Great taste

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Victor Steinbok sent in this photograph of a dim sum restaurant in Boston:


This is a natural follow-up to "Tasty Chinese", where we explored Chinese restaurant names that included the adjective "tasty".

Victor explains:

One of the most popular dim-sum places in Boston Chinatown the last couple of years has been Great Taste. Until recently, however, it didn't even have a marquee, although it was always known as Great Taste. One distinguishing feature of Great Taste (and Winsor Cafe) is that, unlike the classic weekend dim-sum palaces, it not only serves everything the whole time they are open, but does it strictly from the menu, no cart service. They also have a Macao special, Portuguese Sauce Spaghetti.

Unlike many of the restaurant names discussed in the earlier "tasty" post, the Chinese name of the Great Taste does include a word for "taste", though it's by no means a word-for-word equivalent of the English name:

Lè cháng xuān 樂嚐軒 ("happy taste pavilion")

I think that most foreign readers of Chinese, even those who are fairly advanced, would tend to interpret the name directly as "Happy Taste Pavilion", but all native Chinese readers whom I consulted uniformly said that lè cháng 樂嚐 should be understood as meaning "happy / glad to taste [the food served at this restaurant]".

In any event, somebody probably told the proprietors that "Happy to Taste" wouldn't sound right for the name of a restaurant in English.

Incidentally, all of the online translation services that I checked (Google, Bing, Baidu, Iciba) render 樂嚐 as "music taste", but that's only an artifact of misreading 樂 (simplified form 乐) as yuè ("music") instead of as lè ("happy"). The multiple pronunciations and meanings of 樂 lead to much mischief in the reading of Chinese texts, especially Literary Sinitic texts where there is a much higher percentage of monosyllabic words than in modern Sinitic languages.

In fact, another pronunciation of 樂, namely yào ("like; take delight in") seems to have dropped out of circulation on the Mainland altogether (I polled about 40 of my Mainland graduate students, and none of them knew it), though I learned it in Taiwan during the early 70s, and I think it is still alive there. And there's yet another pronunciation for 樂, viz., lào, which is used in place names — e.g., 樂亭 in Hebei and 樂陵 in Shandong — though I have no idea how locals and non-locals in China (and outside of China) actually pronounce those names nowadays.

Such are the delights / pleasures / joys ( lèqù 樂趣 ["happy inclinations"]) of reading Chinese.

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30 Comments »

  1. julie lee said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 8:19 pm

    How interesting that the character 樂 has four different pronunciations with at least four different meanings, le "happy", yue "music" , lao "a place name", and yao "like". I only knew the first two.

    I wonder if anyone knows what the earliest pronunciation and meaning of the character 樂 were and how the sound bifurcated into le/lao and yue/yao?

  2. Wentao said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

    I thought yào was no longer listed as a standard pronunciation of 乐 anymore in MSM. I have always imagined yuè and yào as different realizations of the same phoneme that, historically, used to be something like [jɔ]. Semantically 乐 ("to take delight in") is also similar to 悦 yuè and 说 yuè.

    But oh my God, Professor Mair, what kind of schools did your graduate students go to? Do they not know the famous, famous saying from the Analects, “仁者乐山,智者乐水”?

  3. Wentao said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    @julie lee

    According to 韵典网 http://ytenx.org/zim?dzih=%E4%B9%90&dzyen=1&jtkb=1&jtdt=1

    廣韻

    1 樂 五敎切 樂小韻 疑母 效韻 二等 開口
    好也……

    2 樂 五角切 嶽小韻 疑母 覺韻 二等 開口
    音樂……

    3 樂 盧各切 落小韻 來母 鐸韻 一等 開口
    喜樂……

    That means in Middle Chinese there were already three pronunciations, [ŋau], [ŋɔk] and [lɑk] respectively. The Old Chinese reconstruction (on the same webpage) has consonant cluster ŋr-, which can explain the later split.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2014 @ 11:32 pm

    @Wentao

    They went to the very best schools in China. As a matter of fact, it was when I was reading that Analects passage you quote with some of them that I discovered that they had never heard of the yào pronunciation. But, as you say, it seems "no longer listed as a standard pronunciation of 乐 anymore in MSM", and it is not in Xinhua zidian.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 2:37 am

    The proper interpretation of le chang xuan ("tasting the food here will make you happy") reminds me of a dish I see in chinese menus commonly rendered in english as "saliva chicken". Sure enough, the chinese name of the thing is 口水?? (I don't remember the rest of the name), which had me baffled until a chinese person told me that the idea of the name is that it's chicken which will make you salivate.

