Name 3 words that end in ‘gry’

February 21

Language is the soul of a nation… Do you want to make a people disappear? Destroy its language.

Jules-Paul Tardivel, L’anglicisme, voila l’ennemi, 1880


Today is International Mother Language Day.

For some reason the excitement surrounding this occasion is not quite as intense as other more important holidays, such as Talk Like a Pirate Day. This may be because our national linguistic experience differs from most countries. As one joke goes:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?


What do you call someone who speaks three languages?


What do you call someone who speaks one language?


Even our neighbors to the north have had a very different outlook on language. In Canada there are laws monitoring the use of the French and English languages, down to the size of words on cereal boxes.

Conflicts between dueling languages (like the Quebecois woman who complained to a pet store owner that her parrot didn’t speak French) are not always trite. As Quebec’s Jean-Charles Harvey wrote:

In the middle of an ocean of English-speaking men and women, the only chance of survival for the French is if it becomes synonymous with audacity, culture, civilization and freedom.

Jean-Charles Harvey, La peur, 1945

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The origin of International Mother Tongue Day lies in the aftermath of the bloody partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The nation now known as Bangladesh was East Pakistan after the partition. Even though over half of Pakistan’s 69 million inhabitants lived in East Pakistan, the country was largely ruled from West Pakistan’s central government. In 1948 the central government declared Urdu as the nation’s only official language. This meant Bengali, the native language of over 90% of the people of East Pakistan (and thus one of the most spoken languages in the world) could not be taught in school or used in government affairs. The change also threatened to make the majority of educated people of East Pakistan essentially ‘illiterate’ and unable to participate in government or hold national posts.

This understandably outraged the East Pakistanis, and a Bengali Language Movement formed. Pakistani Governor-General Muhammed Ali Jinnah proclaimed that the Bengali language movement was a “fifth column” movement attempting to sabotage true Pakistani unity.

In February Dhaka University planned mass protest demonstrations, but the central government imposed a ban on all public assemblies in the city of Dhaka. On February 21 students held the protest anyway.

Bangladesh demonstrators, Feb. 22, 1952
University of Dhaka demonstrators, Feb. 22, 1952

Police attacked the students with batons. Students fought back, throwing bricks at the police, who responded with tear gas and gunfire. Several students were killed. The outcry over the police attacks led to more demonstrations and violence over the following days. On February 22 police attacked a mourning rally, presumably for violating the ban on assemblies.

The government-censored news reports purported that the demonstrations were instigated by communists and Hindu foreign influences. After two more years of protest Pakistan passed a resolution accepting Bengali as a national language of Pakistan along with Urdu, and the anniversary of the first martyrs was adopted by UNESCO as International Mother Language Day in 1999.

The story of Bengali has been repeated, and preceded, by countless stories of language repression

In the twentieth century Spanish dictator Franco banned the Basque language—one of the oldest languages in the world—for thirty years, nearly destroying it. (Basque has no known linguistic relations, and as such is one of the four language families in Europe: the others being Indo-European, Uralic, and Turkic.)
Picasso's depiction of the bombing of Guernica

Of the over 6,000 recorded languages in the world today, less than 300 are spoken by populations of 1 million or more. Much like how McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble have driven out local restaurants and book stores, so the larger languages are replacing indigenous ones. According to the U.N. thousands of languages are in danger of extinction.

South America had an estimated 1,500 languages before European contact. Today it has 350. Strangemaps displays a map of the world (from Limits of Language by M. Parkvall) distorting the size of nations and continents by their linguistic diversity:

Lingual Map
Linguistic map of the world

The lingual giant Papua New Guinea boasts some 850 languages. Countries in red speak over 200 languages.

The U.S. gets a bad rap for how few languages we speak, but as you can see, as a whole its inhabitants speak nearly as many as the entire European continent.<

Yesterday I drove through a stretch of Westminster, California that, I kid you not, was entirely in Vietnamese.

The most popular* languages in the world are:

  • Mandarin Chinese
  • Hindi
  • English
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Portuguese

and the one that started today’s holiday: Bengali.

