Archive for Language and religion

Daughter of Holy Cow

I was just thinking how important cows (and their milk) are for Indian people and was surprised that's reflected in such a fundamental word for a family relationship as "daughter" — at least in the popular imagination.  Even in a scholarly work such as that of D.N. Jha, The Myth of the Holy Cow (New Delhi:  Navayana, 2009), p. 28, we find:

Some kinship terms were also borrowed from the pastoral nomenclature and the daughter was therefore called duhitṛ (= duhitā = one who milks).

That somehow seemed too good to be true, a bit dubious on the surface.  To test the equation, I began by bringing together some basic linguistic information acquired on a preliminary web search.

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When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

It matters, so let's familiarize ourselves with the meaning of the term right off the bat.  In Chinese Studies, we call this "zhèngmíng 正名" ("rectification of names").

Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would "rectify the names" to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and "undertakings would not be completed." Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.

Wikipedia

So, what is a "qaghan"?

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Indo-European religion, Scythian philosophy, and the date of Zoroaster: a linguistic quibble

On September 23, 2020, Christopher Beckwith delivered the following lecture at  Indiana University:

Scythian Philosophy
So, Was There a Classical Age of Eurasia After All?

Christopher I. Beckwith
Sept. 23, 2020, 12:00 noon

In the middle of the first millennium BCE philosophy appeared in several ancient cultures. Its most prominent early practitioners were Anacharsis (‘the Scythian’, fl. 590 BC), Zoroaster (whose texts are in a Scythian dialect, fl. 620 BC), Gautama the Buddha (‘the Scythian Sage’, fl. 490 BC), and Laotzu (*Gautama, fl. 400 BC). They use logic to pose the metaphysical-political problem of polytheism versus monotheism, the ethical problem of achieving happiness or equanimity, and especially the epistemological problem of categorization. This talk examines their ideas and builds on the latest advances in Scythology to address the much-avoided question in the subtitle. 

C.I. Beckwith, Distinguished Professor of Central Eurasian Studies, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, is author of Greek Buddha (2015), Warriors of the Cloisters (2012), Empires of the Silk Road (2009), etc., and The Scythian Empire (ms. Nearing completion).

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A Chinese character that is harder to write than "biang"

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The importance of being and speaking Taiwanese

Meet Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's de facto ambassador to the United States:

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Candida Xu: a highly literate Chinese woman of the 17th century

Throughout history, female literacy in China was extremely low.  It was only in the 20th century that sizable numbers of women were able to read.  An exception to this general rule was Candida Xu (in Chinese called Xǔ Xú Gāndìdà, 许徐甘第大, Xǔ Xú shì 许徐氏,Xǔ Gāndìdà 许甘第大,Xú Gāndìdà 徐甘第大, and Gāndìdà 甘第大 [source]).  The double surname Xǔ Xú 许徐 — highly unusual for a woman in premodern China — derives from her marriage to a man named Xǔ Yuǎndù 许远度, to whom she bore eight children.  They observed the Catholic custom whereby the husband did not take concubines.

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Irish without translation

Article in The Irish Times (6/3/20):

"Church of England rules Irish inscription on grave stone must have translation:  Family of Irishwoman wanted phrase ‘In ár gcroíthe go deo’ at grave in Coventry"

Here are the first few paragraphs of the article:

The Church of England has ruled that an Irish-language inscription on a Coventry gravestone must have a translation with it to ensure the phrase is not mistaken as being a political statement.

The family of Irish-born Margaret Keene want the words “In ár gcroíthe go deo” on the stone above her grave at St Giles burial ground at Exhall, Coventry. Translated the words mean “in our hearts for ever.” She died in July 2018 at the age of 73.

Stephen Eyre QC in his role as a judge of the Church of England’s Consistory Court (an ecclestiastical court) ruled that without a translation the inscription would not be understood by many visiting the church yard.

“Given the passions and feelings connected with the use of Irish Gaelic there is a sad risk that the phrase would be regarded as some form of slogan or that its inclusion without translation would of itself be seen as a political statement.

“That is not appropriate and it follows that the phrase “In ár gcroíthe go deo” must be accompanied by a translation.”

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A word for parents who lose an only child

It is well known that the PRC had a one-child policy from 1979-2015.  This means that, for most Chinese children born during this period, they would have no brothers and sisters.  As such, they were inestimably precious in a country that lacks adequate social benefits for people to live on after retirement, but who — in large measure — had to rely on their lone offspring to support them.  Such a practical consideration was matched by the psychological devastation experienced when a couple lost their sole, beloved child.

"Chinese parents who lose their only child — a tragedy so common there’s a word for it",

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"Forty Days and Forty Nights"

The old hymn and blues song of that title have been very much on my mind during the last couple of months.

George Hunt Smyttan (1856)

Forty days and forty nights
You were fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights,
Tempted, and yet undefiled….

Muddy Waters (1956)

Forty days and forty nights, since my baby left this town
Sun shinin' all day long, but the rain keep falling down
She's my life I need her so, why she left I just don't know….

These are very different kinds of songs, yet they are both focused on a period of forty days and forty nights.  I've been thinking about these songs a lot in the current climate of far-reaching quarantines against the novel coronavirus epidemic centered on Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

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Know your Ossetians

We here at Language Log know our Ossetians:

"Blue-Green Iranian 'Danube'" (10/26/19)

"Sword out of the stone" (8/9/08)

And we know our Scythians, who are closely linked to the Ossetians, too:

"Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (12/23/18)

"Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China" (11/11/19)

"Of armaments and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 6" (12/23/17)

"Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (4/21/19)

"Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstruction" (12/16/18)

Now Richard Foltz (a cultural historian specializing in ancient Iranian religion), on his blog, "A Canadian in Ossetia:  Life in the central Caucasus", has given us the opportunity to greatly expand our knowledge of Ossetian / Ossete / Ossetic and the Ossetians who speak it with two new, substantial articles:

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"Kurban" in Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkic, and Greek

Michael Carasik called this article to my attention:

"Battered but Resilient After China's Crackdown", NYT (1/18/20), by Chris Buckley, Steven Lee Myers, and Gilles Sabrié
 
An ancient Muslim town, Yarkand is a cultural cradle for the Uighurs, who have experienced mass detentions. A rare visit revealed how people there have endured the upheavals.

He asked about the following sentence:

"Amid the rubble of a demolished lot, residents bought sheep for Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, called Corban by Uighurs."

Pointing out that "Corban" is the Hebrew word for sacrifice, Michael wondered how it got connected with Eid al-Adha.  Thereby hangs a tale, which has captivated me for the last two days.

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Sanskrit inscriptional evidence for Muslims in 12th-century Bengal

Herewith, I would like to call your attention to a new article by Ryosuke Furui (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo) titled "Sujanagar Stone Inscription of the Time of Bhojavarman, Year 7" in Pratna Samiksha, A Journal of Archaeology (Centre for Archaeological Studies & Training, Eastern India, Kolkata), New Series, Volume 10 (2019), 115-122.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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