Archive for Language and literature

Sino-Semitica, part 2: of massage and Old Sinitic reconstructions

As part of our research on the dictionary of Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) that Zhu Qingzhi and I have been working on for more than two decades, I was tickled by this quaint poem (below on the second page) by the medieval Buddhist poet, Wáng Fànzhì 王梵志 (Brahmacārin ब्रह्मचारिन् Wang; fl. first half of 7th c.).

I have been an avid fan of Wáng Fànzhì's unique poetry for nearly half a century.  Quaint, indeed, and also quirky.  Wang Fanzhi is self-demeaning in a funny, adorable way.  The poem I'm about to introduce you to is a good example of his trademark self-abnegation.

What attracted me particularly to this poem for the purposes of our research on MVS is the first word in line 2, chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time"), which does not exist with this meaning in Literary Sinitic (LS) / Classical Chinese (CC).  Finding chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time") in Wang Fanzhi's poem was already enough of a treat, but when I got to the last word of the couplet, I was even more delighted.  As you will momentarily see, what Wang says about his wife's tummy is funny by itself, but the word he uses to describe what the wife does to her tummy made me even more excited.

But let's read the poem first, then I'll talk about the word in question, namely, méisuō 沒娑 ("massage").

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Edwin's re-sonnets

Email today from Edwin Williams:

I constructed "new" sonnets from Shakespeare's sonnets by this formula: from a set of 7 randomly selected Shakespeare sonnets (a…g) I made a new sonnet "a b a b c d c d e f e f g g", which means, the first line is taken from the first line of sonnet a, the second line from sonnet the second line of sonnet b, etc. So no two adjacent lines were from the same sonnet, except the last two. I made 154 of these (same number as S made).

I did it for fun but was startled by the result–the new sonnets were sonnetlike, felt syntactically coherent, and begged for interpretation. People I sent them to were fascinated by them, even when they saw what I had done, or after I told them. One of them, Craig Dworkin, a poet I got to know when he was at Princeton in the 90s, asked to include them in his e-poetry site, and there they sit: http://eclipsearchive.org/projects/EDWIN/.

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically).

Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر(sīr)). The Middle Persian word is cognate with Parthian (šarg, "Leo; Lion"), Khotanese [script (šarau, "Leo; Lion"), Khwarezmian شرغ(šrγ /šarγ/, "Leo; Lion") and Sogdian (šrwγ /šruγ/) , ܫܪܘܮ(šrwγ /šruγ/, "Leo; Lion")

Middle Persian:

Manichaean: ‎ (šgr)

Source

Kipling-Disney:  Shere Khan (" Tiger Lion" — from Persian and Mongolian)

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Mastering Caution amidst Hermeneutic Acrobatics

[This is a guest post by Nicholas Morrow Williams]

Victor recently pointed out to me the appearance of Martin Kern's important article in the latest issue of Early China on "Xi Shuai" 蟋蟀 ("Cricket") and Its Consequences: Issues in Early Chinese Poetry and Textual Studies" (Early China 42 [2019]: 39–74).  Kern's article offers both a very detailed examination of the poem "Cricket" contained in a Tsinghua manuscript, which differs substantially from the comparable poem in the Shijing 詩經, and also reflections on the broader significance of the manuscript for "textual studies."

The article is well worth reading both the recently-discovered poem and for the broader reflections, but I would like to discuss one issue to which it does not devote so much attention, which is the interpretation of the received text of "Cricket" in the Shijing itself. After comparing the excavated and received texts, Kern concludes:

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"Revlon" in Chinese

We've been through a lot of atrocious Chinglish (check the archives under "Lost in translation"), so we should acknowledge, and even revel in, translational equivalents that are outstandingly good.

It suddenly occurs to me that the Chinese translation of the American cosmetic brand Revlon is so beautiful that it deserves to be highlighted here:

lù huá nóng 露華濃 ("dew [that is] splendid [and] dense")

On the one hand, "Luhuanong" serves as a sound transcription of "Revlon".  On the other hand, the translation of these three syllables provides an apt meaning for the brand name.

