Wikipedia Sucks

Last updated: May 21, 2022

I am concerned by how ubiquitous is the practice of practically everyone, including plenty of otherwise reasonable, intelligent people, quoting or citing or linking to Wikipedia for this or that fact or claim or subject. Wikipedia is certainly not useless, and for just quickly telling someone what a concept is, a link to the relevant Wikipedia article is often fine. But the problem with overdoing this, the problem with relying on Wikipedia in general—and especially for any details—is that Wikipedia sucks.

I realize this is not some novel claim. Problems with Wikipedia have been pointed out for its entire existence, but my impression is that far, far too many people may in theory say that it has some issues, but still continue to treat it as a basically reliable resource. Yet if I look at any article concerning a subject where I have some expertise or even some familiarity, in literally almost every single case (genuinely the only exception I can think of is the article on wolves) I find the article riddled with inaccuracies, ignorance, confusion, biases, and sourcing/citation failures of various sorts. And these are not minor issues, but pervasive, devastating problems that frequently render the article worthless. It’s also possible to spot some of these problems in articles where I don’t know anything about the subject, but not always. I have to assume, though, that the vast majority of articles are like this, though certain subject areas, such as most of the hard sciences, seem to be better than others.

To help drive the point home, in this post, I’d like to illustrate Wikipedia’s (as well as Wiktionary’s) suckiness with a few key examples. These are just examples I happened to stumble upon, or which friends have shared with me, and are arranged vaguely (though not totally consistently) in increasing order of detail and seriousness. They could easily be multiplied ad infinitum. Feel free to add your own favorite example(s) in the comments! Continue reading “Wikipedia Sucks”

Proto-Algonquian “*we” Was *o

For those who’ve followed my earlier discussions on Proto-Algonquian, it may be of interest that I’ve now come around to agreeing with Ives Goddard’s conclusion that PA should be reconstructed with *o in place of traditional *we. The thinking and evidence is outlined in this document (PDF), which serves as one of the appendices to my now-revamped post on PA and Proto-Algic vowels. On the other hand, I’m not sure I agree with Goddard that PA distinguished *o from some rare *we sequences, but I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the relevant facts here . . .

Anyway, comments or questions are welcome.

Playing His Own Game: A Thanksgiving Post

Last updated: May 12, 2022

Squanto sought his owne ends, and plaid his owne game

—Bradford, Of Plim̃oth Plantation (OPP), pg. 71, spelling slightly modernized


If you’re an American and you’re like me, the sum total of your childhood knowledge of the First Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims, and the Indian named Squanto was probably something like this:

Like the settlers at Jamestown, the Pilgrims at Plymouth endured a “starving time.” Half the group died during the first winter. However, they were saved by Native Americans who had learned to speak English. Squanto, a Native American, taught the Pilgrims how to plant native crops.

Sometime in the fall of 1621 the Plymouth settlement celebrated a good harvest by holding a three-day feast. It was the first Thanksgiving in New England. This Thanksgiving came to represent the peace that existed at that time between the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

This is from Dallek et al. (2008:68), a textbook for grades 6-8. For the most part this passage isn’t strictly incorrect. It is, however, both incredibly boring and inexcusably incomplete. It doesn’t just leave out things like the fact that there’s no such thing as “the Native Americans” as some monolithic block (“the peace that existed at the time between the Native Americans and Pilgrims” certainly didn’t exist between the Pilgrims and all regional Indian groups!), or how it came to be that some Indians had learned to speak English (in Squanto’s case, enslavement!), but it leaves out characters, which is the main thing that makes it boring. We have a passage with dozens of people dying horrible deaths, but there’s no pathos and no names or stories to actually bring home the fact that human lives have been lost. We also have a passage in which only one person, Squanto (whom I’ll now be calling “Tisquantum,” for reasons to be explained), is named, but in which he is certainly not a “character.” Other historically important characters, from Massasoit and Hobbamock to William Bradford and Edward Winslow, are not mentioned at all. Tisquantum pops into existence briefly in order to move the English people’s story along by teaching them how to plant crops (YAWN!), then vanishes again. His personality is never described, nor any of his other actions, nor are his motivations examined. (Nor for that matter are those of any of the other Indians—why did the Pokanoket chief Massasoit choose to help the English colony survive, for instance?)

