the American Black Lives Matter movement, the Nigerian Museum confronting Christie’s over the auction of stolen, sacred ancient artifacts, and the recognition that Nigeria is becoming a fashion capital of the world, there’s no shortage on news as to why Black Lives Matter is trending there.

4. Keyword: New Zealand

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ at 3:39 PM US MT with search term “New Zealand”

The Top 5 countries tweeting about this are:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. India
  5. Nigeria

I’m going out on a limb here and saying people are talking about New Zealand for reasons that have not that much actually having to do with events going on in New Zealand… Just a hunch… After looking at articles and deciding they were too depressing to list here.

5. Keyword: Food Shortage

Source: https://onemilliontweetmap.com/ at 4:10 PM US MT with search term “Food Shortage”

Okay, seriously, why did I think these depressing searches were a good idea?

Top 5 countries tweeting about this:

  1. United States – Conflicting information arises as I do my investigations. Despite the USDA continuing to say there are no food shortages, supply chain issues are resulting in empty grocery store shelves across America. Food manufacturers are cutting corners and changing their recipes, and with the USDA and FDA’s permissions, food allergy labeling and ingredient labeling standards are less stringent, resulting in Americans with food allergies no longer being able to trust food labeling (as an aside, I am among them and recently had a peanut allergen labeling issue in violation of FALCPA with Tillamook – read more on the FDA website here). The reasoning for these changes in labeling standards? That food shortage that the USDA claimed isn’t happening, but now the FDA is saying food manufacturers are reporting. The blame is placed on a shortage of farm workers, with those working trapped in the United States on H-2A Visas where labor violations and back-wages owed are at an all time high. At the same time, these migrant populations live in conditions putting them at the highest risk for COVID-19 transmission. With online retailers other than Walmart and Amazon not allowed to accept federal assistance programs in 33 states, the most vulnerable populations are suffering the consequences.
  2. United Kingdom – It appears that there is a national food strategy for combatting shortages. This is stirring up some conversation about the resilience of supply chains and commerce. Some are worried that Brexit will make matters worse as record numbers of individuals in the UK can no longer afford food.
  3. Nigeria – It looks like Nigeria is taking the active intervention approach after the United Nations call it and 24 other countries likely to face devastating famine as a result of COVID-19. Some experts are urging the government to do more, as it appears only 3% of current interventions are coming from the government.
  4. India – India, while producing so much food exported to the rest of the world, was ranked 102/117 on the Global Hunger Index before COVID-19 hit. Now, the problem is getting worse. The impacts extend far beyond the human population, with tiger poaching hitting all time record highs as a result of subsistence hunting. Even rhinoceroses are suffering from a food shortage. Times are so hard, India is considering passing anti-famine amendments that have not been seen in over a century.
  5. Canada – For Canadians, many are concerned about the food shortages negative impacts on the long term survival of the polar bear. Others seem to believe a silver lining to the supply chain disruption is how it is saving community supporting, local agriculture. Agri-Canada is using this opportunity to create youth focused jobs to reduce the supply chain disruption.

Why Care?

It’s helpful to think about the world beyond our own individual experiences. We cannot live in a society where we think about everything with ourselves at the center of our personal universes. It is important to instead consider the experiences of those elsewhere – places we have never seen and may never see in our lifetimes. We are all interconnected and nothing we do exists in a bubble. Nothing.

Go forth and search for more positive things. I will try to do the same.

Thank you so much for reading my post today. If you enjoyed it, please like, comment, and/or share. This helps me know which posts my readers prefer and can help me cater future content.

Things That Influence My Writing: Linguistics And My Thoughts On Linear A

So I’m watching Trey The Explainer and he mentions this written language used by the Minoans called Linear A. It is related to and pre-dates Linear B. I love historical mysteries like this. Why? Because I love linguistics. I’ve talked about this previously a little when talking about my accent.

The Evolution Of Language

Languages have evolved over time and are still evolving. As an editor, I am in favor of embracing new defined versions of languages specific to geographic locations and unique communities. By defining language systems and fighting to preserve, rather than erase them, we fight language extinction if only in the written form.

I recognize that this gets to be a tricky area because depictions of dialects within racial communities have had a strong tendency to be inappropriate. Period. This is why I think it’s important for the rules of any language to be set by native speakers, that way if someone is attempting to write in a specific way to represent a dialect they are doing so in a consistent manner that has been created accurately. Sadly, this is a very slow process. Linguistics research, in general, is slow. You can help by participating in Accent Tag!

Since languages are constantly evolving, written languages are evolving along side them when present. One of the most fascinating cases of language evolution to me is that of the evolution of alphabets representing sounds – whether they are complete syllables or individual vowels and consonants.

Linear A

Linear A is the “undeciphered” ancient Minoan script that is similar to the later script known as Linear B.

Why Can’t We Use The Rules Of Linear B To Read Linear A?