  6. Simon P said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 7:13 am

    I was surprised by the mouth radical on 嚐. Is that a common variant? It doesn't seem to be standard.

    Also interesting: All the readings given by the 廣韻 correspond to the third tone in Cantonese (ngaau3, ngok3, lok3), whereas all three readings of 樂 in modern Cantonese is sixth tone (ngaau6, ngok6, lok6). In fact, two of the 廣韻 readings would be highly unusual in modern Cantonese, as "ng-" initials normally cannot occur in the first three tones. Is there a general tone shift/split that occurred here?

  7. Anna Johnson said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 7:19 am

    口水, amusingly enough, translates literally: "mouthwatering".

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    kǒushuǐ 口水 ("mouth + water") = "saliva"

    liú kǒushuǐ 流口水 ("flow + mouth + water") = "slobber; slaver; salivate; drool; dribble; drivel"

    kǒushuǐ jī 口水鸡 ("mouth + water + chicken") = "steamed chicken with chili sauce"

  9. quixote said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    That's what got me when I tried to learn Chinese many moons ago. We'd learn basic vocabulary, such as "store" and "go," and put them together into basic sentences like "store go." Which I would assume meant "I go to the store," but the teacher would gently laugh and say that (obviously!) it meant the store is making a go of it.

    Or whatever. The point is I always had it wrong. Chinese: the only language where telepathy is an essential part of the skill set.

  10. Neil Dolinger said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 11:29 am

    Many years ago, my language partner posed a translation puzzle, how I would translate 鸡吃了吗? / Jī chīle ma? My four years of Mandarin study led me to guess it meant "Has the chicken eaten?" My friend said that most native speakers would understand this to mean "Has the chicken been eaten", or probably more likely as "Have you eaten the chicken?" Pragmatics trumps word order, at least in this case!

  11. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    This brings up the related question of how to pronounce the zì 字 ("courtesy name; style name; appellative") of the great Tang poet, Bo/Bai Juyi 白居易, viz., 樂天. Should it be Lètiān (as it is commonly pronounced), or should it be Yàotiān (on the model of yàoshān 樂山 and yàoshuǐ 樂水, as in the Analects passage)?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bai_Juyi

    Wikipedia says that 樂天 means roughly "happy-go-lucky", but that is indeed only a very rough approximation. See below for additional interpretations of the name.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bai_Juyi#Name_variants

    zdic also lists the "happy-go-lucky" meaning, but gives in addition "easy-going".

    http://www.zdic.net/c/0/109/285077.htm

    I've never heard anyone pronounce 樂天 other than as Lètiān in Modern Standard Mandarin, and in Japanese it is pronounced as Rakuten, which corresponds to the medieval Sinitic pronunciation of Lètiān.

    Indeed, 樂天 enters into many expressions that are current in Mandarin, and in all of them it is pronounced as lètiān, e.g.:

    lètiānpài 樂天派 ("optimist")

    lètiān-zhīmìng 樂天知命 (means roughly "having an optimistic attitude toward life; contented with one's lot")

    lètiān-ānmìng 樂天安命 (ditto)

    lètiān-rènmìng 樂天任命 (ditto)

    To justify the lètiān reading for 樂天, traditional and modern commentators usually explain it as meaning "happy / content [in subscribing to] Heaven's command / decree", rather than as "delighting in heaven", which would require us to read it as yàotiān.

    When I was looking into this last year and several times in previous years, I tried to find out if Japanese has now or ever had a pronunciation equivalent to yào for 樂. My recollection is that I was unable to determine that it ever had an equivalent pronunciation, which makes me wonder why not.

    Perhaps the readings for 樂 and 樂天 in Korean and Vietnamese might be useful in our further deliberations.

  12. Frank L Chance said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 1:28 pm

    With regard to the question of "if Japanese has now or ever had a pronunciation equivalent to yào for 樂," there are two uses of the character simplified as 楽 in modern Japanese. When referring to pleasure, it is pronounced "raku," also the name of the famous low-fired pottery and the family that created it. But the same character is also used for music, and pronounced "gaku" as in 音楽 ongaku music , 楽器 gakki musical instrument or 楽団 gakudan orchestra. I'm not sure this has any link to yào.

