Archive for Philology

Comparative scriptural interpretation of the midrashim and the Analects

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-forty-ninth issue — Benjamin Porteous, "Reading Genesis 22 and Analects 18 in Late Antiquity":

ABSTRACT: This paper compares modes of scriptural interpretation from two ends of the Eurasian landmass in the late antique period (400–600 CE). Juxtaposing midrashim on Genesis with the Lunyi yishu 論語義疏, a famous expository commentary on the Confucian Analects, the paper argues that the difference between late-antique Confucian and Jewish commentarial practice lies in differing senses of responsibility for the sacred text. The Lunyu yishu curates the full Analects text, while midrashim presuppose a reader who turns elsewhere for the full version of the Hebrew Bible. The paper provides full typologies of commentarial technique in the midrashim and the Lunyu yishu; this is designed to assist comparison and further understanding of the practice of medieval Chinese commentary.

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Unknown language #19

Inscribed sandstone known as the "Singapore Stone", Singapore, 10th–14th century:

Collection of the National Museum of Singapore

(Source; also includes an animated photo that can be rotated 360º in any direction and enlarged or reduced to any size)

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Digital Humanities for the study of traditional Asian medicines

A guest post for The Digital Orientalist (4/10/24), under The Magic of Philology and Indexing, Polyglot Asian Medicines (Foundational Resources and Digital Tools), by Michael Stanley-Baker, Christopher S.G. Khoo and Faizah Zakariah (all three are based at academic institutions in Singapore), "Tracking Drug Names Across Language, Time, Space and Knowledge Domains to Produce New Visions of Traditional Medicine".

This is a richly detailed article with many links and citations.  I will not attempt to cover, much less extensively quote, lengthy portions.  Instead, I will begin with the authors' general introduction, note the main sections of the article, refer to the graphs, and quote one typical section to show what the authors' approach can accomplish.

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Codices of Tetepilco

From Tlacuilolli*, the blog about Mesoamerican writing systems, by Alonso Zamora, on March 21, 2024:

*At the top left of the home page of this blog, there is a tiny seated figure (click to embiggen) with a sharp instrument held vertically in his right hand carving a glyph on a square block held in his left hand.  Emitting from his mouth is a blue, cloud-like puff.  Does that signify recognition the basis of what he is writing is speech?

"New Aztec Codices Discovered: The Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco"

They are beautiful:

Figure 1. Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco: a) Map of the Founding of San Andrés Tetepilco;
b) Inventory of the Church of San Andrés Tetepilco; c) Tira of San Andrés Tetepilco

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The language of spices

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-thirty-eighth issue:

Mapping the Language of Spices: A Corpus-Based, Philological Study on the Words of the Spice Domain,” by Gábor Parti.


Most of the existing literature on spices is to be found in the areas of gastronomy, botany, and history. This study instead investigates spices on a linguistic level. It aims to be a comprehensive linguistic account of the items of the spice trade. Because of their attractive aroma and medicinal value, at certain points in history these pieces of dried plant matter have been highly desired, and from early on, they were ideal products for trade. Cultural contact and exchange and the introduction of new cultural items beget situations of language contact and linguistic acculturation. In the case of spices, not only do we have a set of items that traveled around the world, but also a set of names. This language domain is very rich in loanwords and Wanderwörter. In addition, it supplies us with myriad cases in which spice names are innovations. Still more interesting is that examples in English, Arabic, and Chinese—languages that represent major powers in the spice trade at different times—are here compared.

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Sanskrit is far from extinct

[This is the first of two consecutive posts on things Indian.  After reading them, if someone is prompted to send me material for a third, I'll be happy to make it a trifecta.]

Our entry point to the linguistically compelling topic of today's post is this Nikkei Asia (11/29/23) article by Barkha Shah in its "Tea Leaves" section:

Why it's worth learning ancient Sanskrit in the modern world:

India’s classical language is making a comeback via Telegram and YouTube

The author begins with a brief introduction to the language:

The language had its heyday in ancient India. The Vedas, a collection of poems and hymns, were written in Sanskrit between 1500 and 1200 B.C., along with other literary texts now known as the Upanishads, Granths and Vedangas. But while Sanskrit became the foundation for many (though not all) modern Indian languages, including Hindi, it faded away as a living tongue.

