Archive for Borrowing

Trefoils across Eurasia: the importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 4

Hour-long video:  "A Sacred Emblem: Trefoil in Early Korean Metalwork and Beyond":

October 8, 2020 – Trefoil or “three-leaved plant” is a stylized form found in artifacts and architecture across culture and time. Dr. Minjee Kim begins the story with her first encounter with a gold headdress ornament of the Balhae kingdom (698-926) and traces the migration of its trefoil form throughout the 4th-6th century across Asia. Then, she travels to France, where “fleur-de-lis” adorned French crowns, clothing, textiles, and furniture as a symbol of royalty, leading to its wide contemporary appropriation by many Western institutions. The journey ends with the long and rich tradition in Kyrgyzstan where the motif is still strongly embedded in various realms of material culture of the people. While offering a view on Korean artifacts within a wider context of material resonance in human history, Dr. Kim highlights the way these artifacts adorned the body and how the craftsmanship was employed to articulate the social hierarchy.

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Inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronouns in Sinitic

On September 11, Friday afternoon, Diana Shuheng Zhang gave a virtuoso presentation before the Cornell Classical Chinese Colloquium (CCCC), a venerable institution that has been meeting regularly for decades.  The text she discussed was what she calls the "rhapsodic subcommentary" of the Daoist scholar, Cheng Xuanying 成玄英 (ca. 605-690), on the Zhuang Zi 莊子 (3rd c. BC).

In her explication of the 46th passage of the first chapter of the Zhuang Zi, Diana quoted Cheng Xuanying as stating:  "yǔ, wǒ yě 予,我也" ("'I' is / means 'I'").  Naturally, that led to a discussion of how such a definition would be necessary or helpful.  I pointed out that there are numerous first person pronouns in Sinitic.  Aside from the two already mentioned, there are also yú 余, wú 吾, and zhèn 朕 (like the royal "we" in English) and still others, not to mention several other humble self-references.  In addition, I mentioned zán 咱, which I knew was much later than the others, more highly colloquial, and regionally restricted.  It was part of my main observation that, in order to account for such phenomena (e.g., why are there two completely different words for "dog" — gǒu 狗 and quǎn 犬 ("dog") — we need to adopt the notion of linguistic stratification.  That is to say, the complex formation of the Sinitic peoples evolved over at least five millennia and involved the incorporation of diverse genetic, ethnic, and linguistic components.

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Japanese mansplaining

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

This came across the transom:

"Your Global Mansplaining Dictionary In 34 Languages"

The Japanese in this "handy crowdsourced linguistic guide to a universal blight" is a bit off, as I'll mansplain below, and I'd love to know how the LL hivemind sees the other languages.

横柄な男の解説 (ōhei na otoko no kaisetsu) = “patronizing man’s explanation," as it says, but:

1. 横柄 is rare enough in conversation that I can't recall ever encountering it, though I definitely have heard it "mis-"pronounced as yokogara occasionally.

A more likely term for the patronizing aspect of mansplaining would be 上から目線で (ue kara mesen de), i.e. "looking down upon." I have also seen "mansplainer" rendered as 上から目線の男性  (ue kara mesen no dansei) or 上から目線男 (ue kara mesen otoko), which comports with my understanding.

The same meaning is produced in reverse by the verb 見下す (mikudasu), lit. "to look down upon," and I have seen that used in describing mansplaining as well.

偉そうに (erasō ni), meaning something like "self-importantly," seems equally likely.

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Subtle nuances of particle usage in Sinitic languages and topolects

Let's take the following three utterances that superficially and essentially all say the same thing — "give me face":

1.

Gěi wǒ gè miànzi ba 給我個面子吧

2.

Gěi gè miànzi ba 給個面子吧

3.

Gěi gè miànzi bei 給個面子唄

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Turkish "kedi" and English "cat"

In reacting to the fierce denunciation of Xi Jinping by Cai Xia (see bibliographical note at the bottom of this post), Conal Boyce mused:

Mind-boggling material. I had to do a double-take on the passage you show that contains both chǔn and jiāhuo (蠢家伙 ["stupid guy / fellow"]).  And sure enough, in the video, she actually uses the term zhèngzhì jiāngshī (政治僵尸 ["political zombies"]) more than once!

These are shocking terms, with a peculiar color all their own. They reminded me that, in a sense, there are no words that are actually 'equivalents' between two languages. For instance, the Turkish for 'cat' is 'kedi', which has a comfortable look of familiarity at first, because of English 'kitty', yet we suspect that the semantic range of 'kedi' in Turkish versus the semantic ranges for 'cat' and 'kitty' in English probably overlap in some unexpected Venn diagram style, with much of 'kedi' not immediately accessible to a speaker of English.

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The geographical, archeological, genetic, and linguistic origins of Tocharian

[The following is a guest post by Douglas Adams.]

Key words:  Eastern Central Asia (ECA); Tarim Basin; Dzungarian Basin; Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) Anatolian; Proto-Indo-European; “standard average Indo-European” (“SAIE”); Hittite; Iranian; Sogdian; Khotanese; Bactrian; Avestan; Saka; Indo-Aryan; Mitanni; Assyrian; Indo-Hittite; Fertile Crescent: Yamnaya; Sintashta; Andronovo; Afanasievo; Minusinsk Basin; Qäwrighul; genetics; Yanqi Basin; Ili Valley; Yuezhi; Xiongnu; Turfan Basin; stockbreeding; barley cultivation; millet; irrigation technology; donkey; camel; brick; arrow; irrigation technology; Russian; Kazakhstan; Indo-Iranian; Sanskrit; Massagetae

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Below is a host of questions, implied questions, and questionable statements. I’m trying to get my head around the prehistoric interrelations of pre-Proto-Iranians and pre-Proto-Tocharians based on different “age-levels” of linguistic borrowing and match them with some plausible geographical / archaeological contexts. There are some conundrums here: (1) how did early borrowings from the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) folks get so quickly, by so round about a way, into Tocharian, and (2) why does Tocharian B have an irrigation vocabulary so reminiscent of Central Iranian languages (Sogdian/Avestan; not Saka), borrowed (on phonological grounds) a thousand years (at least) after Tocharians were already knowledgeable about irrigation.

