Archive for Transcription

An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

There is a long-standing puzzle that has attracted historical linguists’ interest. This is a single sentence of 10 characters in two clauses: “秀支替戾岡, 僕谷劬禿當” (xiù zhī tì lì gāng, pú gŭ qú tū dāng). The sentence does not make sense in any of the Sinitic topolects. Obviously, this appears to be from a foreign language using Sinographs as phonetic transcriptions. Indeed, the source document which gives this mysterious sentence clearly indicates this is in Jié 羯, a non-Sinitic language that showed up in China during the chaotic period known as the Sixteen Kingdoms (304-439 CE) marked by uprisings of 五胡 wŭhú ‘Five Barbarians’ (Xiōngnú 匈奴, Jié 羯, Xiānbēi 鮮卑, Dī 氐, and Qiāng 羌) against the Jìn 晉 dynasty.

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Speak Hakka, our Mother Tongue

From the Hakka Affairs Council in Taiwan:


(Source)

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Automated transcription-cum-translation

Marc Sarrel received the following message on his voicemail:

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Sino-Sanskritic "devil"

One of the most curious and fascinating words I learned during the first or second year of Mandarin study was móguǐ 魔鬼 ("devil; demon; fiend").  Somehow it just sounded right as the designation for what it signified:

Tā shìgè móguǐ 他是個魔鬼 ("He's a devil")

Even the characters, which I have always deemphasized since I began learning Mandarin, seemed appropriate. Guǐ 鬼 ("ghost; spirit; apparition; deuce"), the representation of a bogeyman that goes all the way back to the oracle bone inscriptions more than three millennia ago, was the thing itself.  Although I didn't know the exact meaning of mó 魔, it too had the guǐ 鬼 radical, so I thought of móguǐ 魔鬼 as a "mó 魔 type guǐ 鬼", and I just took it on faith that it meant "devil".

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Mee Tu flavor

A tasty visual pun found on Facebook:

(originally posted by Wayne Hudson)

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Xina

Lately, since Xi Jinping made himself President for Life of the People's Republic of China, wags and wits have taken to calling the country over which he rules "Xina".

It turns out that this is the Catalan word for "China".  Curious to know how Xina is pronounced in Catalan, I looked it up on Wiktionary:

  • Balearic, Central /ˈʃi.nə/
  • Valencian /ˈt͡ʃi.na/

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"Geda", part 3

Earlier this week (11/12/18), under the rubric "Of knots, pimples, and Sinitic reconstructions", we discussed the origins and meaning of the fascinating Sinitic word "geda" ("pimple; knot; lump").  That, in turn, was prompted by our initial acquaintance with "geda" in "Too hard to translate soup" a couple of months before (9/2/18).  After considering a possible source in Indo-European, Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolic, there seemed to be a bit of momentum in favor of the last named family.

Since "geda" first appeared in a significantly large number of citations in written Sinitic during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) about a thousand years ago, it was thought advisable to look at an earlier stage of Mongolic rather than simply referring to modern Mongolian forms.  So I thought of asking Daniel Kane, a rare specialist in Khitan, which is generally considered to be a Para-Mongolic language, whether he had any thoughts on the matter.

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Korean refrigerator onomatopoeia

From a tweet by Claire Varley:

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Onigiri > Onigilly

Brand-name transliteration (in Embarcadero Center, San Francisco), courtesy of Nancy Friedman:

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Home party

Recently, Tong Wang's husband told her that he would not be home for dinner because he was going out with friends to this place:

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Q-TAXI

From a correspondent in Taiwan:

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Go Believe

Zeyao Wu sent in this sign on a restaurant:

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Biscriptal ad in the Hong Kong subway

Jenny Chu spotted this ad from a campaign for Nescafe currently being shown in the Hong Kong MTR:

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