Archive for Language and religion

Persophone Muslim population in China

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Sinoglyphic scripts for Sinitic and non-Sinitic languages in East / Southeast Asia

Forthcoming from De Gruyter, July 14, 2024 (ISBN: 9783111382746):

Vernacular Chinese-Character Manuscripts from East and Southeast Asia, edited by: David Holm.

Volume 40 in the series Studies in Manuscript Cultures

Keywords: Asia; vernacular; ritual; library collections; recitation

Topics:  Asian Literature; Asian and Pacific Studies; Dialectology; Linguistics and Semiotics; Literary Studies; Literature of other Nations and Languages; Southeast Asia; Textual Scholarship; Theoretical Frameworks and Disciplines

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Ask Language Log: Syriac Christian tombstone inscription from Mongol period East Asia

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St. Victor (the Abbey): the language of plans, elevations, sections, and perspectives

Before reading the following article, I didn't even know there was a St. Victor, let alone an Abbey of St. Victor that was established in 1108 near Notre-Dame Cathedral, at the beginning of the "Twelfth-Century Renaissance", in Paris.

The surprising history of architectural drawing in the West

The subtle art of elevation.
Architectural drawing speaks of mathematical precision, but its roots lie in the theological exegesis of a prophetic book

Karl Kinsella, Aeon (12/21/23)

Here's a quick tutorial from the National Design Academy on the architectural language alluded to in the title of this post:

What’s the Difference Between a Plan, Elevation and a Section?

This brief guide uses an ingenious way of looking at an orange from four viewpoints to explain these four main terms of architectural language.  Armed with this fundamental knowledge, let us now join Karl Kinsella in learning about the architectural drawings of the Abbey of St. Victor and other Western religious edifices.  I should preface my overview of Kinsella's article by pointing out the it is accompanied by seven extraordinary period illustrations.

Kinsella begins with Vitruvius' De architectura in the 1st c. BC and moves quickly to the 15th c. when "the artist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, in his brief mention of architectural drawings, assumes that they are done only by architects."  Then comes the real story:

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Tax(es): kanji of the year 2023

The breathless moment when "zei 税" is written by Mori Seihan, the head priest of the magnificent Kiyomizudera in eastern Kyoto (1:32):

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Slap varieties

Sunny Jhatti wrote to me: "I didn't know what 'pimp slap' meant till I saw this."

After witnessing her astonishing diatribe, Conal Boyce said:

I felt like I needed to take a shower.

(Adding insult to injury, google failed to elucidate 'Skims' for me. Had to look elsewhere to get an inkling of what that recurrent theme was about.)

I found the presenter's self-introduction here. She even has her own YouTube channel and other social media platforms.  Her handle is Genevieve Akal.  She is a Gnostic Priestess and Nun.  From the pieties expressed on her homepage, I would never have imagined that she could indulge in such vile vitriol.

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Some Old Chinese terms relating to religion, mythology, ritual

[This is a guest post by Axel Schuessler]

Some Old Chinese (OC) words that relate to religion, mythology and ritual, and words found in ritual literature (Yijing, Liji, Zhouli), have no Sino-Tibetan (ST) roots, but instead have connections with other language families.

    For comparison, the first section of this paper will list (§1) Sino-Tibetan words, i.e., ones with Tibeto-Burman (TB) cognates. Then: (§2) Mon-Khmer words from the state of Chu and mid-Yangtze region. (§3) Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) and area words, perhaps also from the mid-Yangtze. (§4) Tai/Kra-Dai items from the Huai River basin. (§5) The Gou-language(s), so called because among its prefixes stands out a conspicuous syllable gou (see Schuessler forthc.). These languages were in prehistoric times spoken from at least Yue in the South in the vicinity of the Coast all the way to Song and Qi. Their connection with known language families is unknown. (§6) The last section is dedicated to the mythological figures Xi and Hé 羲和.

    About the hypothetical early historic locations of these language families, see Schuessler forthc. (“Tigers, and the languages of ancient Chu, Wu, and Yue”). Outside of China, the items under consideration tend to be ordinary, mundane words, but in OC they often acquire a narrow meaning just for ritual use. This identifies them as loans.

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Hurrian hymn from Ugarit, Canaan in northern Syria, 1400 BC

"The Oldest (Known) Song of All Time"

Includes spectrograms of different reconstructions.

Although this YouTube was made three years ago, I am calling it to the attention of Language Log readers now that I know about it because it draws together many themes we have discussed in previous posts.

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Korean words for "bottle gourd"

I spent much of the summer in Vermont ensconced in a hermit's cottage reading, writing, and, of course, running through the Green Mountains and verdant woods.  When I left last week to come back for the fall semester at Penn, I brought with me about fifty bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) that had been abandoned by the side of the road.