Current interpretations of Linear A try to assume Linear B preserved the same rules. One of the issues I currently have with this assumption is that language evolution doesn’t mean that “shared phonetic symbols sound the same”.

In Europe, that’s not how phonemes translated to/from written languages worked – and there are letters that have fallen out of use in English and German since the rise of the printing press and Northern Renaissance. Then, during the Enlightenment some European dudes in really fancy pants decided lots of European languages needed to have defined grammar, structure, and spelling.

In China, this first started much earlier with printing presses (everyone knows Bi Sheng invented the first movable type printing press, right?) and was a constant battle between isolated populations with varying languages and the various national governments.

Standardizing languages doesn’t work out – but sadly, even La Francophonie often chooses to ignore basic human rights regarding autonomy and language preservation in favor of pretending that they do instead.

We can assume that as the language evolved into Linear B vowel shifts and consonant shifts happened, changing the assumed pronunciations for these symbols. Therefore, it’s an incorrect assumption to backward apply pronunciation and meaning since Linear B is a younger language. That’s like trying to read and understand Old English using the rules of Middle English.

How Would We Translate Linear A?

So what should we do instead? As with any problem, we have to establish what we know.

Well, we can’t look at anything Greek because genetic evidence suggests that the Minoans weren’t from Greece, rather they were from the East, meaning that the older language to look at would not be Indo-European.

After the fall of the Minoan Civilization, their culture, language, and genetics did merge with the Greek people.

They were seafaring traders that interacted with people living as far as the Iberian peninsula and Egypt. This provides us with some starting information to figure out a bit.

Another clue may be the unique behavior of the mathematical system that they used, that included a built in log scale. Mathematical systems can be a great indicator of the history and culture of a people because they develop out of necessity for explanation.

So what could Linear A’s parent be? Peter Z. Revezs seems to think it’s a shared ancestor of Hattic and Hungarian languages, making it a member of the Uralic language family. This also means we can use the algorithm developed in this paper to get more consistent translations with our growing set of written examples. Their consistency and applicability is compelling. What’s unique about this paper is that it examines only the linguistics using a computational approach and nothing having to do with DNA sequencing or the anthropological history of human remains. That said, more recent studies looking at the oldest remains of individuals come to similar conclusions. In fact, a number of individuals have now come to the same conclusions using vastly differing methods, but there’s still a significant amount of disagreement. […I do recommend reading that thread if you want an interesting source of entertainment and great laughs. There’s some incredible pettiness between researchers who can’t agree on anything and have absolutely no sense of what they look like to everyone watching. Have your popcorn ready.]

Why Is Linear A So Difficult To Crack?

If the Minoans were such prolific seafaring traders, why is it so hard to decipher their language when we are able to decipher Egyptian? Well, we don’t have a ton of writing samples.

We can also assume that Linear A was a language used by seafarers. These languages, such as English once the British decided they just had to colonize all the things, pick up words from other languages and evolve into variants at a much faster pace by forming pidgins with other languages along trade routes.

This means that whatever Linear A did originate from could be unrecognizable without seeing the in between pidgin forms that could be present at all of their trade locations and then building a linguistic timeline. We don’t have a large enough sample size for that. Hopefully, as we find more remnants of Minoan trading, most recently in places like France and Serbia, a timeline could develop to support or debunk the computational relationship to the Hattic language establishing it as a member of the Uralic language family.

Why Does Any Of This Matter?

The evolution of language matters because it’s one of the ways we can understand the evolution of the human brain and we can understand the things some cultures found important enough to write down. The written component of a language provides us with one small piece of the puzzle that is a dead language. The more we understand about how languages evolved, the more we can understand about contact between different human groups as well as how their civilizations were structured. Language provides huge insights into details about general views, such as the self and how one relates to past, present, and future.

All languages require the transmission of information from source to a receiver. This information must be encoded in some way. This information must then be passed to the recipient via a channel – such as a physical medium or sensory perception. This is the tricky part – if the recipient can’t decode the information effectively things can be problematic. We can’t decode Linear A, we can’t read things written in Linear A. To better talk about this I’m going to focus on language encoding because decoding is the reason why it’s all important.

We have 5 primary ways that we’ve communicated (encoded information) over time:

  • Pictographic
  • Phonetic
  • Written Phonetic
  • Signed Languages (Phonetic / Symbolic)
  • Interpretive or Body Language

Pictographic

Okay, see? You’re not crazy for thinking emojis are a natural part of English. Illuminated manuscripts contained illustrations to complement or work in place of written words, occasionally, in line. Pictographs are some of the oldest forms of language we have if you don’t want to count early stone stippling forms that often predate full pictographs on some continents. We have absolutely no way of knowing how languages that use these symbolic languages pronounced their words and often the false assumption that they had simplistic language structures is made. Modern symbolic languages and improved understanding of language evolution has provided evidence that this is not the case. One of the problems with pictographic languages is that they rely on subjective interpretation to convey messages. This leads to opportunities for miscommunications and that’s how arguments get started over who sent who the wrong emoji and what it meant.

