Archive for Language and religion

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"


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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More on "mother" (focus on India)

A little over a year ago, I wrote about "The concept of 'mother' in linguistics " (6/25/14).  In that post, we looked at the use of the notion of "mother" for language studies in Ugaritic, Moabite, South Arabian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Chinese.

Although I had a nagging recollection to the contrary, I stated:  "So far as I am aware, the notion of 'mother' does not have a similar function in Sanskrit phonology."  Although I wrote that, it bothered me ever since, inasmuch as I did remember from my Sanskrit studies of nearly half a century ago that "mother" did figure in Indian theories of language, but I just couldn't remember exactly what it was.

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"Double Happiness": symbol of Confucianism as a religion

An image composed of a circle of fourteen symbols of major world religions has been circulating on the web:

The example pictured here is from this site.

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Education in Xinjiang

A government sponsored mural in Kashgar:

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Past, present, and future

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the future:  "Mirai".

The ensuing discussion was quite animated, touching upon the nuances and implications of words for the future in many different languages.  I concluded by saying that I would write a separate post about past, present, and future:  here it is.

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"Jesus" in Dungan

Dungan is a Sinitic language spoken by the descendants of Hui (Muslim) refugees who fled from northwest China after a failed revolt against the Qing (Manchu) government about a century and a half ago.  Experiencing horrible losses along the way, their remnants settled in parts of what are now Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where ultimately they thrived and are quite successful today, particularly in growing produce.

Naturally, separated as they were from their homeland and its speech community, the language of the Dungans has undergone considerable change, especially through the borrowing of terms from Russian, Persian, Arabic, Turkic, and other languages.  Even more radical was the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet for their writing system (nearly all of those who fled were illiterate in Chinese characters).

For a brief introduction to the Dungans and their language, see "Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet".

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Because come on

Philip Bump's article about the initiative aimed at splitting Caifornia into six new states contains a cute example of a new playful extension of the use of because:

Happily, in this instance the federal government would have to sign off on the idea, which it will never do, because, come on.

It's not a real extension of the syntax that allows because to take imperative clause complements, of course; it's just a humorous way to dismiss the idea of federal approval, taking its structure from the kind of changes of plan that happen in casual talk. Here the plan for a preposition phrase with because is just abandoned, and the idiomatic "come on" injunction to get real is substituted. But it works very nicely.

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Sinographic memory in Vietnamese writing

Jason Cox sent in the following photograph of the cover of a Vietnamese religious text and asked what was going on with the "characters" along the left and right sides.

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The vocabulary of prayer in modern China

Many of the comments on the disappearance of MH370 by Chinese netizens mention their prayers (qídǎo 祈祷).  Since most Chinese are not religious (i.e., are not Christians, Buddhists, etc.), to whom are they praying?  In what way are they praying?  Even if they are Buddhists, is prayer (qídǎo 祈祷) an integral part of Buddhism?  Perhaps it would be common for Chinese Muslims to use this expression, but my sense is that most of the commenters quoted in the link below are not Muslims.

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