Archive for Grammar

Involution, part 3

In this post, I will focus on the adversative passive usage of nèijuǎn 内卷 ("involution"). 

Etymology

Calque of English involution, from its Latin roots. This sense was coined in Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963) by Clifford Geertz, as an antonym of evolution, where Geertz observed Javanese and Balinese rice farmers failed to transit from labor-intensive farming to capital-intensive farming, but rather developing intensive competition that does not increase productivity.

Usage

  1. (economics, social sciences, of a society or nation) to stop developing or progressing despite intense inner competition
  2. (neologism, slang) to be in a state of increased competition for limited resources, requiring great effort to stay ahead
  3. (neologism, slang) to study harder or work longer as a result of intense competition among peers

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"In Pāṇini We Trust"

Article in Popular Science:

This ancient language puzzle was impossible to solve—until a PhD student cracked the code

The discovery makes it possible to translate any word written in Sanskrit.

Laura Baisas (12/15/22)

Some universities require Sanskrit for all linguistics students and some universities have two first-year Sanskrit courses, one for linguistics students and one for Indologists and other humanists.  That's a tribute to Pāṇini पाणिनि (ca. 6th-4th c. BC) — no, not the bread roll — rather, the world's first grammarian. His 3,996 verses or rules on linguistics, syntax, and semantics in "eight chapters" (Aṣṭādhyāyī) are as terse and precise as mathematical equations.  You'd think that, after two and a half millennia of intense study by thousands upon thousands of pandits, they'd all have been solved by now.  Apparently not, since one was just solved for the first time a few years ago.

A PhD student studying at the University of Cambridge has solved a puzzle that has stumped scholars since the fifth century BCE. Rishi Rajpopat decoded a rule taught by Pāṇini, an Indian grammarian who is believed to have lived in present-day northwest Pakistan and southeast Afghanistan.

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Hornet's / hornets' / hornets / hornet nest

Usage is split on this one.  Merriam-Webster goes for "hornet's nest", OED prefers "hornets' nest", and many other dictionaries and websites choose one of the four options listed in the title of this post.

To my mind, logically it should be "hornets' nest" because it's a home that belongs (genitive) to a colony of hornets (plural).

My high school sports teams were called "hornets", so I have a long acquaintanceship with this fearsome insect.

On the other hand, we also find "farmers market" and "farmers' market", usually the former, occasionally "farmer's market", but I don't think I've ever seen "farmer market".

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John Kelly (1750-1809): Manx grammarian, lexicographer, and translator

[With an added note on the monumental encyclopedic dictionary of Sinitic by Tetsuji Morohashi]

In researching our previous post on the revival of Manx (11/26/22), I learned about John Kelly, whose life and work on behalf of Manx studies is so moving that I believe it is worthwhile to introduce him to the readership of Language Log.  His heroic feats are truly mind-boggling.

Kelly was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, the only son of wine cooper and farmer William Kelly and his wife Alice Kewley. He was educated by Reverend Philip Moore in the Douglas Grammar School and later at St John's College, Cambridge, where he took his LL.D degree in 1799. He was ordained in 1776 and married Louisa Dolland in 1784.

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Particles are not unimportant

People studying Sinitic and other languages featuring particles tend to deemphasize them as some sort of window dressing — ornament, elaboration — not much different from intonation or emphasis.  Witness this comment by an accomplished student of several Asian languages:

Unfortunately, these particles play only a peripheral role in Western (Latin-based) accounts of grammar and therefore miss out on the scrutiny given to other parts of speech. I know that my Vietnamese teachers dismissed them as 'meaningless'. This is a pity since they play an incredibly important role in conveying meaning. In fact, the ability to use them properly is half the battle in learning to sound like a native!

It would be an interesting exercise to do an interlinguistic comparison of these kinds of particles, but first you would need to develop a systematic analysis of the nuances they convey (affirmation, confirmation, tentativeness, contradiction, etc.).

Particles may convey essential aspectual, modal, structural, and other functions.  Here's some evidence for the importance of particles from the language acquisition experience of a bilingual child.

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Time, tense, and gender in Estonian

Size-wise, Estonia (45,339 sq. km; 17,500 sq. m) is much larger than Philadelphia (369.59 sq. km; 142.7 sq. m), but, in terms of population, Philadelphia (1,603,797) is slightly bigger than Estonia (1,313,796).  I have been to Estonia, and was utterly captivated by the wealth of its art and architecture, the depth of its history, the quality of its education, and the accomplishments of its people.  Among many other distinctions, Estonia is at the forefront of research in genetics, which is what brought me there during my period of research on the mummies of Central Asia.

Now, as you will discover from this post, Estonia is worthy of wonder for its fascinating language as well.  Some of the special features of Estonian are well presented in the following article that was published a couple of days ago:

Puzzle Monday: How To Be on Time in Estonia

by Alex Bellos, Atlas Obscura (November 7, 2022)

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In Estonia, there is no sex and no future.