  13. julie lee said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

    @Wentao and @Frank L. Chance,

    Many thanks for the reconstructed Old Chinese initial ŋr- for 樂 and the Japanese raku, gaku for
    樂, which indicates an earlier initial gr-. Both help explain why 樂 bifurcated into yue/yao and le/lao, earlier ŋɔk/lɑk, and an even earlier ŋlɔk (or graku, from the Japanese) for "happy, happiness" .
    I see some parallel with the German word Gluck (with umlaut u) "happiness".

  14. julie lee said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

    p.s.
    Gluck should be Glück "happiness".

  15. Ross King said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    The Sino-Korean readings and glosses for 樂 are: 1) 즐길 락 [enjoy], 2) 풍류 악 or 음악 악 ([music], and 3) 좋아할 요. I.e., in Yale romanization, 1) lak, 2) ak, and 3) yo. The latter reading is hardly used; most 옥편 玉篇 okphyen give the Analects expression 樂山樂水(요산요수), but one can also find groups of hiking enthusiasts called 樂山會 (yosanhoy–group of people who like/enjoy mountains). E.g.: http://cafe.sayclub.com/mycafe_index.nwz?csrl=3923133.
    The standard way for modern-day Koreans to pronounce Bo Juyi's zi is Nakchen, with Nak from underlying 1) lak.

  16. Jongseong Park said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    In Korean, 樂 has the three readings 락 rak /ɾak/ "happy, enjoy", 악 ak /ak/ "music", and 요 yo /jo/ "like", corresponding to MSM readings of lè, yuè, and yào respectively. The first two readings are by far the most commonly encountered. For examples of the third reading, you have to bring up rare terms like 三樂 삼요 samyo /samjo/, the three sources of enjoyment mentioned in the Analects. Also, the saying that Wentao quoted earlier from the Analects, 仁者樂山, 智者樂水, is read 인자요산, 지자요수 injayosan jijayosu /indʑajosandʑidʑajosu/ in Korean.

    Most Koreans are only aware of these three readings, but some sources on the internet give an additional three very rare readings 료 ryo /ɾjo/, 록 rok /ɾok/, and 로 ro /ɾo/ for use in Classical Chinese texts. For instance, in the Classic of Poetry (詩經), the reading 료 ryo is supposedly used for 可以樂飢, hence 가이료기 gairyogi /kaiɾjoɡi/.

    Koreans read 樂天 as 낙천 nakcheon /naktɕʰʌn/, using the reading 락 rak with the rule that initial ㄹ r /ɾ/ in Sino-Korean turns into ㄴ n /n/ (unless in front of /i/ or /j/, in which case it turns to zero). Koreans in North Korea or China who don't apply this rule say 락천 rakcheon /naktɕʰʌn/. So Korean is like MSM or Japanese in choosing the "happy" reading here. 樂天 낙천 nakcheon is part of several expressions that are current in Korean, like 樂天的 낙천적 nakcheonjeok /naktɕʰʌndʑʌk/ "optimistic" or 樂天主義 낙천주의 nakcheonjuui /naktɕʰʌndʑu(ɰ)i/ "optimism".

  17. Stephan Stiller said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

    The Korean readings of 樂 are 락/낙 (lag/nag), 악 (ag), 요 (yo) [narrow RR transcription]. As far as I can tell, we have the following semantic mappings wrt Mandarin Chinese:
    • 낙(락): lè
    • 악: yuè
    • 요: ≈lè [the yào Victor Mair cites], "wish"
    Would anyone like to confirm/supplement/correct my information?

    KS X 1001 has different codepoints for the 4 readings. They are mapped (in that order) to U+F95C, U+F914, U+6A02, U+F9BF in Unicode, where all but the third one are considered "compatibility ideographs".

    I really think that lexicographic sources need to be better at semantic differentiation of readings of polyphonetic characters. I also think that for Mandarin (and other Chinese-s, for that matter) we need to differentiate between present-day vernacular usage and potential differentiation for a historical recitation of LS (Literary Sinitic) texts. How to "properly" read LS is indeed an interesting question.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    From Alexander Vovin:

    Besides raku 'pleasant' and gaku 'music', Sino-Japanese also has gau (MdJ goo) 'to like' and rau (MdJ roo) — this last one seems to be confined to the reading of a specific name in Lunyu: 伯楽. Both gau and rau seem to be obsolete in modern J. As far as I know, Korean has only nak (< lak) and ak (< Middle Korean ngak), but Ross King will be a better authority on Korean than me.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    From Wolfgang Behr:

