Discover the Disappearing Turkish Language That is Whistled, Not Spoken

We so often privilege individuals as the primary drivers of innovation. But what if technology is also self-organizing, developing as an evolutionary response to the environment? If we think of whistled language as a kind of technology, we have an excellent example of this self-organizing principle in the 42 documented whistled languages around the world.

As we noted in a previous post, reports of whistled languages go back hundreds of years in cultures that would have had no contact with each other: Oaxaca, Mexico, northern Africa’s Atlas Mountains, the Brazilian Amazon, northern Laos, and the Canary Islands.




These are “places with steep terrain or dense forests,” writes Michelle Nijhuis at The New Yorker, “where it might otherwise be hard to communicate at a distance.” Such is the case in the village of Kuşköy, in “the remote mountains of northern Turkey,” notes Great Big Story:

“For three centuries” farmers there “have communicated great distances by whistling. It’s a language called kuş dili that is still used to this day, though fewer people are learning it in the age of the cell phone.” Also called “bird language” by locals, “for obvious reasons,” this system of vocal telephony, like all other examples, is based on actual speech. Nijhuis explains:

Kuşköy’s version [of whistled language] adapts standard Turkish syllables into piercing tones that can be heard from more than half a mile away. The phrase “Do you have fresh bread?,” which in Turkish is “Taze ekmek var mı?,” becomes, in bird language, six separate whistles made with the tongue, teeth, and fingers.

The method may be avian, but the messages are human, albeit in simplified language for ease of transmission. In the video above Muazzez Köçek, Kuşköy’s best whistler, shows how she translates Turkish vocabulary into melodies—turning words into music, an act of coding without a computer.

That this bio-technological feat arose spontaneously to solve the same problem the world over shows how us how humans collectively problem-solve. But of course, individualism has its advantages. Despite the huge amount of data they gather on us, modern communications technologies have met one particular human need.

In Kuşköy, "bird language is rapidly disappearing from daily life," writes Nijhuis. "In a small town filled with nosy neighbors, texting affords a level of privacy that whistling never did."

Related Content:

The Fascinating Whistled Languages of the Canary Islands, Turkey & Mexico (and What They Say About the Human Brain)

Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

How Languages Evolve: Explained in a Winning TED-Ed Animation

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The Lost Neighborhood Buried Under New York City’s Central Park

New York City is in a constant state of flux.

For every Nets fan cheering their team on in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and every tourist gamboling about the post-punk, upscale East Village, there are dozens of local residents who remember what—and who—was displaced to pave the way for this progress.

It’s no great leap to assume that something had to be plowed under to make way for the city’s myriad gleaming skyscrapers, but harder to conceive of Central Park, the 840-acre oasis in the middle of Manhattan, as a symbol of ruthless gentrification.




Plans for a peaceful green expanse to rival the great parks of Great Britain and Europe began taking shape in the 1850s, driven by well-to-do white merchants, bankers, and landowners looking for temporary escape from the urban pressures of densely populated Lower Manhattan.

It took 20,000 workers—none black, none female—over three years to realize architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's sweeping pastoral design.

A hundred and fifty years later, Central Park is still a vital part of daily life for visitors and residents alike.

But what of the vibrant neighborhood that was doomed by the park’s construction?

As historian Cynthia R. Copeland, co-director of the Seneca Village Project, points out above, several communities were given the heave ho in order to clear the way for the park’s creation.

The best established of these was Seneca Village, which ran from approximately 82nd to 89th Street, along what is known today as Central Park West. 260-some residents were evicted under eminent domain and their homes, churches, and school were razed.

This physical erasure quickly translated to mass public amnesia, abetted, no doubt, by the way Seneca Village was framed in the press, not as a community of predominantly African-American middle class and working class homeowners, but rather a squalid shantytown inhabited by squatters.

