Archive for Borrowing

Sinitic for "iron" in Balto-Slavic

[This is a guest post by Chris Button]

There are a couple of brief suggestions in Mallory & Adams' Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997:314;379) that the Lithuanian word geležis and Old Church Slavonic word želežo for "iron", which following Derksen (2008:555) may be derived from Balto-Slavic *geleź-/*gelēź- (ź being the IPA palatal sibilant ʑ), could possibly have a Proto-Sino-Tibetan association.

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Thai "khwan" ("soul") and Old Sinitic reconstructions

There's a Thai word for "soul", khwan, that sounds like Sinitic hún 魂 ("soul").

Old Sinitic

(BaxterSagart): /*[m.]qʷˤə[n]/
(Zhengzhang): /*ɢuːn/

I've always assumed that Thai khwan and Sinitic hún 魂 are related, but was never sure in which direction the influence / borrowing spread.

One reason I'm so interested in this question is because, already in BC times, we have evidence in south China (N.B. south) of rituals for calling back wandering souls, which are very similar to such rituals in Thai religion.

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Galactic glimmers: of milk and Old Sinitic reconstructions

Often have I pondered on the origin and precise meaning of the Sinitic word lào, luò (reading pronunciation) 酪 ("fermented milk; yoghurt; sour milk; kumiss"); Old Sinitic (OS) /*ɡ·raːɡ/ (Zhengzhang).  My initial impression was that it may have been related to IE "galactic" words.

Possibly from a Central Asian language; compare Mongolian айраг (ajrag, fermented milk of mares) and Turkish ayran (yoghurt mixed with water). The phonetic similarity between Sinitic (OS *ɡ·raːɡ, “milk”), Ancient Greek γάλα (gála, milk) and Latin lac (milk), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵlákts (milk) is worth noting (Schuessler, 2007).

(Wiktionary)

Paul Kroll, ed., A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, p. 256a:

1. kumiss, fermented mare's milk (also cow's or sheep's) < Khotan-Saka ragai (with metathesis)

    a. yogurt, milk curdled by bacteria

As Schuessler (2007), p. 345 notes, the fermented drink "arrack" may be a different etymon, a loan from Arabic 'araq ("fermented juice").  (Pulleyblank 1962:  250 contra Karlgren 1926) [VHM:  full references below]

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I don't feel OK

Viral meme in the Sinosphere:

Wǒ juédé bù OK 我覺得不OK ("I don't feel OK")

Variant:

Wǒ juédé hái OK 我覺得還OK ("I feel sort of OK")

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Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This is a piece that I've been meaning to write for a long time, but never found the opportunity.  Now, inspired by the season and about to embark on extended holiday travel, I'm determined not to put it off for yet another year.

The genesis of my ruminations on this topic are buried in decades-old tentative efforts to identify the fabulous creature known in Chinese myth as the qilin (Hanyu Pinyin), also spelled as ch'i2-lin2 (Wade-Giles Romanization) and kirin in Japanese, which the whole world knows as the name of a famous beer (fanciful, stylized depictions of the kirin are to be found on bottles and cans of the beer).

The qilin is usually referred to in English as a kind of unicorn, but I knew that couldn't be right, since no account of the qilin from antiquity describes it as having only one horn.  The Chinese xièzhì 獬豸 ("goat of justice") does have a single, long, pointed horn, but that is another matter, for which see "Lamb of Goodness, Goat of Justice" (pp. 86-93) in Victor H. Mair, "Religious Formations and Intercultural Contacts in Early China," in Volkhard Krech and Marion Steinicke, ed., Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe:  Encounters, Notions, and Comparative Perspectives (Dynamics in the History of Religion, 1 [Ruhr-Universität Bochum]) (Leiden:  Brill, 2011), pp. 85-110 (available on Google Books).  Since customs pertaining to the goat of justice, as with the reindeer, existed in cultures spread across northern Eurasia, I suspect that an extra-Sinitic loanword may also be lurking behind xièzhì 獬豸.

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Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions

[The first page of this post is a guest contribution by Chris Button.]

I've been thinking a little about the word represented by chái 豺* which I would normally reconstruct as *dzrəɣ (Zhengzhang *zrɯ) ignoring any type a/b distinctions. However, it occurred to me that a reconstruction of *dzrəl (for which Zhengzhang would presumably have *zrɯl) would give the same Middle Chinese reflex (I'm not citing Baxter/Sagart since they don't support lateral codas presumably for reasons of symmetry). I'm not sure if outside of its phonetic speller cái 才 there is any reason to go with -ɣ rather than -l in coda position for 豺. However, if we go with a lateral coda as *dzrəl, it looks suspiciously similar to Old Iranian šagāl from Sanskrit śṛgāla (perhaps even more so if we fricativize the Old Iranian /g/ to /ɣ/ intervocalically as in modern Persian).

[*VHM:  This is always a challenging word for translators.  "jackal" and "dhole" are two possibilities.]

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The politics and linguistics of bread in Taiwan and China

Taiwanese master baker Wu Pao-chun 吳寶春 with a loaf of his famous bread:

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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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Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 3

A highly educated Chinese colleague sent me the following note:

More Chinese phrases with Latin alphabet, such as C位, diss, etc. have become quite popular. Even one of my friends who is so intoxicated by the beauty of the Chinese classic language used "diss" in her WeChat post. She could have used any of the Chinese words such as wǔrǔ 侮辱 or dǐhuǐ 诋毁 to express her idea, but she chose "diss" instead. It was quite a surprise. I feel reluctant to use this kind of word, especially in writing.

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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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Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary in a patriotic slogan

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Of knots, pimples, and Sinitic reconstructions

A couple of months ago, we talked about gēda 疙瘩, which is one of those very cool, two syllable Sinitic words, neither of whose syllables means anything by itself (i.e., not only is it a disyllabic lexeme, it is also a disyllabic morpheme).  Furthermore, gēda 疙瘩 is highly polysemous, with the following meanings:  "pimple; knot; swelling on the skin; lump; nodule; blotch; a knot in one's body or heart (–> hangup; problem; preoccupation)".

See "Too hard to translate soup" (9/2/18).

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Kids Bong

Bill Benzon spotted this on Facebook:

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