Archive for Classification

Is Korean diverging into two languages?, part 2

To make sense of the story that follows, one must understand that the Korean word "agassi 아가씨" used to refer to a young lady from the upper class, but now in North Korea means “slave of feudal society” and has a very negative connotation there.

"Hidden meaning of Korean term 'agassi' leads to murder", by Choi Jae-hee, The Korea Herald (5/3/22)

Because the linguistic psychology that lies behind the tragic crime recounted in this article is intricate and subtle, it is necessary to recount it at some length:

An error in a mobile translation application recently prompted a 35-year-old Chinese man in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, to murder a Korean resident.

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Heavy Velar vs Meager Bilabial Articulations in Xiongnu Language

[This is a guest post by Penglin Wang]

            The great difficulties we have with trying to study Xiongnu language persist from trying to glean Xiongnu words, especially the glossed ones, in early Chinese sources for comparison in order to know what linguistic affiliation it seems to have in the central Eurasian region. Since these difficulties cannot be overcome at all owing to its extinct status a millennium plus ago, an alternative approach could be to recognize that there are different components of language regardless of living or extinct and attempt to observe how different components can differ from one another yet still be entities that most researchers would want to treat as linguistic data or facts rather than imaginations for a comparative purpose. It could then be possible to open up a window to contribute to a solution of some classic problems in Altaic comparative studies. One such attempt is to examine the available Xiongnu words from the perspectives of articulatory phonetics and phonotactics. Concern for these is characteristic of Xiongnu studies. Pulleyblank (1962:242) has insightfully observed “only *b- initially, never *p-” in the Xiongnu transcriptions.

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The cognation of "Rusyn", "Ruthenian", and "Russian"

Etymological aficionado that I am, as I suspected "Ruthenian" is related to "Russian".

Some notes:

Related to Ruthene, Ruthenian, Ruthenic, from Medieval Latin Rutheni, Ruteni, related to Russi, Ruzi as Prutheni, Pruteni is to Prussi, Pruzi (Prussians). Compare Rus, Russ, from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ), compare Byzantine Greek Ῥῶς (Rhôs).

(source)

Ditto for "Rusyn":

From Rusyn руси́н (rusýn), from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ, Rus). Compare Ruthenia.

(source)

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From Rusyn / Ruthenian and Ukrainian, and on to Russian

[This is a guest post by Don Keyser, responding to Grant Newsham's "Rusyn" (3/22/22)]

This one brought back memories.

In 1959, my high school in Towson, just to the north of Baltimore, rose to the challenge posed by Sputnik and launched a Russian-language program. I had studied Latin for three years, and when invited to "enlist" (as a patriotic duty) in study of the enemy's language, I was delighted to abandon Latin … for my country, and otherwise. So I took two years of Russian in high school, and went on to study Russian language and Russian/Soviet area studies through undergrad and M.A. work. I only "defected" to Chinese/Japanese in PhD studies and thereafter in the U.S. government.

Anyway … my very first Russian language teacher was named Josef Glus. He had been teaching wood shop*, of all things, to kids not expected to go on to university. But he spoke Russian, and was tapped to teach the maiden course in that language offered by the high school. He was Ruthenian. I had to look up Ruthenia — in the days before a few taps of the fingers on a computer yielded up a map, the history, and so on.

[*VHM: For the concept of "shop" in the high school curriculum, see "The weirdness of typing errors" (3/14/22)]

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"Little Russian"

In "Give Elfdalian, Haitian, Limburgish, Patois, Ukrainian and, yes, Black English their due", NYT (3/11/22), John McWhorter writes:

It was long ago common for Russians to regard Ukrainian as just a dialect of Russian. “Little Russian,” it was called. Writing for The Conversation this week, Florida International University’s Phillip Carter said, “If you ask some Russian nationalists, Ukrainian isn’t a language at all,” noting that in the 1863 Valuev Circular, Pyotr Valuev, Russia’s interior minister, decreed that a separate Ukrainian language did not exist.

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Arabic and the vernaculars, part 4 — the case of Bible translations

Again, to refresh our collective memory and to provide the context for the present post and the other posts in this series, I repeat the following questions:

1. Is there such a thing as "Classical Arabic"?  If there is, how do we describe / define it?

2. What is "Standard Arabic"?

3. What is Quranic Arabic?  How different is it from Standard Arabic?

4. How many vernacular Arabic languages are there?  Egyptian? Syrian?  Lebanese?  Are they quite different from Standard Arabic?  Are they mutually intelligible?  Do they customarily have written forms and a flourishing literature?

You may also wish to revisit the introduction with which the first post in the series began.

Heather Sharkey offered the following eye-opening response:

You have opened a can of worms! Or many cans of worms!

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Arabic and the vernaculars

With this post, I will begin a series on the nature of the Arabic group of languages.  My reason for doing so is that many people are badly confused about just what "Arabic" (a Semitic group) signifies when it comes to language, almost as badly confused as most people are about "Chinese" (linguistically more properly referred to as Sinitic).

