Archive for Borrowing

"'White left' — a Chinese calque in English", part 2

A little less than four years ago, I wrote a post about the subject of báizuǒ 白左 ("white left").  It was a difficult post to write, because the topic was sensitive, controversial, and recherché.  The post provoked an enthusiastic discussion, with much of the emotional investment being about whether the term would stick in English a year or two later.

I filed it away far in the back of my mind, thinking that I might never have to deal with it again because, in truth, it had given me a lot of headaches, trying to make sense of its ideological and political implications in China and in the West (which are by no means the same), its relationship to SJW (Social Justice Warriors), and so forth.  I was happy enough not to have to think about báizuǒ 白左 ("white left") for four years.

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Manglish "lah" and its affinity to Arabic "muhibbah"

Dwight Reynolds called my attention to this extraordinarily apropos article from the Travel section of the Beeb (3/9/21), by Charukesi Ramadurai :

"Malaysia's harmonious approach to life"

While Malaysia generally stays under the radar, it is one of Asia’s most friendly and tolerant countries where its three major ethnic communities live mostly in harmony.

The serendipitous article jumps right onto the "lah" wagon:

As a newly minted resident of Kuala Lumpur, the first Malaysian word I learned was “lah”. Each time I used it in conversation, both locals and expats exclaimed in delight, “you have become a Malaysian so soon!” For that short, simple sound used as a suffix in everyday conversations encapsulates the ease and warmth with which Malaysian society embraces everyone within its fold. Indeed, although it is believed to be of Cantonese or Hokkien origin, lah is used most commonly in what is known as Manglish – Malaysian English – a delightful patois of formal English with casual smatterings of Malay, the national language.

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Singlish "lah", with a possible deep connection to colloquial Arabic

A prominent feature of Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) is sentence-final "la", in which it has more nuances and innuendoes than you can shake a stick at.  Anyone who has heard Singaporeans talking freely cannot fail to be struck by the frequency and variety of sentence-final "lah". This ubiquitous particle "lah" (/lá/ or /lâ/), sometimes spelled as "la" and rarely spelled as "larh", "luh", or "lurh", may possibly have been absorbed into Singlish from a similar word in Malay.  See David Deterding, Singapore English (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 71.

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A purported Hindi-Arabic round-trip word

More than thirty years ago, I coined the term "round-trip word" (láihuí cí 來回詞) to signify a word that is used in one language, is borrowed by another language which attaches a different meaning to it, often one that is calqued from a third language, and then is sent back to the original language with the new meaning.  In the modern version of the originating language, the new meaning usually displaces the old meaning.

This phenomenon is very common between Chinese and Japanese.  I cited scores of examples in this short paper (item #2):

"Two Papers on Sinolinguistics:  1. A Hypothesis Concerning the Origin of the Term fanqie ('Countertomy'); 2. East Asian Round-Trip Words," Sino-Platonic Papers, 34 (October, 1992).

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The Garden of Morning Calm

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

You’ve probably heard Korea referred to as the “Land of the Morning Calm.” That’s a nickname for Korea that’s been used in the West at least since the 19th century.

And perhaps because Koreans agree that “Morning Calm” sounds mystical and romantic, it’s been picked up lately—often for commercial purposes—in South Korea, too. Korean Airlines, for example, has frequent flier perks for members of its “Morning Calm Club.” In 1996, an arboretum east of Seoul was given the name, “Garden of Morning Calm.”

But the nickname is a chimera, the result of a mistake—and probably one made by some starry-eyed Westerner infatuated by the mysterious Orient. ‘Morning Calm’ is a mistranslation of an ancient name for Korea, a name known only from ancient Chinese records.

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Kunlun: the origins and meanings of a mysterious place name

A recent post introduced the evocative place name, Kunlun:

"Kunlun: Roman letter phonophores for Chinese characters" (2/16/21)

As we learned from the previous post, Kunlun is known from historical and fictional sources dating to the last two millennia and more to refer to mythological and geographically locatable mountains in Central Asia and in the far west as well as to vague places in Southeast Asia and blacks associated with them.

Simply because of the wide range of referents, one cannot help but be intrigued how it transpired that the same unusual name, which mostly refers to mountains, can be so broadly dispersed.

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Kunlun: Roman letter phonophores for Chinese characters

Lucas Klein writes from Hong Kong:

I just read Don Wyatt’s Blacks of Premodern China (which I believe you published?), and I found that someone who had previously borrowed the book from the library had left a sticky note in it… and evidently whoever it was forgot how to write 崑崙, so wrote it out in pinyin with the mountain radical!

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Urdu (?)-English vocabulary in Buddhist archeology and architecture

"Archaeologists Uncover 2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Site In Pakistan", by Neil Bowdler, Radio Mashaal (2/3/21).

When I watched the embedded video in that article, it sounded to me as though the archeologists were speaking Urdu or something close to it (e.g., I heard them repeatedly use the word matlab  مَطْلَب  ["meaning; purpose; motive"; Hindi spelling मतलब]) and caught many other words that I recognized from my knowledge of Hindi-Urdu and Nepali, but I was astonished at how much English vocabulary was mixed into the language the archeologists were speaking.  Not only did they use a lot of English vocabulary, it was mostly not heavily accented with their local language.

