Archive for Reconstructions

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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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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Of honey, bee, mead, and Old Sinitic reconstructions

Pamela Kyle Crossley wonders:

Why, when mima– words for “honey” are so widespread across Eurasia, do English speakers say “honey” instead of some modern form of medhu or meli (except when referring to mead, of course)? Turns out all the Germanic languages left the medhu theme early on, and instead went with variation of *hunaga, which they might originally have cut off from hunigcamb. It sort of suggests that these Germans first encountered honey as imported in combs or frames, not as if they were extracting it from the bees themselves.

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Of ganders, geese, and Old Sinitic reconstructions

I used the expression "take a gander" in something I wrote this morning.  Curious about its origin, I found this:

"Where Did the Phrase 'Take a Gander' Come From?" (Today I Found Out [9/22/12])

This is an interesting, informative article, from which I learned much, including the PIE root for "goose",  and the fact that geese can  fly as high as 30,000 feet!

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Sinitic historical phonology

[Or, as David Prager Branner, who wrote the guest post below, jokingly calls it, "hysterical phrenology".  Note that Branner uses Gwoyeu Romatzyh ( "National Language Romanization"), a type of tonal spelling, for the transcription of Mandarin.]

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This is on the subject of Carbo Kuo's 郭家寶 performance of Shyjing "Shyi yeou charngchuu 隰有萇楚" ("In the low wet grounds is the carambola tree") in Jenqjang Shanqfang's 鄭張尚芳 various antique reconstructions, sent to me by Victor Mair. It pleased me a lot. The issue is one of art, not scholarship, and it should be judged as art.

[VHM:  must hear]

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Eurasian eureka

After reading the the latest series of Language Log posts on long range connections (see below for a listing), Geoff Wade suggested that I title the next post in this series as I have this one.  If there ever was an occasion to do so, now is as good a moment as any, with the announcement of the publication of Chau Wu's extraordinary "Patterns of Sound Correspondence between Taiwanese and Germanic/Latin/Greek/Romance Lexicons, Part I", Sino-Platonic Papers, 262 (Aug., 2016), 239 pp. (free pdf).

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