January 29, 2021

Words of the Month - Indigenous Roots

         Today I’d like to take a look at some of the many words that English borrowed from Indigenous American languages.  About two thirds came straight from their source-languages to English, while just a little over a third of them were borrowed by way of another European language that had borrowed them first.  Europeans began to use indigenous words as soon as they reached the Americas, and have continued to acquire new vocabulary fairly steadily ever since, which is generally what happens whenever people come into continued contact.  Also as usual, English has borrowed the sorts of words that it lacks: new words for new things.
        For example, we have benefitted from a plethora of new foods and new words to name them, from cacao in the sixteenth century to chipotle in the twentieth.  And then there’s quinoa, which entered the English language around 1600 but didn’t become a household word until four hundred years later.

cacao - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish  (Uto-Aztecan is a fairly large language family that includes languages stretching from Nahuan (Aztecan) in southern Mexico to Northern Paiute in California and Nevada.)

maize - Arawakan via Spanish  (Arawakan is a widespread language family spoken in South America and the Caribbean, including languages of Brazil, and also Taino, the first American language encountered by Europeans.)

papaya - Arawakan via Spanish

quinoa - Quechua via Spanish (Quechua is a language family of the Andes, including the language of the Inca Empire.)

squash - Algic (The Algic family includes the Algonquian languages and was spoken along the northeast coast of America and across areas of northern Canada.)

chocolate - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

jicama - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

tomato - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

cashew - Tupi-Guarani via French (Tupi-Guarani is a language subfamily in South America.)

tapioca - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

chia - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

mole - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

chipotle - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

guacamole - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

        Other plants and animals are another source of fresh words, as the first thing a human does when encountering a new species is to ask what it’s called.

cayman - Cariban via Spanish (Cariban languages are spoken along the northern coast of South America.)

manatee - Cariban via Spanish

toucan - Tupi-Guarani via French

condor - Quechua via Spanish

moose - Algic

opossum - Algic

raccoon - Algic

skunk - Algic

guanaco - Quechua

jaguar - Tupi-Guarani

mangrove - Cariban via Spanish

caribou - Algic via French

peccary - Cariban

anole - Arawakan via French

mesquite - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

puma - Quechua via Spanish

margay - Tupi-Guarani via French

tamarin - Cariban via French

axlotl - Uto-Aztecan

tapir - Tupi-Guarani

quetzal - Uto-Aztecan via Spanish

chipmunk - Algic

saguaro - Uto-Aztecan

piranha - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

        Related to the flora and fauna are the landscapes and ecological areas that English speakers encountered in the world that was new to them.

savannah - Arawakan via Spanish

pampas - Quechua via Spanish

bayou - Muskogean via French (Muskogean languages, as this borrowed word implies, are spoken in the southeastern United States.)

cenote - Mayan

        And finally, new objects, artifacts, and customs.

quipu - Quechua via Spanish

cannibal - Cariban via Spanish

maraca - Tupi-Guarani via Portuguese

hammock - Cariban via Spanish

guano - Quechua via Spanish

moccasin - Algic

tomahawk - Algic

wigwam - Algic

tepee - Siouan (The Siouan languages are in the Great Plains area of central North America.)

kayak - Eskimo-Aleut  (You can probably deduce that the Eskimo-Aleut languages are native to the far north of North America.)

totem - Algic

toboggan - Algic via French

igloo - Eskimo-Aleut

kachina - Uto-Aztecan

inukshuk - Eskimo-Aleut

        In all this you can see patterns that reflect the history of European contact with Indigenous peoples of the Americas: that words English gained by way of Spanish come largely from Mexican and South American languages, while most of the words gained via French come from Northeastern peoples.  The earliest words are those from the Caribbean and Atlantic coast regions, while we start to gain larger influxes from Northwestern languages in the late eighteenth into the nineteenth centuries.  Whether the contact is violent or peaceful, constructive or tragic, humans still communicate, and when they communicate their languages mingle.  Of course I’ve given you just a sampling of words, representing neither the full range of languages, nor the fact that a large proportion of our borrowed words are actually proper nouns.  It’s just an enticing introduction to the grand and scintillant linguistic mosaic that we get when humans come into contact.

[Pictures: Cacauate, wood block print from La historia del Mondo Nuovo by Girolamo Benzoni, 1565 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

The Manatee, woodcut from Sea Fables Explained by Henry Lee, 1883 (Image from here);

Skinning Caribou Inside the Iglu, linocut by Janet Kigusiuq, 1982 (Image from Inuit.net).]

