Why The Raven?

The logo you see on the site here and on Twitter is a silhouette of a bird. If you’re a birding type, you might recognize it as a raven. It’s a choice that can seem random and unrelated to English, but upon closer inspection makes sense on a couple of levels.

“Koba,” my family name, is a lot of things in a lot of languages; one of them is reportedly an old Slavic word for “raven.” (Not being an expert in Slavic linguistics, I can neither confirm nor deny this.)

But more than that, they are also intelligent and chatty little things. Did you know that they can be taught to mimic human speech? A quick search on YouTube will turn up pages of videos of talking ravens. By all measurable accounts, they also display theory of mind — a complex cognitive progress that requires fairly high-level, abstract thinking.

800px-Common_Raven_at_Byrce_National_Park
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Peter Wallack

But even before we started putting them in box experiments, humans seemed to understand that ravens were crafty. In Norse mythology, Odin’s two ravens (Hugin and Mugin, representing “thought” and “memory”) scoured Midgard and reported all the latest news and happenings back to him. In the American Indian tribes of the Southwest, raven is part of the creation myth, bringing light to humans out of the cosmos. Other nations see the raven as a clever trickster. In Greek mythology, before Athena kept the owl as her sacred animal, it was the raven. (Raven lost the job because he couldn’t keep secrets!)

Illuminating birds tied to communication, memory, and thought — all very appropriate for language-related endeavors, yes?

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