Archive for Etymology

Languages and cultures of Central Asia

Herewith, I wish to announce the publication of a stupendous Festschrift in honor of András Róna-Tas’s 90th birthday. 

András Róna-Tas, distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Szeged, Hungary, winner of several international prestigious prizes, has devoted his long academic career to the study of Chuvash, Turkic elements in Hungarian, Mongolic-Tibetan linguistic contacts, the Para-Mongolic language Khitan and other Central Asian languages and cultures.

This book, presented to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday, contains a collection of papers in Turkic and Mongolic Studies, with a focus on the literacy, culture, and languages of the steppe civilizations. It is organized in three sections: Turkic Studies, Mongolic Studies, and Linguistic and cultural contacts of Altaic languages. It contains papers by some of the most renowned experts in Central Asia Studies.

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Midwife

"A person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth."  AHDEL

But not always a woman:

Men rarely practice midwifery for cultural and historical reasons. In ancient Greece, midwives were required by law to have given birth themselves, which prevented men from joining their ranks. In 17th century Europe, some barber surgeons, all of whom were male, specialized in births, especially births requiring the use of surgical instruments. This eventually developed into a professional split, with women serving as midwives and men becoming obstetricians. Men who work as midwives are called midwives (or male midwives, if it is necessary to identify them further) or accoucheurs; the term midhusband (based on a misunderstanding of the etymology of midwife) is occasionally encountered, mostly as a joke. In previous centuries, they were called man-midwives in English.

(source)

I have often wondered about the meaning and origins of the term "midwife".  My wonderment was piqued recently by several comments on this post:  "Wondrous blue" (5/9/22).

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Sailor's bed

If I were a cruciverbalist, I might use that as a clue for "hammock", though it didn't turn up here:

https://www.wordplays.com/crossword-solver/sailor%27s-bed

nor here:

http://crosswordtracker.com/clue/sailors-bed/

but it was first here:

https://crossword-solver.io/clue/sailor%27s-bed/

With somer a-comin' — though spryng has barely sprung, at least not in these parts — it's time to drag out our dusty, trusty hammocks and hang them between two trees.  But, historically, just what is a "hammock", and where did the word come from?

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Wondrous blue

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Jaapie

A comment to this post:  "Accents you expect to hear" (4/6/22):

From Rob:

I was born and brought up in Zambia, a then-British colony. My (mainly) British parents made it clear that I was not to speak like a "jaapie", although that was the natural accent to use with my friends.

It's a name, but I never heard of it before.  So I had to look it up, and it was worth the effort, because it raises some interesting questions.

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Pleiades: From Sumer to Subaru

During the early part of my career, one of the most stunning academic papers I read was this:

Roy Andrew Miller, "Pleiades Perceived:  MUL.MUL to Subaru", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 108.1 (January-March, 1988), 1-25.

"Pleiades Perceived" was the presidential address delivered March 24, 1987 at the American Oriental Society's 197th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.  "Roy Andrew Miller (September 5, 1924 – August 22, 2014) was an American linguist best known as the author of several books on Japanese language and linguistics, and for his advocacy of Korean and Japanese as members of the proposed Altaic language family." (source)

Miller received his Ph.D. in Chinese and Japanese from Columbia University.  He taught successively at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Yale University, and the University of Washington.  He was (in)famous for his harsh reviews, to be compared only with those of Leon Hurvitz (August 4, 1923 – September 28, 1992), who also received his Ph.D. from Columbia and, after teaching at the University of Washington, ended his career at the University of British Columbia.  Miller and Hurvitz both were immensely learned scholars who knew Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other challenging languages.  I didn't meet Miller in person, but did study for one year with Hurvitz, who was extraordinarily eccentric.

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Sumerian beer

There is a clear resemblance between the Sumerian and the Chinese glyphs for "beer", both of which depict a jug with a pointed bottom and an extended narrow neck (here, here). It's interesting that the oracle bone forms (second half of second millennium BC) for 酒 all have the three drops of water as a semantophore, whereas the bronze inscriptional forms (first millennium BC) and even some of the seal forms (latter part of the first millennium BC) lack the three dots for liquid, making the character for jiǔ 酒 identical to that for yǒu 酉 ("an ancient vase used in making and storing fermented millet liquors") — for all these forms, see here.