January 25, 2021

Winter in Winter

         Here is the second of my season fairies, the winter spirit.  This one is based on a nuthatch.  Although nuthatches are in my neighborhood year-round, I think of them as winter birds because they’re much more visible hopping headfirst down trunks revealed by leaf-bared branches, or visiting the suet feeder that I put out only in the winter.  I had a little trouble immediately coming up with some way to transform an ordinary bird into a winter fairy, but then thought of the similarities between the patterns of frost and feathers.  I gave my bird wings and tail made of snowflake-like crystals.  I imagine if it were to flit past a window, frost would grow across the pane as its crystalline feathers brushed the glass.
        For consistency, I plan to keep the pattern of doing each of these fairies as a two-layer reduction print: the first layer with a mix of colors, and the second layer in solid black.  For winter, my first inking was pale grey and blue, plus dark green for the pine needles.  I found this design to be quite forgiving on the first inking, since much of the faint or uneven inking looked appropriately frosty.  (On the other hand, most of the pine needles aren’t as crisp and dark as I would have liked.  The more colors you use at once, the more likely they are to get too dry.)  Also, I printed on cream paper for consistency with the summer fairy, even though if this were a wholly independent print I would have used white.
        It’s still January, but I’ve begun to gather references for the next fairy design, and that means that spring is on the way, at least in my studio.

[Picture: Winter Fairy (Crystal Nuthatch), rubber block reduction print by AEGN, 2021.]

January 20, 2021

Animal Companions

         On Sunday I was at the virtual Arisia convention, on a panel of writers talking about animal companions in writing.  Yes, everyone shared pictures of their dearly beloved pets and how they inspire us, but we also discussed a bit about the roles that animal companions play in a story, and how they can perform functions that humanoid characters may not be able to fulfil.  This is the part that was most interesting to me, and I’ve put together a list of the different roles I think these animal characters can have.  Since we’re talking about speculative fiction, the range of roles is even wider than it would be in “realistic” fiction, which makes everything so much more fun!
        • Companionship when a character is “alone,” providing them with someone to talk with and interact with, which allows the author to  show the character’s actions and thoughts in a more interesting and dynamic way.  One example might be Tock joining Milo in Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
        • Marking or rewarding a character as having special qualities, such as wisdom, gentleness,  or bravery.  Examples are the birds and woodland animals that are tame to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, or Toothless befriending Hiccup in Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon (or the DreamWorks movie).  Oru’s companion Tibul in my Sleeping Legends Lie falls under this category, as well as Svarnil’s companion Fethilis  in Vision Revealed.
        • Symbolizing or embodying certain characteristics.  This is similar to the previous, but even more so.  Where above a character may earn the companionship of an animal through certain traits, here the animals themselves represent those traits.  Examples are Ursula’s nasty sidekick eels in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, or Aunt Marge’s dog Ripper in Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, as well as the daemons in Pullman’s His Dark Materials.
        • The familiar, which provides its human with additional abilities, such as seeing or getting into impossible areas, fetching or manipulating things, and so on.  Examples abound in video games, such as the bird companions in “Assassin’s Creed.”  Another possibility might be R2-D2’s role in “Star Wars.”
        • A subcategory of the familiar role is those pets/companions that specifically provide their humans with extra knowledge or wisdom.  There are many examples of this in fairy tales, including Puss-in-Boots, plus Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, and the cat Dream-of-Jade by Lloyd Alexander.
        • From there it’s a quick step to the role that animal companions can play in offering another perspective or second opinion on what our characters see and experience.  How “other” we want this perspective to be can run the whole gamut from “just a little quirky” to “totally alien being.”  Dorothy’s companion Billina in Baum’s Ozma of Oz often offers a dissenting opinion, while Dug in Pixar’s “Up” clearly thinks like a dog, not a dog-shaped human.
        • The quirkier perspectives of companions can then be one way to exemplify the role of pets as Comic Relief.  Of course, comic relief can also be provided by general mischievousness or straight-up slapstick.  A classic example of a comic pet is Old Mother Hubbard’s dog, and then there’s Sophie’s imp Iggy in Keeper of the Lost Cities by Messenger, not to mention a lot of classic Disney sidekicks.
        • On the opposite end of the writing spectrum is pet as Victim.  An author can kill a beloved companion animal as a way of demonstrating just how high the stakes are, just short of killing the human protagonists.  (Indeed, sometimes readers are even more upset about the deaths of the pets!)  I won’t give any examples in this category, lest I give spoilers!
        • Inciting Subject: on a purely practical level, companion animals are terrific at precipitating plot twists and action.  Toto serves this function on multiple occasions in Baum’s The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz, as well as the classic movie.  There are also a number of books, including Arabel’s Raven by Aiken and the Clifford books by Bridwell, in which the shenanigans of the pets are the entire plot.  Polly’s cat Uber drives the plot on a couple of occasions in my Extraordinary Book of Doors.
        • Fauna generally are an important part of world-building in SFF, and the companion animals give us a chance to see even more clearly what sort of world it must be to have such creatures in it.  For example, the sulchym in my Return to Tchrkkusk help illustrate the special environment and forgotten powers of the Tchrkym.
        • Last but not least, there’s Wish-Fulfillment.  We love the companion animals in books because who could possibly not wish they had pet fire lizards of their own as in McCaffrey’s Pern books, or a witty tin spider like Astrophil in Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles, or a noble steed like Tsornin in McKinley’s The Blue Sword?  Or simply a dog or cat that can speak, as in many many stories, including my Kate and Sam Adventures?
        Of course any decent animal companion will play multiple roles throughout a story - perhaps even all of them.  In addition to marking Svarnil’s open-hearted wisdom, Fethilis also gives her someone non-humanoid to talk to, provides her with the ability to see events at a distance like a familiar, communicates non-verbally in an exploration of the “otherness” of a different mode of thought, and occasionally turns the direction of the plot by affecting the way others view each other because of her.  And for me, at least, it’s certainly wish-fulfillment to imagine having a wonderful companion like that!