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Upaya: the joy of teaching Classical Chinese

One of my favorite books for everyday living is Irma S. Rombauer's Joy of Cooking.  The author's cheerful approach to her craft in the kitchen is similar to my jubilant upāya उपाय ("expedient pedagogical means; skill-in-means; skillful means" > fāngbiàn 方便 ["convenient"]) in the classroom.

In my classes, especially Introduction to Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS/CC), we don't just read through texts with the aid of vocabularies, commentaries, annotations, and grammar notes.  We live the texts, act them out, draw them on the board, debate them, chant them, analyze them, get at their profound philosophical significance, plumb their esthetic depths.

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Disappearing readings of Sinoglyphs: focus on Bo (–> Bai) Juyi / Haku Rakuten

When I learned Mandarin half a century ago, it was a matter of faith, rectitude, and integrity that one should pronounce 說服 ("persuade") as shuìfú, not shuōfú, because when 說 is used with the meaning "convince; persuade", its pronunciation should be shuì, not shuō, which means "say; speak; explain", the more usual reading.  Now, however, in the PRC, according to my students from there, the pronunciation shuì basically no longer exists, not even when the character 說 is intended to mean "convince; persuade", and not even in many dictionaries.

說 can also be pronounced yuè, in which case it means "happy; delighted", and is the equivalent of 悦 (and compare my remarks on the equivalent meaning / reading of 樂 below).

In addition, 說 can also be pronounced tuō and means the same thing as 脱 ("to free; relieve").

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Omnibus Chinglish, part 4

Yet more fun (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

Don't JuYiGe


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Close enough: glossing Sinographic Mandarin with Pinyin Mandarin

Intriguing t-shirt that is making the rounds these days:


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Characterless Northeasternisms

From a native Northeasterner:

Many people think that Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) = Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin). Nononono! Although phonologically Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) sounds like Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin), it is not Mandarin at all because of its distinctive lexical inventory. Yesterday we talked about hermaphrodites, or intersex persons, which are called “èryǐzi” (sounds like 二椅子 (lit., "two chairs"), though I don’t know which are the Chinese characters at all); and also breasts as zhāzhā — e.g., a small kid would say to his/her mom “Wǒ yào chī / mō 我要吃/摸 zhāzhā” ("I want to nibble / touch zhāzhā") when he/she looks for the mama’s breasts; and also xuán了 for “a lot” — e.g. "Lǎoshī liú de zuòyè xuánle 老师留的作业xuán了" ("the teacher gave a lot of homework"),"Dàjiē shàng yǒu xuánle rénle 大街上有xuán了人了" ("the street is crowded with so many people"),or "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了" ("he has a lot of toys"). Note that we don’t say "Tā yǒu xuánle wánjù 他有xuán了玩具",but rather "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了"。Funny grammar :) Again, I don't know how to write these words in characters.

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Me, myself, and I

This morning, while washing my face and still not fully awake, I heard a rap song on the radio that kept repeating "me, myself, and I".  It started to bother me.  Why would anybody say that?  Why would they say it over and over?  What do they mean by it?

Emma Bryce (TEDEd [8/28/15]) tells us that " 'Me' is an object pronoun, 'I' is a subject pronoun, and 'myself' is a reflexive or intensive / emphatic pronoun."  Well, so what?  What's the point?  What statement are they trying to make?

According to YourDictionary, "me, myself, and I" implies "Only me, me alone, me without companionship."  Fair enough; that makes some sense.

Wiktionary agrees that "me, myself, and I" emphasizes the speaker's aloneness, i.e., only me; myself alone.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (5/6/16) tells us that "Me is the physical aspects. Myself is the soulful aspects. I is the spiritual aspects."  I'm not so sure about that, but at least somebody believes it.

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Sentence length and syntactic complexity

[This is a guest post by Don Keyser, in response to "Trends" (3/27/22).]

I do hope Sir Walter Scott is part of the study, as an outlier perhaps.  I still have nightmares going back to English class in an era when one still was obliged to diagram the sentences to establish to the satisfaction of the teacher that one truly and fully grasped the structure and meaning.  Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was the acid test.  I'm not sure blackboards of the era were sufficiently large, or chalk sufficiently sturdy, to get through the diagram of a single sentence in Ivanhoe and other works.

I just checked online and found that there are free versions of Ivanhoe in ebook and .pdf format.

Some examples of all too typical sentences from that work:

On the other hand, such and so multiplied were the means of vexation and oppression possessed by the great Barons, that they never wanted the pretext, and seldom the will, to harass and pursue, even to the very edge of destruction, any of their less powerful neighbours, who attempted to separate themselves from their authority, and to trust for their protection, during the dangers of the times, to their own inoffensive conduct, and to the laws of the land.

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