Wanting to investigate more deeply the Sumerian side of the equation, I asked my colleague, Philip Jones, a Sumerologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, for more information about the Sumerian word for beer, kaš.  He replied:

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Proto-Turkic Consonants

I seldom announce the publication of Sino-Platonic Papers on Language Log, but this one, although seemingly highly esoteric, will actually be of interest to many readers.  Aside from numerous Turkic tongues, among other languages and groups it touches on, the following are mentioned:  Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Tocharian, Uyghur, Bulgar, Tatar, Bactrian, Tungusic, Celtic, Dravidian, Yeniseian, Samoyedic, Chuvash, Latin, Italic, Prussian, Slavic (various languages), Sanskrit, Kitan, Hungarian, Xiongnu (Appendix 2 is a list of Xiongnu words surviving in Altaic languages), Circassian, Caucasian, Avar, Dingling 丁零, Khotanese Saka, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Old Persian, Middle and New Persian, Pashto, Ossetian, and numerous Iranian languages, Yuezhi, Koguryŏan (Korean).

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Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-twenty-fifth issue:

"On *p- and Other Proto-Turkic Consonants," by Orçun Ünal (Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Göttingen, Germany)

Dedication:

To my first teacher in Mongolian

Claus Schönig (1955–2019)

http://www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp325_proto_Turkic_consonants.pdf

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The cognation of "Rusyn", "Ruthenian", and "Russian"

Etymological aficionado that I am, as I suspected "Ruthenian" is related to "Russian".

Some notes:

Related to Ruthene, Ruthenian, Ruthenic, from Medieval Latin Rutheni, Ruteni, related to Russi, Ruzi as Prutheni, Pruteni is to Prussi, Pruzi (Prussians). Compare Rus, Russ, from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ), compare Byzantine Greek Ῥῶς (Rhôs).

(source)

Ditto for "Rusyn":

From Rusyn руси́н (rusýn), from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ, Rus). Compare Ruthenia.

(source)

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Old Ukrainian windmills and Old Sinitic reconstructions

VHM somewhere in Ukraine, probably late summer 2002:

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The weirdness of typing errors

In this age of typing on computers and other digital devices, when we daily input thousands upon thousands of words, we are often amazed at the number and types of mistakes we make.  Many of them are simple and straightforward, as when our fingers stumblingly hit the wrong keys by sheer accident.  People who type on phones warn their correspondents about the likelihood that their messages are prone to contain such errors because they include some such warning at the bottom: 

Please forgive spelling / grammatical errors; typed on glass // sent from my phone.

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Patty Cake, Patty Cake

The story begins here — "Polished pan cake" (2/20/22) — which shows two dessert items on a menu.  In Chinese, one is described as a guō bing 锅饼 (lit., "pot / pan cake / pie") and the other is called a jiānbing 煎饼 (lit., "fried cake / pie"), two different kinds of bǐng 饼.

In the English translations on the menu, those two different varieties of bǐng 饼 are respectively rendered as simply "cake" and "pan cake".  I won't go into their fillings, since they have more or less been adequately covered in the earlier post.

We have the testimony of Charles Belov who ate one of the latter at the very same restaurant where the menu came from and declared that "pan cake" turned out to be a fried glutinous rice ball partially covered in granulated sugar.  A commenter to the post stated, "My understanding of 饼 was always just 'it means round food'".

I wonder where / how he got that "understanding".

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Etymologizing and fantasizing: economy and relish

Figuring out the etymologies of words has always been one of my favorite things in life, almost as much as eating flavorful food.  All the way back in second grade of primary school, my Mom gave me a Merriam-Webster dictionary, and I treasured it above all my other belongings because of its etymological notes.  Much later, when The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language became available, I was euphoric, since then I was able to trace words to their Indo-European and Semitic roots.

In between, though, I came up against the pseudo-science of Chinese character etymology, which should better be called "Chinese character construction".  Despite almost universal misunderstanding to the contrary, Chinese characters have no direct connection to the sounds and meanings of words.  If you want to analyze the history of the development of how individual Chinese characters acquired their shapes and sounds, all well and good, but that's a different matter from how the sounds and meanings of Chinese words evolved through time.  Always and ever, I emphasize over and over the primacy of sounds for conveying meaning, the same as with all other living, spoken languages.  The writing systems are only there as a makeshift, always catching up and inevitably imperfect means for recording the sounds of the languages.

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