Archive for Borrowing

Buddhist enrichment of Sino-Japanese vocabulary

I'm often surprised by the number of terms in modern Japanese that have their roots in ancient Buddhist usage.  Some of the most common ones are introduced in this article by Brendan Craine from The Japan Times (2/2/23):

"The Buddhist terms that find their way into everyday conversation"

A good example is aisatsu あいさつ /  挨拶:

    [noun] a greeting, a salutation, a polite set phrase
    [noun] an address given at an official function or ceremony
    [noun] greetings or respects such as given at holidays or funerals
    [verb] to greet, to say hello, to address

This derives from ichiaiissatsu / いちあいいっさつ / 一挨一拶:  "dialoging (with another Zen practitioner to ascertain their level of enlightenment)​" (source).

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The role of long-distance communication in human history

If one has a knee-jerk reaction to attribute all distant cultural resemblances to chance coincidence (independent invention), that would be to make a mockery of human mobility and adaptability.  It would be as if people never deigned or had the opportunity to borrow something from another group.

I can give hundreds of long distance cultural correspondences that could not possibly have been due to chance coincidence — so complicated, intricate, and exact are they, especially when accompanied by textual, artistic, and other types of evidence, much of it hard / material.  Moreover, we often have the bodies and the goods and the words — at transitional stages and times — to go along with the transmission.  For some examples, see the "Selected readings" below.  Many more could be adduced.

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Sanskrit hiṃsā || Hebrew khamás || Arabic ḥamās

From Michael Carasik:

I have been wondering whether Gandhi’s “ahimsa” can be related to Hebrew חמס, the reason (per Gen 6:11) that God brought the Flood.

The OED has already assured me that ahimsa is a- (“non”) + himsa, which seems promising.

Michael asks whether this connection is plausible.

Though Sanskrit is an Indo-European language and Hebrew is Semitic, my initial impression is that the connection is not entirely implausible.  Here's why.

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Portuguese words in Japanese, and beyond

Len Leverson sent me his unpublished paper titled "O 'pão' Português Conquista o Mundo" about how the Portuguese word for bread spread across the globe.  That got me to thinking about how many words of Portuguese origin are in Japanese.  I'll focus on "pão" more squarely in a moment, but first just a quick list of some important and interesting words of Portuguese origin in Japanese.

The first one that pops into my mind (for obvious reasons since I spent a couple of decades studying the mummies of Eastern Central Asia) is mīra ミイラ ("myrrh") because, when the Portuguese were selling Egyptian mummies to the Japanese as medicine, they often mentioned myrrh as one of the preservatives, and the Japanese took the part for the whole.

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Hurry hurry super scurry

No "lying flat" or "coiling up" for us!

Here are Japanese words (not characters) of the year for 2022.

No Time to Waste: “Taipa” Chosen as One of Japan’s Words of 2022

nippon.com  (12/16/22)

Quite a different set of attitudes from what young people in China are feeling nowadays.  You will note that extreme abbreviation of words and phrases is a feature of the favored words in the contemporary Japanese lexicon.  I would wager that this feature is a reflection of the tempo of Japanese life.

Taipa, an abbreviation of “time performance,” was selected by dictionary publisher Sanseidō as its word of the year for 2022, reflecting young people’s desire not to waste a second.

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Wawa

[Preface:  scores of versions of the Wawa logo here.  Take a look before plunging in to the post.]

Brother Joe told me the good news that Wawa stores are coming to my home state of Ohio!

Wawa's are great!  Anyone who went to Penn would know this because their stores are near the campus and their hoagies / subs, salads, mac and cheese, coffee, snacks of all sorts, etc. are tasty and wholesome.  I could practically live out of Wawa's.

Chinese chuckle when they encounter the word "Wawa".  The first thing they think of is "wáwá 娃娃" ("baby; child; doll") — note the female radicals on the left, but secondarily they might think of "wāwā 哇哇" ("wow wow") — note the mouth radicals, or tertiarily they might think of "wāwā 蛙蛙" ("frog") — note the insect / bug radicals.  The name just somehow sounds funny.  Cf. what we were saying about sound symbolism in "The sound of swearing" (12/7/22).

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Zoroastrianism between Iranic and Sinitic

I've always been intrigued by this odd character:  祆.  It's got a "spirit; cult" semantophore (radical; classifier) on the left (shì 礻) and a "heaven" phonophore (tiān 天) on the right.  Read "xiān", it is customarily translated as "deity; divinity; Heaven" and is thought of as the central figure of Xiānjiào 祆教 ("xian doctrine / religion").  The traditional Chinese explanation of Xiānjiào 祆教 is Bàihuǒjiào 拜火教 ("fire-worshipping doctrine / religion"), which is rendered into English as "Zoroastrianism" or "Mazdaism".  According to zdic, Xiān is Ormazda, god of the Zoroastrians; extended to god of the Manicheans.

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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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