Why don’t we all use the IPA?

Nice idea, but of course even spelling reform is near impossible, let along script reform—unless you’re Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and your country is post-Ottoman Turkey. And even when your language community adopts a script from scratch, practicality means the script will look a lot closer to the local majority or prestige language’s script. And the more IPA is not easily available, the more it will not be used.

Besides, historical orthographies have been argued to be a feature and not a bug.

The level of detail in the IPA would be an argument against practical use as  a script, since writing systems need to be phonemic and  not phonetic. In fact, the IPA was original intended to be used in less detailed mode as well as more detailed mode; the original proposal for example said that you could use <e> instead of <ɛ>, if your language didn’t have a contrast between the two. But that detail has been largely ignored.

The IPA would still need some tweaking to be used as a practical script, anyway. Or at least, the people behind the Africa Alphabet thought so…

Why are Greeks so leftist?

Good question! I trust someone more knowledgable will reply (who actually lives there now).

Of course, not all Greeks are leftist, and as with much of the West, the nominal left-wing parties have drifted further and further to the centre (Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK). There are two related questions here: why has the Left been historically so strong in Greece in the 20th century; and why is Syriza so strong now?

Historical reasons include:

  • the large number of dispossessed refugees from Asia Minor, and the ongoing low standard of living in the population until fairly recently;
  • the lack of rule of law, which meant that people did not trust the government and were attracted to radical alternatives;
  • repressive regimes for a large chunk of the 20th century;
  • clientelism from the conservative governments (which was a problem right up until the Socialists took power, and ran their own clientelist state);
  • left-wing alignment and advocacy from many of the musicians and authors of Greece. (Don’t underestimate the recruiting potential of Mikis Theodorakis back in the day.)

Elsewhere in the west, the mainstream left parties have drifted to the centre, and no further-left parties have taken their place. The Greens are doing well, but they have not overtaken the social-democrats. Greece is an exception, and that’s the second question: why is Greece the one country where the former Euro-Communists are  (nominally) running the show?

The answer of course is that Greece has been pushed to the wall in the past five years, and voters have lost all faith in the mainstream parties — the mainstream left more than the mainstream right, since the mainstream left is felt to have sold out on its principles, while the mainstream right hasn’t.
That’s why New Democracy (Greece) still exists, and has not been cannibalised by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) or (shudder) Golden Dawn (political party). Not so for PASOK: in the past couple of decades, they have pretty much swapped percentages with SYRIZA, and have barely scraped in to parliament.

What is the historical significance of Thessaloniki, Greece?

Up and coming city in the Roman Empire. Was the base of the Emperor Galerius. Very important city during Byzantium, to the extent of being termed the Co-Queen of Cities (συμβασιλεύουσα—the Queen of Cities being Constantinople). Main trading town for much of the Balkans. Major centre of Sephardic settlement after their expulsion from Spain—to the extent of being a largely Jewish city until the 20th century, and an inspiration to Zionists. Lots of historical architecture spanning a very long period. Having been the Co-Queen of Byzantium, is now the Co-Capital of Greece (συμπρωτεύουσα). Has traditionally been the refuge of progressive intellectuals, though commentators have noted that the dust of reaction has settled around it more recently.

What culture first created books as they exist today, with spines and bound into covers?

Books as we know them today are called  Codex, to distinguish them from e.g. scrolls.

The culture that came up with them was the Romans, and the subculture that popularised them over scrolls seem to have been the Christians. The Aztecs and Mayans invented them independently, though I don’t think they had covers.

What are some interesting facts about Western Australia most don’t know?

Western Australian (or as Victorians unaffectionately call them, Sandgropers) don’t really act like they want to be in the same country as the more unwesterly states. I remember Dick Smith jams falling afoul of the Buy West Australian campaign, because their jams were bottled in Victoria.

And in 1933, they almost got their wish: Western Australian secession referendum, 1933.

What people don’t know (and I broadcast whenever WA comes up in conversation), is that the referendum passed.

It didn’t go anywhere, because like loyal British subjects, WA took the matter to London. And London had just passed the Statute of Westminster 1931, whereby Commonwealth countries could, like, run their own countries (“The main effect was the removal of the ability of the British parliament to legislate for the Dominions”). This made Western Australian secession Not London’s Problem.

Canberra (and Perth) had not ratified the Statute, and didn’t until 19-fricking-42; but Canberra was hardly likely to object to the outcome. The government that had proposed the referendum got voted out in the same election; so Perth didn’t care either. So the WA delegates sulked around London for a couple of years, and went back home.

EDIT: for a far better account, I direct you to the magisterial Carter Moore’s answer to What would have happened if Australia had been partitioned in 1933? 

My Greek friend has told me that the Greek language allows the expression of logical propositions in a way that is more natural and clearer than English. How true is this?

I look forward to OP’s examples from his friends (per comment to Steve Massey), but I don’t buy it. What little Greek logic I’ve read in the original sounds pretty woolly by modern standards.

Oh, and the notion that a modern Greek speaker would intuitively grok Aristotelian logic in the original, because Hellenes! — nah, burden of proof is on OP’s friend.

How many Indigenous Australian languages are there? How similar are they?

At the time of European invasion *cough* settlement, the guesstimate is 200. The guesstimate is based on poor data, since many were wiped out so quickly, and on Lexicostatistics — because we don’t have enough data to make a good linguistic assessment of what counts as a different language otherwise.

We could of course ask the indigenous Australians themselves how many languages there were. Their answer will be closer to 600, which was the number of distinct tribes — because like people everywhere else, their notion of what counted as a distinct language was based on identity politics rather than mutual intelligibility. (I see that Wikipedia is now using the identity politics answer rather than the white linguists’ answer: Australian Aboriginal languages ).

That’s a distinct answer from how many languages are alive today, being passed on to new speakers, and not revived from written sources after going extinct. That answer is closer to a dozen or so.

How similar are they? Tasmanian is very poorly  attested (likely nine distinct languages jumbled up in a concentration camp), but we are pretty sure they have no detectable relation to the mainland languages. The bottom 2/3 of the mainland belong to the Pama–Nyungan languages, meaning they have discernable similarities. Given that pana means “man” in one end of the family and nyunga means “man” in the other end, they aren’t that similar. The guesstimate is that they are of a similar time-depth as Indo-European, 5000 years.

The top 1/3 of the mainland are heterogeneous, and are  not particularly close to each other; it doesn’t seem to have been definitively proven that they are related to Pama-Nyungan, either.