(*popular as in how many people speak them, not as in votes on Americal Idol)

Today’s language question: Name three words in English that end in “gry”

Language map of Europe
European Language Map

Also from Strange Maps:

Languages of Europe: Praise the Lord and Pass the Dictionary

Other Links:

Urdu controversy is dividing the nation further

National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language

Bengali Language Movement and History

Wikipedia: Bengali_Language_Movement

Wikipedia: Languages of Europe

Bangladesh Victory Day

December 16

In Bangladesh, December 16 marks the anniversary of the victory of Indian and Bangladesh forces over what was then West Pakistan.

Between 1955 and 1971, Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. On the other side of India, the country we know as Pakistan was West Pakistan.

Although more people lived in East Pakistan than in West Pakistan, the West controlled the country both politically and economically. Since representation was by “unit” rather than by population, East Pakistan’s potential for equal government participation was eliminated.

In the face of rising Bengali dissatisfaction, the President rescinded the “One Unit” rule in 1969, allowing East Pakistan equal representation in government based on population. However by this time many in the East considered the change “too little too late,” and the nationalist Bengali movement continued to gain steam. Tensions increased during the campaign of 1970 in anticipation of the country’s first truly democratic election.

In the midst of this political storm, a real storm struck.

1970 Bhola Cyclone

The Bhola Cyclone of November 1970 was the deadliest hurricane ever recorded. The people of East Pakistan had just recovered from an October cyclone that destroyed 200 villages, when Bhola touched down on November 12.

Even deadlier than the 2004 Tsunami that swept through Indonesia and Thailand, the Bhola Cyclone killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people, mostly in what is now Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). The storm struck during high tide. Tazumuddin, a community of over 160,000 people, lost nearly half its population. Islands were entirely wiped out, and millions of survivors were left homeless. West Pakistan’s underestimation of the disaster and their perceived slow response to send aid ignited the East.

In the December 7, 1970 election, East Pakistan’s Awami party won a landslide victory, taking all but two of East Pakistan’s alloted 169 seats in the National Assembly, and gaining for the first time a majority in the Assembly.

Rather than allow the Awami party to form a new government, the sitting government refused to acknowledge the election results and suggested a compromise: two Prime Ministers.

The suggestion outraged the East, which had been effectively ruled by West Pakistan for decades. When peace talks failed, violence broke out in East Pakistan. On March 26, 1971, the East declared independence as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Millions of refugees fled from Bangladesh to India during the 8-month war. In December, India entered the war on the side of Bangladesh; within two weeks Indian and Bangladesh forces surrounded the Pakistani army. The Pakistan army surrendered on December 16, 1971, a day still celebrated in Bangladesh as Victory Day.

Navami & Dashami

October 5-6, 2011

Maha Navami

According to an 1815 French text…

“Maha-navami, known also under the name of Dasara, [is] specially dedicated to the memory of ancestors. This feast is considered to be so obligatory that it has become a proverb that anybody who has not the means of celebrating it should sell one of his children in order to do so.”

Okay—celebrants don’t actually sell off the kids to honor to celebrate, but the holiday is a big deal in India (especially Bengal) as well as parts of Nepal, Bhutan, and other countries with Bengal populations.

Also, Maha-navami isn’t the name of the whole celebration. Navami means ninth day, and refers to the ninth and penultimate day of the Durga Puja festival. It’s observed in different ways throughout the subcontinent.

Maha-navami falls right after Maha-ashtami (eighth day) and opens with Sandhi Puja, the ritual that recalls Durga’s defeat over Mahishasura’s two generals, Mundo and Chando.


The following day, Dashami, is a sadder occasion, as worshippers of Durga try to postpone the inevitable.

Dashami is the day when Goddess Durga accompaning her children sets for Kailash, her husband’s abode. With a heavy heart the Bengalis immerse the clay idol of Durga in the sacred Ganges bidding her goodbye and earnestly waiting to see her again the next year…

Durga Puja – the Morning After (The Ecological Impact)

Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami

The seventh and eighth days of Durga Puja are two of the most auspicious days of the great Bengali festival. (You’ll notice a lot of ‘Maha’ in Hindu festivals. It’s a prefix meaning ‘great’.)

