Archive for Borrowing

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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Greek and Latin in China

Stimulating, substantial article by Chang Che in SupChina (1/13/22):  "China looks to the Western classics".  Here are the first three paragraphs:

A block east of Tiananmen Square, in a classroom last July, Chinese school children were singing the nursery rhyme “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in Latin: “Donatus est agricola, Eia, Eia, Oh!” The students, aged 11 to 17, were taking an introductory Latin class with Leopold Leeb, a professor of literature at the prestigious Renmin University.

Every weekday during the summer, from nine a.m. to noon, Leeb holds a public class in a marble white church just a stone’s throw away from Beijing’s central government. On the day I attended, Leeb had given each student a Roman name. There was a Gaius, a Flavius, a Monica, and two sisters, Amata and Augusta. The sisters came from Changping, a two-and-a-half-hour train ride away. They sat in the front row and took naps during the 10-minute breaks.

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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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"Chilly" in Japanese

The Japanese love to borrow foreign words into their language, tens of thousands of them, but when they do, they usually put their own stamp on them.  This year's word of the year is a good example:

Laid-Back Loanword “Chirui” Chosen as One of Japan’s Words of 2021:

The English phrase “chill out” inspired the adjective chirui, which was selected by dictionary publisher Sanseidō as its word of the year for 2021.

nippon.com (12/10/21)

Here they've created an adjective based on the English phrase "chill out".

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Miss Lin on "fashion"

When I first mentioned this remarkable video on Language Log nine years ago, it was buried in this post, "The Westernization of Chinese" (9/6/12), under "this phenomenal video".  I always regretted that I didn't make it more accessible (didn't know how to post YouTubes directly back then), so now here is Miss Lin in all her glory:

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The linguistic origins and affiliations of Zen

In the fifth comment to "Artistic Sinograph: Buddha" (11/11/21), stephen reeves says he'd like to hear about the origins of Zen.  This has always been one of my favorite topics, so I'm more than happy to tell it.

"Zen" entered the English lexicon already by 1727.  Here's a succinct, serviceable, popular explanation of its derivation:

[Japanese zen, from Early Middle Chinese dʑian, meditation; also the source of Mandarin chán), from Pali jhānaṃ, from Sanskrit dhyānam, from dhyāti, he meditates.]
 
Word History: Zen, a word that evokes the most characteristic and appealing aspects of Japanese culture for many English speakers, is ultimately of Indo-European origin. The Japanese word zen is a borrowing of a medieval Chinese word (now pronounced chán, in modern Mandarin Chinese) meaning "meditation, contemplation." Chán is one of the many Buddhist terms in Chinese that originate in India, the homeland of Buddhism. A monk named Bodhidharma, said to be of Indian origin, introduced Buddhist traditions emphasizing the practice of meditation to China in the 5th century and established Chan Buddhism. From the 7th century onward, elements of Chan Buddhism began to reach Japan, where chán came to be pronounced zen. The Chinese word chán is a shortening* of chán'nǎ "meditation, contemplation" a borrowing [VHM:  transcription] of the Sanskrit term dhyānam. The Sanskrit word is derived from the Sanskrit root dhyā-, dhī-, "to see, observe," and the Indo-European root behind the Sanskrit is *dheiə-, *dhyā-, "to see, look at." This root also shows up in Greek, where *dhyā- developed into sā-, as in the Common Greek noun *sāma, "sign, distinguishing mark." This noun became sēma in Attic Greek and is the source of English semantic.

Source:  American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.

*The same thing happened with the Chinese transcription of "Buddha", as we saw in the previous post.  The Chinese have a low tolerance for maintaining the full transcriptions of words from other languages, usually shortening them by one or more syllables.]

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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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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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Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

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