Archive for Borrowing

"No" in Chinese

A sign warning against uncivilized behavior in the main bazaar in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region (Bloomberg):

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"Up" in Japanese and Chinese

Tong Wang told me that she just learned a new word.  It's "up主“, a term borrowed from Japanese into Chinese, and refers to those who upload audio, video, or other resources to share on certain websites.

In this expression, zhǔ / nushi 主 means "master; lord; host; owner", etc. (it has many other meanings in other realms of discourse, e.g., "Allah; Lord; advocate; main; primary; principal", etc.)

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The emergence of Germanic

From their origins to the present day, speakers of Germanic languages have been distinguished by the high degree of their mobility on land and on water:  the Völkerwanderung during the Migration Period, Goths, Vikings, the British Empire on which the sun never set, Pax Americana….  From antiquity, they ranged far and wide, so it is not surprising to see them popping up all over the place and, in their travels, to come in contact with an enormous number of different ethnic and linguistic groups.

Before setting out on their multitudinous journeys, they had to have begun somewhere, and — on the borders of their original homeland — they had to have been in contact with other ethnic and linguistic groups.  I asked a colleague where and when they might have arisen, and who their neighbors were.

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China and Rome

In preparing a new edition of Friedrich Hirth's venerable China and the Roman Orient: Researches into Their Ancient and Medieval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (1885) (CRO), for the sake of comparison I included in my introduction a section on Frederick J. Teggart’s Rome and China:  A Study of Correlations in Historical Events (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), written 54 years later.  Superficially, the two books share similar titles and topics, but they could hardly be more different in their orientations and goals.  Whereas Hirth was determined to identify the names of places, peoples, and things from the far west of Eurasia that were Sinographically transcribed in ancient Chinese – an extremely difficult philological task, Teggart’s aim was far more theoretical.  Teggart strove to demonstrate that battles, movements of peoples, and other events that occurred in western Eurasia, Central Asia, and East Asia for half a millennium during the Roman Empire were intimately interrelated, although in Rome and China, he focuses intensely on the period from 58 BC to AD 107.

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Penglin Wang’s response to David Marjanović’s comments

(The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang.)


Thanks to Professor Victor Mair’s organization of a series of informative postings, which share expertise in areas that I do not often get a chance to be a participant, I was happy to contribute material with which I am familiar. As I have a heavy teaching load of 13-15 hours per week plus other inevitable undertakings in the fall and winter quarters, I have no choice but to refrain myself from allocating time to extracurricular activities. By taking advantage of this relatively long weekend I went through the previous discussions and found my posting about the diffusion of the Germanic word for ‘hart’ in Tungusic and Mongolic ("Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions" [12/23/18]) commented on by David Marjanović (DM) and mentioned by some other esteemed colleagues. I wish to thank those of you who opined about my posting. In response to David Marjanović I have drafted the following notes.

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Massive borrowing

Some people freak out when early borrowings from one language into another are pointed out, as though it were an insult to the integrity of the recipient language, or that it somehow clashes with the sacred laws of linguistics.

When looked at dispassionately, borrowing among languages is both normal and pervasive.  In this post, I will demonstrate how widespread borrowing is in several representative, typical languages.

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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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