For a basic, foundational statement, here are the opening two paragraphs of the Wikipedia article on "Arabic":

Arabic (اَلْعَرَبِيَّةُ, al-ʿarabiyyah [al ʕaraˈbijːa] (audio speaker iconlisten) or عَرَبِيّ, ʿarabīy [ˈʕarabiː] (audio speaker iconlisten) or [ʕaraˈbij]) is a Semitic language that first emerged in the 1st to 4th centuries CE. It is the lingua franca of the Arab world and the liturgical language of Islam. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living in the Arabian Peninsula bounded by eastern Egypt in the west, Mesopotamia in the east, and the Anti-Lebanon mountains and northern Syria in the north, as perceived by ancient Greek geographers. The ISO assigns language codes to 32 varieties of Arabic, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, also referred to as Literary Arabic, which is modernized Classical Arabic. This distinction exists primarily among Western linguists; Arabic speakers themselves generally do not distinguish between Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic, but rather refer to both as al-ʿarabiyyatu l-fuṣḥā (اَلعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلْفُصْحَىٰ "the eloquent Arabic") or simply al-fuṣḥā (اَلْفُصْحَىٰ).

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Ukrainian is not Russian

Paul Goble has an article in Window on Eurasia — New Series (7/24/21) that is short, succinct, and significant enough to quote in its entirety:  "Despite Putin’s Words, Moscow Does Recognize the Ukrainian Language as Distinct, Yaroshinskaya Says":

            Staunton, July 17 – All[a] Yaroshinskaya, a senior Moscow commentator who was politically active at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of Russian ones, says that whatever Vladimir Putin says about Russians and Ukrainians being one people, even he has been forced to recognize that a separate Ukrainian language has existed for a long time.

            Beyond question, Putin wants Ukrainians to speak Russian; but his discussion of the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations unintentionally calls attention to Russian efforts from the 18th century up to now of Moscow’s efforts to restrict Ukrainian, an acknowledgement of its existence and power (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/07/15/1911461.html).

         Again and again the tsars and the commissars and now “democratic” Russian leaders have tried to restrict Ukrainian and get Ukrainians to speak Russian. Yaroshinskaya details the decrees and decisions of Russian rulers from the times of Peter the Great to the present; and she points as well to the single exception until now.

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The "genetic singularity" of the Basque people

Linguistically, Basque is generally thought of as an isolate with a very deep history.  Consequently, Basque people are also often presumed to have been genetically singular for thousands of years as well.  A new study, however, calls this presumption into question:

"Basque 'genetic singularity' confirmed in largest-ever study:  The new research shows that this difference only began to emerge 2,500 years ago as a result of centuries of isolation", by Manuel Ansede, El Pais (English) (4/1/21)

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Urdu (?)-English vocabulary in Buddhist archeology and architecture

"Archaeologists Uncover 2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Site In Pakistan", by Neil Bowdler, Radio Mashaal (2/3/21).

When I watched the embedded video in that article, it sounded to me as though the archeologists were speaking Urdu or something close to it (e.g., I heard them repeatedly use the word matlab  مَطْلَب  ["meaning; purpose; motive"; Hindi spelling मतलब]) and caught many other words that I recognized from my knowledge of Hindi-Urdu and Nepali, but I was astonished at how much English vocabulary was mixed into the language the archeologists were speaking.  Not only did they use a lot of English vocabulary, it was mostly not heavily accented with their local language.

Here are some of the English words and phrases that I heard in the interviews:  "important site development", "800 century year ago", "complex", "rainy season", "dwelling monks", "meetings", "religious", "philosophy", "schooling areas", "institute", "architecture", "Buddhism", "Buddhist site", "religious tourism… peace… harmony".  I cannot guarantee that this is a complete list of all the English words and phrases in the interviews (total length 3:38), nor that I have transcribed each and every item exactly the way they said it.  Still, this list should give a fairly good idea of the nature of the mixed language they are speaking.

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Hokkien renaissance

This is cause for rejoicing:

 "Meet the Malaysian on a mission to make Hokkien great again, amid Mandarin’s rising popularity in Southeast Asia"

    Linguist Sim Tze Wei has been accused of trying to divide the Chinese people, as there are those who see the use of other Chinese languages ‘as a sign of disunity and weakness’
    But he points out that Chinese immigrants to Asia have for generations been speaking their own languages, which are being edged out as more turn to learning Mandarin

Randy Mulyanto, SCMP, 1/24/21

When Sim Tze Wei began working to raise awareness of the Hokkien language, he never expected he would be accused of trying to divide the Chinese people.

“Han Chinese nationalists everywhere are keen to equate Mandarin to [real] Chinese,” said Sim, adding that there are those who find ethnic Chinese people speaking in Chinese languages other than Mandarin “as a sign of disunity and weakness”.

The Malaysian-Chinese linguist, who is in his mid-30s, is president of the Hokkien Language Association of Penang. Through the association, Sim is campaigning for the wider use of Hokkien, and advocating that it be reinstated as a language of instruction in independent and Chinese primary schools in the northern Malaysian state, as he fears Hokkien will “continue to be eroded by Mandarin and English”.

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Proto-Indo-European laks- > Modern English "lox"

From the time I began the systematic study of the language family in the summer of 1990, I have known that the word "laks-" ("salmon") is important for the early history of Indo-European, yet I felt that something was not quite right about the claims put forward in this article:

"The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years:  The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived."

Sevindj Nurkiyazova, Nautilus, May 13, 2019

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The Altaic Hypothesis revisited

"Altaic: Rise and Fall of a Linguistic Hypothesis", NativLang (9/28/19) — video is 12:29; extensive discussion after the page break

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