    As Wentao already pointed out, 樂 had three Middle Chinese readings in the Guangyun 廣韻, which — using the Baxter Sagart-System of Middle Chinese transcription/Old Chinese reconstruction — correspond to

    a. le4: 盧各切,來鐸入一開, glossed as "joy; to enjoy" (喜樂) MC *lak from *rˤawk

    b. yue4: 五角切,疑覺入二開, glossed as "music" (音樂), MC *ngaewk from OC *ŋˤrawk

    c. yao4: 五教切,疑肴去二開, glossed as "to be fond of, love" (好也) MC *ngaewH from OC *ŋˤrawk-s

    (aside: maybe OC *ŋˤrawk "music" and its qusheng-derivation *ŋˤrawk-s are from *N-k-rˤawk(s) originally, if Starostin & Peiros are right in comparing Tibetan 'grags-pa "to cry, sound, resound", Lepcha grik "noise," etc., but it's hard to pinpoint the functions of the two prefixes).

    In comprehensive modern dictionaries, such as the HYDCD, there is also a fourth pronunciation luo4 for reduplicated 樂樂 "resolutely, steadfastly", which developed from the same MC reading as le4, apparently in analogy to luo4luo4 落落 "aloof", "poised". Traditionally it is assumed that Bai Juyi 白居易 chose his "style" or "initiation name" (zi4 字) from the following passage in the Xici section of the Yijing 易經 ("Classic of changes"):

    旁行而不流,樂天知命,故不懮。
    "[The sage] … moves on the margins (or: roams into all directions, or: acts according to the circumstances — many possible interpretations) without drifting away, rejoices in heaven and knows its mandate: therefore he is not anxious."

    While it is pretty clear that 樂天 is a predicate-object construction here because it is parallel to 知命, this doesn't help us in deciding between readings a. and c. Now the Jingdian Shiwen 經典釋文 by Lu Deming 陸德明 (556-627), which is the earliest extant source of reading variants in the classics, comments on the Yijing in question passage as follows:

    樂天,音洛,注同。虞作「變天」
    (see http://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=439371&searchu=樂天)

    Ignoring for a moment the non-phonological information given here and the possibility raised by the quoted Ms. variant that the "original" text had bian4 變 instead of 樂, the phonological gloss says that 樂 is pronounced like luo4 洛, i.e. MC *lak from OC Cə.rˤak. In other words, it suggests the reading which develops into Modern Chinese le4, thus "rejoice in heaven".

    While there is some evidence in Bai Juyi's work, I think, which confirms that his style was indeed taken from the Yijing passage (although I don't have time to check that now), it is an entirely different question, of course, whether he differentiated between the two verbal readings i. in his poetry at all and/or ii. in his own dialect (he was born in Taiyuan but spent most of his childhood in Henan). It may well be possible to verify i. since there are good electronic editions of his poetry, in which 樂 may occur often enough in rhyming positions to see the difference between a departing tone and an entering tone reading; whether ii. applies, seems almost impossible to know, unless some contemporary text would have commented on the issue. Finally, whether or not the reading yao4 is maintained in modern dictionaries is again an entirely unrelated problem, which has more to do with some normative decisions by 20th c. lexicographers than with either the Middle Chinese backgrounds or the factual modern pronunciations in standard Putonghua or Guoyu.

  20. Matt Anderson said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

    The multiple meanings/pronunciations of 樂 really are fascinating.

    Some time ago, I noticed something in Zhū Xī’s 朱熹 annotations for “Zhōng yōng” 中庸 (in his Sìshū zhāngjù jízhù 四書章句集注; “Zhōng yōng” is usually translated “Doctrine of the Mean") that intrigued me. The character 樂 appears 7 times in the chapter, with the following (approximate) meanings:

    1: “joy" (section 1: 喜怒哀樂之未發,謂之中)
    2, 3: "delightful"; "take delight in” (section 15: 《詩》曰:妻子好合,如鼓瑟琴;兄弟既翕,和樂且耽。宜爾室家,樂爾妻帑)
    4: “joyful" (section 17: 《詩》曰:嘉樂君子,憲憲令德;宜民宜人,受祿于天;保佑命之,自天申之)
    5: “music" (section 19: 奏其樂)
    6, 7: “music” (section 28: 雖有其位,苟無其德,不敢作禮樂焉;雖有其德,苟無其位,亦不敢作禮樂焉)

    Zhu Xi twice notes the pronunciation of the graph (in sections 1 and 15), both times writing “樂音洛” ("樂 is pronounced 洛”). 洛 is pronounced luò in MSM, but it should have had the same reading in Middle Chinese as the reading of 樂 equivalent to MSM lè. The Guǎngyùn 廣韻 (compiled in the early 11th century, Zhu Xi’s annotations date to 1190, less than 2 centuries later) gives both luò 洛 and lè 樂 the same fǎnqiè reading: 盧各切 (lɑk).

