Buddhist enrichment of Sino-Japanese vocabulary

I'm often surprised by the number of terms in modern Japanese that have their roots in ancient Buddhist usage.  Some of the most common ones are introduced in this article by Brendan Craine from The Japan Times (2/2/23):

"The Buddhist terms that find their way into everyday conversation"

A good example is aisatsu あいさつ /  挨拶:

    [noun] a greeting, a salutation, a polite set phrase
    [noun] an address given at an official function or ceremony
    [noun] greetings or respects such as given at holidays or funerals
    [verb] to greet, to say hello, to address

This derives from ichiaiissatsu / いちあいいっさつ / 一挨一拶:  "dialoging (with another Zen practitioner to ascertain their level of enlightenment)​" (source).

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Taylor Swift fanilect

By now I must have listened to Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" a hundred times.  The first fifty times I heard a crucial line in it as "Got only Starbucks lovers" or "Not only Starbucks lovers", and it was driving me crazy because I couldn't make sense of it.  Sometimes I forced myself to believe that she was saying "Got only starcrossed lovers", but that didn't make sense either.  Then, on December 4, 2014, I read Mark Liberman's "All the lonely Starbucks lovers" on Language Log, and I learned — much to my astonishment — that, according to the lyrics, she was supposedly saying — repeatedly in the song — "Got a long list of ex-lovers".  Still today, after listening to the song and watching the video countless more times, plus reading the printed lyrics, I hear her sing "Got / Not only Starbucks lovers", never "Got a long list of ex-lovers".

Thus I am simultaneously assailed by multiple Taylor Swift mondegreens and polyphonic earworms ("trouble, trouble, trouble; shake, shake, shake it off").

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"On Dialogic Speech"

Thanks to yesterday's post on "Linguistic Laws", I spent a few minutes looking into the life and works of the Russian linguist Lav Jakubinskiy (or Lev Yakubinsky, or whatever transliteration you prefer). I don't think I've heard of him before — but a couple of things (and not Jakubinskiy's Law) convinced me that I should have. The main thing was what I learned about his 1923 work О диалогической речи ("On Dialogic Speech"). I haven't been able to find any online scans of the Russian original, but there's a 1997 PMLA article by Michael Eskin that offers some translated fragments along with a "Translator's Introduction", and a 2016 book, also due to Eskin, that offers a larger translated sample.

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Open / close sesame

Marvelous post in Pinyin News by Mark Swofford:

Pinyin, US trademark law, and myths about Chinese characters

    芝麻 vs. ZHIMA

Posted on Sunday, February 5, 2023

The entire post, and the legal ruling that it reports, are of such importance in clarifying the interrelationships among language, transcription, and translation, especially for those who have an interest in the combination of legalistic and linguistic reasoning, that I will quote the better portion of it, starting from the beginning:

The Mandarin word for “sesame” is zhīma (written “芝麻” in Chinese characters). That’s all the Mandarin anyone will need to know for this post. But if any of you non-Mandarin speakers are curious, an approximate pronunciation would be the je in jerk + ma (with the a as in father).

OK, let’s get into it now.

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Linguistic Laws

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Artificial Intelligence in Language Education: with a note on GPT-3

Registration is open for Artificial Intelligence in Language Education

Please join us for Penn Language Center's annual Language Educator Symposium, co-sponsored by Educational Linguistics at Penn GSE
Symposium: Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Kislak Center, Van Pelt Library
Pre-Symposium Workshop: Friday, March 24, 2023 in the Collaborative Classroom, Van Pelt Library
Featured Speakers
  • Eleni Miltsakaki, Department of Computer & Information Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • Gareth Roberts, Department of Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania
  • Per Urlaub, Global Languages, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Eva Dessein, Global Languages, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Iryna Kozlova, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania
Visit our symposium website for a detailed program and registration information. This is an in-person only event. Space is limited so register today!

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Canaanite in the news again

The 4,000-year-old tablets reveal translations for 'lost' language, including a love song.
(Image credit: Left: Rudolph Mayr/Courtesy Rosen Collection. Right: Courtesy David I. Owen)


Cryptic lost Canaanite language decoded on 'Rosetta Stone'-like tablets

Two ancient clay tablets from Iraq contain details of a "lost" Canaanite language.