Here are some of the English words and phrases that I heard in the interviews:  "important site development", "800 century year ago", "complex", "rainy season", "dwelling monks", "meetings", "religious", "philosophy", "schooling areas", "institute", "architecture", "Buddhism", "Buddhist site", "religious tourism… peace… harmony".  I cannot guarantee that this is a complete list of all the English words and phrases in the interviews (total length 3:38), nor that I have transcribed each and every item exactly the way they said it.  Still, this list should give a fairly good idea of the nature of the mixed language they are speaking.

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On the origin of the term "hanzi"

[This is a guest post by Nicholas Morrow Williams]

I recently came across this article on the first occurrence of hanzi 漢字 ("Chinese character; Han character; Sinogram; Japanese: kanji; Korean: hanja; Vietnamese: hán tự/chữ hán漢字/漢"):
 
Wang Yong 王勇. "'Kanji' tanjō no isseki: 'bonzi' kara 'kanji' e" 「漢字」誕生の一齣――「梵字」から「漢字」へ.
Bukkyō shigaku kenkyū (The Journal of the History of Buddhism), 56.1 (2013): 1-11.
 

It's obvious when you think about it, but of course there was originally no need to write the word hanzi when Chinese characters were the only game in town, writing-wise. Wang first refers to some earlier identifications of the earliest use of hanzi dating to the Song (960-1279) or Yuan (1271-1368), and then points out that the Japanese monk-scholars Kūkai 空海 (774-835) and Saichō 最澄 767-822) seem to have used it in their works, though the details are a bit complex. The clearest single usage seems to be in a text completed by Saichō in 818, entitled the Jugokoku kaishō 守護国界章. But then Wang further points out the Fànyǔ qiānzì wén 梵語千字文 by Yijing 義浄 (635-713), which explains in its introduction that it uses hanzi in correspondence to each Sanskrit letter. The overall point is clear: the term hanzi first came into common usage among Tang-era (618-907) monks as it was required to distinguish Chinese writing from Sanskrit. This insight does not seem to have been incorporated into all the standard reference works yet (my Hanyu da cidian identifies the earliest usage in the Song).

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Bronze, iron, gold, silver

In our ongoing quest to link up linguistics with archeology, we have had numerous posts involving Iranian-speaking peoples spreading from west to east and bringing culture and language with them.  When I say "culture", I mean technological as well as spiritual, artistic, architectural, and other aspects, plus social customs and political organization.  Because the Iranian-speaking peoples were so active in spreading diverse manifestations of culture, I often refer to them as Kulturvermittlers par excellence.

Among the more prominent features of culture that Iranian-speaking peoples transmitted across Eurasia was metallurgy.  That includes all four of the main metals:  bronze, iron, gold, and silver.  The first two were mainly for weapons and implements, and where they went, they transformed military affairs, agriculture, and daily life.  The changes that bronze and iron brought about amounted to revolutions of civilization.  Gold and silver were primarily for ornament and embellishment, and the Iranian-speaking people created breathtakingly beautiful works of art out of these precious metals

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Of chains and Old Sinitic reconstructions

[This is a guest post by Rhona Fenwick]

Though best-known for its titanic consonantal inventory, Ubykh also has an etymologically fascinating vocabulary, heavy with loans from a diverse array of sources. Many of these are drawn from the indigenous lexicons of its Circassian and Abkhaz sisters, but Circassian and Abkhaz both also acted as proxies by which Ubykh became a linguistic placer deposit of sorts, receiving substantial loan strata from millennia of the ebb and flow of Kartvelian, Turkic, Mongolic, Semitic, and Indo-European cultural tides. More recently the Ubykh nation’s exodus from their homeland and subsequent exile in Anatolia, following extensive genocides at the end of the Great Caucasian War (Ubykh: Adəɣaʁʷərda ‘the Rape of Circassia’), added yet another layer of complexity and invested the language with loans from whole new branches of Indo-European, Turkic, and Semitic. This makes compiling an Ubykh etymological dictionary a complex and challenging project, and while engaged in it I’ve often found myself having to track etymologies along paths that lead deep into other language stocks entirely. This post began as a question to Victor Mair while I was playing bloodhound along one such trail, and it was on his suggestion that I reworked it into a post for LL. Thank you for having me!

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Persian peaches of immortality

When I visited Samarkand about 35-40 years ago (before digital days), I ate some of these luscious, mythic peaches:

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Spinach: the Persian vegetable

The other day, when we were discussing where Napa cabbage came from, Diana Shuheng Zhang mentioned to me that the Chinese word for "spinach", bōcài 菠菜, indicates that it came from Persia.  She's usually right about such things, and she was in this case too:

From earlier 波斯菜 (bōsīcài), from 波斯 (Bōsī, “Persia”) + (cài, “greens, vegetable”).

where bōsī 波斯 is obviously a transcription of "Persia":

Borrowed from Old Persian (Pārsa).

Middle Sinitic: /puɑ  siᴇ/

(source)

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