The Jarawas, who number about 400 and whom one geneticist described as “arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet,” are believed to have migrated from Africa around 50,000 years ago. They are very dark-skinned, small in stature and until 1998 lived in complete cultural isolation, shooting outsiders with steel-tipped arrows if they came too near.
The New York Times has published a series of fascinating articles about the tribe and India’s interactions with it. Reading the articles caused me to pause and reflect on the fact that while I, and others Silicon Valley-ites like me, live to drive humanity into the future, not all human civilizations want technology or will benefit from it.
Radiolab has a fantastic story about the prisoner’s dilemma called One Good Deed Deserves Another. It was being rebroadcast on the local public radio channel KQED today as part of the episode called The Good Show. Take a listen on their site.
Prisoner’s Dilemma is a classic game theory problem. In it, one tries to figure out whether it is better to cooperate or compete with an opponent when you don’t know (or don’t trust) what the opponent will do.
The two languages I speak fluently, English and Hindi, are both Indo-European languages. Both originated from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language that was spoken by a Bronze-Age civilization in central Asia around 3500 BC.
In The Story of Human Language,a fantastic lecture series on the evolution of language, the linguist John McWhorter describes the discovery of the Indo-European language family.
In 1786, William Jones, a British jurist and Orientalist, presented an address to the Bengal Asiatic Society in which he observed:
“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.”
Jones was making the first official observation of the fact that groups of languages develop from single ones; that is, he inaugurated the study of the natural history of language.
The kind of “affinity” he referred to involved not only word roots in common among Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek but also aspects of grammar. For example, even the case endings on nouns in these languages are clearly related: tooth in four cases in the languages William Jones referred to:
SANSKRIT GREEK LATIN
nominative dán odón dēns
genitive datás odóntos dentis
dative daté odónti dentī
accusative dántam odónta dentem
To see the similarity among modern descendants of PIE, take a look their word for “tooth” in these Indo-European languages.
Armenian atam (ատամ)
Persian dandân (دندان)
Sanskrit dát (दत्)
Hindi dānt (दांत)