What is your score on the Rice Purity test?

Ah, Purity Tests. Such fond memories of my misspent youth. I actually knew people who knew people who refrigerated their own poop to reduce their score.

And that was clearly wasn’t this version of the Purity Test.

I’m pretty vanilla, to my slight disappointment. 46.

What is functional grammar?

Vote #1 Trevor Sullivan: Trevor Sullivan’s answer to What is functional grammar?

It’s the correct answer, but not defensive enough for my liking. 🙂 So treat this answer as a restatement of his.

There are several ways of explaining why language is the way it is. Originally, the split was between diachronic and synchronic explanations. The diachronic account, which is historical linguistics, explains language in terms of earlier stages of the same language, and change processes. The synchronic account, which took over as the mainstream with Saussure, explains language as a system in its own right, rather than seeking to explain it in terms of process.

Since maybe the 70s in some quarters, but the 50s in others, there is a related split.

  • The formalist account of language explains language as a system in itself, without appealing to extralinguistic causes. An explanation in formalism is the formulation of rules that explain the distribution of phonemes and words and phrases. Generative grammar is the major class of formalist accounts. It ultimately appeals to a language device in the brain: language is the way it is, because that’s how the rules for linguistic structure in the brain work.
  • The functionalist account of language explains language as a means of communicating meaning. So giving the rules by itself is not enough in functionalism: functionalism want to know why those rules, and not others, are best suited to communication. The rules end up having a lot to do with pragmatics and semantics and discourse structure, as Trevor says; and ultimately functionalism concludes that language is the way it is because of cognitive patterns in general, and not a part of the brain specific to language. If you think about it, that also means functionalism is a lot friendlier to diachrony.

They’re incommensurate approaches; *shrug*. To a functionalist, formalist accounts don’t really explain anything, and are circular. To a formalist, functionalist accounts are specious Just-So speculation, and are unscientific.

(I’ll only disagree with Trevor in one detail: functionalists in my experience love typology—it gives them more things to explain in their terms.)

The home turf of functionalism is the West Coast of the US, and it was also big in Australia when I was going through the system. Systemic functional linguistics is an earlier branch of the theory, developed in the UK and Australia (though restricted to Sydney Uni there), and which other functionalists don’t like. It is very popular in applied linguistics, as it gives paedagogically satisfying accounts of language variety.

Should Quora allow for different classes of followers (e.g., besties versus acquaintances)?

I’d enjoy it. In fact, I clearly do it: there is a difference in how I engage with a bestie that I banter with constantly (like, say, Zeibura S. Kathau) and a friend of a friend, one of whose answers I was impressed by.

But… I can make that distinction in my head, because I recognise my besties. I’m not clear what additional functionality or UI distinctions Quora needs to add. I think I’m more friendly to social networking use of Quora than Konstantinos Konstantinides is; but like him, I don’t see what value it would add for Quora to make such a distinction in its interface.

If you have something in mind, OP, I’d be interested to hear it; but be aware that Quora, as far as I can tell, has never been enthusiastic about the social networking use of Quora.

Is it a coincidence that the nations which industrialised first were Christian?

Some good answers here, but none giving the obvious reference: Jared Diamond, Guns Germs and Steel. It was despite (mediaeval) Christianity: Byzantium stopped all science very early. The Islamic world was into Science before Christendom was, and the switches in both worlds were not about the religion, but about interpretations of the religion.

As for why Christianity went big time when it hit Europe: that’s all about the Roman Empire and its successor states, and the power vacuum to its North. And about the Persian Empire rejecting Christianity as a Roman thing.

Can you identify all 50 American states on a map?

Nope, and I’m intrigued to know how other non-Americans will do at the task.

Per Nick Nicholas’ answer to What do you think when you hear the words, “United States”?

Without cheating: forgot 5 states, and misplaced another 7.

And I think I’m on the upper range for non-Americans.

Would Greek Cypriots accept the return of the north of Cyprus if the Turkish Cypriots were expelled?

I’ll second Spyros Theodoritsis. Yes, Greek Cypriots killed Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus in intercommunity violence. Yes, there was de facto partition of the island since 1963. Yes, if you talk to at least some Greek Cypriots for long enough (as I did with my uncle there), you’ll work out that despite their professed desire for a reunified Cyprus (as long as the mainland Turks go away), they don’t necessarily have a lot of respect for Turkish Cypriots.

But no, making Cyprus Türkenrein has never been a talking point for Greek Cypriots. They do want their homes back, as you’ve clarified the question, OP, but they do actually want reunification and peace as well. I don’t think they’d trust any population exchange solution to resolve anything anyway: it’s a cause of Turkish resentment just waiting to happen.

