Friday, January 15, 2016

Cool stuff: accents, cuneiform gingerbread, NYPL release, and intangible heritage

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs:
Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "Sancho's feast."
The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1700.
http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/3f8982f0-db8e-0130-5057-58d385a7b928
Last month, UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage met to add to its list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding—a kind of "endangered species list" for the world's cultural practices—as well as its representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. You can browse the items on this year's list, as well as all previous years, here. I am always thrilled to encounter things I never even remotely knew about—and indeed, entire cultures about which I know nothing—through the Lists. UNESCO does a huge service to all of us just by drawing attention to these cultures and practices every year, and their website—which features excellent videos on each of the new items that are well worth watching. I knew nothing about the Koogere stories of the Basongora, Banyabindi and Batooro peoples, or Vallenato music in Colombia, or Mongolian camel-coaxing rituals. But learning just a little about them is a cause for wonder at the ingenuity, beauty, and variety of human culture, and a reminder for all of us who call ourselves humanists of why we do what we do.

Last week, the New York Public Library released high-resolution scans of 180,000 public-domain images, as the New York Times reports. The oldest items are beautiful 11th-century manuscripts. It's definitely worth it to visit the NYPL's website and play around with their tools and projects, especially the quirky, fun visualization tool that provides a fun way to browse, explore, and imagine the sheer scale of what 180,000 images looks like.

Those who like the accent tests featured on the New York Times and BuzzFeed in recent years will have a blast with George Mason University's Speech Accent Archive, which maps samples of English speech from around the world, along with recordings and International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions—a delight for all amateur actors and language lovers. It makes me curious what a French or Spanish or Chinese version might look like, too. What does an Italian accent sound like in Georgian? What does it sound like when an Urdu speaker learns Korean? For now, we will content ourselves with what English sounds like via Amharic, Khalkha Mongol, Wu, and Milwaukee. For now.

Lastly, the grad student behind the brilliant blog Mostly Dead Languages has a wonderful project to show off: how to make cuneiform gingerbread cookies. If you ever wondered what an edible Enuma Elish might look like, here is your chance. A bonus: the blog also features incredibly graceful translations of texts from ancient Mesopotamian languages, ranging from letters to epics to jokes, many of which I doubt have been presented in so readable a form before now. 

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