Archive for Borrowing

Japanese borrowings and reborrowings

Most Americans probably know a few Japanese loanwords, especially those who were alive in the two or three decades after WWII, when so many terms from Japan entered the English language — kamikaze, banzai, bonsai, origami, and so forth — with soldiers returning from the war in the Far East.

In the recent two or three decades, Japanese words, continued to enter English but from different avenues — anime, manga, sudoku, karaoke, etc.

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Still more Mongolic

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San Francisco Cantonese

From Charles Belov:

While riding the 22 Fillmore bus through the Mission District in San Francisco today, I overheard a conversation in Cantonese. It was nearly 100% in Cantonese, not the Cantlish* that I rarely also hear. What surprised me, though, was when one of the elderly speakers said "Hong Kong" they used the English pronunciation, not the Cantonese one. Aside from those two words, it was all in Cantonese.

And my Cantonese is so minimal that I know nothing of the topic of their conversation aside from the words "faan heui," to return-go, shortly after which the words "Hong Kong" occurred. Not that it would be any of my business – I don't care what people say; I just care how they say it.

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Persophone Muslim population in China

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The whimsicality of names for Erythrina trees in southeast China

A little over a month ago, People's Daily published an article featuring drone photography of the coastal city of Quanzhou in Fujian Province:

Aerial view of legacies along ancient Maritime Silk Road in China's Fujian Xinhua (12/16/23)

Upon reading the article, I commented:

Journey to the West

Sun Wukong and Hanuman

This article is especially significant for many reasons, and is personally poignant for me because of its prominent coverage of the magnificent stone pagodas at the Kaiyuan temple in Quanzhou.  It was here that, among other important material, I found visual evidence for a connection between the monkey king, Sun Wukong, in the famous Ming novel, Journey to the West, and the simian hero, Hanuman, in the Indian epic, Ramayana.

If you do a google search on      kaiyuan pagoda quanzhou victor mair    (no quotation marks)   you will find many references to what I discovered.

The article also affords ample coverage of the architectural wonders (bridges, houses, city gates, residential areas, canals, etc.) of Quanzhou and other cities of the region. 

I wish to make a special note of the Hindu associations of the Kaiyuan temple, which help to explain and underscore the appearance of Hanuman and other Indian iconography on its famous stone pagodas.

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Hangeul for Cia-Cia, part IV

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"Are": Japanese word of the year

Japanese words of the year are always exciting and surprising, but this year's takes the cake.

are あれ


    • IPA: [a̠ɾe̞]

distal demonstrative, something far off removed from both speaker and listener: that, yon

    1. (deictically) that one over there (far from the speaker and the addressee)

      Are wa nan desu ka?
      What is that?
    2. (anaphorically) that one we both know (both the speaker and the addressee know)

      Kore wa are desho?○○.
      This is that one thing, isn't it? You know, X.
Usage note
    • Indicates something far off, removed from both speaker and addressee. Contrast with それ (sore), indicating something removed from the speaker but closer to the addressee.


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Ask Language Log: The Dry / Solitary Tree

From Adrienne Mayor:

I am writing about The Dry Tree or Solitary Tree, associated with Alexander the Great in medieval Alexander Romance and in Marco Polo, who located it in Khorasan.

Later, the Bavarian explorer Johannes Schiltberger trekked across Khorasan in about 1405-25 and reported that the Muslims called the tree “Kurrutherek” or “Sirpe,” meanings unknown.

Do the words ring any bells for you?

Could they be transliterated from Persian, Arabic, Turkic, perhaps phonetically?

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Prince of pronunciation

Many people have the (mis)perception that the French (mis)pronounce all languages with a heavy accent.  It turns out that the gold standard for correct pronunciation of borrowed words is a French gentilhomme /ʒɑ̃.ti.jɔm/.

How to Pronounce the Trickiest English Words: Ask This Frenchman

Millions of Americans, the curious and the insecure, consult Julien Miquel for help with words such as Worcestershire, macabre, and Siobhan

By Joe Pinsker
WSJ, Oct. 30, 2023

Read / listen to this article.  You're in for une gâterie.


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Mental anguish from having too many English words in Japanese

One thing I revel in about the English language is the huge number of loanwords it has:  French, Latin, Greek, Native American, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil, Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Irish, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Maori, Hebrew, Yiddish, Afrikaans, Zulu, Swahili, and so on and on and on.  English has words from more than 350 languages, and they amount to 80% of our total vocabulary. (source)  Not to worry, however, that English will lose its innate identity, since around 70 % of words in a typical text derive from Old English. (source)

I've also long admired Japanese for its rich assemblage of foreign words, perhaps next to English in having the largest proportion of borrowings.  That's quite the opposite of written Sinitic, which has relatively few recognizable foreign words for a major language.  I attribute the difference to Japan having the easy ability to borrow words phonetically via kana and rōmaji ローマ字 ("Roman letters"), whereas the morphosyllabic Sinoglyphic script has not yet developed an officially sanctioned standard for transcribing loanwords directly into Chinese texts.  Informally (on the internet, in private correspondence, etc.), however, writing in China is gradually moving toward a digraphia of Sinoglyphs and the Roman alphabet.  (See the second part of "Selected readings" below.)

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Some Old Chinese terms relating to religion, mythology, ritual

[This is a guest post by Axel Schuessler]

Some Old Chinese (OC) words that relate to religion, mythology and ritual, and words found in ritual literature (Yijing, Liji, Zhouli), have no Sino-Tibetan (ST) roots, but instead have connections with other language families.

    For comparison, the first section of this paper will list (§1) Sino-Tibetan words, i.e., ones with Tibeto-Burman (TB) cognates. Then: (§2) Mon-Khmer words from the state of Chu and mid-Yangtze region. (§3) Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) and area words, perhaps also from the mid-Yangtze. (§4) Tai/Kra-Dai items from the Huai River basin. (§5) The Gou-language(s), so called because among its prefixes stands out a conspicuous syllable gou (see Schuessler forthc.). These languages were in prehistoric times spoken from at least Yue in the South in the vicinity of the Coast all the way to Song and Qi. Their connection with known language families is unknown. (§6) The last section is dedicated to the mythological figures Xi and Hé 羲和.

    About the hypothetical early historic locations of these language families, see Schuessler forthc. (“Tigers, and the languages of ancient Chu, Wu, and Yue”). Outside of China, the items under consideration tend to be ordinary, mundane words, but in OC they often acquire a narrow meaning just for ritual use. This identifies them as loans.

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How do you say "polo", "logo", and "erase with Photoshop" in Chinese?

"Hebei official’s shirt logo removed for ‘aesthetic reasons,’ triggering speculation among netizens"

By Global Times (Sep 05, 2023)

Official photos of a city Party chief in North China's Hebei Province, with his shirt's logo removed by editing, have sparked a wide-ranging discussion among Chinese netizens, with some speculating that it was a move to obscure the price of the clothing. 

In an article posted via Nangong city's official WeChat account on Sunday, the official's daily work was released, with one picture of his shirt logo in, followed by another two pictures without shirt logo. Some netizens questioned the reasons why they removed the shirt logo, and some checked the similar coat prices online discovering the high retail price for the item, according to media reports.

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I've always been fond of this pretty, little word, but I seldom use it in my own speech (maybe once every five or ten years), because it seems too triumphant.  This morning, however, after a long, numerical list of steps that some colleagues and I need to take, followed by a conclusion we wished to reach, I just blurted out "Voilà!" and felt good about it.

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