[Pictures: Princess Aurora with birds, still from “Sleeping Beauty,” animation by Disney Studios, 1959;

“Why, Billina!” cried Dorothy; “Have you been fighting?” illustration by John R. Neill for Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1907 (Image from Project Gutenberg);

Menolly and fire lizards, cover art by Rowena Morrill for Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, 1986 edition (Image from A Pilgrim in Narnia).]

January 15, 2021

Guess that Medieval Beast 6

         For those of you who are just joining us, feel free to get caught up with prior episodes of everyone’s favorite game: Guess that Medieval Beast 1; 2; 3; 4; and 5.
        Now here’s number 6, another adorable medieval illustration for you to identify.  This one comes from a martyrology made in France between 1250-1290.  You can see that the illuminator was a skilled artist who put excellent craftsmanship into the work: detailed border, intricate background, smatterings of gold leaf, and the fine details depicting our mystery beast itself.  It’s furry, from the charming tuft on its head, down its hairy spinal crest, to the feathery tip of its delightfully long, sinuous tail.  It’s got large expressive eyes, cute yoda-like ears, and six legs.  It’s also blue.  It’s hard to tell how big it’s meant to be since it appears to dwarf the trees between which it lies.  So, what furry, blue, six-legged, long-tailed, tree-sized creatures do you know of?  Make your guess as to what this thing could be!

January 11, 2021

Summer in Winter

         Here’s a new piece that I hope will bring you a little brightness!  It is a reduction print in two layers.  The first layer was printed with a mix of yellow and orange, with the green dabbed on at the tip of the stem.  The second layer is black.  After printing I was a little dissatisfied with the colors and decided to go back over and hand-paint green on the whole length of all the stems, as well as a little extra wash of yellow on the petals.
        So that’s how I made it — but what is it?  As you may be able to identify, it’s a mix between an American goldfinch and a monarch butterfly.  Why?  No particular reason at all; it just came to me that it might be fun.  The hard part, however, was what to call it.  My son P was quite taken with this piece when he saw me printing, so I asked him what I should call it.  He replied immediately that he likes it when non-humanoid creatures are called fairies, and this was clearly some sort of non-humanoid fairy.  That hadn’t occurred to me at all, but when I began thinking about it that way, I began to see this bright, flitting creature as more than just an animal feeding on seeds and nectar.  Perhaps it was more of a guardian, or almost an elemental — in which case it clearly must be a summer fairy.  After all, goldfinches, monarchs, and rudbeckia are all forms of summer sun incarnate.
        Well, that made me think about making “fairies” for the other seasons, as well.  For spring I thought at once about the winged frog hybrid of my malacorana.  The only question is how to make an image sufficiently different to be interesting.  (No snail shell, for one thing.  A spring flower, perhaps, for another…)  Autumn, too, seems pretty straightforward to me, but I’m struggling with winter.  I’m thinking of a nuthatch or junco or downy woodpecker - one of the birds that I see much more during the winter - but what can I combine it with to turn it from an ordinary bird to a whimsical fairy creature of the season?  Feel free to share your ideas for winter, or for any of the months: what little critters would you combine?  How would you make a magical symbol of a season?

[Picture: Summer Fairy (Monarch Finch), rubber reduction print by AEGN, 2021.]

January 6, 2021

In the Landscape

         Here is a wood block print by Sui Cheng (China, b. 1965).  It uses bold arcs and swooshes to suggest a mountainous setting, perhaps a bit of a cave, and two figures sitting, apparently in contemplation.  To me, all those rounded shapes seem happy, and the puffy clouds and rainbow-patterned plants evoke a relatively warm, pleasant day.  The artist himself says that he is trying to distort and reorganize traditional subject matter “in order to experiment with the icon’s polysemy and the possibility of reinterpreting traditional imagery.”  I think all that must be over my head.  I look at this and enjoy the abstract pattern of shapes, with a little extra satisfaction from seeing the figures.  I find it cheerful and peaceful, which we all need more of as this year gets underway in continued stress, and I share it with you in that spirit.  If you enjoy any additional polysemy, all the better.
        Happy New Year!

[Picture: In the Landscape No. 4, woodcut by Sui Cheng, 2003 (Image from the Ashmolean Museum).]