Would you take a DNA test to see your origins?

Some fascinating answers here.

For me, no, and that’s about different attitudes to ethnicity and history.

My no is for the same reason as User’s (answer stupidly collapsed by mods) or Feifei Wang’s. My skepticism about the methodologies in pop DNA tests is the same as Madelene Zarifa’s, my skepticism about the utility the same as Lyonel Perabo’s.

My father’s Greek Cypriot, my mother’s Greek Cretan. It’s likely Greek peasantry all the way back. If there was some stray Venetian in my lineage from 500 years back, or some stray Arabic from 1000 years back, that does not impact my sense of who I am—a sense that is cultural and not genetic.

Now, that attitude is coloured by being brought up in an ethnically monolithic area (Crete, where even the Muslims were Greek). If I were Anglo in the Melting Pot of the US, I may well have a different attitude. In fact, Cypriots have been much more sanguine about being a mixture of people than Greece Greeks are; I might have been more curious had I been brought up in Cyprus.

But really, the peregrinations of my ancestors, such as they might have been, doesn’t tell me who I am. I already know who I am. And “0.5% Sub-Saharan African” or “1.2% East Asian” is statistical noise, it’s not identity.

Feifei put it well:

If the test shown I have Arabic or perhaps Jewish ancestors, I’m not going to start picking up the Quran or convert to Judaism. I don’t understand some people’s need to search their “roots”, as if that would help them define who they are. I might not know exactly who I am, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with my genetics. I originated in Beijing, China. That’s my origin.

Why was literacy so low in the Ottoman Empire?

Yes, Arabic script was a spectacularly bad fit for Turkish. But a more proximate reason, surely, was that mass literacy presupposes printing—and the Ottomans did not allow printing in a Muslim language. (They didn’t allow it in Christian Greek either, but at least Venetian printers were able to capitalise on that.)

Global spread of the printing press

Due to religious qualms, Sultan Bayezid II and successors prohibited printing in Arabic script in the Ottoman empire from 1483 on penalty of death, but printing in other scripts was done by Jews as well as the Greek and Armenian communities (1515 Saloniki, 1554 Bursa (Adrianople), 1552 Belgrade, 1658 Smyrna). In 1727, Sultan Achmed III gave his permission for the establishment of the first legal print house for printing secular works in Arabic script (religious publications still remained forbidden), but printing activities did not really take off until the 19th century.

1727: First press for printing in Arabic established in the Ottoman Empire, against opposition from the calligraphers and parts of the Ulama. It operated until 1742, producing altogether seventeen works, all of which were concerned with non-religious, utilitarian matters. Ibrahim Muteferrika.

1779: Abortive attempt to revive printing in the Ottoman lands, by James Mario Matra (Briton).

[Btw, Wikipedia? What printing in Greek communities? Judaeo-Greek doesn’t really count as the “Greek community” in this context. Citation needed.]

On the late adoption of the printing press in the Ottoman Empire

It is clear from the historical evidence that the professional manuscript scribes were violently against the printing press because they did not want to lose their jobs.

It is not so clear that the clergy of that era were against the printing press even though historians show evidence that it was the case. In the current intellectual climate of religious fervor in Turkey the prevailing opinion is that the clergy of the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries were not against the printing press. They say that the printing press was rejected because of the strong opposition of the calligrapher/scribe class. This begs the question: if the clergy were not against the printing press why Muteferrika or others were not allowed to print religious books?

Myths and reality about the printing press in the Ottoman Empire (which looks like a weak apologist account to me—they didn’t allow it because it wasn’t as pretty as manuscript? And only the scholars needed to read anyway? Really?)

Printing banned by Islam? (Christian polemicist, but consistently with scrupulous scholarship)

Answered 2016-09-18 · Upvoted by

Lyonel Perabo, B.A. in History. M.A in related field (Folkloristics)

What does a French speaker from the Val D’Aosta region of Italy sound like?

Ah, French in the Val d’Aosta.