Phonetic/Spoken

Purely spoken languages with no preservation disappear when the people do. This is why many indigenous languages are endangered, and why one of the only good things that came out of the messed up stuff those evangelical missionaries did during the colonization of the world was to come up with ways to translate the Bible into lots of indigenous languages. This didn’t save all indigenous languages and there are many that still need help to be preserved by supporting the sovereignty of these nations to teach public schools, print road signs, and write government documents, and have local media stations dedicate to indigenous languages. These methods have been used to save Welsh, Maori, and some indigenous languages here in the United States. I first learned about these efforts in 2006 when Congress passed the Esther Martinez Native American Language Preservation Act. This program runs out in 2024 and has not been enough, with many native speakers threatened now more than ever by SARS-CoV-2. When all innate speakers of a language die out, the reality is the language is gone forever, even if recordings and written documentation of the language remain. This is because a spoken language is more than just words. As previously mentioned in my post on accents, how a person sounds when they speak communicates information to the listener. With dead languages (no original speakers remaining) this information that could be compared to epigenetics in the sense that histone modification of gene expression is passed down through generations and can be traced through relatives based on their environmental exposures and life experiences. It’s weird.

Written Phonetic

Written phonetic languages are those that tell you exactly what they sound like. Or at least they try to. Vietnamese and Arabic are both great examples of a written phonetic languages. It’s important to note that not all languages will neatly fit into either a Written Phonetic language or a Pictographic language – Modern English and Japanese both doing great jobs of demonstrating this and Linear A is an additional example.

Spoken languages rely on body languages, subjective implication, and contextual interpretation for the full communication for information. Written phonetic languages, while preserving a bit more structural information about a language, without the other components provide the bare minimum regarding the information being conveyed. Subjective interpretation of written phonetic languages is something that requires

Signed Languages

An accidental study and total violation of human rights lead to the discovery that humans will always develop natural language when in a sufficiently socialized group, even if non-auditory. Natural signed languages do not naturally possess a phonetic linkage except in communities where there is full integration between auditory and non-auditory communicating communities.

Some phonetic signed languages are constructed languages. When I was a kid, I learned Cued Speech with a childhood friend. We didn’t really talk using words, instead relying on our own sign language I wish I remembered today. She used Cued Speech to learn how to use phonetic pronunciation in a speaking world and I used it for speech therapy.

Signed languages are distinguished from body language by the use of specific gestures with unique meanings and the defining unit features of a language required to designate grammatical rules. When a sign language dies with no record, much like a spoken language, it is considered a dead language and even the signed languages that American Sign Language was based on have now died.

Body Language

Different elements (forms) of non-verbal communication [14].  
Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Different-elements-forms-of-non-verbal-communication-14_fig1_221217376 <- really cool paper on non-verbal communication in video game avatars.

Body language is the major component to the communication of language that is often left out. It’s the most subjective, easy to misinterpret, and complementary to spoken/phonetic language or signed languages. Body language can often be broken down into “universal” and “non-universal”.

Body language studies are fairly controversial and some of the best studies focus on the behaviors of non-human primate species. “Universal” body language seems to have some level of genetic predisposition and in neurotypical infants is among the first forms of language to be understood. This “universal” body language is considered easier for neurodiverse individuals to learn thanks to clear definitions.

“Non-universal” body language includes gestures that may fall into a scenario where gestures can represent a number of things depending on context related to a local region, spoken language, and a specific culture. This kind of body language is highly subjective and evolves (or becomes extinct) quickly. This kind of body language is the kind often related to miscommunication, misinterpretation, and culture shock. What may be polite to one person may be like slapping another person’s grandmother.

Linguistics Is More Complicated Than This

I don’t want anyone to be under the impression that this is all there is to linguistics. I have barely scratched the surface with the above introductions to inaccurate terms that are a bit friendlier to a non-jargon seeking audience. My interests tend to focus on the documentation of unique variants of languages and the cracking of written languages that are not yet understood so they can be decoded. If you’re interested in linguistics, you should read primary literature on these topics and consider getting involved in citizen science efforts such as the Accent Tag.

Language extinction hurts everyone. Because language gives structure to abstract experiences, loan words between languages allow for the expression of and adoption of words for human experiences that had not previously been given concrete language or attempts at understanding. That means that, in some regard, by preserving global language diversity, we have the ability to control our intellectual evolution.

TL;DR

I advocate for people to:

  • Learn about threatened and endangered languages
  • Learn the basics of linguistics
  • Learn about language evolution, so it can be embraced and accepted

If you enjoyed this, please like, comment, and/or share – it helps me know which types of content my readers want to see.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my rambling about Linear A and linguistics today. Without you these would be bits of data floating around waiting to be accessed in that 1.2 petabytes we call the internet.