Although it has to be said, the newer generation of Greek Cypriots has gotten quite used to living with partition; and reunification is no longer for Greek Cypriots an existential question, the way it has been for Turkish Cypriots.

Why does Iran have a variety of ethnic groups?

Mehrdad, canım, I don’t know. I will guess, but whatever I guess, Dimitris Almyrantis will guess better.

Here goes.

  • The usual answer is, Iran is at a crossroads of civilisations. Maybe. But you know, so is Greece, so is Turkey, so is Russia, so is Spain. In itself, that’s not actually an answer; it’s only the beginnings of an answer.
  • Like many countries, Iran has ethnic spillover at its borders—Kurds next to Iraqi Kurdistan, Arabs in Khuzestan. That’s only a small part of it.
  • Iran was in the pathway of a major population movement, that of the Turkic peoples. Unlike Turkey, that did not result in a demographic takeover: the Persian ethnicity was well-established and prestigious, and the Azeris and Turkmens were not waging a war of cultural or religous conquest when they arrived. But it did result in the Torki being a sizeable and secure minority.
  • Iran was ruled by a multiethnic empire until fairly recently, which did not particularly care about how Farsi or Torki you were. (At least, that’s what you and Pegah tell me!)
  • Multiethnic empires facilitated internal migration of different ethnic groups: hence the Georgians and Armenians in Fereydan (which is nowhere near the Caucasus), or the Circassians imported by the shahs.
  • Iran did not have time or incentive to embrace the strongly centralising, “One Ethnicity One Nation” ideal that took hold of much of Europe. So there was not much opportunity for Persians to assimilate other ethnicities—even those closest to them, such as the Mazandaranis or Gilakis, let alone the Lurs.

So: some accidents of history, including the movement of the Turkic peoples; multi-ethnic empire; and lack of overt assimilatory policies. Shi’a religion and common cultural heritage, rather than ethnicity, have been entrusted with the role of binding Iran together.

Why do you think Ottomanism and Pan-Islamism Failed?

Mariam Als, thank you for your A2As. I truly am not qualified to answer this, and I hope Dimitris Almyrantis will. Irene Avetyan, I’m looking at you too. This is more to provoke an answer out of them, and it’s not rooted in any great understanding of Ottoman or Turkish history.

(That, and I’m cleaning out my A2A queue today.)

There are various forces historically that give cohesion to States. We have seen a change in the relative strength of those forces in the last couple of centuries; and that has undermined both Ottomanism and Pan-Islamism, in favour of Nationalism.

I’m not familiar with the term Ottomanism, but I’ll assume it’s the whole notion of a multi-ethnic empire, with a dominant ethnicity and/or religion and/or culture. Europe was doing the same thing with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the Ottoman Empire collapsed for the same reason as the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Nationalism was a more compelling cause for the non-dominant peoples within the empire.

I recently had an exchange with Erdi Küçük about footage of Greek POWs discussing their encounter with Atatürk.


Greek with Turkish subtitles, no English unfortunately. The gist is, Atatürk had won, and had done away with the Ottoman Empire in the process; but he was still complaining to the Greek POWs of how disloyal they had been to the Empire, and how the Empire had indulged their theatrical performances of Greek nationalist plays with no recrimination. (“The stage was white with kilts and swords!”)

Erdi said something that blew me away with how perceptive it was:

You sort of realize that at that point, he’s still a bitter Ottoman officer who couldn’t get over the fact that empire is gone (and his viewpoint is exactly the reason why it’s gone), and he’s unhappy even at victory.

Atatürk’s viewpoint was still Ottomanist. It could not cope with the Greeks’ Nationalism.

Nationalism, admittedly, has been a poor fit for the Arabic-Speaking world. But it’s worked a treat for Turkey, which has embraced it whole-heartedly (even if it is launching its own Pan-Turkic system of alliances now). And, in a way I haven’t quite worked out, nationalism (or at least, a Shi’a-centric focus) has worked fine for Iran too.

If Ottomanism was frustrated by European Nationalism, Pan-Islamism failed even earlier: the Ummah had already stopped paying attention to a single caliph when the Fatimids and the Ummayads set up their own caliphates in the tenth century: Caliphate. Pan-Islamism was frustrated by the emergence of rival centres of power within the Arabic speaking Sunni world, long before the Turks were part of the picture: Damascus, Cairo, Baghdad, Fez, Cordoba; and there was no possibility that India, let alone Indonesia, would ever be yoked into the same political entity as the Arabs.

Any notion of Pan-Islamism is anachronistic; the Rashidun (the first caliphate of Islam) is not coming back, and the Rashidun was never going to stay united with it covering the amount of ground it did so quickly. The Ottoman Sultan was the nominal caliph; but I just can’t buy it that the Sultan’s caliphate meant all that much in terms of keeping the empire together. It didn’t make Morocco or Iran rush to join up.