I don’t have a phonetic answer for OP. I do however have a sociolinguistic answer that I’m delighted to share, because I co-supervised an MA thesis on this subject. The facts are all from Genevieve Foddy (née Czarnecki). The snark is all mine.

The indigenous language of the Val d’Aosta is not French. Any more than French is the indigenous language of Brittany, or Alsace, or Gascony.

The indigenous language of the Val d’Aosta was Franco-Provençal. Which was also the indigenous language of Suisse Romande, and Grenoble, and the rest of the erstwhile Duchy of Savoy. “Franco-Provençal” doesn’t sound like much of a name for a language, so locals now prefer to call it Arpitan. The Val d’Aosta is now where Franco-Provençal survives the strongest. And “the strongest” is not all that strong.

Franco-Provençal never got taken seriously as a language. (I mean, have you ever heard of it?) The Duchy of Savoy, in fact, adopted Paris French as its official language, even before France did. In 1536.

That means that Paris French was a Roofing Language (Dachsprache) for Franco-Provençal. Meaning, it was the Official Language that you file the local dialect under. A roofing language can give you some shelter: you can claim the superior status of the roofing language as your own. But it also stunts your growth: literary Franco-Provençal was never going to amount to anything but cute stories about dales and goats, because French was the “real” language of anything outside the shepherd’s hut.

The Val d’Aosta became part of Italy, Grenoble became part of France, and Suisse Romande had already got rid of its Arpitan at the time of Napoleon. The Valdôtains protested they were French, but they were swamped by migrants from the Piedmont, and their dialect was on the retreat.

Before Mussolini. But of course, it was Mussolini that made martyrs of the Francophone Valdostans, such as Émile Chanoux.

Fast forward to the end of WWII. De Gaulle is doing some sabre-rattling on the French–Italian border. To smooth things over, Italy grants the Val d’Aosta autonomy.

Autonomy from Rome pays off bigtime economically. The Valdôtains achieve the highest standard of living in Italy. Which attracts a lot of migrants from elsewhere in Italy again—this time, from the poor South.

Like I said, Franco-Provençal is not doing that well: it’s steadily retreating. There may be revival efforts, but if you’re not in Palestine 1910, revival efforts seldom reverse language loss.

Franco-Provençal, once again, is not French. But Franco-Provençal is also not an Ausbausprache—an Official Language of the kind you can put in forms and legal documents and books. French is.

And the Valdôtains, dammit, are Savoyards. People who belong to the glorious lineage of the French-Speaking Nations.

So they learn French at school. Because they sure as hell don’t speak it at home.

And they get all their government forms in French as well as Italian.

And most of them, in reality, don’t speak anything but Italian. Some of them will speak Franco-Provençal in the villages, some of the time.

But remember: French is what makes them distinct, French is what makes them autonomous, French is what makes them part of la Francophonie. If it was just some mountain gibberish dialect that they spoke, halfway between French and Tuscan, well, Italy is full of those.

(Remember: the snark is all mine, not Genevieve’s.)

So, this is how the scenario plays out for Eustace-Marie de Valdôtain-Courmayeur, born and bred in the Vallé d’Aoste, pronounced [vale dɔst], sacré, not [daɔst].

(In Franco-Provençal it’s actually Vâl d’Outa, but remember: French. Because: French.)

  • We Valdôtains are Savoyards.
  • That makes us members of the glorious lineage of the French-Speaking Nations, who adopted French before Paris did.
  • We speak French, and that makes us autonomous from Rome.
  • The fact that noone in my family has spoken Franco-Provençal in three generations is irrelevant.
  • The fact that I only learned French in school is irrelevant.
  • The fact that I always fill out the Italian forms down at the town hall, and not the French forms, is irrelevant.
  • We speak French. And those southern migrants don’t. Because we are true Valdôtains.

Meanwhile, this is how the scenario plays out for Salvatore Mangia-Foccaccia, who has moved here from Reggio di Calabria.

