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  • The Diacritics

    The Diacritics 9:30 am on January 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: affirmation, bible, britain, christianity, court, , i swear to tell the truth, , islam, justice, kannada, , , religion, sharia, swear   

    I swear (affirm?) that I will tell the truth 

    I was watching a Kannada soap opera last night (because I have apparently become an elderly Indian woman as of late) and a scene in a courtroom caught my attention. One of the characters was being questioned, and before she gave her testimony she was asked to declare her intention to speak the truth.

    ಸತ್ಯವನ್ನು ಹೇಳುತ್ತೇನೆ , ಸತ್ಯವನಲ್ಲದೆ ಬೇರೆ ಏನು ಹೇಳುವುದಿಲ್ಲ , ನಾ ಹೇಳುವುದೆಲ್ಲ ಸತ್ಯ |

    satyavannu hēḷuttēne, satyavanallade bērēnu hēḷuvudilla, nānu hēḷuvudella satya

    I will speak the truth; I will not speak anything that isn’t true; everything I say is the truth.

    That segment caught my attention for a couple of reasons.

    First, that the declaration was different from our familiar U.S. oath, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

    But of course it wouldn’t be the same. While an objectively large number of people in India use English as a second or third language (some 125 millionaccording to the latest census, nearly half the population of the United States), that still only comes out to about 10 or 11 percent of the country’s population.

    It would be fundamentally unjust for court proceedings to be carried out in a language with which the parties were unfamiliar — even though that probably happens regularly, since there are only (!) 22 scheduled languages of India and hundreds more unrecognized dialects and minority languages.

    So, okay, the witness’s declaration was taken in Kannada. The action takes place in the state of Karnataka, where the two official languages are Kannada and English, so a witness could plausibly use either language. That makes sense. (Plus, it was a Kannada soap.)

    Another thing that caught my attention was that there was no religious sentiment expressed in the declaration. India is a highly religious country, with upwards of three-fourths of the country declaring that religion is important to them. In the U.S., that rate is a little lower, at 65%, but the most famous form of our witness declaration here does explicitly invoke God — “… so help me God,” a line that is usually delivered, scripted, by court bailiffs, along with a Bible.

    In American law, an oath specifically references God. The OED agrees: an oath is specifically a type of declaration that “invokes God, a god, or other object of reverence.” Those who don’t want to make an oath instead provide an “affirmation,” which starts with “I affirm…” instead of “I swear…” and omits the reference to God. Affirming is referenced four times in the U.S. Constitution as an alternative to swearing, and Britain has allowed affirmations instead of swearing since 1695.

    Regardless of whether you swear or affirm, if you lie, you can be charged with perjury, a serious crime.

    Other declarations abroad
    In Britain, oaths are given slightly differently from the American version:

    I swear by [Almighty God/Name of God/name of the holy scripture] that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    Affirmations in Britain require several more hedges than an oath, perhaps because of a cultural suspicion against people who affirm rather than swear: “I swear to tell the truth…” is such a well-known phrase that any deviance from that — regardless of how legal it is — can be regarded with suspicion.

    In Britain, one doesn’t simply “affirm” — one solemnly and sincerely and truly declares and affirms:

    I do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    In the U.S., one can simply affirm. Atheist and former Governor of California Culbert Olson, in office from 1939 to 1943, famously said to California Supreme Court Justice Waste, “God [can't] help me at all, and there isn’t any such person.” He chose to say “I will affirm,” rather than “I swear” during his oath of office.

    According to one of my friends in France (hi, Benoît!), the common declaration given by witnesses in France is:

    Je jure de parler sans haine et sans crainte, de dire toute la vérité, rien que la vérité.

    I swear to speak without anger and without fear, to say the entire truth, nothing but the truth.

    My friend writes, “Because France is a non-religious country, there isn’t any trace of God in any institutions.” I’m sure truth is more nuanced than that, but the French people are certainly less religious than the United States. But the word – jurer – used in the oath is similar to “swear.” Jurer usually carries the same valence as the English “swear” (in that it has religious undertones) and it also has the same secondary meaning of “to curse.” But jurer can also translate to “certify” or “pledge,” words that carry no religious undertones in English.

    Another one of my friends, a walking encyclopedia of Islam (hi, Ahmad!), gave me an overview of Muslim declarations of truthfulness. In many majority-Muslim countries, cases that are tried under Shari’ah law (today, usually family law disputes) require an oath to be given by witnesses. However, unlike Western civil courts, the oath is traditionally given after testimony is given. Once the judge collects all the testimony, he asks the parties to swear on the Qur’an or by God that what they have said is true, or else bringing upon them divine wrath. (Incidentally, this traditional oath appeared in the recent Golden Globe-winning Iranian film A Separation, which I highly recommend.)