As Brent Staples recalls in a New York Times op-ed, in the summer of 1871, when park workers dislodged two coffins in the vicinity of the West 85th Street entrance, The New York Herald treated the discovery as a baffling mystery, despite the presence of an engraved plate on one of the coffins identifying its occupant, an Irish teenager, who’d been a parishioner of Seneca Village’s All Angels Episcopal Church.

According to historian Leslie Alexander’s African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861, All Angels’ congregation was unique in that it was integrated, a reflection of Seneca Village’s population, 2/3 of whom were African American and 1/3 of European descent, mostly Irish and German.

Copeland and her colleagues kept Alexander’s work in mind when they began excavating Seneca Village in 2011, focusing on the households of two African-American residents, Nancy Moore and William G. Wilson, a father of eight who served as sexton at All Angels and lived in a three-story wood-frame house. The dig yielded 250 bags of material, including a piece of a bone-handled toothbrush, an iron tea kettle, and fragments of clay pipes and blue-and-white Chinese porcelain:

Archaeologists have begun to consider the lives of middle class African Americans, focusing on the ways their consumption of material culture expressed class and racial identities. Historian Leslie Alexander believes that Seneca Village not only provided a respite from discrimination in the city, but also embodied ideas about African pride and racial consciousness.

Owning a home in Seneca Village also bestowed voting rights on African American male heads of household.

Two years before it was torn down, the community was home to 20 percent of the city’s African American property owners and 15 percent of its African American voters.

Thanks to the efforts of historians like Copeland and Alexander, Seneca Village is once again on the public’s radar, though unlike Pigtown, a smaller, predominantly agricultural community toward the southern end of the park, the origins of its name remain mysterious.

Was the village named in tribute to the Seneca people of Western New York or might it, as Alexander suggests, have been a nod to the Roman philosopher, whose thoughts on individual liberty would have been taught as part of Seneca Village’s African Free Schools’ curriculum?

For now, there is little more than a sign to hip Park visitors to the existence of Seneca Village, but that should change in the near future, after the city erects a planned monument to abolitionists and former Seneca Village residents Albro and Mary Joseph Lyons and their daughter Maritcha.

Learn more about this bygone community in Copeland’s interview with the New York Preservation Archive Project the New York Historical Society’s Teacher’s Guide to Seneca Village.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When People Gave Anti-Valentine’s Day Cards: Revisit the “Vinegar Valentines” That Spread Ridicule and Contempt

Krampus—the Christmas “half goat, half demon” of Germanic folklore—has become a figure of some fascination in popular culture recently. We might call the appetite for this “anti-St. Nicholas… who literally beats people into being nice and not naughty,” National Geographic writes, a testament to a widespread sentiment: Hang the forced cheer, Christmas can be dreadful.

How much more so can Valentine’s Day feel like a big con, cooked up by marketers and chocolatiers? Though established 200 years after the saint’s 3rd century A.D. martyrdom, and linked with romantic love by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, its status as a day to overspend has more modern origins. Even some of us who dutifully buy jewelry, flowers, and cards each year may wish for a Valentine’s Day Krampus.

If you count yourself among those humbugs, you’ll be happy to learn about a once-rich anti-Valentine’s Day tradition “during the Victorian era and the early 20th century,” as Becky Little writes at Smithsonian, “February 14 was also a day in which unlucky victims could receive ‘vinegar valentines’ from their secret haters.” Like the choices of Santa or Krampus, tricks or treats, one could make the holiday about love or hate.

One scholar, Annebella Pollen, who has written on the subject “says that people often ask her whether these cards were an early form of ‘trolling.’” Perhaps that’s not an entirely accurate comparison. Trolls like hoaxes, and mostly like to witness the reactions to their provocations. But Valentines cynics proceeded with the same cruel glee. As Atlas Obscura notes, anti-Valentines were meant to wound and shame, Krampus-like. Their appeal proved profitable:

Vinegar valentines were commercially bought postcards that were less beautiful than their love-filled counterparts, and contained an insulting poem and illustration. They were sent anonymously, so the receiver had to guess who hated him or her; as if this weren’t bruising enough, the recipient paid the postage on delivery. In Civil War Humor, Cameron C. Nickels wrote that vinegar valentines were “tasteless, even vulgar,” and were sent to “drunks, shrews, bachelors, old maids, dandies, flirts, and penny pinchers, and the like.” He added that in 1847, sales between love-minded valentines and these sour notes were split at a major New York valentine publisher.

