Archive for Pronunciation

The pragmatic and innovative Choe Sejin — 15th-16th c. Korean phonetician, translator, and interpreter

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]


The Statue of King Sejong in Downtown Seoul.

The brilliance of good king Sejong (1397-1450) overshadows another great mind of Joseon Korea, a middle-class man named Choe Sejin (1465-1542).

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Ten different ways to pronounce -ough

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How to pronounce the surname "Mair" and other Doggie talk

People pronounce my surname all sorts of different ways — Myer, Mare, Meer, Mire, as in Golda Meir, etc., etc., with the number of syllables (one or two), accent, and vowel quality varying almost limitlessly  — but I've never once in my life "corrected" anyone, because I think they're all legitimate.  Think of the different ways to pronounce Sun Yat-sen's and Chiang Kai-shek's names, and how to pronounce 陈 (Chen, Chin, Chan, Tan).

After all, people in the same family may pronounce their own surname differently, e.g., Boucher ("Butcher, Boochez"), Naquin ("Na-can, Næ-kwin"), and the famous Penn Sinologist Derk Bodde (1909-2003) introduced himself as "Derek Bod", whereas most other people called him "Durk Bod-de").

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Betelgeuse in Greek, Latin, Arabic, English, and Chinese

AntC led me down a deep, dark rabbit hole by asking:  "Hi Professor Mair, is the Contributing Writer confused, or is it the interwebs?"

He was prompted to ask that question by having read the following statement in this article, "Orion’s love affair, Shen Xiu’s long-distance friendship on Taiwan’s winter sky", Taiwan News, by P.K. Chen, Contributing Writer (2/8/22):

The Greek constellation Orion is called “Shen Xiu” (參宿, “The Three Stars”) in China; “Shen” or “three” refers to the three stars on Orion’s belt, while “Xiu” or “place for rest” refers to where the moon remains fixed and “rests.”

Trying to figure out the relationships among the names of the constellation and its constituent stars in Greco-Latin and Sinitic nomenclature ate up an entire evening.  To start with, there are many possibilities for how to pronounce 參宿, the Chinese equivalent to Orion (constellation name): sānsù (Google Traslate), cānsù (zdic), shēnxiù (Wiktionary).  So we've got a lot of variation involving both characters of the term.  But that's just the beginning of our attempts to grapple with the language and lore concerning Sinoxenic words for Orion. 

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Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong

Under the rubric, "An Odd Question", Doug Adams (the Tocharianist) asked:

Why do we always refer to Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) and Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) in Cantonese (?) phonological form rather than Mandarin?

Simple reply

Before about 1975, Cantonese was by far the most widespread and prevalent Sinitic language around the world outside of China, and Sun's Cantonese art name, Yat-sen, was so deeply ingrained and familiar in English for decades — both in speech and in writing — that it would have been very difficult to change it to Mandarin Yìxiān 逸仙 ("Liberated Transcendent").  Anyway, he had many other different names for different purposes, and some of them were as popular as Yat-sen, e.g., Chung-shan / Zhongshan, which actually derives from a Japanese pseudonym / nom de guerre (Nakayama Kikori [see below]) given to him by a Japanese friend.  Chung-shan / Zhongshan 中山 was / is so widespread in China that his hometown was renamed after it, making Zhongshan one of the few cities in China to be named after a person.  Zhongshan is also used as the name of the style of jacket that Sun Yat-sen liked to wear:  Zhongshan suit (simplified Chinese: 中山装; traditional Chinese: 中山裝; pinyin: Zhōngshān zhuāng), but in the PRC it came to be known as the Mao suit.  (I'm the proud owner of a Zhongshan suit, which I had tailor made in Taipei in 1971.)  There are dozens of other things and places called Zhongshan in China, a few of them referring to states from much earlier times that are completely unrelated to Sun Yat-sen / Zhongshan, for which see here.

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Serial blind dates

This story (referencing Australian ABC News [1/13/22], with video)  has been doing the rounds in the Taiwan media:

"Chinese bachelorette locked in blind date's apartment after Henan's snap lockdown:

Woman says her date's performance under lockdown left much to be desired"

By Liam Gibson, Taiwan News (1/14/22)

This extraordinary report begins thus:

An unmarried Chinese woman surnamed Wang (王) had her blind date dramatically extended by several days after authorities announced an immediate lockdown.