    Back home

    The U.S. government is explicitly areligious, but a profession of faith is built directly into the common understanding of court procedure. Of course, there’s no law requiring nonbelievers to swear. But it’s undeniably unfair when free deviance from a set religious phrase, scripted and delivered by a court’s bailiff, could color a jury or judge’s perception of a witness. We shouldn’t be suspicious of someone who affirms more than someone who swears, but many of us are.

    Eliminating “I swear…” probably won’t help, but maybe raising the profile of “I affirm…” as an option for nonbelievers (and even believers who object to swearing in a civil setting) will help make the process fairer.

     
  • The Diacritics

    The Diacritics 6:00 am on December 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , davangagari, emotion, greek, hindi, internet, kannada, know your meme, meme, wiktionary   

    A look of disapproval 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    In an apparent continuation of my quest of late to write about totally non-serious topics, here’s one more post topic dredged up from the dark corners of the Internet. (I owe a substantive post, and I promise it’s coming–probably not until after law school exams, though.)

    According to Know Your Meme, a new emoticon is sweeping message boards all across the world. And it’s not happy.

    The emoticon is known as the “look of disapproval,” and it’s easy to see why. Those bushy eyebrows. The flat, expressionless mouth. Those eyeballs staring right into your soul.

    But the face didn’t draw my attention for its utility — there are plenty of expressive emoticons out there. I noticed it because the character ಠ * is drawn directly from my first language, Kannada.

    The character represents the letter “ṭha,” the retroflex aspirated unvoiced consonant /ʈʰa/, for example in the word ಠಕ್ಕ ṭhakka, thief.  It is formed by curling the tongue back (a retroflex position) and striking the palate while releasing a small puff of air.

    In my previous post about Indian abugidas, I explained how most Indian alphabets are organized in a systematic chart of voicing, aspiration, and tongue position. The letter ṭha appears after the unaspirated voiceless retroflex plosive ṭa (/ʈa/) and before the unaspirated and aspirated voiced retroflex plosives ḍa (/ɖa/) and ḍha (/ɖʰa/).

    The character’s form is developmentally related to the Devanagari (Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, etc.) character ठ *, which represents the same sound /ʈʰa/. Both the Kannada and Devanagari character evolved from the Brahmi character O. The Brahmi character may, in turn, have evolved (although this is disputed) from the Phoenician character letter teth (to the right), which also gave rise to the Greek letter θ, theta.

    In Ancient Greek, θ represented the aspirated voiceless dental plosive /t̪ʰ/ but Modern Greek uses a voiceless dental fricative /θ/ (English “thin”). Some Indian linguists believe that Phoenician teth also gave rise to the characters for the aspirated voiceless dental plosive (identical to the Ancient Greek pronunciation of theta) characters in Kannada (ಥ *) and Hindi (थ *) as well.

    Anyway, it’s pretty amusing to what lengths people have taken the ಠ_ಠ meme. One woman even created a pillow so she could express her disapproval all the time.

    While it bothers me that few people know where the character comes from (a message board I saw suggested “Indian,” “Malaysian or something equally ethnic,” and Telugu before someone pointed out that it was from Kannada), it’s probably all harmless fun. Wiktionary has an entry on the emoticon and has a proper etymology. There’s a page dedicated to it on Facebook. Someone also designed a website where the eyes follow your mouse around.

    This is all bizarre to me. But I guess the letter does look like an eye. And it’s not like other languages’ characters are immune to becoming emoticons (a current favorite: (ノ° 益 °)ノ彡┻━┻, which uses the Chinese characters yì and shān).

    I guess this means I hesitantly approve. (Is there an emoticon for that?)

    —————————

    *- Some people, mostly Mac users, don’t have Indian language functionality. Just in case, here is what each of the characters looks like.

    Kannada ṭha (unvoiced aspirated retroflex plosive): 

    Kannada tha (unvoiced aspirated dental plosive): 

    Hindi ṭha (unvoiced aspirated retroflex plosive): 

    Hindi tha (unvoiced aspirated dental plosive): 

     
  • The Diacritics

    The Diacritics 6:38 pm on October 16, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , devanagari, , indo-european languages, kannada, panini, , scripts   

    Fun with abugidas (Part 1) 

    (Posted by Sandeep)

    Most major Indian languages can be separated into two major language families–with North Indian languages mainly classified in the geographically diverse Indo-European family (with distant cousins as far-flung as Persian and Irish Gaelic) and the South Indian languages in the Dravidian family, which is mostly limited to the southern part of the Subcontinent.

