Archive for Borrowing

Goodbye to Hello

Aside from "OK", is there any English word in the world that is better known than "hello", or maybe "thanks", or "bye"?

Now get this:

"Don’t say hello, it’s too western, Indian civil servants told"
by Amrit Dhillon, Delhi, thetimes.co.uk
October 3, 2022
 
———
 
Civil servants have been told to bid goodbye to saying “hello” in the Indian state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai and an estimated 125 million people.
 
The state government has banned employees from using the word, which it decries as too bland and western. Instead, they must greet the public with the more sonorous “vande mataram” or “I bow to thee, oh motherland” as India presses ahead with the “Hinduisation” of public life.

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How many characters does it take to say "staff only"?

In sending along the photograph below, Geoff Dawson writes:

I find it hard to believe it takes nine characters. Curious as to what they really say.

From a furniture shop in South Melbourne Australia.

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Look-see-watch

As native speakers of English, we have a direct, non-analytical understanding of the differences among "look", "see", and "watch", the three main verbs for expressing visual perception.  The first indicates that we have a purposive gaze at / toward / for something; the second that our sight focuses on what we were looking for; and the third adds a durative aspect of observing what we were looking for and saw.

A few days ago, I came across a mention of the term "look-see", and it brought back the memory of when I first learned the Mandarin word kànjiàn 看見 ("see") half a century ago, which struck me powerfully as having the same construction as "look-see".  Moreover, I knew enough about pidgin English to realize that "look-see" had a strong pidgin Gefühl to it.

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"Sound" at the center, "horn" at the periphery: the shawm and its eastern cousins, part 2

For a good example of how music and musical instruments, together with the words to designate them, could travel long distances in antiquity, we have already taken a look at the case of the shawm:  "The shawm and its eastern cousins" (11/16/15).  Since writing that post nearly seven years ago, a few more interesting facts about the shawm family have come to light, so it's time to revisit this raucous instrument.

I first encountered this melodic noisemaker in the guise of the Chinese suǒnà 嗩吶.  Inasmuch as the Sinographic form has two mouth radicals, that could be to emphasize that it has to do with making sounds, which is definitely true, but that might also indicate that it is a transcription of a foreign word, which is certainly the case.  The latter is underscored by the fact that it has the variant orthographic form with a metal radical on the first character:  鎖吶.

So where did the suona come from, and how did it get to China?  By investigating suona's linguistic ancestry, we can get a pretty good idea of the route by which it came to the Middle Kingdom.

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Misbehaving mediums

https://twitter.com/C_M_Churchman/status/1543548736663474176?s=20&t=2MgZwvO2bGO9cDgP4H6lIg

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Genghis Khan and Burkhan Khaldun

Every five years or so, popular science magazines have a "Genghis Khan tomb" story.

Here's a current iteration:

"Where is the tomb of Genghis Khan?"

By Owen Jarus, published 12 days ago

The location of the tomb of Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – August 18/25, 1227; the founder and first great Khan [Emperor] of the Mongol Empire) was certainly meant to be kept secret by those who buried him.  

Marco Polo wrote that, even by the late 13th century, the Mongols did not know the location of the tomb. The Secret History of the Mongols has the year of Genghis Khan's death (1227) but no information concerning his burial. In the "Travels of Marco Polo" he writes that "It has been an invariable custom, that all the grand khans, and chiefs of the race of Genghis-khan, should be carried for interment to a certain lofty mountain named Altai, and in whatever place they may happen to die, although it should be at the distance of a hundred days' journey, they are nevertheless conveyed thither."

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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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Cat huffing and snorting in Japanese and Chinese

Full disclosure:  I'm not an expert on felines, except sort of for Hello Kitty.  I've owned a lot of dogs, but have never had a kitty kat since the time I was a little boy.  I have a poor understanding of their psychology and behavior, although I very much like to observe them, especially when they're sleeping or sunning themselves, and I love to hear them purr.  Occasionally it's fun to pet them, and I like it when they walk around my legs, twirling / wrapping their tail as they go.

Here's a reddit thread from last fall:

Posted by u/Curious_Cilantro, Oct. 1, 2021

[Chinese] xīmāo 吸猫 – to zone out and enjoy the company of a cat, as if it were a drug. Lit. “snort/suck cat”

Example: After work, I just want to relax at home and xīmāo 吸猫 (enjoy my cat’s company).

It’s a new phrase mostly used by young people. Since snorting drugs is xīdú 吸毒,and cats are so charismatic, appreciating their company is like snorting a drug that helps you relax.

A variation is yún xī māo 云吸猫 (cloud snort cat), which refers to browsing pictures and videos of cats online. A significant portion of reddit is dedicated to accommodating this activity.

[VHM:  Romanizations / Hanyu Pinyin added]

A screenshot of this has been making the rounds on Facebook, shared via the page "Cats on Cocaine" (CokedOutCats), appropriately enough.

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Tarim harps; pitch, tones, scales, modes, instruments, and their names

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose, responding to requests for more information on the subject prompted by her previous post.]

This post discusses a possible connection between the Mesopotamian tonal system, documented on cuneiform tablets that span over 1000 years (from 1800 BC to 500 BC), and the musical system of ancient China. For a more detailed discussion, see the paper "A Proposed Mesopotamian Origin for the Ancient Musical and Musico-Cosmological Systems of the West and China", Sino-Platonic Papers, 320 (December, 2021) written by myself, Sara de Rose.

Since 1996, twenty-three harps (Chinese: “konghou”) that resemble the angular harp that was invented in Mesopotamia circa 2000 BC have been found in the graves of the Tarim mummies, in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area of modern-day, western China. These harps date from 1000 BC to 200 BC (see photo).

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RUNning away from Shanghai

New article in Shìjiè Rìbào 世界日報 (World Journal [5/12/22]):

"Tífáng mínzhòng luò pǎo? Zhōngguó yāoqiú: Cóngyán xiànzhì fēi bìyào chūjìng huódòng 提防民眾落跑?中國要求:從嚴限制非必要出境活動 ("Beware of people running away? China demands: Severe restrictions on non-essential outbound activities")

What we're seeing in this article and elsewhere online is the emergence of neologisms resulting from the extreme lockdowns in Shanghai during the last month and more.  The restrictions are so brutally draconian and the people are so desperate that they have begun to develop a science of how to escape.

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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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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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Old Ukrainian windmills and Old Sinitic reconstructions

VHM somewhere in Ukraine, probably late summer 2002:

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