Why did the Ancient Greeks refer to Ancient Blacks (the Ethiopians) as ‘blameless’ and ‘favored by the gods’? Also, what does it mean?

(Oh, God, not Afrocentric history, anything but that.)

Afrocentric pages online say Diodorus Siculus said:

“The Aethiopians (Ethiopians) are high favored with the gods, they were the first of all men created by the gods and were the founders of the Egyptian Civilization.”

Diodorus Siculus actually says this:

LacusCurtius • Diodorus Siculus

Now the Ethiopians, as historians relate, were the first of all men and the proofs of this statement, they say, are manifest. […] furthermore, that those who dwell beneath the noon-day sun were, in all likelihood, the first to be generated by the earth, is clear to all; since, inasmuch as it was the warmth of the sun which, at the generation of the universe, dried up the earth when it was still wet and impregnated it with life, it is reasonable to suppose that the region which was nearest the sun was the first to bring forth living creatures.

OK. That’s not saying Greeks thought black people were better than them. That’s just a Just-So story that the equator originated all life because Heat, somehow. And it has nothing to do with the Olduwai Gorge!

And they say that they were the first to be taught to honour the gods and to hold sacrifices and processions and festivals and the other rites by which men honour the deity; and that in consequence their piety has been published abroad among all men, and it is generally held that the sacrifices practised among the Ethiopians are those which are the most pleasing to heaven. As witness to this they call upon the poet who is perhaps the oldest and certainly the most venerated among the Greeks; for in the Iliad he represents both Zeus and the rest of the gods with him as absent on a visit to Ethiopia to share in the sacrifices and the banquet which were given annually by the Ethiopians for all the gods together:

For Zeus had yesterday to Ocean’s bounds
Set forth to feast with Ethiop’s faultless men,
And he was followed there by all the gods.

That just means that Homer found the Ethiopians exotic. And again, in all likelihood the reason for that was simply the Ancient Greeks, in Homer’s time, thinking Gods = Sun = Equator = Black people.

And they state that, by reason of their piety towards the deity, they manifestly enjoy the favour of the gods, inasmuch as they have never experienced the rule of an invader from abroad; for from all time they have enjoyed a state of freedom and of peace one with another, and although many and powerful rulers have made war upon them, not one of these has succeeded in his undertaking.

We actually know very little of the History of Ethiopia before the Kingdom of Aksum. Diodorus knew very little too. And that’s hardly a strong argument for anything.

They say also that the Egyptians are colonists sent out by the Ethiopians, Osiris having been the leader of the colony. For, speaking generally, what is now Egypt, they maintain, was not land but sea when in the beginning the universe was being formed; afterwards, however, as the Nile during the times of its inundation carried down the mud from Ethiopia, land was gradually built up from the deposit.

Yeah. More Just-So stories, I fear. You can read more at the link.

As far as I can tell, everything is just exoticisation of a people who lived near the equator, and that Greeks had very little contact with. (And Diodorus wrote in the Roman era anyway.)

Why can’t we perceive onomatopoeia in other languages as easily as in our native language?

René Alix has basically covered it in his answer (Vote #1 René Alix’s answer to Why can’t we perceive onomatopoeia in other languages as easily as in our native language?)

But there’s something that’s only implicit in René’s answer, that I’ll make explicit:

No actual dogs really sound like that. And so you get the transcription of a facsimile of a sound representing entire microcosms of sounds, and end up with varying, though often vaguely similar words. Oh, and then somebody goes and transliterates them from another language with a different writing system, so we find out that Mandarin Chinese use ”wong wong” for their dog bark, and Arabic speakers use “nabah”.

To make it explicit: onomatopoeias in language are still somewhat arbitrary mappings of sound to meaning. There is a somewhat arbitrary choice of a particular rendering of a bark or a splash into sound, and that choice becomes conventionalised as a word of a particular language.

Because the choice is somewhat arbitrary and conventionalised, it will make sense to you once someone has pointed it out to you, and you are already familiar with it. But without forewarning, you may be surprised. As English speakers are indeed surprised at wong wong or nabah—and as Arabic or Chinese speakers are surprised at woof woof or arf arf or bow wow.

You aren’t surprised at Chinese onomatopoeia because you learned those words, just as you learned any word in Chinese. You can recognise the limited degree of non-arbitrariness of the words, their Iconicity. You are surprised at English onomatopoeia, because you expect onomatopoeia not to be conventionalised, but purely transparent in its iconicity. And that’s what I’m saying: onomatopoeia is not as iconic as you expect, and our native language knowledge of onomatopoeia blinds us to that.