    Although grammatically and structurally quite distinct, many Indian Indo-European languages and Dravidian languages have some critical elements in common.

    First, the various scripts used to write Indian languages evolved from one script, Brahmi, which has been dated at least to the 3rd century BCE (on the Edicts of Ashoka) and perhaps earlier.

    Despite their common derivation, Indian scripts can look very different from each other.

    Consider the Sanskrit quote I posted a few days ago, written first in Devanagari (used to write Hindi, Nepali, Marathi, among others) and then in Kannada (used to write Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, among others). Sanskrit is now mostly written in Devanagari, but historically it was written in whatever was the script in vogue in various regions of India.

    Pretty different, right?

    The apparent visual differences between North and South Indian languages is often incorrectly conflated with the actual structural differences between Indo-European and Dravidian languages.

    For one, South Indian scripts, such as Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam, are “curvier” than North Indian scripts, which utilize more straight lines. However, this is popularly explained by linguists in India by the different writing media historically in use: ancient South Indians wrote on large dried leaves; straight lines would have punctured the leaves and rendered them useless, so South Indian scripts evolved more curves.

    Whether or not this explanation is true, I think recognizing the common ancestor of the scripts of India is a great (and missed) opportunity to build unity.

    Wikipedia has possible derivations of some letters in some Indian scripts from Brahmi:

    In a nation of 22 officially recognized languages and hundreds, if not thousands, more unofficial languages, linguistic differences are used to divide people. The apparent differences in scripts are a major part of this divisive arsenal–”Oh, look how different Tamil looks from Bengali; they must be so different from me.” Why not use it for the opposite purpose? “It’s remarkable that even though Tamil looks different from Bengali, we share a common ancestor script.”

    Folk etymologies and false derivations are rampant in India–especially because fluid word borrowings, especially from Sanskrit, confuse true linguistic relationships–but this is an actual, demonstrated, linguistically and historically valid commonality.

    A common ancestral script may be a minor thing to note, but Indians could use all the unity they can get, right?

    Alphabets, or why Indians were awesome linguists

    Indians were incredibly awesome linguists. More on this later, but a brief overview: the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Sanskrit grammarian Panini (c. 500 BCE) is the earliest known work of descriptive linguistics anywhere in the world. Still, even Panini refers to older Sanskrit works on grammar. Linguistic ideas are built into the oldest of old Sanskrit texts and Sanskrit morphology and syntactic rules are some of the most complex and most developed of any language in the world, past and present. Four of the six branches of Vedanga (the study of the ancient Hindu texts the Vedas) are linguistic: phonetics, etymology, meter, and grammar.

    In short, Indians were badass at linguistics.

    Part of this badass-ness (badassitude?) came in the form of the organization of many Indian alphabets. Unlike the Latin alphabet, which came to its present order (A, B, C…) through a series of historical serendipities, the standard organization of the Sanskrit alphabet is remarkably systematic.

    Many Indian languages now, even some Dravidian languages (which aren’t structurally similar to Sanskrit), use the exact same organizational chart.

    Consonants are organized in an implicit table. On one axis, consonants are distinguished by the type of closure required for their production:

    kaṇṭhya (velar), tālavya (palatal), mūrdhanya (retroflex), dantya (dental), and oṣṭhya (labial)

    On the other axis, consonants are distinguished by voicing and aspiration:

    aghoṣa alpaprāṇa (unvoiced unaspirated), aghoṣa mahāprāṇa (unvoiced aspirated), ghoṣa alpaprāṇa (voiced unaspirated), ghoṣa mahāprāṇa (voiced aspirated), then anunāsika (nasal).

    So in the first row of consonants, you have velar consonants, beginning with an unvoiced stop and ending with a nasal.

    /k/ /kʰ/ /g/ /gʰ/ /ŋ/

    The pattern continues. At the end of that collection, there are several antastha (approximant) consonants, three sibilants, and a voiced fricative.

    Here is a lovely table, adapted from Charles Wikner’s A Practical Sanskrit Introductory (1996).

