Archive for Borrowing

The Tocharian A word for "rug" and Old Sinitic reconstructions

There's a Chinese character 罽 (Mandarin jì, Old Sinitic *kràts), which means "rug, carpet; woolen textile; fish net").  On the basis of its sound, meaning, place, and date of occurrence, it would seem to be related to Toch. A kratsu "rug".

This raises two questions:

1. Does this Tocharian word have cognates in other IE languages?

2. Who borrowed it from whom?   Sinitic from Tocharian or Tocharian from Sinitic?

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Chinese acronyms

Apollo Wu sent in this list of what he calls "Chinese acronyms" (Romanizations, translations, links, and comments are by VHM):

GJBZ 国家标准 Guójiā biāozhǔn ("National Standard") — this is commonly reduced still further to "GB"

YDYL 一带一路 Yīdài yīlù ("One Belt, One Road" or "Belt and Road")

RMB 人民币 Rénmínbì ("RMB", the Chinese yuan)

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Amazing new Japanese words

These come from the following nippon.com article:

"Pay It Forward: The Top New Japanese Words for 2019" (12/13/19)

I'll list the words first, then explain which one is my favorite.

A prefatory note:  nearly half of the words on these lists are based wholly or partly on borrowings from English, though they are assimilated into Japanese in such a manner that they are unrecognizable to monolingual English speakers.

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Agu hair bian

Here I am standing in front of a hair salon near the south gate of Kansai University in Osaka, Japan two days ago:

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Tero: an English word in Japanese garb

Three days ago, I passed through immigration at Kansai International Airport (near Osaka).  I was struck by a large, prominently displayed word in katakana (syllabary for transcription of foreign words and onomatopoeia):  tero テロ.

Since I was in a restricted area of the airport, naturally I couldn't take a picture of the signs with this word on them, but I knew right away from the circumstances what it signified:  "terrorism" — they were taking strict precautions against it.

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Mare, mǎ ("horse"), etc.

[This is a guest post by Robert Hymes]

I just happened to be reading your Language Log post from April, "Of horseriding and Old Sinitic reconstructions." I too have always been sympathetic to the possibility of a mare-馬 connection, which I've tended to assume would have happened through a Chinese borrowing from Indo-European either directly or mediatedly, though as you point out the problem of the "mare" root's presence in only Germanic and Celtic is, well, a problem.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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Maison d'être

Note from June Teufel Dreyer: "Driving around Coconut  Grove [Miami neighborhood] to admire old houses on back streets, [daughter] Elizabeth [Dreyer Geay] and I saw one with a plaque on the perimeter wall that read 'Maison d'Etre'":

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Marathi and Persian

One of India's major tongues, Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by 83.1 million people in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.  For those who know Persian, it will sound uncannily familiar.

According to Pushkar Sohoni,

The Marathi language is heavily infused with Persian, which was widespread in administrative and military usage all over the Indian sub-continent for several hundred years. There are two essays in the early 20th century that detail this connection. One is in Marathi by the historian V.K. Rajwade titled 'marāṭhīvara phāraśī bhāṣecā prabhāva' (The influence of Persian on the Marathi language) written in the nineteen-teens. The other one is by the literary figure Baba-i Urdu Maulana Abdul Haq, written a couple of decades later, and titled similarly in English [Abdul Haq 'The Influence of Persian on Maharathi' in Islamic Culture (Hyderabad, 1936), pp. 533-609].

For more, see this article in Iranica online.

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Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

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Mycological meandering: vernacular variora

The surname of the mayor of Prague is Hřib (Zdeněk Hřib [b. May 21, 1981]):

"Zdeněk Hřib: the Czech mayor who defied China"

By refusing to expel a Taiwanese diplomat, the Prague mayor has joined the ranks of local politicians confronting contentious national policies

Robert Tait in Prague
The Guardian, Wed 3 Jul 2019 01.00 EDT

The surname Hřib, though unusual, struck me as familiar.  Jichang Lulu observes:

Hřib is the regular Czech reflex of the Proto-Slavic source of, e.g., the Russian and Polish words for "mushroom" (гриб, grzyb). The Czech form, however, has a more specific meaning (certain mushrooms, e.g., Boletus). On the other hand, the further origin of Slavic gribъ has long been a matter of much debate, and I'm not aware of a generally accepted Proto-Indo-European (or other) etymology.

That set me to wondering whether there are cognates in other IE branches.

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Water chestnuts are not horse hooves

One of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking is the crunchy water chestnut, but it always puzzled me that the name for this item is mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄.  Although technically it's not a nut (it's the corm of an aquatic vegetable) and doesn't really look like a horse hoof, I tried to convince myself that maybe there was some sort of resemblance between the two after all.

It turns out that, while on the one hand mǎtí 马蹄 / 馬蹄 really does mean "horse hoof" and just happens to be the title of a chapter [the 9th] in my favorite early Chinese book (Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu / Wandering on the Way), on the other hand it also has a completely different etymology when applied to the water chestnut.  Namely, it is borrowed into Mandarin and other Sinitic topolects from Cantonese maa5 tai4-2, maa5 tai4, where it is the transcription of a Kra-Dai substrate word (Li, 2012) (compare Zhuang makdaez).  Source.  I became even more hopelessly confused when I learned the derived Cantonese expression maa5 tai2 fan2 馬蹄粉 and thought that, well, this must be some sort of gelatin made from horse hooves (but that's just an urban legend anyway), when in truth it's simply water chestnut starch.  This is but one example of how Chinese characters frequently lead us seriously astray when it comes to understanding the derivation and meanings of Sinitic words.

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"Eastoxification" supersedes "Westoxification" in Persian

One never ceases to be amazed at the articles one comes upon in Wikipedia.  First, in this comment to a discussion on anti-Westernism in China ("War on foreign names in China" [6/22/19]), I encountered the notion of "Westoxification" in contemporary Iranian discourse.  Reading the Wikipedia article on this subject is so interesting that I copy passages of it here for Language Log readers (the whole article is fascinating and well worth reading):

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