Archive for Classification

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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Sinitic topolects

Tweet by Chenchen Zhang:

For Hmong-Mien and Tai-Kadai languages, follow the thread.

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Another Northeastern topolectal term without specified characters to write it

Yesterday Diana Shuheng Zhang and I went to a Trader Joe's and saw some pretty, gleaming yellow berries for sale.  Diana was delighted because it reminded her of the same type of berries she used to eat when she was back home in the Northeast of China.

I asked her what they were called in Northeast topolect (Dōngběi huà 东北话).  Her answer both intrigued and amused me:

They are called gu1niao3 or gu1niang3; either way is fine and either way is used by many people interchangeably. Even for myself, I sometimes say the first one, sometimes the second one, depends on… well, randomly. Haha!
 
Then the inevitable question:  how do you write gu1niao3 and gu1niang3 in characters?

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Some citrus terms in Sinitic: today and in the past

From the time I started learning Chinese more than half a century ago, I had a hard time lining up the many Chinese terms for different types of citrus with the corresponding words in English.   For example, I always wanted to call oranges "júzi 橘子", but it is technically (botanically) more correct to call them "chéngzi 橙子".  As for what júzi 橘子 should be called in English, they are, well, "mandarins" or "mandarin oranges".  Ahem!  As L said in this comment several years ago, "…in NZ, any small, peelable orange is a mandarin! And would never be considered an orange."  (From "Really?!" [12/27/16]).

Then there are tangerines, clementines (cuties), and satsumas, just among closely related varieties of citrus fruits, and I won't begin to get into grapefruit, pomelo, yuzu, citron, bergamot, kumquat, tangelo, kabosu, orangelo, hyuganatsu, rangpur, sudachi, kawachi bankan, etc., etc., and dozens of other types.  My old friend, the late Elling Eide (1935-2012), a specialist on Li Bo (701-762) had a grove on his estate in Sarasota, Florida where he cultivated about fifty different types of citrus fruits.  What a joy it was to walk through the grove and sample tree-ripened mandarins, tangerines, clementines, grapefruits, pomelos, and all manner of other citrus to satiety!

Be it should be noted that Elling could have all that richness of citrus because Sarasota has a humid subtropical climate bordering a tropical savanna climate, with an average of only one frost per year and rarely drops below freezing (which nonetheless always concerned Elling greatly).

But now we must turn to the main thrust of this post, which is a discussion of the etymology of gān 柑, another name for mandarin(e) (orange), often appearing in the disyllabic form gānjú 柑桔, which includes several closely related subspecies.

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COVID-19 testing: a warning

Everyone is talking about the importance of more extensive COVID-19 testing in determining who is infected, and (eventually) who has been infected.

But nearly all the discussion that I've heard and read has been based on the assumption that the relevant tests are accurate.  And this assumption is false — the available tests for this condition seem to be even less accurate than medical tests generally are. Thus Saurabh Jha, "False Negative: COVID-19 Testing's Catch-22", Medpage Today 3/31/2020:

In a physician WhatsApp group, a doctor posted he had a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit and muscle ache, gently confessing that it felt like his typical "man flu" which heals with rest and scotch. He worried that he had coronavirus. When the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for the virus on his nasal swab came back negative, he jubilantly announced his relief.

Like Twitter, in WhatsApp, emotions quickly outstrip facts. After he received a flurry of cheerful emojis, I ruined the party, advising that despite the negative test, he assumes he's infected and quarantine for two weeks, with a bottle of scotch.

It's believed that the secret sauce to fighting the pandemic is testing for the virus. The depth of the response will be different if 25% of the population is infected than 1%. Testing is the third way, rejecting the choice between death and economic depression. Without testing, strategy is faith-based. But what'll you do differently if the test is negative?

That depends on the test's performance and the consequences of being wrong. Though coronavirus damages the lungs with reckless abandon, it's oddly a shy virus. The Chinese ophthalmologist who originally sounded the alarm about coronavirus, Li Wenliang, had several negative tests. He died from the infection.

In one study, RT-PCR's sensitivity – that's the percentage of infected testing positive – was 70%. Of 1,000 with coronavirus, 700 test positive but 300 test negative.

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Seke, an endangered language of Nepal, in Flatbush, Brooklyn

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal (1965-67), I have a particular interest in all things Nepalese, especially language.  Now comes report of a spectacular linguistic phenomenon related to Nepal, and it is situated less than a hundred miles from where I'm sitting in Philadelphia.

"Just 700 Speak This Language (50 in the Same Brooklyn Building):  Seke, one of the world’s rarest languages, is spoken by about 100 people in New York", by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, NYT (1/7/20):

The apartment building, in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, is a hive of nationalities. A Pakistani woman entered the elevator on a recent afternoon with a big bag of groceries, flicking a dupatta over her shoulder as a Nepalese nurse and the janitor, a man from Jamaica there to mop up a spill, followed her in.

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Living fossils: Taiwan tea and salmon

Two articles in Chinese (here and here) recently brought news of an indigenous type of tea and referred to it as a rare type of salmon.  Trying to figure that out led to two linguistic puzzles:

1. Making sense of the unusual name for the salmon:  yīnghuā gōu wěn guī 櫻花鉤吻鮭 (lit., "cherry-hook-kiss / mouth-salmon"; i.e., the Formosan landlocked salmon).

2. Understanding how, even metaphorically, a kind of tea would be referred to as a type of salmon.

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Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Here's what it looks like (click to embiggen for necessary detail):

Photograph by Yixue Yang, who gave it the name "spiked lantern".

Quiz:  before going to the next page, please give it whatever name you think is most appropriate, based on its shape or whatever other attributes you can glean from the photograph.

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“Tocharian C” Again: The Plot Thickens and the Mystery Deepens

[This is a guest post by Douglas Q. Adams]

Readers of this blog may remember the excitement generated a few months ago by the announcement that “Tocharian C,” the native language of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan) had been discovered, hiding, as it were, in certain documents written in the Kharoṣṭhī script ("Tocharian C: its discovery and implications" [4/2/19]). Those documents, with transcription, grammatical sketch, and glossary, were published earlier this year as a part of Klaus T. Schmidt’s Nachlass (Stefan Zimmer, editor, Hampen in Bremen, publisher).  However, on the weekend of September 15th and 16th a group of distinguished Tocharianists (led by Georges Pinault and Michaël Peyrot), accompanied by at least one specialist in Central Asian Iranian languages, languages normally written in Kharoṣṭhī, met in Leiden to examine the texts and Schmidt’s transcriptions.  The result is disappointing, saddening even.  In Peyrot’s words, “not one word is transcribed correctly.”  We await a full report of the “Leiden Group” with a more accurate transcription and linguistic commentary (for instance, is this an already known Iranian or Indic language, or do the texts represent more than one language, one of which might be a Tocharian language?). Producing such a report is a tall order and we may not have it for some little time.  But, at the very least, Schmidt’s “Tocharian C,” as it stands, has been removed from the plane of real languages and moved to some linguistic parallel universe.

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