Some vinegar valentines publishers had another thing in common with modern-day trolls: they capitalized on a hatred of feminism. “The women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th century brought another class of vinegar valentines, targeting women who fought for the right to vote.” These portrayed suffragists as ugly, abusive, and undesirable, a stereotype found in the world of sincere valentines as well. One such card “depicted a pretty woman surrounded by hearts, with a plain appeal: 'In these wild days of suffragette drays, I’m sure you’d ne’er overlook a girl who can’t be militant, but simply loves to cook.'”

Vinegar valentines (a later name—they were called “comic valentines” at the time) prompted all the sorts of concerns we’re used to seeing. Teachers worried about the effect of such commercialized emotional cruelty on their students. One magazine enjoined teachers to make Valentine’s Day “a day for kind remembrance than a day for wrecking revenge.” But where’s the fun in that? Vinegar valentines, says Pollen, “were designed to expand this holiday into something that could include a whole range of different people and a whole range of different emotions,” including some very un-Valentine's Day-like contempt.

Find a big collection of Vinegar Valentines at Collector's Weekly.

via 41 Strange

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The First & Last Time Mister Rogers Sang “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” (1968-2001)

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the iconic television series that ran from 1968 to 2001, is a major childhood touchstone for so many.

Raise your hand if you have a Pavlovian response to the familiar opening segment, in which Fred Rogers opens the front door to his humble living room set, heads to the closet, singing, to exchange his jacket for a comfy cardigan sweater, and then sits on a wooden deacon’s bench to swap out his street shoes for a pair of canvas sneakers.

As per the show's website, this routine was a promise of sorts to viewers:

I care about you, no matter who you are and no matter what you can or cannot do... Let’s spend this time together. We’ll build a relationship and talk and imagine and sing about things that matter to you.

Fans of all ages—some too young to have caught the show in its original run—have posted over 28,000 grateful, emotional comments on the video, above, which teams the opening segment of the first episode, February 19, 1968, with that of the last episode, August 31, 2001.




The biggest change seems to be the move from black-and-white to color.

Otherwise, the tweaks are decidedly minor.

The wooden doors are replaced with similar models sporting cast iron hinges.

The window seat gets some pillows.

The shutters give way to cafe curtains, open to reveal a bit of studio foliage.

A fish tank is installed near the traffic light that signaled the start of every episode.

The closet fills with bright sweaters, many hand knit by Mr. Rogers’ mom—at some point, these transitioned from buttons to zippers, which were easier to manipulate and were quieter near his body mic.

(Once, Mr. Rogers buttoned his sweater wrong, but opted not to reshoot. Cast member David “Mr. McFeely” Newell recalled that his friend saw the on-camera boo boo as an opportunity “to show children that people make mistakes.”)

There are the framed trolley prints and Picture Picture, as constant and unfashionable as the braided rug and Bicentennial rocking chairs that were a feature of my grandparents' house.

It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling, to see how loyal Rogers and his producers were to these familiar elements throughout the decades.

Brace yourself, friends.

Mr. Rogers was kind of over these openers.

As his wife, Joanne Rogers, told The New York Times in 2001, a few months before the final episode aired:

He doesn't miss the show. I think he misses the Neighborhood of Make-Believe because he enjoyed working with people around him. He really loves all of them, and he'll keep in touch. But he did not enjoy what he called 'interiors,' the beginning and endings of the programs. He had gotten where he had really dreaded it so.