  • The streets of Aosta are paved with gold.
  • The streets are paved with gold, because the Valle d’Aosta (pronounced [daosta], porca miseria, not [dɔst]) speaks French.
  • Any actual French they speak here, they learned at school.
  • … Hey hang on! I learned French at school!
  • Sure, Vive l’Aoste libre! Works for me just fine!

OP, this doesn’t really answer your question, but it is a warning to look at the claims carefully. It’s Arpitan, not French (hence the “distinctive features”), and the locals are motivated to exaggerate how much non-Italian Romance they speak. Arpitan is a second language in the revival now; but so is French.

I wish Arpitan well, as I wish all minority languages well. But Arpitan in the Val d’Aosta is not going to grow if it keeps calling itself French…

What are the greatest expressions, phrasal verbs or quotes from other languages you know (not your mother tongue)?

The best saying of Ancient Greek ever comes from the very end of Ancient Greek.

When Julian (emperor), last Roman advocate of paganism, was asked what he thought of Christianity, he said:

ἀνέγνων. ἔγνων. κατέγνων.

It’s a truly magnificent pun.

Literally, it means: I up-knew, I knew, I down-knew.

“To up-know” is the Greek for “to read”. “To down-know” is the Greek for “to condemn”. “To know” can be used to mean “to understand”.

So: I up-knew, I knew, I down-knew = I have read it. I have understood it. I have condemned it.

Or, as a most weak echo of Julian’s magnificence:

I’ve read it; I get it; I’ll shred it.

When Esperanto was invented by Ludovik Zamenhof, the lack of a culture was somewhat felt, though nowhere near as acutely felt as people assume. In any case, it was quickly filled in with a whole lot of Mitteleuropa literary culture, which was what was prestigious around where Esperanto was invented.

As a sign of respect, Ludovik Zamenhof published his father’s collection of proverbs in multiple languages. Including Esperanto. And the Esperanto has jingle jangle blunt rhymes, the way you’d expect of proverbial wisdom.

Those proverbs were instant culture; but they weren’t high culture. So sadly, they were ignored by everyone in Esperanto culture since. With the exception of the magnificent translation into Esperanto of the first volume of Asterix, which used them with gusto. (Even more sadly: the subsequent volumes were done by other people, and were nowhere near as clever.)

One of them wedged itself into my mind when I found the collection, and it hasn’t dislodged itself since. You could say, it’s a relation of Julian’s apophthegm.

Dio longe paciencas, sed severe rekompencas.

God has long patience. And stern payback.

What are the best ways of informing fellow Quora members of mistakes and inaccuracies in posts, without sounding arrogant or being offensive?

I agree with Karen Tiede’s answer: the most effective way to counter a bad answer is with a good (and dispassionate) answer.

The most *easy* way to do so (and indeed, the one I usually use) is to comment. But not everyone wants or accepts comments. And if you’re worried about sounding offensive, you’re unlikely to want to engage in comments to begin with.

I disagree with Karen’s premiss as a way of participating in society, as opposed to Quora (“It’s not my job to consider other points of view”), because being open to considering other points of view is the responsibility of a citizen. Even as an approach to Quora (“this is not a debating site”), I am uncomfortable with it: it truly comes across as the stuff of echo-chambers.

And yet, in my own practice on Quora with answers (as opposed to comments), I do the same thing. I’m often not interested in rewording questions, if they’ve been found to be wanting in someone’s comments—even if I agree with that comment. I will edit to add things I’ve left out, sometimes, particularly in matters of fact. But edits of answers don’t trigger renotifications to everyone who has already answered your question. Just as comments refuting you are nowhere near as visible as new answers refuting you.

And I’d rather let my answer stand, as the best record of what I thought—if the answer is a matter of opinion or judgement rather than fact. If the answer is debatable, well, let’s have the debate in comments, *I*’m fine with that. But my answer stands, and the best way to refute it is a counter-answer.

I’ve often encouraged people to post a counter-answer; they rarely do…