Archive for Transcription

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The invention of an alphabet for the transcription of Chinese characters half a millennium ago

The Latinization of Chinese characters will ultimately prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of writing.  We usually attribute this epochal achievement to the Italian Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), but he was assisted in that monumental endeavor by several individuals.  One of the most important of these was the Jesuit Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628), whose Xīrú ěrmù zī 西儒耳目資 (An Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati) helped to establish the alphabetization of Sinitic on a solid footing.

In "Printed Editions of the Xiru Ermuzi", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, no. 79 (2021), 1-32, TAKATA Tokio has carried out a detailed codicological study of all editions and copies of Trigault's text.  In the process, he has brought to light two hitherto unknown editions of Xiru Ermuzi, greatly enhancing our understanding of the development of this vital work.  Takata's study is extremely detailed and heavily footnoted.  Here I present his Introduction and Concluding Remarks.

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Orissic hot pot

At the top left and bottom left of this restaurant's home page, written in very small Roman capital letters, it says, "ORISSIC HOT POT", and that is paired with the Chinese name, "zhè yī xiǎoguō 這一小鍋" ("this small pot").

If we do a Google search on "orissic hot pot 這一小鍋" (without the quote marks), we will get 4 pages and 80,000 ghits, the first of which is bafflingly "jīngdiǎn shítou guō" 經典石頭鍋 ("Classic Stone [hot] pot").  If we do a Google search on "經典石頭鍋 classic stone [hot] pot" (without the quote marks), we will get 4 pages and 15,100 ghits.

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"You bear lost person": writing Taiwanese

From Mark Swofford, a cup of bubble tea with Taiwanese on it (romanized, Hanzified, and translated).

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Ya Zuo, a Russian-Chinese name

I'm at a big conference on Tang (618-907)-Song (960-1279) transitions that is being held at Princeton University.  One of the participants was sporting a badge that announced her name as Ya Zuo.  I told her that her name sounded unusual and wondered what kind of name it was.  She happily volunteered, "It's Russian!"

I was perplexed, because she didn't look Russian (although appearances can be misleading:  I've met Russians who look ethnically Korean, Chinese, Manchurian, etc., and the maternal great-grandfather of the preeminent Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin [1799-1837], was Major-General Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a nobleman of Sub-Saharan African origin).  But we are at a conference where everyone is a China specialist, and I had heard Ya Zuo speaking some Mandarin. so I wracked my brain to figure out what characters were used to write her name, and was frustrated when I tried to figure out how it could be Russian.

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Toponymic uncertainty: bǎo / bǔ / pù // burg / burgh

The ambiguity of how to pronounce 咀 (jǔ, zuǐ) in toponyms (see this recent post) is mirrored by the situation regarding 堡.  Is it bǎo, bǔ, or pù?

bǎo

  1. (often in placenames) town or village with walls
    /   ―    ―  Wubu (county of Yulin, Shaanxi, China)

Used in place names, as a variant of (, “courier station"

(Zhengzhang): /*puːʔ/

(source)

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Drive my car / Doraibu mai kā

Questions from Nancy Friedman:

I'm writing something about the Best Picture nominee "Drive My Car," whose Japanese title is "Doraibu mai kā." Is there a name for this sort of transliteration from English into Japanese? Why would a Japanese writer–the source story was written by Haruki Murakami–choose a transliteration instead of a translation? (Beatles reference, maybe?)

From David Spafford:

It’s definitely a Beatles reference. I don’t know this particular Murakami work, but he’s well known for his Beatles references: think "Noruuei no mori", which is an obvious reference / mistranslation of the Beatles song, "Norwegian wood".

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Topolectal transcription

Part of a menu in Taiwan:


(Provided by Grace Wu)

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Reinterpretation of Xianbei qifen ("grass") and its reflection in Mongolic

[This is a guest post by Penglin Wang]

The Chinese transcription of foreign words has made a unique and valuable contribution to our understanding of linguistic situations in early Inner Asia, but it was sometimes inevitably fraught with logographic confusion and scribal errors. Even given quite advanced word-processing and printing in modern times, one can hardly prevent miswriting or misspelling from happening. In ancient China, presumably, it was historians and other authors who heard foreign words spoken and jotted them down, and then further changes developed through the involvement of scribes, typographers, and printers, with each possibly committing their own miswritings and infelicities. It is therefore necessary to reinterpret certain transcriptions on the basis of the known philological and linguistic relevance of what came to be written down.

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Pork floss Beckham

That's the name of a delectable Chinese nosh made famous by this pastry shop.  The name of the snack in Chinese is "ròusōng xiǎobèi 肉鬆小貝" ("pork floss little cowry / cowrie"), after its shape and the main ingredient of the covering in which it is encased.

If you look up the English name in this encyclopedia entry, it gives "Pork floss Beckham".  What?  How did that happen?

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Unusual Sarada inscription

The following are photographs of a supposedly Śāradā / Sarada / Sharada inscription, sent to me by an anonymous correspondent:

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Faux Manchu: Ornamental Manchu II

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu]

In “Ornamental Manchu: the lengths to which a forger will go” (LL, April 24), Professor Mair discussed a handscroll with faux-Manchu inscriptions. Although the writing clearly imitated Manchu, the imitation was so liberal and the forger so unfamiliar with the Manchu script that hardly any word was intelligible even to eminent Manjurists consulted for the post.

As a non-Manjurist, I found the text only more puzzling, but was able to identify its model by comparing a a conjectural reading of a non-recurring word in it to a published text of a Manchu translation of the Heart Sutra (Fuchs, Die mandjurischen Druckausgaben des Hsin-ching (Hṛdayasūtra) (non legi), transcribed in Hurvitz, “Two polyglot recensions of the Heart Scripture”, J Indian Philos 3:1/2 (1975)). That guess I shared in a comment embedded in the post, elaborated under it with the likely source text. That presumably settled the question, but, with the source given in transliteration only, didn’t make it any easier to appreciate the hilarious cavalierness of the copy without an ability to mentally untransliterate it back into the Manchu script.

Professor Kicengge has now compared the text to a Manchu-script rendition of the sutra and composed an image that juxtaposes the copy to its model. The juxtaposition verifies the identification of the source text: not only does the text (very roughly) match, so does its division into columns.


The handscroll’s faux Manchu and its model, juxtaposed. Supplied by Kicengge.

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Cancel Olympics

Recently published in the Wall Street Journal:

"Tokyo’s Anti-Olympic Movement Ask: Why Haven’t the Games Been Canceled? The Japanese public remains opposed to the Tokyo Olympics as coronavirus cases surge across the country", by Alastair Gale, WSJ, April 14, 2021

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