Unravel has always been about making difficult or little-known areas of language and linguistics accessible to everyone, and this issue is no exception, with our special feature on the Aslian languages of Malaysia. As Dr Geoffrey Benjamin notes in his seminal 2012 article on these very understudied and interesting languages,
Relatively little was known about the Aslian languages until the 1990s, when intensive field-research on them was taken up again after some thirty years of relative inattention. However, misinformation still attends much of the public discussion of the status, history, relationships and characteristics of these languages. (Benjamin, 2012, p. 137)
The Aslian languages are therefore not just relatively unknown to the general public; they remain a fascinating and relatively untapped source of potential information about the human condition and what we are capable of. In our special feature, Fuad Johari and I introduce you to the twenty or so languages that constitute this language family, while I take you a little deeper into one of these languages, Jahai, which has greatly enlarged our understanding of the human capacity for smell. Frances Loke Wei then speaks to Dr Geoffrey Benjamin in an Interrogatives interview about the Aslian language family, and how you can contribute to ongoing Aslian language research efforts.
Beyond the Aslian languages, our commitment to making language accessible to everyone continues throughout the rest of the issue. Daniel Grigore presents an absorbing introduction to the wonderful world of puns, while Chow Keng Ji does the same for the intriguing area of semantic puzzles. This issue also brings you some exciting word stories and histories: Eric Koob explains why Germany has so many different names in different languages, and Gabriel Christopher Lee highlights the interesting phenomenon of ‘false friends’, or words from different languages which look the same, but mean entirely different things. Finally, Clara Miller-Broomfield profiles Breton, the proud language of Brittany and a minority language of France, while I speak to Dr Michael “Mitcho” Erlewine, who has spent many years working on various lesser-studied languages, and who provides some fascinating insights into why the formal study of such languages is so important. And as always, our issue is brought to life with vivid and exciting design work by Denise Kristen Ng, Michael Lee, Min Lim and Tiara Robyn Chew.
Unravel has only grown since our inception in November 2014: as of May 2016, a year and a half since our first issue, we’re very privileged to report over 115,000 page views by some 50,000 users. It is with your tremendous show of support and encouragement that we hope to continue to be able to explore the amazing world of language, and discover new ways of thinking and being, whether through sight, sound or smell. Mutu grandi merseh!
Kevin Martens Wong
May 23, 2016
La Paz, Bolivia
Benjamin, Geoffrey (2012). The Aslian languages of Malaysia and Thailand: an assessment. In Stuart McGill & Peter K. Austin (eds). Language Documentation and Description, vol 11 (pp.136-230). London: SOAS