Archive for Philology

Chinese, Greek, and Latin, part 2

[This is a guest post by Richard Lynn.  It is all the more appreciated, since he had written it as a comment to "Chinese, Greek, and Latin" (8/8/17) a day or two ago, but when he pressed the "submit" button, his comment evaporated.  So he had to write the whole thing all over again.  I am grateful to Dick for his willingness to do so and think that the stimulating results are worth the effort he put into this post.]

James Zainaldin’s remarks concerning the Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and the Dao de jing, his frustration by the limits of grammatical or lexical analysis, that is, the relative lack of grammatical and lexical explicitness compared to Greek and Latin texts, is a reasonable conclusion — besides that, Greek and Latin, Sanskrit too, all are written with phonetic scripts — easy stuff! But such observations are a good place to start a discussion of the role of commentaries and philological approaches to reading and translating Literary/Classical Chinese texts, Literary Sinitic (LS). Nathan Vedal’s remarks are also spot on: “LS is really an umbrella term for a set of languages. The modes of expression in various genres and fields differ to such a high degree that I sometimes feel as though I'm learning a new language when I begin work on a new topic.”

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Chinese, Greek, and Latin

More than a year ago, I made this post:

"Which is harder: Western classical languages or Chinese?" (3/6/16)

In that post, I described a sense of anxiety that seems to pervade the venerable discipline of philology, which seemed to be in the process of morphing into something called "Classical Studies".  This feeling of uncertainty about the future of our scholarly disciplines was (and is) true both of Sinology and of Greek and Latin learning.  (See also "Philology and Sinology" [4/20/14].)

In last year's post, I highlighted an essay by Kathleen Coleman on the blog of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS):  "Nondum Arabes Seresque rogant: Classics Looks East" (2/2/16).  Coleman describes how she asked one of her graduate students, James Zainaldin, who was learning Chinese (evidently Mandarin) at the time to compare his experience with that language to what he had experienced learning Greek and Latin.  I remember thinking at the time that Professor Coleman was expecting quite a lot from James, since learning Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) and learning Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS / CC) were two very different tasks.  I expressed that uneasiness with the task that Professor Coleman had set James, yet remarked that he had nonetheless made a number of significant observations.

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GA

One of my favorite Chinese words is GANGA (pronounce as in "Lady Gaga", but put a nasal at the end of the first syllable).  It is so special and has had such a deep impact upon me since I began learning Chinese half a century ago that, in this post, I shall refer to it simply as "GANGA", in capital letters only, except when discussing its more precise pronunciation, derivation, meaning, and written representation in Chinese characters.  Referring to this unusual word as "GANGA" is meant to emphasize the iconic quality it has for me personally, in the sense that its nature reveals many verities about Sinitic languages and Chinese writing.

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Sinological suffering

Since I became a Sinologist in 1972, hardly a day has passed when I didn't spend an hour or two vainly searching for a character or expression in my vast arsenal of Chinese reference works.  The frustration of not being able to find what I'm looking for is so agonizing that I sometimes simply have to scream at the writing system for being so complicated and refractory.

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Inflection in Georgian and in English

Helen Sims-Williams has a new post on The Philological Society Blog:

"Understanding the loss of inflection" (11/23/16)

Helen takes what might superficially seem to be a dry and dreary topic and turns it into a lively, stimulating essay.  Here's how it begins:

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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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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 5

Previous posts in the series:

As mentioned before, the following post is not about a sword or other type of weapon per se, but in terms of its ancient Eurasian outlook, it arguably belongs in the series:

Today's post is also not about a sword, but it is about a weapon, namely an arrow.

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions

In "The hand of god" (3/4/16), I cited a Chinese text in which the term Mòyé 鏌鋣 (the name of a famous sword in antiquity) came up.  The translation I provided rendered that term as "Excalibur", which caught the attention of a couple of commenters who wondered how one could get from Mòyé 鏌鋣 to "Excalibur", when all that Google Translate could offer is "ROBOT 鋣".

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Which is harder: Western classical languages or Chinese?

Joseph Manning kindly called my attention to this post by Kathleen Coleman on the blog of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS):  "Nondum Arabes Seresque rogant: Classics Looks East" (2/2/16).  The Latin quotation is from a poem written by Statius to mark the inauguration of Domitian’s seventeenth consulship in AD 95.  It means "nor yet do the Arabs and Chinese file petitions", something that the Romans hoped they would one day submit.

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Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

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