But Tisquantum was very much a full-fledged character, a three-dimensional human being. The greatest sin in the traditional accounts of Indian history and Indian-white relations is the denial of agency to Indians—they are nothing but people to whom events happen, and they enter the narrative when interacting with whites, but their own responses to the situations in which they find themselves are almost never considered. This is true of the well-meaning but flawed “noble savage” and “poor oppressed Indians” narratives as well as the even less savory ones. Indians were obviously terribly treated and oppressed in multitudinous ways by European colonizing forces, but the overall series of processes by which this happened was complex, and Indian people did not just sit around passively allowing this to happen—they made reasonable and deliberate personal, economic, social, and political choices at every stage, even if they often had limited options and even if these choices often proved, with hindsight, not to lead to the desired consequences.

It has really only been relatively recently that non-Indian historians have begun to examine historical events in which Indians took part with an eye toward the Indians’ own experiences and choices. And sadly such an outlook still remains essentially absent from popular culture and school curricula. The story of Tisquantum and other southern New England Native peoples is a prime example in which Indians were clearly making calculated decisions and choices. For all their faults and their chauvinistic attitudes towards Indians, Bradford and other Pilgrims who knew Tisquantum were at times able to recognize this—and to be able to conclude that Tisquantum “sought his own ends and played his own game.” Continue reading “Playing His Own Game: A Thanksgiving Post”

Cat Eye Lake Clocks and Ojibwe Metaphors

Last updated: May 12, 2022

Single Algonki[a]n words are like tiny imagist poems.

—Sapir, Language, pg. 244

[Note: I don’t have great confidence that everything here will turn out to be correct. I’m not an expert on metaphors, nor am I a fluent speaker of Ojibwe, just a learner. Also, while I seem to pick on one researcher here a lot, it’s only because his paper is the main thing I know of that makes a certain claim and which I have access to. It’s not my purpose to attack him in particular.]

Text #27, “Cats’ Eyes,” is one of the shortest texts in Leonard Bloomfield’s grammar of Odawa (which he labeled “Eastern Ojibwa”). Like all of the texts it was narrated in 1938 by Andrew Medler, who was born in Saginaw, MI but lived most of his life on Walpole Island, ON, and in it Medler offers an explanation for an unusual Odawa expression. Continue reading “Cat Eye Lake Clocks and Ojibwe Metaphors”

Proto-Algonquian and Proto-Algic Miscellany

Last updated: May 12, 2022

I present here a rather haphazard collection of thoughts regarding various issues of Proto-Algonquian and Proto-Algic reconstruction, in many cases intended as refinements of or expansions on some of the discussion in my previous posts on the topic (on Proto-Algonquian and on the Proto-Algonquian and Proto-Algic vowel systems). Some are the result of helpful feedback I’ve received on the vowels post, and many of the rest have been stimulated by a recent paper by Richard Rhodes, “The Case for Core Central Algonquian” (Rhodes 2021).

While Rhodes’s paper is basically concerned with demonstrating that Core Algonquian (Ojibwean + Miami-Illinois + Shawnee + Meskwakian) is a genetic and not merely areal subgroup, it also includes some points on the reconstruction of the allomorphy of TI theme signs, the suggestion of another genetic subgroup encompassing Eastern Algonquian + Core Central, and an extended discussion and reconstruction of the evolution of PA *r and *θ, particularly in clusters. Continue reading “Proto-Algonquian and Proto-Algic Miscellany”

Rethinking Proto-Algonquian (and Proto-Algic) Vowels and Algonquian Subgrouping

Last updated: May 21, 2022

In later versions of my post on Proto-Algonquian, I have mentioned that my views on the vowel system of the protolanguage have evolved, and diverge from those held by other Algonquianists. In this post I’ll attempt to explain these views in detail, as well as my views on the vowel system of Proto-Algic, since these even more significantly diverge from those of other researchers and underpin the new model of Proto-Algonquian offered here. Finally, I will discuss the implications this new model has for Algic and Algonquian subgrouping. While I think this new model fits the evidence better than the traditional model, my thinking is still rather preliminary, I’m far from an expert in phonological issues, and I welcome any comments and feedback. I apologize that this has once again turned into a monograph; for those who don’t want to wade through all the minutiae of argumentation and data, there is a tl;dr summary of the basic points at the end of the post. For basic information on Algonquian subgrouping, abbreviations used in this post, etc., see the following footnote.[1] Continue reading “Rethinking Proto-Algonquian (and Proto-Algic) Vowels and Algonquian Subgrouping”