Archive for Borrowing

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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Love those letters

Here we go again.  More Roman letters and English words on police and security guard uniforms in China (see below for some earlier posts).  Here's a doozy:

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Of honey, bee, mead, and Old Sinitic reconstructions

Pamela Kyle Crossley wonders:

Why, when mima– words for “honey” are so widespread across Eurasia, do English speakers say “honey” instead of some modern form of medhu or meli (except when referring to mead, of course)? Turns out all the Germanic languages left the medhu theme early on, and instead went with variation of *hunaga, which they might originally have cut off from hunigcamb. It sort of suggests that these Germans first encountered honey as imported in combs or frames, not as if they were extracting it from the bees themselves.

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Of ganders, geese, and Old Sinitic reconstructions

I used the expression "take a gander" in something I wrote this morning.  Curious about its origin, I found this:

"Where Did the Phrase 'Take a Gander' Come From?" (Today I Found Out [9/22/12])

This is an interesting, informative article, from which I learned much, including the PIE root for "goose",  and the fact that geese can  fly as high as 30,000 feet!

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"Add oil" is now English

Two years ago, I wrote a post about the Chinese expression "'Add oil'" (9/13/16) (cf. the comments to "Non-translation" [7/24/16]). In that post, I mentioned:

I remember way back when I was in high school (in the 50s), the cheerleaders used to tell their team to "step on the gas".  So the concept of ga1yau4 / jiāyóu 加油 ("add oil / gas") was already out there.

In a personal note, Chau Wu adds:

To echo what you said, I remember I also used the phrase 加油 when I was in elementary school (late 1940s – early 50s), both in Mandarin and Taiwanese.

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Egg tarts around the world: a brief survey

When I was in Hamburg, Germany a few months ago, I was pleasantly surprised to come upon a pastry shop that sold egg tarts warm out of the oven.  They were just divine!  I think they were called pastéis de nata from the term used for them in Portugal, which seems to be the homeland (or one of the homelands) of this heavenly dessert.  Here the word pastéis is translated into English as "pastels", but it's something altogether different from the art medium, and it has a broad spectrum of manifestations as different types of pies and cakes.

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