Archive for Language and religion

Two instances of orthographic ambiguity: GODISNOWHERE and Chen Fake

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Mao Zedong's "three jewels"

On the eve of the establishment of the PRC, Chairman Mao referred to united front (tǒngyī zhànxiàn 統一戰線) work as one of the Party’s “three great fabao” (sān gè dà fǎbǎo 三个大法宝).  So what is a fabao, what did Mao mean by that expression, and where did he get it?

Mao's "fabao" is often glossed as "magic weapon" or "secret weapon", and it seems to be a reference to the "Three Jewels / Treasures" (sānbǎo 三宝 / 寶; Skt. triratna) of Buddhism: the Buddha (Fó 佛), the Dharma (fǎ 法, the "Law" or "Doctrine" of Buddhism), and the Sangha (sēng 僧, the community of Buddhist monks and the monastic order to which they adhere).

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Utterly lost in translation

During a search for something else, I happened upon this page at the Bible Study Tools site. It provides a nice reminder (for the two or three people out there who might still need it) of the fact that it's dangerous to trust websites, in linguistic matters or in anything else. As the screenshot shows, it purports to show Psalm 86 in two parallel versions, the Latin Vulgate and the New International Version.

"Filiis Core psalmis cantici fundamenta eius in montibus sanctis" is translated as "Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy." The correct translation is debatable, but the first four words mean "A song psalm for the sons of Korah", and the rest means either "Its foundations are in the sacred hills" or (according to the Revised Standard Version) "On the holy mount stands the city he founded." Verse 2, "Diligit dominus portas Sion super omnia tabernacula Iacob" (roughly, "The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob") is translated as "Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God." The third verse begins Gloriosa dicta sunt ("glorious things are spoken") but is translated as "have mercy on me". This is worse than the worst botch I ever saw from Google Translate. And I suspect human error is to blame.

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Patriarchal homestead

A tweet by Alex Gabuev:

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GAN4 ("Do it!")

From a long blog post on contemporary Chinese religious art and architecture:

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Tao and Taoism

Yesterday's NYT has an article by Javier C. Hernández titled "China’s Religious Revival Fuels Environmental Activism" (7/12/17).  It's a long article, filled with a lot of New Age, ecological phraseology that is uncharacteristic of the usual political, military, and economic discourse of the antireligious PRC.  I was drifting along, not paying too much attention to the details of what it said, but this short paragraph — quoting a Taoist monk named Xuan Jing — caught me up short:

As he sipped tea, he jotted down Taoist teachings: “Humans follow the earth, the earth follows heaven, heaven follows Taoism, Taoism follows nature.”

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Unknown language #9

Forwarded by Geoff Wade (sans Twitter comments):

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Buddhism and languages

Whether you are familiar with Chinese characters or not, try to guess the meaning of the calligraphy on the front of this forthcoming book (the answer is at the very end of this post):

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The hand of god

Article in ScienceAlert today (3/4/16):

"Scientists are freaking out over a new paper that says our hands were designed by God"

#Creatorgate

The article in ScienceAlert begins:

Twitter exploded today with the news that a peer-reviewed scientific paper about the human hand credits its design to "the Creator", and scientists around the world are so furious, they called for an official retraction.

The paper, which mentions a "Creator" several times throughout, was published by the journal PLOS ONE back in January, but went largely unnoticed until James McInerney, a researcher in computational molecular evolution at the University of Manchester in UK, used twitter to call the journal "a joke".

To say that the paper has generated an enormous amount of controversy would be an understatement.

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Floating world

Nicola Esposito sent in the following observations and questions:

What is the etymology of ukiyo 浮世, the "floating world" known in the West mostly thanks to its depictions by artists such as Hiroshige, Hokusai and others?

While perusing the website of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, I discovered that the origins of ukiyo lie in a homophone of 浮世 denoting the "transient world" of Buddhist tradition.  The page does not offer any other detail, but from what I gather that homophone should be ukiyo 憂世, whose literal meaning should be closer to something like "unhappy world".  Unfortunately my knowledge of Japanese is too shallow to be able to to tackle Japanese sources, and I was wondering if you could offer insight on this etymology and in particular how this substitution happened, if it indeed happened. Was it some kind of pun?

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You ain't no Muslim

You ain't no Muslim, bruv! The phrase already gets more than 650,000 hits on Google in the UK, and the hashtag #YouAintNoMuslimBruv gets about 1,670,000. It is becoming a mantra, a talismanic incantation for conjuring up goodwill in a world where more and more attempts are being made to foment hatred between Muslims and everyone else.

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Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish, ch. 2

This is a sequel to "Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish " (11/11/15).

(‘Alone, Popecity’ 独克宗, a street sign on National Highway 214 at the entrance to Shangri-La, 2015. Photo: William Ratz)

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Outlawed Uyghur names

The Chinese government is troubled by the ongoing unrest in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of the country. The authorities attribute the turmoil to what they refer to as religious extremism, which, they believe, leads to terrorism. Moreover, religious extremism also foments separatism, which the government is dead set against. In an effort to reduce the impact of religious extremism, the government bans many cultural practices that they assert are manifestations of undesirable ideological tendencies.

Here, for example, is a sign that was posted outside hospital in Yining forbidding the burka, unusual facial hair, the hijab, the symbolism of the crescent moon with star, and any apparel conveying pronounced religious sentiments:


(Photograph courtesy of an anonymous colleague)

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