Archive for Language and religion

The Dead Sea Scrolls: every little dot counts

In a masterful Smithsonian Magazine (January-February 2023) article, Chanan Tigay documents:

How an Unorthodox Scholar Uses Technology to Expose Biblical Forgeries:  Deciphering ancient texts with modern tools, Michael Langlois challenges what we know about the Dead Sea Scrolls

This engrossing account is so rich that I can only touch on a few of the highlights.  It's about a would-be, and to some extent still is, rock musician — looking like the bassist from Def Leppard — named Michael Langlois.  But, at 46, "he is also perhaps the most versatile—and unorthodox—biblical scholar of his generation."

What makes Langlois so special?  Reading through Tigay's article, it is his relentless quest to get to the bottom of puzzles posed by tiny details of the Dead Scrolls, and his creativity in devising unconventional tools and approaches for doing so.

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Ask Language Log: "G'Tach"

From TIC Redux:

In the 1971 British dark comedy horror film "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", the title character (played by a scenery-chewing Vincent Price) elaborately kills his victims through torturous deaths inspired by the ten (or so?) Plagues of Egypt… More than once in the film, those biblical plagues are referred to (per closed-captioning) as "the G'Tach"… That term intrigues me, but I've never been able to find any uses of, or references to, it except in connection with this film… Is it a real word?…

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More on glat(t)

We have been discussing the Yiddish word "glat", albeit with a lot of loose ends (see "Glat perch and medicare yam" (12/19/22).  Having gained some additional information, it is worthwhile taking another look.

From a colleague:

I am very familiar with the word Glat, or Glatt. It is often used together with the word kosher. Glatt is Yiddish for "smooth". This word relates to meat and poultry and is never used with fish. Perhaps Chinese borrowed this word because Israel exports food items to China, including fish?
 
What Is Glatt Kosher?

For meat to be kosher, it must come from a kosher animal slaughtered in a kosher way. Glatt kosher takes it further; the meat must also come from an animal with adhesion-free or smooth lungs.

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Some Christmas-adjacent posts

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Zoroastrianism between Iranic and Sinitic

I've always been intrigued by this odd character:  祆.  It's got a "spirit; cult" semantophore (radical; classifier) on the left (shì 礻) and a "heaven" phonophore (tiān 天) on the right.  Read "xiān", it is customarily translated as "deity; divinity; Heaven" and is thought of as the central figure of Xiānjiào 祆教 ("xian doctrine / religion").  The traditional Chinese explanation of Xiānjiào 祆教 is Bàihuǒjiào 拜火教 ("fire-worshipping doctrine / religion"), which is rendered into English as "Zoroastrianism" or "Mazdaism".  According to zdic, Xiān is Ormazda, god of the Zoroastrians; extended to god of the Manicheans.

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Unknown language #14

Here is the first page of a letter sent from China (Tongzhou, Beijing) to the US (Trenton, NJ) by a missionary in 1888. The missionary’s name is James Ingram (1858-1934).  My colleagues in China are very interested in what the letter says, but they cannot read the script.


(credit:  Yale Divinity Library)

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Amen

After uttering that affirmation in response to Peter Grubtal's wish (here) that "the [Butkara] stupa doesn't get destroyed like many other Buddhist relics in that area" — thinking of the Taliban and Bamiyan — I worried that what I said may have been too Christian and Jewish.  Upon reflection, however, I realized that nothing could be more ecumenical (in the broadest sense) than "Amen":

Amen (Hebrew: אָמֵן, ʾāmēn; Ancient Greek: ἀμήν, amḗn; Classical Syriac: ܐܡܝܢ, 'amīn; Arabic: آمين, ʾāmīn) is an Abrahamic declaration of affirmation which is first found in the Hebrew Bible, and subsequently found in the New Testament. It is used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim practices as a concluding word, or as a response to a prayer. Common English translations of the word amen include "verily", "truly", "it is true", and "let it be so". It is also used colloquially, to express strong agreement.

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Narts, Ossetians, and other peoples of the Caucasus

For many reasons, here at Language Log we have had a longstanding interest in the Narts, their language, literature, and lore:

The Nart sagas (Abkhaz: Нарҭаа ражәабжьқәа; Nartaa raƶuabƶkua; Adyghe: Нарт тхыдэжъхэр, romanized: Nart txıdəĵxər; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Nartı kadjıtæ) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form much of the basic mythology of the ethnic groups in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, KarachayBalkar, and to some extent ChechenIngush folklore.

The term nart comes from the Ossetian Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of nar. The derivation of the root nar is of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian *nar for 'hero, man', descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. In Chechen, the word nart means 'giant'.

(source)

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Misbehaving mediums

https://twitter.com/C_M_Churchman/status/1543548736663474176?s=20&t=2MgZwvO2bGO9cDgP4H6lIg

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Capitals and upper case letters

I am a fan of capital letters.  They let us know when a noun is a proper noun — the name of a person, a place.  But I also have to admit that they are something of a bane at times.  For example, I grew up learning that one should capitalize all terms in a title except for prepositions, words of three letters or less, definite and indefinite articles, and so forth.  For many publications, however, including here at Language Log, it seems to be house style not to capitalize all the terms of a title over three words in length, unless they are proper nouns.

This indefiniteness about whether or not to use capitals in titles gives me lots of headaches.  Because I'm a stickler for bibliographical exactitude, when I'm preparing my list of references and footnotes, it causes me much grief to decide whether to include capitals or not when different sources threat them dissimilarly.

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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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Miniature Votive Stupa

One enigmatic artifact combines so many of my favorite things:  Dunhuang, Yi jing, Buddhism, cosmic symbols (e.g., Kunlun)….

clevelandart.org

[For an enlargement, click on the photograph to go to the thread, then click on the photograph again. It will be large enough to make the inscription legible.]

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