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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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The allure of Latin, the glory of Greek

Beautiful WSJ OpED (6/22/23) by Gerard Gayou, a seminarian of the archdiocese of Washington, who is studying theology at the Pontifical North American College in Rome:

The Guiding Light of Latin Grammar

The language reminds us of what our words mean and of whom we’re called to be.


Nothing bored me more during the summer of 2008 than the prospect of studying Latin grammar. I needed a foreign language as part of my high-school curriculum, and I was loath to choose a dead one. I opted instead for Mandarin Chinese, an adolescent whim that shaped my young adult life. I continued to learn Mandarin in college before working in mainland China after graduation.

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Combinatory Sound Alternations in Proto-, Pre-, and Real Tibetan

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-thirty-first issue:

Bettina Zeisler, “Combinatory Sound Alternations in Proto-, Pre-, and Real Tibetan: The Case of the Word Family *Mra(o) ‘Speak,’ ‘Speaker,’ ‘Human,’ ‘Lord’” (free pdf), Sino-Platonic Papers, 331 (March, 2023), 1-165.

Among many other terms, discusses the Eurasian word for "horse" often mentioned on Language Log (see "Selected readings" below for examples).   Gets into IIr and (P)IE.


At least four sound alternations apply in Tibetan and its predecessor(s): regressive metathesis, alternation between nasals and oral stops, jotization, and vowel alternations. All except the first are attested widely among the Tibeto-Burman languages, without there being sound laws in the strict sense. This is a threat for any reconstruction of the proto-language. The first sound alternation also shows that reconstructions based on the complex Tibetan syllable structure are misleading, as this complexity is of only a secondary nature. In combination, the four sound alternations may yield large word families. A particular case is the word family centering on the words for speaking and human beings. It will be argued that these words ultimately go back to a loan from Eastern Iranian.

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Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology

Meant to send this more than a month ago.

Interesting new journal in Iranian Studies

"Berkeley Working Papers in Middle Iranian Philology is a new open access e-journal hosted by UC Berkeley’s Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and edited by Adam Benkato and Arash Zeini. It publishes short and longer articles or research reports on the philology and epigraphy of the Middle Iranian languages (Middle Persian, Parthian, Bactrian, Sogdian, Chorasmian, Khotanese). Submitted papers will be reviewed by the editors and published on an ongoing basis. The journal promotes a simple and quick publishing process with collective annual volumes published at the end of each year. The editors encourage scholars working on Middle Persian documents in particular to submit their work."

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Digitization of Babylonian fragments

Once again, DH to the rescue:

AI Deciphers Ancient Babylonian Texts And Finds Beautiful Lost Hymn

Eat your heart out, ChatGPT.

Tom Hale, IFLScience (2/7/23)

It used to be that paleographers and philologists labored mightily trying to piece together bits and pieces of old manuscripts, using only their own mental and visual powers. Now they can call on AI allies to provide decisive assistance.

Researchers have crafted an artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of deciphering fragments of ancient Babylonian texts. Dubbed the “Fragmentarium,” the algorithm holds the potential to piece together some of the oldest stories ever written by humans, including the Epic of Gilgamesh.

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Information Management and Library Science

Just out today, this is one of the longest book reviews I have ever written:

Jack W. Chen, Anatoly Detwyler, Xiao Liu, Christopher M. B. Nugent, and Bruce Rusk, eds., Literary Information in China:  A History (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2021).

Reviewed by Victor H. Mair

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2022)

I am calling it to your attention because the book under review, which I will refer to here as LIIC, signals a sea change in:

1. Sinology
2. Information technology
3. Academic attitudes toward the study of language and literature

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Wondrous blue

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