The world is, after all, only as big as a speck, wrote Singapore’s Chinese poet Pan Shou in 1996. After eight issues of unravelling linguistic landscapes and revealing the mysteries of human nature around the world, I realised just how immense—and exciting—that speck is. In this issue of Unravel, we explore a language family with more than 400 languages under its branch: Sino-Tibetan languages.
As part of the special feature, we have Michelle Wong who shares her thoughts and experiences on learning the Tibetan language (and learning heart) in Learning Tibetan, and Natalie Tong who speaks with Dr Rebecca Starr about her interest in Mandarin and Cantonese, language teaching, and getting her two kids started on learning Mandarin at home in Championing Cantonese and Marvelling at Mandarin. Finally, I write about my fascination with Naxi and its home in the picturesque landscapes of Lijiang, China—a country that has held my interest for two decades for reasons of heritage, landscapes, and lately, linguistics in Naxi: Songs of Mount Satseto.
The definition of a language—as opposed to a dialect or broken standard, perhaps—is a tricky one, often driven by socio-economic-political factors in the linguistic environment. And so outside of the special feature, we are lucky to have Kartik Tripathi, who reminds us of the ambiguous nature of linguistic definitions in his piece On Ausbausprachen and Abstandsprachen: How do you define a language? Elisabela Larrea provides us of an example of just how the development of a language is riddled with that socio-political history in her profile of the creole language of Macau, Patuá, the sunset creole. For the Interrogatives column, Kevin Martens Wong speaks to Institute for Collaborative Language Research (CoLang) co-director Siri Tuttle in Bridging linguistics about her experiences running the annual conferences and workshops on endangered languages and her aim to bridge language documentation with language learning and language pedagogical application.
But so why are languages worth preserving or maintaining? They are all unique because they document the way in which different cultures and communities of people document and negotiate their daily lives. To exemplify, Deborah Chua, in Psycholinguistic experiments: From fingers and eyes to what’s in our heads, traces the process of retrieving entries from your mental lexicon in English and Chinese using various psycholinguistic experiments; and Fuad Johari harks back to the pre-Colombian Americas where a spun and woven form of communication prevailed in Counting the threads of time: The Khipus of the Incas. Finally, Clara Miller-Broomfield shares her process in her creation of a glossary of Spanish apothecary handbooks of the 15th and 16th centuries in Glossary creation.
As usual, our dedicated pool of designers have supported us this issue with their talent and eye for detail, and we couldn’t have sustained your interest without their complementary skills. Big thanks to Min Lim for the wonderful issue cover, and Michael Lee, Chuan Jee, Denise Kristen Ng, Faiz Rosli, and Min Lim for adorning this issue’s articles with their art, and Zaw Lin Htoo for technical web support.
The poetic line I started off with is the final line of Pan Shou’s poem «观网际网络即席留题» (‘After an internet demonstration’), where he sought to highlight how the internet has pulled the edges of the globe closer and brought its people together through the ability to communicate online. The world might be small, but we often forget how much smaller we are as individuals. At Unravel, we are extremely humbled to have reached out to readers and contributors from 135 different countries and we’re looking forward to reaching out to even more—that’s you Antartica! Our first issue of Unravel was published almost a year ago on November 14, 2015. Since then, we’ve made wonderful friends and connections, and shared our stories with the world. We’re always open to feedback and we’d love to hear from you if you’d like to contribute as a writer or designer and/or just want to say hi. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frances Loke Wei
Assistant Editor of Unravel