    Both of these annotations are interesting to me. The first one (for lè 樂 in xǐ nù aī lè 喜怒哀樂 “happiness, anger, sorrow, and joy”) is interesting because lè seems to be the only conceivable reading in this very balanced phrase. I can’t imagine that one of Zhu Xi’s students could possibly have misunderstood the meaning in this context. So then why does he specify the reading? Could the pronunciations of lè 樂 and luò 洛 have already begun diverging, and for some reason Zhu Xi thought it important to pronounce the word lè here with the contemporary pronunciation of the word now pronounced luò? Or did he just have a really stupid student who somehow read this passage as something like “when happy, angry, and sorrowful music has not yet arisen, this is called ’the mean'"?

    The second is interesting because, at least in its second usage in the passage, I understand the word in question to mean “to take delight in” (“make your household correct; delight in your wife and children” 宜爾室家,樂爾妻帑), in which case the traditional reading should be yào, not lè (though, incidentally, I was certainly taught the pronunciation lè for 樂 "to take delight in”). So, either Zhu Xi read 樂 ‘to take delight in” as the ancestor of the pronunciation lè, already conflating the two readings, or he interpreted this passage to mean something like “correct is your household; happy are your wife and children” (宜爾室家,樂爾妻帑) (or, I guess, "make your household correct, make your wife and children happy”?). It is also possible that he intends to clarify the reading of the earlier occurrence of 樂 in the section, but this seems unlikely, as he comments on 耽, which occurs between the two uses of 樂, before he comments on 樂.

    So, I guess these different readings have been tripping up readers for a long time.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    From Miki Morita:

    I did a bit of research, and it seems that there is "ぎょうgyoo ['oo' represents long vowels]" to read 楽 in Japan. Possibly, it has only survived in Buddhist terms, and not quite corresponding to "yao" in Chinese. Some people say that Buddhist terms are often read in "呉音" for their pronunciation.

    http://kanjijoho.com/kanji/kanji222.html

    楽欲 ぎょうよく gyooyoku
    http://cjjc.weblio.jp/content/%E6%A5%BD%E6%AC%B2

    愛楽 あいぎょう aigyoo
    http://cjjc.weblio.jp/content/%E6%84%9B%E6%A5%BD

    楽説寺 ぎょうせつじ Gyoosetsu ji (name of a temple)
    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%A5%BD%E8%AA%AC%E5%AF%BA

    Other than this "gyoo", I do not know any variations. Maybe some might be found in Japanese classics.

  22. julie lee said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

    @Wolfgang Behr:

    Re. the quote from Xici of Yijing:
    "旁行而不流,樂天知命。。。" (translated as "[The sage] moves on the margins, without drifting away" , happy in Heaven['s will] and knowing Heaven's mandate…

    I wonder if it could be read as " [ the sage] moves on the margins, without flowing with the [main]stream [i.e. without following the crowd]", happy in Heaven['s will] and knowing Heaven's mandate…

  23. Victor Mair said,

    May 21, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

    From Daniel Trambaiolo:

    @VHM ("My recollection is that I was unable to determine that [Japanese] ever had an equivalent pronunciation [to yào], which makes me wonder why not."):
    In China and Korea, the reading yào/yo seems to have been remembered mostly because of its connection to the passage in the Analects – how common are post-Qin examples of this pronunciation that are not explicit allusions to this passage? The Buddhist examples listed by Miki Morita should be traceable back to China, but other examples might be difficult to locate. (Wolfgang Behr suggests looking for yào in verse, but surely a verb meaning "to be fond of" would always be followed by an object and thus wouldn’t normally occur in a rhyming position?)

    Traditional Japanese scholars who knew the commentaries on the Analects would have been aware of the fanqie spelling corresponding to MSM yào, and this reading is listed in modern kanji dictionaries: (Kan-on) gau = MdJ gō; (Go-on) geu = MdJ gyō. However, even people who enjoyed dropping casual references to the Analects in daily conversation would have had few occasions to use these pronunciations, since in quoting or alluding to the Analects it would have been more normal to use kundoku — "yama wo tanoshimu" 山を楽しむ, etc. Apart from the Buddhist examples mentioned by Miki Morita, most people wouldn’t encounter gau(gō)/geu(gyō) unless they were (i) reading Chinese texts in sodoku 素読 style (pronouncing the kanji using on-yomi and retaining the Chinese word order, e.g. when reciting Chinese texts in a schoolroom or chanting Buddhist sutras); or (ii) classical scholars with a particular interest in historical phonology.