My purpose in bringing so many bottle gourds back to Philadelphia is that I wanted to give them to the new graduate students in my department.  It has been my habit for many years to present something exotic / esoteric and regionally meaningful to the students in Asian studies.  Usually it's edible, such as camel's milk cheese from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, but sometimes it's more on the edifying side.  Such is the case with this year's bottle gourds. 

How so?

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No, I'm not talking about the eye parasite called Loa loa (a filarial nematode), which is also called eyeworm.  I'm talking about an image that gets stuck in your brain the same way an earworm (also called brainworm, sticky music, or stuck song syndrome) gets stuck in your head.  We've talked about earworms a lot on Language Log (see "Selected readings" below for a few examples), but I don't think we've ever mentioned eyeworms before.

No, come to think of it, I did use the word "eyeworm" once before (here), but that was in reference to the ubiquitous subtitles of Chinese films, even those intended for Chinese audiences, which — upon first glance — may strike one as unnecessary excrescences crawling around in the viewer's field of vision, except for the reasons I listed in the cited post, which lead Chinese audiences to prefer or even need them to understand the films they are watching.

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Buddhist ideas on Sanskrit-Chinese translation

[This is a guest post by Max Deeg.  Although the following text has profound implications for anyone who is seriously interested in the actualities of translation between two very different kinds of languages from antiquity, it is fundamentally a task for specialists to render this type of Middle Buddhist Hybrid Sinitic into English.  This is both because of the nature of the language itself and due to the fact that it is fairly lengthy.  Consequently, I will not provide phonetic annotations of the entire text, as is my usual practice for shorter passages on Language Log.]


Bianji on Sanskrit and Xuanzang as a translator.[1]


The following passage is found in the twelfth chapter or fascicle (juan) of Xuanzang’s 玄奘 Datang Xiyu ji 大唐西域記 (Record of the Western Regions of the Great Tang) and is part of what I think is Bianji’s 辯機 (619-?) “Eulogy of the Record” (Jizan 記讚) added to the Record.[2]

The Datang Xiyu ji (Record of the Western Regions of the Great Tang) by the Chinese monk-pilgrim and translator Xuanzang (600?-664; travelled 629-645), arguably is one of the earliest Buddhist Chinese texts translated into a Western language and had an enormous impact on the historical research on Buddhism.[3] Originally written for the second Tang emperor Taizong 太宗 (598-649; ruled from 626) in less than one year after Xuanzang’s return from India in 645, the text gives information about the Central Asian regions Xuanzang travelled through on his journey to India (and back), about India and her different regions, with a focus on the state of Buddhism and its sacred places linked to the life of the Buddha and his disciples. Although the Record has mainly been used in a historicist-positivist fashion in modern scholarship, the text is a multifaceted complex work which contains several layers of “intentionality” that need to be taken into account carefully when reading and interpreting (hence also translating) the text. One of these intentional aspects is to “sell” Buddhism and the ideal of a Buddhist ruler to the Tang emperor.[4]

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"Double pan"

Whatever that means.

That's what we get when we enter into AI translation software (GT, Baidu, Bing, DeepL) this key term — "双泛" — from this important policy document concerning the governance of Xinjiang issued by the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Committee of the CCP.

Shuāng 双 is simple:  it means "double".  Fair enough.  But 泛 in this disyllabic expression is notoriously difficult to deal with.  It can be pronounced either fàn, in which case it means  "to float on water; to drift; to spread out; to be suffused with; to flood; to overflow; superficial; non-specific; extensive; general; pan-; careless; reckless", fěng, in which case it means "to turn over; to topple over; to be destroyed; to be defeated; to fall", or fá, in which case it signifies the sound of water.

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Indigenous languages of Taiwan

How many are there?

Taiwan’s unrecognized indigenous tribes are reviving dead languages to achieve recognition

There are currently 16 officially recognized indigenous peoples in Taiwan. The Pingpu — which comprise 10 groups on the island’s lowlands — are lobbying to make that number 17, and they’re doing it by reviving lost languages and culture.

By Jordyn Haime, The China Project (6/5/23)

In contemporary Mandarin, many of the speakers of these languages are called shāndì tóngbāo 山地同胞 ("mountain countrymen / compatriots"), which meshes well with the opening paragraph of Haime's article:

Long before Chinese settlers came to the flat, sprawling lands of the Pingtung plain — the southern Taiwanese county now known for its pineapple and mango production — the area was inhabited by Pingpu (plains indigenous) tribes like the Makatao. Waves of colonization pushed indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands and closer to the mountains, or in some cases, to the other side of the island.

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