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Cryptic, allusive messages from Hong Kong's wealthiest tycoon

People have been wondering when Hong Kong's magnates would speak out on the prolonged protests in their city.  Finally one has.  That's Li Ka-shing, the richest of them all:  "HK Billionaire Li Ka-Shing Breaks Silence Over Protests" (8/15/19 newscast on YouTube).  He took out full page advertisements (both seem to be on the front page) in two of Hong Kong's most influential financial newspapers:  Hong Kong Economic Times and Hong Kong Economic Journal.  Here's the first:

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Yoshikawa Kojiro on sashimi in Tang China

[This is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei]

In 1976 I was in Kyoto for my sabbatical leave and I attended Yoshikawa Kojiro's (Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎; 18 March 1904 – 8 April 1980) private seminar on Tu Fu (712-770).  The seminar was held in a room in the Kyoto University Faculty Club and we were reading Tu Fu.  One day when we were reading "Lìrén xíng 麗人行" ("Ballad of Beautiful Women"),Yoshikawa looked up and said to me:  "Méi xiānshēng, Zhōngguórén zài Táng cháo yǐjīng zài chī sashimi 梅先生, 中國人在唐朝已經在吃 sashimi" ("Mr. Mei, the Chinese were already eating sashimi during the Tang Dynasty [618-907]"). And he pointed to this passage:  "Shuǐjīng zhī pán xíng sù lín, xī jīn yànyù jiǔ wèi xià, luán dāo lǚ qiè kōng fēnlún 水精之盤行素鱗,犀筋饜飫久未下,鸞刀縷切空紛綸。")  ("Crystal plates brought out raw fish; Satiated revelers stopped using their ivory chopsticks; [The chefs] wielded their ornate cutting knives in vain.")

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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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More literary troubles for Xi Jinping

This article (in Chinese) describes how China's netizens (wǎngyǒu 网友) are ridiculing President Xi for inappropriately quoting a poem by Kong Rong 孔融 (153-208), a 20th generation descendant of Confucius, in his New Year's address to the nation.

The first lines of the poem are:

suìyuè bù jū
shíjié rú liú

歲月不居
時節如流

The years do not stand still,
Time flows on like a river.

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Kids Bong

Bill Benzon spotted this on Facebook:

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"I am a cat" t-shirt

Thorin Engeseth sent in these two photographs of a Zara brand shirt that his wife bought yesterday:

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Gilded Age diglossia

A couple of weeks ago, Larry Hyman and I walked through the Berkeley Hills to visit John and Manju Ohala, who live not far from Grizzly Peak. We followed instructions from Google Maps on my cellphone — except that there was one segment of the route that we couldn't find, Bret Harte Lane. On the way back, we realized that Bret Harte Lane was just where the map said it should be, but had been given a new name (and a new street sign): Ina Coolbrith Path.

As the plaque (which we missed on the way up) explains:

Ina Donna Coolbrith, California's first poet laureate and the nation's first state laureate, was considered "the pearl of all her tribe" by her 19th century colleagues during the Bay Area's first literary heyday.

Born Josephine Donna Smith, a niece of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, she came west with her family during California's Gold Rush. Coolbrith was fifteen and living in Los Angeles when her poetry was first published. After she divorced her husband at age twenty-one, she changed her name to Ina Donna Coolbrith, concealed her Mormon ancestry, and moved to San Francisco, where her celebrity as a poet grew. Coolbrith became Oakland's first public librarian and a mentor to Jack London, guiding him in his reading. She died in Berkeley and is buried in Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery.

When byways in the Berkeley hills were named after Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark Twain, and other literati in her circle, women were not included. This path was renamed for Coolbrith in 2016.

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Jewish uptalk?

Corey Robin, "Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?" (10/18/2017), describes a bit of fictional forensic sociolinguistics:

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist.

Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he's been around a lot of Jews?

Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten.

Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I'm trying to find out if he's been around Communists.

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