Unravel. We were Revealing Magazine for all of five minutes (too suggestive), but Unravel was a better fit: it collocates nicely with mystery, and it had EL in it, back when the magazine was just an idea for giving us English Language majors something to do in our spare time. [There’s another, even better reason, but I’ll let you, the keen-eyed reader, figure it out (hint: look at our URL)].
We grew, and grew, first out of NUS, and then out of Singapore, reaching out to readers and writers across the globe. As I type these words on my battered Ultrabook, we have new collaborators and friends from Edinburgh, Dublin, Berkshire, Chicago, Honolulu, San Diego and Wellington already working on material for Issue 2; and we have you, our amazing readers who have such faith in us, from all corners of the globe.
Why Unravel? My own personal grouse with linguistic writing is that a great deal of it is far too technical for (1) a general reader and (2) a reader who doesn’t want to fall asleep. This is symptomatic of academic writing as a whole, of course; but that implies just how much of linguistics remains difficult to access if you don’t have the requisite training and vocabulary (whose required level of familiarity sometimes boggles the mind).
I think a lot of what happens in linguistics is really, really good work that deserves to be recognized and championed for its worth and value to society, and used in multidisciplinary attempts to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, a lot of it can’t reach the non-academically inclined person with big ideas because it’s difficult to read and make sense of. Sure, Kazakh sounds like a really cool language, but where are you going to go to find information on it that you can actually read without getting a massive, jargon-influenced headache? Unravel aims to consolidate all of that information in one place, and make it easier for you to learn about this awesome thing called linguistics, which can and should do so much more for our world.
I’m also a massive, almost devout believer in the inherent beauty of language. Call it bias, call it snarky attempts to increase readership; I love my discipline, and I love language. Language is one of those things we take for granted, like cheese and potato peelers; but unlike cheese and potato peelers (yes, debatable) it is constantly changing and evolving, and it is absolutely everywhere. In my thoughts, in my speech, in these words that I’m setting to virtual paper.
That’s why we’re doing what we do for free. It’s a passion. A love of words, and sentences, and subjectivities that make us all very much imperfect, and very much human, as we struggle to find words to express what we think and feel.
Our first issue reflects our background and humble upbringing, here in multilingual and (perennially) sunny Singapore—as well as our preoccupation with food, which several members of the team could not avoid talking about in their bios. Our gorgeous cover image drawn by Catherine May Tang sums this up perfectly: food is an everyday part of life in Singapore, but even the very words we use to label different dishes suggest how vivid and diverse the language situation in our city-state is.
I would think it unsurprising that the majority of our feature articles discuss Singapore, and indeed, that is the case. Frances describes how Singapore English grew into what it is today with its myriad food-related borrowings and thefts from the languages it shares our small island with, while Fuad talks about Legalese in Singapore and how it has been made better and plainer over the years. Jovi discusses standard English in the cases of Hong Kong and Singapore on the blog, while even Gabriel’s article on Labov’s study of the rhotic r makes reference to our many department stores (that other passion of ours).
Of course, not everything is about our home. My own contribution discusses the beautiful but apparently alphabetically-confused Kazakh language, while our three columns take a broader view of things and look at how words have been working around the world in general. In Buzzwords, Natalie Tong and Tammy round up news about linguistics and language from the last three months. Natalie Chang, our other Nat, takes us through the weird and wonderful world of etymology in Gobbledygook, discussing the absurd and the ludicrous (and even Ludacris). Finally, our hexalingual polyglot Anirudh cuts through the noise and talks about how to optimise language learning on your own in Ausländer, and also shares his story of his language immersion experience in Spain on the blog.
We are students; we are not professors, or gods, or Babel fish in your ear, or Spock’s tricorder. We will be wrong about some things (as much as I try to correct all of them) and I ask for your understanding and patience if you do encounter any of these errors. (As well as feedback. Feedback is great.) Words make us do stupid things sometimes; we work with what we have.
Our sincere gratitude goes out to Ellen Jovin, Katya Drozdova of the Russian Language Center in Singapore, Maite Rodriguez Moreno of Las Lilas School Singapore, Niamh Nestor, Silfer Goh, Tyron Manwah, and the eighty-one university linguistics departments we emailed asking to transmit our Unravel advertisement to their students, for helping us publicise Unravel. I must also thank the wonderful professors of NUS who let us steal precious time from their linguistics classes to “have our spiel”: Bao Zhiming, Chng Huang Hoon, Justina Ong, Lionel Wee and Tomasina Oh.
Throughout this entire process, we were advised and sometimes gently nudged in the right direction by our four linguistics advisors, Rebecca Starr, Joseph Park, Mie Hiramoto and Leslie Lee. As we have learned, faculty sometimes have it harder than their students, and we are deeply appreciative of the personal time and effort they put into what was essentially, at first, a very cool-sounding idea with no funding (which it sort of still is).
Our website was designed by the amazing Jeremy Kieran Ng, who ensured that both the front and back-ends of our site were polished, user-intuitive and gorgeously designed. Unravel would not exist without his efforts, and that it exists in such a clean and beautiful way is a testament to Jeremy’s ability as a web designer.
Our original images and illustrations were contributed by Catherine May Tang, Faiz Rosli, Harshmeet Kohli, Kathlyn Loke, Nicholas Loo and Nuri Masahiro. Catherine drew that amazing header on our front page, and Harshmeet created the fantastic vector art for the Kazakh and Legal English articles, while Nuri also contributed a stunning language distribution map for the former. Faiz, Kathlyn and Nicholas produced the majority of the photographs we have used throughout the site, as well as in our efforts to publicise ourselves. Design is hard, and it’s even harder when you’re doing it for free. We really appreciate the beauty, creativity and thought put into each of these pieces.
Almost there! A penultimate word of thanks from me (pronoun shift!) to Ani, Faiz, Frances, Fuad, Gabe, Jovi, Nat, Nat and Tammy: we will surely grow in number if we ever make it to Issue 2, but right now, ten is a nice, round number with connotations of wholeness and perfection, and it’s nice to just soak in it for a while. We’ve all struggled to make time for Unravel while juggling the rest of our lives (including and especially school!) and your energy, support and good cheer have really been a blessing to me these last eight weeks. I’d like to think that I found nine very capable contributors in the shape of yourselves, but that’s for our reader to decide; instead, I’m going to say that I found nine very awesome friends. Thank you so much for making Unravel possible.
It remains only for me to thank you, my dear, cherished, highly sought-after reader. Thank you for reading this and supporting us, and I hope you come to love language as much as we do.
Welcome to Unravel. Let’s reveal the world together.
Kevin Martens Wong
14 Nov 2014
Unravel Issue 1 Team
Editor: Kevin Martens Wong
Contributors: Anirudh Krishnan, Frances Loke Wei, Gabriel Christopher Lee, Jovi Carlin Wong, Natalie Chang, Natalie Tong and Tammy Lim
Web designer: Jeremy Kieran Ng
Images and illustrations: Catherine May Tang, Faiz Rosli, Harshmeet Kohli, Kathlyn Loke, Nuri Masahiro and Nicholas Loo
Linguistic advisors: Rebecca Starr, Joseph Park, Mie Hiramoto, Leslie Lee