Maha Saptami

According to

The morning of maha saptami (seventh day) is taken up with the worship of the deity, followed by anjali when a devotee offers prayers and flowers on an empty stomach, amidst the chanting of mantras to the Goddess. Only then can one make a beeline for the prasad (sweetmeat offered to the deity).

The lunchtime meal is called Bhog. By evening, the streets pulse with the sounds of the dhaki drums and the pandals buzz with anticipation of Maha Ashtami.

Maha Ashtami

The eighth day of Durga Puja actually begins at 8:30 tonight. On this day the priest (purahi) offers prayers (aradhana) and breathes life into the idol of the goddess Durga’s.

During the Puja week, the entire state of West Bengal as well as in large societies of Bengalis everywhere, life comes to a complete standstill. In traffic circles, playgrounds, ponds, wherever space is available — elaborate structures called Pandals ‘are set up, many with nearly a year’s worth of planning behind them.

These pandals aren’t tents. They can be massive and ornate structures, and come in all varieties. Recently, a legal furor arose over one such pandal that bore an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter’s Alma Mater, Hogwarts:

Harry Pandal?

Maha Ashtami is the most venerated day of the festival because it celebrates the victory of Durga over the demon Mahishasura. (See Durga Puja.)

Farakka Long March Day – Bangladesh

May 16

Today is the anniversary of the Farakka Long March in 1976. The march protested the construction of the Farakka dam, aka the Farakka Barrage. The dam is located just 11 miles from the border of Bangladesh, and it diverts up to 200,000 gallons of water per second from the Ganges River that would have flowed to Bangladesh.

“If ever there was a lesson in the unintended effects of damming rivers, the Farakka Barrage is probably it…

“Although the barrage, the longest in the world, was originally intended to divert water from the Ganges into the Hooghly River during the dry season and rescue the Kolkata port 257 km downstream, the government in Dhaka has accused India of using it to turn parts of Bangladesh into a desert, raising salinity, affecting navigation and adversely influencing the environment, agriculture and fisheries. ”

— India: Farakka Barrage – An Environmental Mistake. Muhammad Javed Iqbal

In India, the dam has not only contributed to the problem it was intended to fix (the silt build-up in Kolkata harbor), it may even cause bigger problems, such as the merging of two of the Ganges’ major tributaries.

“Critics say this is a product of the so-called “engineers’ racket,” a term coined by the Indian geographer Sunil K Munshi, to describe corruption resulting from greedy civil contractors working together with irresponsible state and federal governments. And it appears that now India will seek to undo the damage with a mammoth US120 billion plan to interlink its rivers, which originate in the Himalaya Mountains, with 30 interlinked canal systems that would deliver water to so-called Peninsular India.” (Iqbal)

Back in 1976, to protest the construction of the dam, populist leader Moulana Bhasani led a mass demonstration and march of thousands of Bangladeshis across approximately 100 kilometers. Since the 1970s, the two countries have engaged in talks attempting to come to a solution regarding the sharing of water.

Like the Ganges, the observance of Farakka Long March Day each year on May 16 tends to ebb and flow with the passing of time. On the anniversary of the march in 2005, a half million people gathered to protest the Farakka Barrage and the proposed Indian River Interlink Project.

The damage caused by the dam is just one more problem Bangladesh has to worry about.

With over 160 million people in a space the size of Iowa (Iowa’s population by the way is 3 million), Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Contrary to news reports, Bangladesh is not an environmental disaster waiting to happen… It’s already happening. Bangladesh, the canary in a coal mine for the rest of the world, is “set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century” —

However, according to Professor Ainun Nishat…

“Although everyone says that 17% of the country will be under water, it is not sea level rise that we fear but the increase of salinity.”

Bangladesh is Ready With a Climate Change Strategy

Rising sea levels means deep wells in low-lying communities will become effected with salt water, effecting both agriculture and drinkability.

Many researchers believe that climate change may also increase the frequency of tropical cyclones, which routinely strike the Bangladesh coast. The deadliest of these—in fact the deadliest cyclone in recorded history—was the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, which killed over half a million people.

Farakka Day Today

Farakka, a Lost Battle for Bangladesh?

Farakka Barrage: Cause for Concern