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The foreign origins of the lion dance and words for "lion" in Sinitic

Here at Language Log, we have shown how the most common word for "lion" in Sinitic, shī 獅, has Iranian and / or Tocharian connections (see "Selected readings").  The etymological and phonological details will be sketched out below.  For a magisterial survey, see Wolfgang Behr, "Hinc [sic] sunt leones — two ancient Eurasian, migratory terms in Chinese revisited", International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 9 (2004), 1-53.  This learned essay has appeared in multiple guises and many places (I knew it originally and best while it was still in draft, perhaps back in the 90s), so I don't know which one the author considers to be the most authoritative version.  Perhaps he will enlighten us in the comments to this post.

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Child child child child child child child child child child child child child

Following on the hoofs of "Sumomomomomomomomo" (11/17/21), here's another good one, from rit majors:


(source)

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Green needle vs. brainstorm

Remember "Yanny vs. Laurel", the viral acoustic sensation (28.2M views) of mid-May, 2018?  It was covered extensively on Language Log (see the items under "Selected readings" below).  Now we have another supposedly ambiguous recording that has gone viral (5.3M views [posted 7/3/21]):

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Bezoar

Yesterday I went to Philadelphia's famed Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians.  I hadn't been there for about 35 years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with some favored old exhibits (human beings with long horns growing out of their forehead, fetuses at all stages of formation and deformation, bodies with extra heads and limbs, gigantic tumors and colons, etc.), though a few of the most famous items had disappeared (e.g., shrunken heads, apparently because they had been "unethically procured").

One of the most striking exhibits — for me, since most people probably would not pay much, if any attention to it — was the one about bezoars.  They are nondescript objects that look like stony balls.  Even in section, they are not very exciting to look at, because they are basically a hard, indigestible mass of material such as hair, plant fibers, or seeds that form in the stomach or intestines of animals, especially ruminants, sometimes also humans.

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Scammers and swindlers with accents

The focus of this post is the nature and modus operandi of the piànzi 騙子 ("swindler; scammer").

According to this article in Chinese, scammers do not speak good Mandarin because having an "accent" enables them to carry out target screening.  Such an argument may seem like a bit of a stretch, but let's see how this supposedly works out through the eyes of two Mandarin speaking PRC citizens who have been the intended victims of the schemes of such piànzi 騙子, who pose as representing banks and other financial institutions, public security bureaus, and so forth.

I

The article suggests that there are three reasons why phone scammers speak in strong topolect accents rather than standard Mandarin:1. Accent serves as a "mechanism of filtration", because those who are not sensitive enough to non-Mandarin accents and who can't recognize what is or is not Mandarin are more prone to fraud. 2. The scammers are simply not capable of speaking standard Mandarin given the current situation of Mandarin popularization in China. The scammers are more likely to be unschooled, and they usually share the same accent. 3. It is because of the high illiteracy rate in China that many people can't tell frauds from reliable phone calls made by authentic institutions.

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Xiongnu (Hunnic) Shanyu

One of the most hotly debated questions in early Chinese studies is the origin and pronunciation of the title of the ruler of the Xiongnu (Huns), which is written with these two Sinographs, 單于.  The current scholarly consensus is that the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation should be chányú.  Although it is much contested, the current scholarly consensus for the pronunciation of the name of the son of the first Xiongnu ruler, Tóumàn, is Mòdú (r. 209-174 BC): 

Modun, Maodun, Modu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdùn Chányú ~ Màodùn Chányú, c. 234 – c. 174 BCE), also known as Mete khan across a number of Turkic languages, was the son of Touman and the founder of the empire of the Xiongnu. He came to power by ordering his men to kill his father in 209 BCE.

(source)

The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang, which takes a different approach, and for the first time offers a novel source for the Hunnic title.  The state he refers to is Shanshan, better known as Loulan, which would make its language Indo-European (Tocharian or Gandhari Prakrit), for which see here.

For caṃkura as a Gandhari Prakrit title, see A Dictionary of Gāndhārī here.

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The language of Genghis Khan

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

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