Sydney Parkinson, the Endeavour’s forgotten linguist

Sunday, 27th. [January 1771] Departed this life Mr. Sydney Parkinson, Natural History Painter to Mr. Banks

James Cook’s one and only mention of Sydney Parkinson is to record his death, one of about twenty of the Endeavour’s crew to die of “Fevers and Fluxes” while at the Dutch outpost of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) or en voyage soon after, in January and February 1791. 

Joseph Banks records him slightly more, mentioning him sketching and painting, attending the funeral of the other artist Alexander Buchan, inquiring about spices in the Spice Islands (now Indonesia), falling sick and dying. (Banks records the date as the 26th. Cook used naval dates, which run from midday to midday; Banks used civil dates, from midnight to midnight.)

Botanists are fortunate that Parkinson kept a journal himself and made 280 paintings and over 900 sketches. Searching for ‘Sydney Parkinson botany’ will show you the breadth and depth of the material by and about him. But his interests were many and varied. He recorded the information about the transit of Venus (or copied it from the astronomer Charles Green) and thrice-daily temperatures while the Endeavour was at Tahiti. Relevantly for this blog post, he recorded words from languages spanning Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. Indeed, he collected more words from more languages than Cook and Banks combined. Yet he is almost unknown in linguistic circles. Searching for ‘Sydney Parkinson language’ or ‘Sydney Parkinson linguistics’ shows no scholarly treatment of his linguistic work, and only one passing reference to it (on the website of the Australian Society of Friends (Quakers), (Parkinson being a Quaker).  

I have inquired about doing a doctorate on Parkinson, but the advisor and I couldn’t reach agreement on the exact scope of my possible research. I have in mind to inquire at one other university. Maybe I’ll do it anyway as an armchair scholar, sometime. 

The 250th anniversary of his death fell this week, with no commemoration that I saw, not even on this blog. I drafted this last week then forgot all about it. 

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Crash Course Linguistics

I have mentioned the Crash Course Youtube channel a few times. I knew they were considering (or had been asked by many people to make) a course in linguistics. I had put it out of my mind until another blog mentioned it.

Here it is, now complete at 16 episodes. It covers most of the things most of the ideas that underpin what I write about here, with the bonus of audio, video and actual organisation of ideas rather than random thoughts.

peroquial and ineaningfrrl

I have written several blog posts with the tag ‘lost in autosubtitling’, most recently three days ago, so you may think I have a dim view of technological approaches to language. But sometimes technology gets it right, even when humans have made the mistake in the first place.

Yesterday morning I read a Facebook post in which someone complained about the “peroquialism” in a certain book sometimes considered an Australian classic. My first thought was that it was related to colloquialism – that is, “characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing”, but the lack of a first l made that unlikely. (All the speech-related words have loqu– or loc-, from Latin loquī to speak.) When I searched for it, a well-known search engine suggested “Did you mean: parochialism” – that is “excessive narrowness of interests or view” Continue reading