It wasn’t so much the repetitive nature of the greeting as the need to put on makeup and contact lenses, a telegenic consideration that didn’t factor in to the old black-and-white days. Mr Rogers said that he would have preferred presenting himself to the camera—and to the neighbors watching at home—exactly as he did to his friends and neighbors in real life.

Related Content:

Mr. Rogers’ Nine Rules for Speaking to Children (1977)

When Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons Broke Down Race Barriers on a Historic Episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1969)

Mr. Rogers Takes Breakdancing Lessons from a 12-Year-Old (1985)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save Available as a Free AudioBook and eBook: Features Narrations by Paul Simon, Kristen Bell & Stephen Fry

In 2009, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer published his practical handbook/manifesto The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty. Bill and Melinda Gates called it “a persuasive and inspiring work that will change the way you think about philanthropy"--a book that "shows us we can make a profound difference in the lives of the world’s poorest.”

Now, on its tenth anniversary, Singer has released an updated version of The Life You Can Save. And he's made it available as a free ebook, and also as a free audiobook featuring narrations by Kristen Bell, Stephen Fry, Paul Simon and Natalia Vodianova, among others. You can get the downloads here.

Singer's website features a page where you can find the best charities that address global poverty. Each charity has been "rigorously evaluated to help you make the biggest impact per dollar." If you are looking for an efficient approach, you can also make one single donation to support all of the charities vetted and recommended by Singer's organization.

The audio version of The Life You Can Save will be added to our meta collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Love the Art, Hate the Artist: How to Approach the Art of Disgraced Artists

Hate the sin, never the sinner. - Clarence Darrow

As a culture, we've largely stepped away from the sentiment described by the famed lawyer’s 1924 defense of murderers Leopold and Loeb.

Apply it to one of the many male artists whose exalted reputations have been shattered by allegations of sexual impropriety and other ruinous behaviors and you won’t find yourself celebrated for your virtue in the court of public opinion.

But what of those artists' creative output?

Does that get bundled in with hating both sin and sinner?




It’s a question that historian and former curator Sarah Urist Green is well equipped to tackle.

Green’s PBS Digital Studios web series, The Art Assignment, explores art and art history through the lens of the present.

In the episode titled Hate the Artist, Love the Art, above, Green takes a more temperate approach to the subject than comedian Hannah Gadsby, whose solo show, Nanette, included an incendiary takedown of Picasso:

I hate Picasso. and you can’t make me like him. I know I should be more generous about him too, because he suffered a mental illness. But nobody knows that, because it doesn’t fit with his mythology. Picasso is sold to us as this passionate, tormented, genius, man-ball-sack. But Picasso suffered the mental illness…of misogyny.

Don’t believe me? He said, “Each time I leave a woman, I should burn her. Destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents.” Cool guy. The greatest artist of the 20th century. Picasso fucked an underage girl. That’s it for me, not interested.

But Cubism! He made it! Marie-Thérèse Walter, she was 17 when they met: underage. Picasso, he was 42, at the height of his career. Does it matter? It actually does matter. But as Picasso said, “It was perfect—I was in my prime, she was in her prime.” I probably read that when I was 17. Do you know how grim that was?

Grim.

A different sort of grim than the horrors he depicted in Guernica, still an incredibly potent condemnation of the human cost of war.

Should exemptions be made, then, for works of great genius or lasting social import?

Up to you, says Green, advocating that every viewer should pause to consider the ripples caused by their continued embrace of a disgraced artist.

But what if we don't know that the artist's been disgraced?

That seems unlikely as curators scramble to acknowledge the offender’s transgressions on gallery cards, and emergent artists attempt to set the record straight with response pieces displayed in proximity.

Green notes that even without such overt cues, it’s very difficult to get a “pure” reading of an established artist’s work.

Anything we may have gleaned about the artist’s personal conduct, whether good or ill, proven, unproven, or disproven, factors into the way we experience that artist’s work. The source can be a paper of record, the Internet, a guest at a party repeating a personal anecdote…

It can also be painful to relinquish our youthful favorites’ hold on us, especially when the attachment was formed of our own free will.