By Tom Metcalfe, Live Science, Jan. 30, 2023

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Bloopers and boners

The following mistranslations have been drawn from this collection:

"50 Times Signs Were So Hilariously Translated, People Just Had To Share Them Online", Liucija Adomaite and Justinas Keturka, Bored Panda (about a week ago)

Of the fifty items collected here, I've already dealt with more than half of them in other posts, and another portion are too lame to worry about.

Here goes:

Forgot to turn on the Spanish translator.

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Unususual Original

From the Facebook account of Mei Han:

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Named anatomy

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "If an anatomical structure is named for a person, it means they were the only person to have it. Pierre Paul Broca had a special area of his brain that created powerful magnetic fields, enabling him to do 19th century fMRI research."

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Japanese proverbial wisdom of the ages

Article by Richard Medhurst:

"Dust into Mountains: Patience and Perseverance in Japanese Proverbs", Nippon.com (1/27/23)

Eleven items in three categories


Strive Another Day

七転び八起きNana korobi ya oki. To “fall seven times and get up eight” means to remain unbowed despite repeated failure, and keep striving to achieve something. The phrase is often associated with the round red-and-white figures of Daruma (Bodhidarma), the Buddhist monk whose steadfast meditation led to the withering of his arms and legs.

石の上にも三年Ishi no ue ni mo san nen. Sit “on a stone for three years” and finally one can warm it up, in this saying encouraging endurance.

塵も積もれば山となるChiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru. “If dust piles up, it will become a mountain.” In other words, many small actions continued over time can lead to unexpectedly large and significant results.

待てば海路の日和ありMateba kairo no hiyori ari. “Wait and fine weather will come on the sea routes.” If the outlook is stormy now, it is better to wait for the right conditions than take immediate action.

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Ashkenazi click sounds, part 2

Following up on their query which formed the basis for "Ashkenazi click sounds" (1/27/23), Dana F. appends this additional valuable information:

I have been searching for a while and have not been able to find anything on Youtube (my theory is that it is used in casual speech only, and people might not do it as often when being filmed for that reason). However, I did find this article that discusses it and describes it as a "hesitation click." By googling "hesitation click," I also found this article and this relevant, and really interesting, quote:

Benor lists several features that make all Orthodox speech special, such as a high number of loanwords from Hebrew and Yiddish, far more than are found in the vocabulary of non-Orthodox American Jews; Yiddish-influenced phrasing, as in English sentences like “I want you should come right away” or “We’re staying by my in-laws on Shabbos,” and Yiddish-influenced phonetic deviations, such as a full “t”-sound at the end of words and syllables. (An example of this would be saying “right” with the same “t” as is heard in “today,” as opposed to the partially swallowed or glottalized final “t” of American English.)

Two other peculiarities complete Benor’s list. One is a singsong “talmudic” intonation, particularly in sentences with logical reasoning expressed in dependent clauses like, “If you were going to the grocery anyway, why didn’t you buy some bread?” The other is what Benor calls a “hesitation click” — a “tsk”-sound used, like “um,” to give the speaker time to think of what to say next. (Although she is no doubt correct in ascribing this to Israeli influence, she errs in thinking that it is used this way in Israeli Hebrew. The Israeli “tsk” simply means “No,” although when occurring in midsentence in what Binor rightly calls a “corrective click,” this “no” can have the sense of, “On second thought, that isn’t what I really wanted to say, so I’ll try to say it again.” This is probably how, misinterpreted by Orthodox American Jews exposed to Israeli speech, it became an American Jewish “hesitation click.”)

This gives some context to the origin, although it does not explain how the meaning of the click evolved from Hebrew ("no") to simply a filler word that is used, in my experience, multiple times per sentence.

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The French?

Roger Cohen, "The French Want to Remain The French", NYT 1/27/2023:

As an exercise in style, the tweet from The Associated Press Stylebook appeared to strain taste and diplomacy: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college educated.”

At least it looked offensive to the French, or perhaps rather to people of Frenchness, or people with Gallic inclinations, or people under the influence of French civilization. The French noted that they had been placed between the “mentally ill” and the “disabled.”

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