Archive for Classification

On the propinquity of Vietnamese and Sinitic

Several comments to this post raised the issue of the closeness of Vietnamese and Cantonese:

"Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18)

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Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2

Half a day after the first part of this series, "Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18), was posted, someone unhelpfully and snarkily asked, "…but are we sure he used the English word 'dialect'?"

That's not the point.

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Mighty Maithili, monstrous Mandarin

In case you're in need of some intensely elegiac and panegyric reading material, this lovely volume just might fit the bill:

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Tangut workshop at Yale

On the weekend of January 19-20, 2018, there was a Tangut Workshop at Yale University.  Organized by Valerie Hansen and sponsored by the Yale Council of East Asian Studies, this was an intense, exciting learning experience for the 35 or so people who were in the room most of the time.

Many readers may be scratching their heads and asking, "Tangut?  What's that?  And why should we at Language Log be concerned with it?"

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Varieties of Mandarin

Speakers of Northeastern / Dongbei topolect and Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin) speaking very common equivalent expressions and holding up cards with the written forms of what they are saying:

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Sinitic is a group of languages, not a single language

Pro-Cantonese sign in Hong Kong:


A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally in 2010 against mainland China’s bid to champion Mandarin over Cantonese. Picture: AFP

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Plum > apricot and wine > brew: the language of poetry and painting

[This is a follow up to "Preserved wife plum" (7/12/17), after which there ensued a vigorous and enlightening discussion on the terminology for plums, apricots, pastries, and so forth.]

My wife was born in Shandong in 1936, but fled from the Japanese with her family to Sichuan before she was one year old, and she spent the next eleven years of her life in Sichuan, before fleeing once again with her family, this time from the Chinese Communists, to Taiwan.

One of the last things Li-ching did before passing away in 2010 was write her childhood memoirs in Hanyu Pinyin (see here, here [three items], and here).  At this moment, I do not recall if she mentioned it in her memoirs, but one of her fondest recollections of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan where she and her family lived (it was also the wartime capital of the Republic of China — now on Taiwan) was the làméi 臘梅 / 腊梅 (Chimonanthus fragrans / praecox).  In English, the làméi 臘梅 is referred to as wintersweet, Japanese allspice (despite the attractive name, it is not edible), calyx canthus, and mistakenly — but still quite commonly — as "wax plum" (look it up on Google Images under this name for pretty pictures of the blossoms).   In Japanese this plant is called rōbai 蝋梅, although it used to be written 臘梅 and 蠟梅 (nowadays it is normally written in kana alone:  ろうばい · ロウバイ).

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"Dog" in Japanese: "inu" and "ken"

This post intends to take a deep look at the words for "dog" in Japanese, "inu" and "ken", both written with the same kanji (sinogram; Chinese character): 犬.

I will begin with some basic phonological and etymological information, then move to an elaboration of the immediate cause for the writing of this post, observations from colleagues, and a brief conclusion.

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"Bad" borrowings in North Korean

Last week, the Daily NK (from Seoul) published an article by Kang Mi Jin about "Loanwords frequently appearing in the Rodong Sinmun" (11/25/16), South Korean original here.  Rodong Sinmun is the official newspaper of the North Korean Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.

A source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on November 21 that the authorities have been delivering public lectures on the need to “actively fight to eradicate the bad habit of using foreign languages, including words of Japanese origin and the language of the puppet regime (South Korea)." However, many have pointed out the increasingly frequent usage of foreign words in the Rodong Sinmun.

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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Aristotle on trolling

Rachel Barney, "[Aristotle], On Trolling", Journal of the American Philosophical Association 5/3/2016:

That trolling is a shameful thing, and that no one of sense would accept to be called ‘troll’, all are agreed; but what trolling is, and how many its species are, and whether there is an excellence of the troll, is unclear. And indeed trolling is said in many ways; for some call ‘troll’ anyone who is abusive on the internet, but this is only the disagreeable person, or in newspaper comments the angry old man. And the one who disagrees loudly on the blog on each occasion is a lover of controversy, or an attention-seeker. And none of these is the troll, or perhaps some are of a mixed type; for there is no art in what they do. (Whether it is possible to troll one's own blog is unclear; for the one who poses divisive questions seems only to seek controversy, and to do so openly; and this is not trolling but rather a kind of clickbait.)

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Old Sinitic reconstructions and Tibeto-Burman cognates

[The following is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei.]

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The Old Chinese reconstruction of Gong Hwang-cherng and James Matisoff is not only internally consistent, but can be shown to have a Tibeto-Burman counterpart through Sino-Tibetan comparative studies.  Gong Hwang-cherng's Collected Papers on Sino-Tibetan Linguistics 龚煌城, Hàn-Zàngyǔ yánjiū lùnwén jí《汉藏语研究论文集》(2002) has about 300 cognate sets — involving Old Chinese, Written Tibetan, Written Burmese, and reconstructed Tangut. I am writing a paper whose purpose is to unite Gong's work with Zàng-Miǎn yǔzú yǔyán cíhuì《藏缅语族语言词汇》(Lexicon of Tibeto-Burman languages), edited by Huang Bufan 黄布凡 (1992). So far I have 142 cognate sets and can testify that Gong's cognate sets on the whole hold water.

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Cantonese "here"

The first comment to my post on "Multilingual voting signs" (11/9/12) was by Alinear, who stated that cǐ chù 此處 ("this place") sounds like Cantonese to him.  As a matter of fact, as reader ahkow pointed out in the second comment, cǐ chù 此處 ("this place") is simply the literary / classical Chinese way of writing "here".  Both cǐ 此 ("this") and chù 處 ("place") occur on the oracle bones, so this means that they have been a part of Sinitic vocabulary since around 1200 BC.  Where they might have come from before that time remains to be determined.

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