    @Alexander Vovin:
    To expand slightly regarding the pronunciation of 楽 as rau/rō in the name of the mythical horse physiognomist Bole 伯樂, which might be somewhat confusing to readers less familiar with Japanese – this pronunciation arose within Japan via sound change from the standard pronunciation "raku" (= MSM lè; Korean rak/nak), so it isn’t strictly a Sino-Japanese pronunciation in the normal sense (i.e. there is no corresponding Middle Chinese *lau, MSM *lào, etc.).

    As a proper noun referring to Bole, the usual pronunciation of 伯楽 in modern Japanese is still "Haku Raku," but at least as early as the thirteenth century Bole’s name also came to be used as a common noun meaning "horse expert/veterinarian/trader." As a common noun, it could be pronounced either as "hakuraku" (written 伯楽) or with sound changes as "bakurau/bakurō" (written 伯楽, 博労 or 馬喰). I would guess most Japanese people today would always read 伯楽 as "hakuraku" unless there were furigana directing them to pronounce it otherwise, and a writer who wanted readers to read "bakurō" would normally either add furigana or use one of the other ateji spellings. (The spelling 馬喰 is particularly interesting as it hints at the false etymology "horses eating" or perhaps "horse-eating" (!); people who have spent time in Tokyo will know Bakurochō 馬喰町, which was originally located on a route connecting Edo with the northeast and was thus a natural gathering place for people dealing with horses.)

  24. JQ said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 7:47 am

    Surely, the Old Chinese reconstruction of "ngraok" does not EXPLAIN the splitting of the phoneme, but is merely inferred from the fact that it is split?

  25. Daniel Trambaiolo said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 7:58 am

    Actually, that was careless of me – I should have double checked in a few more dictionaries before leaping to conclusions. There was indeed a Middle Chinese pronunciation for the second syllable of Bole corresponding to MSM lao – it wasn't just a Japanese sound change:
    《唐韻》魯刀切,音勞。《廣韻》伯樂相馬。一作博勞。

  26. Victor Mair said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 8:31 am

    From Daniel Trambaiolo:

    My remarks about the reading corresponding to MSM yào were also made in too great haste – this pronunciation was certainly not restricted to the Analects passage, and is attested for example in a Tang-dynasty commentary on the Shiji: 勝為人樂酒【正義】樂,五教反。

    (I found this example and a few others through a database search for "五教反", which actually didn't turn up too many other hits – a couple from Yan Shigu's commentary on the Hanshu, and a few in commentaries on the Shijing – but someone with access to better databases might be able to use the same method to find more examples.)

  27. Brendan said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 11:20 am

    For what it's worth, Mathews' dictionary lists "樂天知命" under the reading "lè" on p. 592, rather than under the reading "yào" on p. 593. Obviously, this doesn't say anything about how 白居易 would have pronounced the character, but perhaps it does suggest that "yào" was being applied inconsistently in Mathews' time, when it was still known as a reading for the character.

  28. Victor Mair said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

    From a colleague:

    …many people, both knowledgeable scholars and lay folk, both Chinese and non-Chinese, have trouble with the grammar of voice and mood. Letian like lechang both seem like active-putative to me: find delight in heaven and the taste; so, "Delight in Heaven" for the one, and "Delight in the taste" for the other, but as a name for a restaurant in English it won't fly, so how about "Delightful taste"? Or "Delightful Eats"? "Delightful Cuisine"? etc. The "happy" in restaurant and other Chinese business names has always struck me as Chingchong Chinaman jargon, worth a laugh maybe but everyone, Chinese and non-Chinese, should have grown out of such usage by now.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    May 22, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

    From a Japanese colleague:

    As Frank Chance said, Japanese pronunciation of 楽 is either raku or gaku, but 薬 is pronunced as yaku in On reading. 薬 is pronounced as yao in Chinese, isn't it? Is it possible to think that 楽 and 薬 share something semantically in common. 薬 might have derived from 楽, and it took over 'yao' pronunciation from 楽, which is no longer in use for 楽.

  30. Josh said,

    May 23, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

    and it is always irritating to meet someone whose family name is 乐, since either reading is possible..

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