Archive for Language and art

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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Headless men with face on chest

The hapless condition of headlessness may be a physical phenomenon, but it may also be a grammatical or orthographic category in linguistics, and we have dealt with both kinds on Language Log, e.g.:

Now, what shall we make of the following?

Xingtian as drawn by Jiang Yinghao, 17th century; there are many different versions of this figure, but all basically with the same features and pose.

One of the Blemmyes, from a map of 1566 by Guillaume Le Testu. Among the scores of Blemmye representations I've seen, they're all roughly of this nature.

Both figures are pictured on a flat space amidst mountainous terrain.  Both have a weapon in their right hand and a shield / pail in their left hand.  Both have their right leg raised / advanced.  Both have their face on their chest and lack a head.  Etc.  I doubt very much that they could have arisen completely independently.

The Blemmye is associated with the word Scythe, an Iranian people who traversed the vast lands between Crimea and Korea.  More than any other group in the first millennium BC, which was so crucial for transeurasian exchange during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Scythians were responsible for the transmission of cultural products across Eurasia.  This was due to their mastery of horse riding, advanced weaponry, and organizational and mental prowess.

This fits with the paradigm of long distance transmission of culture and language that I've been developing for decades in scores of posts, articles, and books.

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National Security Law eclipses Hong Kong

What the people of the former British colony dread:

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Hong Kong: language, art, and resistance

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"Andy's chest"

Notice the button on Andy Warhol's jacket:

Source:  The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 4 (Paintings and Sculptures Late 1974-1976).

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Winnie the Flu

Tweet from Joshua Wong 黃之鋒, Secretary-General of Demosistō:

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Scripts at risk

Andrea Valentino has an intriguing article in BBC Future (1/21/20):  "The alphabets at risk of extinction:   It isn’t just languages that are endangered: dozens of alphabets around the world are at risk. And they could have even more to tell us."

Usually, when we worry about languages going extinct, we are thinking about their spoken forms, but we are less often concerned about their written manifestations.  As Valentino puts it,

This might have something to do with the artificiality of alphabets. Language is innate to all humans, but scripts have to be invented and actively learned. This has happened rarely. Even by the middle of the 19th Century, only 10% of adults knew how to write, and there are only about 140 scripts in use today.

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Grue and bleen: the blue-green distinction and its implications

When I started to learn Mandarin more than half a century ago, it was easy for me to master lán 蓝/ 藍 ("blue") and lǜ 绿 / 綠 ("green").  But as I became better acquainted with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, I was troubled by the word qīng 青, which seemed to straddle and include both blue and green.

The character depicts the budding of a young plant and it could be understood as "verdant", but the word is used to describe colors ranging from light and yellowish green through deep blue all the way to black, as in xuánqīng (Chinese: 玄青). For example, the Flag of the Republic of China is today still referred to as qīng tiān, bái rì, mǎn dì hóng ("'Blue' Sky, White Sun, Whole Ground Red"—Chinese: 天,白日,滿地紅); whereas qīngcài (青菜) is the Chinese word for "green bok choy". A cucumber is known as either huángguā (Chinese: 黃瓜) "yellow melon" or qīngguā* (Chinese: 青瓜) "green melon", which is more commonly used in Cantonese. Qīng 青, was the traditional designation of both blue and green for much of the history of the Chinese language, while 藍 lán ('blue') originally referred to the indigo plant. However, the character 綠 ('green'), as a particular 'shade' of qīng applied to cloth and clothing, has been attested since the Book of Odes (1000 to 600 B.C.) (e.g., the title of Ode 27 《邶風·綠衣》 'Green Upper Garment' in the Airs of Bei). As a part of the adoption of modern Vernacular Chinese as the social norm, replacing Classical Chinese, the modern terms for blue and green are now more commonly used than qīng as standalone color terms, although qīng is still part of many common noun phrases. The two forms can also be encountered combined as 青藍 and 青綠, with 青 being used as an intensifier.

Source

[VHM:  Cant. *ceng1gwaa1]

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Mechanistic writing of Chinese characters

The following mind-boggling demonstration of machine-like writing of Chinese characters was posted on imgur a few days ago:

Flawless writing of Chinese characters

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The indecipherability of the Voynich manuscript

Less than half a year ago, we were treated to yet another among countless claims for the decipherment of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (henceforth "Vm"):  "Voynich code cracked?" (5/16/19).  I was skeptical then and am even more skeptical now after having read this article:

Peter Bakker, "The Voynich manuscript: the decipherment of ms. 408", Lingoblog (9/10/19)

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I'm strikin' it

Poster advertising a citywide strike in Hong Kong:


(Source — with many other examples of powerful protest art from Hong Kong)

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The rake and the vamp

Chris Brannick posted this photograph of a fan on his Facebook page:

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Freemocracy

We just posted on a calligraphic ambigram that means both "go" and "Hong Kong":  "'Go Hong Kong!'" (6/12/19).  Here's another one that does not require rotation:


(Source)

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