    This table is misleading, though, because it’s not quite the exact order that the alphabet is recited in. The consonants ya, ra, la, va, sa, sa, sa, and ha are recited after ma. Here is a better representation of the order, here in Kannada, but without the linguistic tags (Omniglot):

    As far as I’m aware, this order is used more or less in the following major languages: Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Nepali, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalam, Konkani, and Gujarati, among others. Tamil uses a similar, but reduced, organization.

    The Indian obsession with linguistics is built into the very structure of its languages. And it’s awesome.

    [Competition Update: We decided to withdraw ourselves from Grammar.net's Best Grammar Blog of 2011 competition because we felt that voting was proceeding in an unfair manner. We are no longer participating.]

     
  • The Diacritics

    The Diacritics 7:03 pm on September 16, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: carnatic music, jonsi, kannada, , non-lexical vocables, sigur ros,   

    Nonsense, utter nonsense! 

    Posted by Sandeep

    I’ve lately been listening to a lot of music by the Icelandic singer Jónsi and his band, Sigur Rós. Most of his songs are in Icelandic, but he does have a couple of songs in English, too. I’ve found his music to be a great study companion in law school because I can’t be distracted by the lyrics — I don’t understand a lick of Icelandic (although, as a Germanic language, it does have plenty of features in common with English).

    It turns out that Icelanders can’t understand a lot of his lyrics, either. In many of his songs, Jónsi uses a made-up language called Vonlenska in Icelandic, directly translated into English as “Hopelandic” (von ”hope” + -lenska“-landic,” from íslenska Icelandic). On Sigur Rós’s official website, Hopelandic is described:

    hopelandic (vonlenska in icelandic) is the ‘invented language’ in which jónsi sings before lyrics are written to the vocals. it’s of course not an actual language by definition (no vocabulary, grammar, etc.), it’s rather a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument.

    A Wikipedia author also described Hopelandic:

    … it consists of emotive non-lexical vocables and phonemes; in effect, Vonlenska uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language.

    Jónsi uses Hopelandic to create moods and exploit rhythms without the lyrical burden of language. It’s interesting to consider language a burden, rather than a vital component, in music — at least in some contexts.

    Here’s one of Sigur Rós’s biggest hits, “Hoppípolla” (literally, “hopping in puddles,” from hoppa + í + polla. Isn’t it crazy how similar Germanic languages are?). The lead singer Jónsi uses Hopelandic from 2:25-2:50 and again from 3:03 onwards.

    Hopelandic is far from the only example of “non-lexical vocables” used in music. In fact, we use these nonsense words in music all the time — we say “la la la” when we can’t remember the lyrics to a song, we sing scat in jazz, and we use nonsense words like “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” in famous songs!

    Perhaps most fundamentally, in Western music we use syllables like “do,” “re,” and “mi” to describe relative pitches, known as solfege. Indian classical music has an analogous system to describe relative pitches, using the seven syllables sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni, collectively known as sargam(Strictly speaking, these syllables, both in Western and Indian music, aren’t random syllables — they are supposedly derived from longer words, but in the context of music they’re pretty much meaningless.)

    I wonder, too, if the use of non-lexical vocables in music hints at the origins of lyrical music — maybe our distant ancestors began singing using nonsense syllables, later moving on to actual lyrics.

    Indian classical music uses these non-lexical vocables quite a bit:  there’s a type of composition called a tillāna (in South Indian music) or tarāna (North Indian) in which nonsense syllables are used in lieu of actual lyrics, in order to exploit extraordinarily complex rhythms. Tillānas usually accompany dance. Here’s an example. The song is sung with these nonsense rhythmic syllables like dheemta-na, and jha:

    There’s also a whole type of performance in South Indian music called ragam-tanam-pallavi, of which the big middle chunk, the tanam, consists of exploring the mood of a particular scale solely on the nonsense syllablesta and nam, derived from the word and concept anantam, “without end.” To be able to do a proper ragam-tanam-pallavi is considered the pinnacle of musical performance in South India.

    In my experience as a singer, non-lexical vocables are incredibly emotive and liberating for the singer: we can focus entirely on the mood and the rhythm of the music, rather than the words. This is especially true in forms of music like jazz, which love to focus on the emotive and complex rhythmic aspects of performance. Indian classical music places an extremely high premium on the emotional power of music — often to the exclusion of the lyrics, especially in North Indian music. I’ve seen plenty of singers get so lost in the emotion of their performance that they resort to non-lexical vocables instead of the real lyrics. Audiences love it when that happens!

    Who knew that our hapless la-la-las had such illustrious cousins?

     
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