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The complexities of a basic word for "barbarian" in Sinitic and neighboring languages

There are scores of words in Sinitic languages that regularly get translated into English as "barbarian".  One of the most conspicuous and pervasive is hú 胡, which we have often discussed on Language Log, perhaps most extensively and intensively in "The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15), with detailed etymological, orthographical, morphological, and philological notes.

The term came up again more recently in "'Carrot' in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc." (6/26/20), where we found it as the distinctive modifier of the Sinitic word for "carrot" (húluóbo 胡蘿蔔 / 胡萝卜).

[N.B.:  Several of my most respected colleagues in Chinese Studies do not permit their students to translate hú 胡 or any of the other Sinitic terms for non-Sinitic peoples as "barbarian".]

In reading PRC written materials, one must be wary of all the words in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) that are written with hú 胡, since the character simplification promoted by the communist government has collapsed at least six other traditional characters into this one (see here), the most interesting of which is the first syllable hemimorpheme of the Sinitic word for "butterfly" (húdié 蝴蝶 / 胡蝶), cf., "'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16).

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Gyro

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"Carrot" in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc.

From David Brophy:

I’ve often wondered why the Uyghur word for carrot is sewze, etc., which comes from P. sabz “green”. I know carrots range from orange to yellow, and maybe occasionally purple, but I’m pretty sure there’ve never been green carrots.

It's a good question.  

One thing I do know is that, whenever I go to an Indian restaurant, I find sabzi, also spelled sabji, as a vegetable cooked in gravy

I think maybe the word originally just meant "veggies" in Persian, and then developed the specialized meaning of "carrot" in Turkic and other languages.

Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian: قورمه‌ سبزی‎) (also spelled as Qormeh Sabzi) is an Iranian herb stew. It is a very popular dish in Iran.

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Ghormeh is derived from Turkic kavurmak and means "braised," while sabzi is the Persian word for herbs.

Looking at Wikipedia, it does say that carrots are likely originally from Persia where they were probably first cultivated for their leaves (which are green).

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Daddy talk in Chinese

From Politico's "China Watcher" Potpourri this morning (6/18/20):

Chinese now has a term for “mansplaining”: die wei, or “daddy flavor.” Chinese internet users are increasingly using it as a derogatory term to describe anyone — male or female — who claim unwarranted authority and give unsolicited advice, reports Shen Lu. Chinese feminist organizer Lü Pin tells China Watcher that the term’s popularity shows growing resistance from young people — mostly women — to a patriarchal culture. But she adds, the term is mainly “internet catharsis; the hierarchy in real life is not likely to change.”

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Khmer historical phonology

[This is a guest post by John Whitman]

I have a Thai student writing a dissertation on Khmer historical phonology who wrote a qualifying paper using the Zhenla Fengtuji 真臘風土記, a late 13th century gazetteer on Cambodia written by one Zhou Daguan, who was sent to the Angkor court as an emissary. The most cited source on this text is a 1951 translation by Pelliot There is a more recent English translation by Harris (2007), but it relies on Pelliot for linguistic matters. Pelliot identifies and transcribes 37 of the 44 Khmer words in the text.

Like Chinese (but probably slightly later), Khmer was undergoing loss of its voicing distinction in obstruents, but in a different way: Old Khmer voiceless obstruents became implosives, and voiced obstruents voiceless. For reasons that he doesn’t explain very well, Pelliot assumed that Zhou was using early Mandarin values for his Chinese transcription characters, with aspirated Chinese initials representing Old Khmer voiceless initials, and unaspirated initials to represent OK voiced initials. This leads to chaotic correspondences with the Khmer material.

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On the etymology of the title Tham of Burusho kings

[The following is a guest post by John Mock.  I am impressed by how much detailed scholarship (although perhaps not always of great precision and rigor) on such an esoteric matter as that discussed herein already existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.]

John Biddulph in his book Tribes of the Hindoo Koosh (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1880), p. 24, wrote:

I have been told by a Nepalese gentleman that Thum is a Chinese title, meaning Governor, and that it is used in a reduplicated form Thum Thum, to signify a Governor General. [footnote: It is perhaps a corruption of the word Tung, which appears in many titles. The Chinese Governor of Kashgaria is called Tsung Tung, and the officer who commands the troops is styled Tung-lung.] Its very existence in these countries, where its origin has been completely lost sight of, is curious and must be extremely ancient.

Henry H. Howorth, in his article "The Northern Frontagers of China. Part VIII. The Kirais and Prester John", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 21 no. 2 (1889), pp. 383-5, discussing Tang relations with Uighurs, wrote:

The Chinese emperor at this time was called Tham vu tsum.", and, “During the reign of Tham yi tsum, from 860 to 874….

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The sound and sense of Tocharian

Readers of Language Log will certainly be aware of Tocharian, but when I began my international research project on the Tarim Basin mummies in 1991, very few people — only a tiny handful of esoteric researchers — had ever heard of the Tocharians and their language since they went extinct more than a millennium ago, until fragmentary manuscripts were discovered in the early part of the 20th century and were deciphered by Sieg und Siegling (I always love the sound of their surnames linked together by "und"), two German Indologists / philologists — Emil Sieg (1866-1951) and Wilhelm Siegling (1880-1946), in the first decade of the last century.

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