Guest Post: Post-War (Liberal) Global Order

I am posting this recent twitter thread by the American writer Claire Berlinski, which I think is a fantastic exposition of the nature of the US-dominated post-War world order, and why it is so important to preserve it from the Trumpian onslaught within and the totalitarian Sino-Russian conspiracies without. I think it describes the nature of the Euro-American bargain very well and gives a context to the latest, and galactically mistaken, American preoccupation under President Trump with short-term deal-making at the expense of its long-standing solemn pacts or basic human morality. While the last word on the orange orangutan hasn’t been said yet, Trump is quite easily proving to be the worst POTUS in American post-War history.

(Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t yet pissed off the pro-US lobby within the Indian government, let alone scupper the strategic Indo-US partnership. However,  his trade-war and “reciprocal” tariffs tsunami will eventually hit the Indian shores too as the latest Economist piece argues.)

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Guest post: Sixes and Sevens

This blog is about a weird linguistic feature that I noticed many years ago and in the good old days of Orkut discussion groups (now defunct), this topic generated a major discussion thread in the Linguistics community. I was reminded of it after a recent discussion on Arabic cardinals and thought I should re-post it for everyone’s benefit and interest.

It is a widely accepted (and experimentally confirmed) theory that human languages evolve (drift) according to well-understood rules that are objective and general in application. Given the obvious Darwinian characteristics of language evolution, linguists classify languages in “families” of kinship (much like biological species). However, one must always remember that biological species is a much better defined (and testable) term than a language family and also better motivated. Part of the reason for linguistic classification had as much to do with missionary zeal of the (primarily Anglophone) Bible preacher and the reductionist zeal of the Enlightenment philosopher as genuine bipartisan search for objective truth.

Nonetheless, whatever their original motivation, linguistic families are good phenomenological models with some predictive power (e.g. Avestan grammar reconstruction using Paninian grammar is an obvious case in point). One of the easy tell-tale signs of two languages belonging to a single language family is the correlation between the sets of most frequently used words used in either language, because such words are most prone to change by natural linguistic drift than lexical borrowing. One such typical subset of frequently used words in a language consists of its words for cardinals used for counting, i.e. the usual ones, twos, threes etc.

It turns out that for some reason, still unfathomable to me, the words for cardinal numbers six (6) and seven (7) show uncanny correlation across West-Eurasian language families. Obviously, the in-group correlation in, say, the Indo-European group is well accounted for by the natural evolution of Proto-Indo-European. Compare Latin “sex” to Sanskrit “SakS”, where /S/ is the “sh” sound pronounced retroflexively (i.e. by touching the tongue to the palate). However, out-group correlation is quite surprising and seems rather tight across not just Semitic and Austro-Asiatic families, but even Kartvelian, Finno-Ugric and isolates such as Etruscan. And the structure is deep, as Akkadian (the earliest known Semitic language) is attested from the 2nd-3rd millennium BCE in Mesopotamia and Old Egyptian from a thousand years earlier in the Nile Valley.

Note the correlation disappears with Turkic, Tibetan, Dravidian, Malay etc – languages situated in or originating from the South/East of the Eurasian landmass. What makes it even more surprising is that this really holds for numbers 6 and 7 only, but not 5 nor 10 or higher cardinals. Does it hint at a deeper structure in West Eurasian languages (as opposed to Eastern ones or Sub-Saharan)? Are these hints of some ancient lexical borrowing of names for cardinals to count beyond 5? Or is this correlation across families just pure co-incidence? I do not know, but your comments and thoughts are very welcome.


Language Language Family Six Seven
Kashmiri IE shyeh səth
Urdu-Hindi IE chhe saat
Sanskrit IE SakS saptam
Avestan IE xshvash haepta
Farsi IE shesh haft
Latin IE sex septem
English IE six seven
Arabic Sem sitta sab’aa
Akkadian Sem shedish sebe
Hebrew Sem shisha shiv’a
Old Egyptian Afro-A ssat safhat
Georgian Kart ekusi shvidi
Finnish Finn-U kuusi seitseman
Basque Isolate sei zazpi
Etruscan Isolate sha semth
Tamil Drav aaru aeLu
Burushaski Isolate mishindo thalo
Turkish Turkic alti yedi
Japanese Japonic roku nana
Ladakhi Sino-T tuk dun

(Disclaimer: This blog is moderated by its owners. The views expressed are my own and may not reflect the views of the blog owners.)

Guest post: Why do Indians speak English with a strong accent?