What would Hannah Gadsby say to my reluctance to sever ties completely with Gaugin’s Tahiti paintings, encountered for the first time when I was approximately the same age as the brown-skinned teenaged muses he painted and took to bed?

The behavior that was once framed as evidence of an artistic spirit that could not be fettered by societal expectations, seems beyond justification today. Still, it’s unlikely Gaugin will be banished from major collections, or for that matter, the history of art, any time soon.

As Julia Halperin, executive editor of Artnet News observed shortly after Nanette became a viral sensation:

A Netflix comedy special is not going to compel museums to throw out their Picassos. Nor should they! You can’t tell the story of 20th-century art without him…. Although glossing over, whitewashing, or shoe-horning stories of Picasso’s abuse into a comfortable narrative about passionate genius may be useful to maintain his market value and his bankability as a tourist attraction, it also does everyone a disservice… we can understand Picasso’s contributions better if we can hold these two seemingly incompatible truths in our minds at once. It’s not as uplifting as a straightforward tale about a visionary creative whose flaws were only in service to its genius. But it is more honest—and it might even help us understand the evolution of our own culture, and how we got to where we are today, a lot better.

Green provides a list of questions that can help individual viewers who are reevaluating the output of "problematic" artists:

Is the work a collaborative effort?

Does the work reflect the value system of the offender?

Are we to apply the same standard to the work of scientists whose conduct is similarly offensive?

Who suffers when the offender’s work remains accessible?

Who suffers when the offender’s work is erased?

Who reaps the reward of our continued attention?

As Green points out, the shades of grey are many, though the choice of whether to entertain those shades varies from individual to individual.

Readers, where do you fall in this ever-evolving debate. Is there an artist you have sworn off of, entirely or in part? Tell us who and why in the comments.

Watch more episodes of the Art Assignment here.

Related Content:

George Orwell Reviews Salvador Dali’s Autobiography: “Dali is a Good Draughtsman and a Disgusting Human Being” (1944)

When The Surrealists Expelled Salvador Dalí for “the Glorification of Hitlerian Fascism” (1934)

The Gestapo Points to Guernica and Asks Picasso, “Did You Do This?;” Picasso Replies “No, You Did!”

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Woody Guthrie Creates a Doodle-Filled List of 33 New Year’s Resolutions (1943): Beat Fascism, Write a Song a Day, and Keep the Hoping Machine Running

On January 1, 1943, the American folk music legend Woody Guthrie jotted in his journal a list of 33 “New Years Rulin's." Nowadays, we'd call them New Year's Resolutions. Adorned by doodles, the list is down to earth by any measure. Family, song, taking a political stand, personal hygiene -- they're the values or aspirations that top his list. You can click here to view the list in a larger format. Below, we have provided a transcript of Guthrie's Rulin's.

1. Work more and better
2. Work by a schedule
3. Wash teeth if any
4. Shave
5. Take bath
6. Eat good — fruit — vegetables — milk
7. Drink very scant if any
8. Write a song a day
9. Wear clean clothes — look good
10. Shine shoes
11. Change socks
12. Change bed cloths often
13. Read lots good books
14. Listen to radio a lot
15. Learn people better
16. Keep rancho clean
17. Dont get lonesome
18. Stay glad
19. Keep hoping machine running
20. Dream good
21. Bank all extra money
22. Save dough
23. Have company but dont waste time
24. Send Mary and kids money
25. Play and sing good
26. Dance better
27. Help win war — beat fascism
28. Love mama
29. Love papa
30. Love Pete
31. Love everybody
32. Make up your mind
33. Wake up and fight

We wish you all a happy 2020.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Note: This fine list originally appeared on our site back in 2014.

Related Content:

The Science of Willpower: 15 Tips for Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Last from Dr. Kelly McGonigal

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Marilyn Monroe’s Go-Getter List of New Year’s Resolutions (1955)

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