Sino-Mongolian toponymy, part 2

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[This is a guest post by Bathrobe]

Global Times have an article on the archaeological site mentioned in this recent LL post:

"Questionable Sino-Mongolian toponymy" (1/18/18)

The Global Times article is "Chinese-Mongolian archeological team study mysterious Xiongnu city" (2/5/18) by Huang Tingting.  The relevant section is:

Since 2014, Song's institute, the National Museum of Mongolia and the International College of Nomadic Culture of Mongolia have been excavating the Khermen Tal City site at the junction of the Orkhon River and one of its major tributaries – the Tamir River, also named Hudgiyn Denj, literally Three Interconnected Cities.

There is a problem, but it isn't really their fault. The name Hudgiyn Denj does not appear to mean 'three interconnected cities'. In fact, it would appear to mean 'well fortress' (худаг = '[water] well'). The Global Times article probably took this information from an earlier article at kaogu.cn about the dig site:

"Archaeological excavations at the Khermen Tal site in Arkhangai Province, Mongolia" (1/18/18)

Still, this is a big, big improvement. Do Global Times editors perhaps read LL? [VHM: Yes.]

The reason I didn't react earlier is that I'm not really sure what худгийн дэнж means.

Дэнж means 'terrace, hillock' (not 'fortress', although the ruins of old fortresses seem to be associated with hillocks).

Худаг means 'well'. But in the genitive, худгийн means 'well's' or 'of the well'. So the combined meaning of худгийн дэнж would be 'well's terrace/hillock'.

Худгийн бүтээмж means 'well's output', худгийн түвшин means 'well's water level', худгийн хашлага means 'well fence', худгийн соруул means 'well pump'. Perhaps худгийн дэнж means 'a hillock belonging to the well'…

But if it was simply a hillock with a well, it would, I should think, be худагтай дэнж ('hillock with well').

Since I'm not sure I'm loath to comment either way. The only thing that looks reasonably certain to me is that худгийн дэнж doesn't mean 'tripartite city'.

—————-

VHM note:

One of the most characteristic features of Peking / Beijing and other northern Chinese cities are the narrow alleys / lanes called hútòng 胡同 / 衚衕.  This name comes from the Mongolian term meaning "well" referred to by Bathrobe above, viz., худаг.



10 Comments »

  1. ~flow said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 5:12 am

    It's curious that 衚衕 hutong, which I understand to refer to the alleys (geometric lines that allow for traffic), comes from a word that denotes wells (geometric points). This reminds me of Japanese まち 'city quarter, block of houses' (points), which is (among others) written with the character 街 that seems to be more associated with geometric lines, i.e. streets in Chinese.

    Does the use of the word 衚衕 hutong have any connection with the character 井 'well' or the way it is sometimes explained (as depicting the floor plan of eight family plots around a central square with a well, no matter how dubious that explanation might be)?

    I imagine that in the hutongs, many compounds might have had a well in the center, so I can understand that "well" becomes associated with "dwelling" (cf how "court" and "yard" in English, "Hof" in German have evolved and diversified).

  2. Jichang Lulu said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 5:53 am

    The article by J.Gantulga on Tamir valley archaeology I meant to link to in the previous 'Sino-Mongolian toponymy' post (I actually linked to the author's page) doesn't mention a Khudgiin denj, but it does have a site named Хугдийн толгой Khudgiin tolgoi ᠬᠤᠳᠳᠤᠭ ᠤᠨ ᠲᠣᠯᠣᠭᠠᠢ, similar in meaning. It's not treated as synonymous with our Kheremt/Khermen tal, but their relative locations aren't specified. Perhaps some of the articles referenced in Gantulga's paper could help clarify the matter.

  3. languagehat said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 8:48 am

    It's curious that 衚衕 hutong, which I understand to refer to the alleys (geometric lines that allow for traffic), comes from a word that denotes wells (geometric points).

    But a well is not a geometric point; it only looks like one seen from far above. It is actually a long, thin passageway — something like an alley, only vertical rather than horizontal.

  4. Chris Button said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 11:38 am

    @ ~flow

    This reminds me of Japanese まち 'city quarter, block of houses' (points), which is (among others) written with the character 街 that seems to be more associated with geometric lines, i.e. streets in Chinese.

    While I can't comment on the etymology of the native Japanese word まち, the two characters 町 and 街 have distinct etymologies in terms of their Old Chinese origins.

    町 *tʰáɲʔ is related to the rectangle (long ago deformed to a t-like shape) 丁 *táɲ which is also attested in 天 *tʰə́ɲ (via the ə/a ablaut and as such clearly cannot originally have had a lateral initial as is unfortunately so often mistakenly reconstructed these days). The sense of 町 is thus that of "region" in relation to 丁 "rectangle" and 天 "rex, realm" all of which share a similar semantic link in Proto-Indo-European.

    In the case of 街 *kráj, the sense is more like that of "gantlet" or Swedish "gata" (street) in comparison with words like 奎 qʰáj in a sense of "gait" and 窪 *qráj in a sense of Dutch "gat" (hole) or the original sense of "gate" as an opening. Again the semantic connection is shared in the Indo-European languages.

  5. Francis Boyle said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 11:58 am

    Clearly geometric properties are not preserved under semantic transformation. It has always felt slighlty wrong to me that 'dam' can mean both a wall to retain water (a linear feature) and a body of water (very much not linear). But I'm sure that the process by which the two meanings developed was not in any way abnormal.

  6. Andy said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 12:51 pm

    The phrasing at the end of that passage isn't great; I initially took 'Hudgiyn Denj' to refer to the Tamir River, not the site. Interestingly enough, the Mongolian writer of a Russian-language article (which is in fact a word-for-word translation of the Global Times piece) makes the same mistake in attributing this name to the river ('…реки Тамир, также называемой…), but notices that the original translation is wrong and interpolates 'или Гурван Хэрэм' ('or Three City Walls').
    http://asiarussia.ru/articles/18919/ (fourth paragraph).

    I've been unable to find any instances of Гурван Хэрэм as a name occurring before this article, however, so it's surely an off-the-cuff coinage. It's hard to know how худгийн дэнж has crept into the proceedings at all, unless it merely refers to some feature of the surrounding land whose name was mistakenly applied to the archaeological site as a whole.

  7. Chris Button said,

    February 12, 2018 @ 10:29 pm

    @ languagehat

    But a well is not a geometric point; it only looks like one seen from far above. It is actually a long, thin passageway — something like an alley, only vertical rather than horizontal.

    This actually chimes pretty well with the semantic comparison of Swedish "gata" (street) and Dutch "gat" (hole) with 街 and 窪 if one takes a street as an alley and a hole as a well.

  8. Rodger C said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 8:09 am

    @Francis Boyle: Interesting. I've never used "dam" to mean a reservoir or impoundment. American, WV, 1948.

  9. Francis Boyle said,

    February 13, 2018 @ 10:31 am

    @Rodger C

    I wondered about that. It's a common usage in Australia referring, specifically I think, to a small(ish) artificially created pond or waterhole (usally these days dug with a backhoe).

  10. Rodger C said,

    February 15, 2018 @ 8:05 am

    Francis Boyle, Australia certainly has its own topographical terms. My friends used to say that the film Ferngully would have been more popular if the producers had given it a different name in the knowledge that "gully" in the rest of the anglosphere means "barren, eroded ditch."

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