Jan 25, 2015

The world's language total -- 7,000, nine giants: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese

The known number of distinct languages still spoken or recently spoken in the modern world is around 7,000. That huge total may astonish many readers, because most of us could name only a few dozen languages, and the vast majority of languages are unfamiliar to us. Most languages are unwritten, spoken by few people, and spoken far from the industrial world. For example, all of Europe west of Russia has fewer than 100 native languages, but the African continent and the Indian subcontinent have over 1,000 native languages each, the African countries of Nigeria and Cameroon 527 and 286 languages respectively, and the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu (area less than 5,000 square miles) 110 languages. The world's highest language diversity is on the island of New Guinea, with about 1,000 languages and an unknown but apparently large number of distinct language families crammed into an area only slightly larger than Texas.

Jan 18, 2015

Marco Polo (1254-1324)

A Venetian traveler and author, whose account of his travels and experiences in China offered Europeans a firsthand view of Asian lands and stimulated interest in Asian trade.

Marco Polo was born in Venice, one of the most prominent centers of trade in medieval Europe, into a merchant family. Venetian merchants of the day traded regularly throughout the Mediterranean region. They also maintained trading posts in port cities on the Black Sea, where they obtained silk, porcelain, and other goods that came from China over the Silk Road, an ancient trade route linking China with Rome. Little is known about Marco Polo’s early life, because his own account of his travels, published later in his life, is the primary source of biographical material about him. Polo probably received a fairly typical education for children of merchants at that time, learning how to read, write, and calculate.

Marco Polo’s account is also the primary source of information about the travels of his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo Polo, who were jewel merchants. They left Venice in 1260 on a commercial venture to the Black Sea ports of Constantinople (now İstanbul, Turkey) and Soldaia (now Sudak, Ukraine). From Soldaia they continued farther east to trading cities on the Volga River in present-day Russia. In 1262 a war broke out behind them and prevented them from returning home, so they proceeded farther east to the great Central Asian trading city of Bukhara (in present-day Uzbekistan). After three years there they joined a diplomatic mission going to the court of Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China. The khan received them warmly and expressed a desire to learn more about Christianity. He asked the Polo brothers to return to Europe and persuade the pope to send Christian scholars who could explain the religion to him. Niccolò and Maffeo journeyed back to Europe in 1269 to satisfy the khan’s request.

Jan 11, 2015

Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Aziz

He was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and the 111 Caliph of the Muslim community.  He reigned between 1861 and 1876. He was the son of Sultan Mahmud II and succeeded his brother ‘Abdu’l-Majid I. He continued the westernizing reforms that had been initiated by his predecessors until 1871, after which his reign took an absolutist turn.

Like his brother ‘Abdu’l-Majid I, ‘Abdu’l-Aziz, was an ardent admirer of the material progress in western Europe. Educated in the Ottoman tradition, however, he could not always accept the adoption of Western institutions and customs. ‘Abdu’l-Aziz was a member of the Mawlawiyah (Mevlevi) order of dervishes (Muslim mystics).

Between 1861 and 1871, reforms were continued under the leadership of Abdu’l-Aziz's able chief ministers, Fuad Pasha and ‘Ali Pasha. New administrative districts (vilayets) were set up in 1864; on French advice a council of state was established in 1868; public education was organized on the French model and a new university founded; and the first Ottoman civil code was promulgated. ‘Abdu’l-Aziz cultivated good relations with France and Great Britain and was the first Ottoman sultan to visit western Europe.

Jan 4, 2015

Dogs – first animal to be domesticated by humans

The dog is one of the two most ubiquitous and popular domestic animals in the world (the cat is the other). For more than 12,000 years it has lived with humans as a hunting companion, protector, object of scorn or adoration, and friend. The dog has evolved from similar (that is, undifferentiated) fur-bearing animals into more than 400 distinct breeds. Human beings have played a major role in creating dogs that fulfill distinct societal needs. Through the most rudimentary form of genetic engineering, dogs were bred to accentuate instincts that were evident from their earliest encounters with humans. Although details about the evolution of dogs are uncertain, the first dogs were hunters with keen senses of sight and smell. Humans developed these instincts and created new breeds as need or desire arose.

Dogs are regarded differently in different parts of the world. Western civilization has given the relationship between human and dog great importance, but, in some of the developing nations and in many areas of Asia, dogs are not held in the same esteem. In some areas of the world, dogs are used as guards or beasts of burden or even for food, whereas, in the United States and Europe, dogs are protected and admired. In ancient Egypt during the days of the pharoahs, dogs were considered to be sacred.