Archive for Philology

Ancient Chinese mottos

From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

Jūnzǐ yǒu jiǔ dé 君子有九德:A lordling has nine essential properties:

kuān ér lì 寬而栗,tolerant but tough,
róu ér lì 柔而立,flexible but upright,
yuàn ér gōng, 願而恭,ambitious but humble,
luàn ér jìng 亂而敬,rebellious but respectful,
rǎo ér yì 擾而毅,adaptive but resolute,
zhí ér wēn 直而溫,candid but considerate;
jiǎn ér lián 簡而廉,simple and incorruptible,
gāng ér 剛而塞,unbending and honest,
qiáng ér yì 強而義。strong and principled.

—— from the chapter of the Book of Documents, "Gaoyao's Strategy" 《尚書·皋陶謨》 (the chapter was composed ca. 700 BCE, according to Early Chinese Texts (1993), Michael Loewe, ed., 376-389 [by Edward L. Shaughnessy])

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Take stalk of: thoughts on philology and Sinology

In a note I was composing to some friends, I just wrote "let's take stalk of…", was surprised and smiled, corrected myself, and continued writing.

But then I paused to reflect….

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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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Enteral fever

Fuchsia Dunlop has a real talent for finding these things (cf. "Explosion Cheese Durian Pie" [9/23/19]):

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Mastering Caution amidst Hermeneutic Acrobatics

[This is a guest post by Nicholas Morrow Williams]

Victor recently pointed out to me the appearance of Martin Kern's important article in the latest issue of Early China on "Xi Shuai" 蟋蟀 ("Cricket") and Its Consequences: Issues in Early Chinese Poetry and Textual Studies" (Early China 42 [2019]: 39–74).  Kern's article offers both a very detailed examination of the poem "Cricket" contained in a Tsinghua manuscript, which differs substantially from the comparable poem in the Shijing 詩經, and also reflections on the broader significance of the manuscript for "textual studies."

The article is well worth reading both the recently-discovered poem and for the broader reflections, but I would like to discuss one issue to which it does not devote so much attention, which is the interpretation of the received text of "Cricket" in the Shijing itself. After comparing the excavated and received texts, Kern concludes:

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China and Rome

In preparing a new edition of Friedrich Hirth's venerable China and the Roman Orient: Researches into Their Ancient and Medieval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (1885) (CRO), for the sake of comparison I included in my introduction a section on Frederick J. Teggart's Rome and China:  A Study of Correlations in Historical Events (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), written 54 years later.  Superficially, the two books share similar titles and topics, but they could hardly be more different in their orientations and goals.  Whereas Hirth was determined to identify the names of places, peoples, and things from the far west of Eurasia that were Sinographically transcribed in ancient Chinese – an extremely difficult philological task, Teggart's aim was far more theoretical.  Teggart strove to demonstrate that battles, movements of peoples, and other events that occurred in western Eurasia, Central Asia, and East Asia for half a millennium during the Roman Empire were intimately interrelated, although in Rome and China, he focuses intensely on the period from 58 BC to AD 107.

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Sinographs for "tea"

It is common for Chinese to claim that their ancestors have been drinking tea for five thousand years, as with so many other aspects of their culture.  I always had my doubts about that supposed hoary antiquity, and after many years of research, Erling Hoh and I wrote a book on the subject titled The True History of Tea (Thames & Hudson, 2009) in which we showed that tea-drinking did not become common in the East Asian Heartland until after the mid-8th century AD, when Lu Yu (733-804) wrote his groundbreaking Classic of Tea (ca. 760-762) describing and legitimizing the infusion.

Since people in the Chinese heartland were not regularly drinking Camellia sinensis qua tea before the mid-8th century, I long suspected that they did not have a Sinograph for tea (MSM chá) either.  Rather, based on my reading of texts and inscriptions dating from the 7th c. AD and earlier, I hypothesized that the character now used for "tea", namely chá 茶, was a sort of rebranding (by removing one tiny horizontal stroke) of another character, tú 荼 ("bitter vegetable").

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Really weird sinographs, part 3

We've been looking at strange Chinese characters:

"Really weird sinographs" (5/10/18)

"Really weird sinographs, part 2" (5/11/18)

For a sinograph to be weird, it doesn't need to have 30, 40, 50, or more strokes.  In fact, characters with such large numbers of strokes might be quite normal and regular in terms of their construction.  What makes a character bizarre is when its parts are thrown together in unexpected ways.  On the other hand, characters with only a very small number of strokes might be quite odd.  Two of my favorites are the pair 孑孓, which are pronounced jiéjué in Modern Standard Mandarin and together mean "w(r)iggler; mosquito larva".

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Tangut workshop at Yale

On the weekend of January 19-20, 2018, there was a Tangut Workshop at Yale University.  Organized by Valerie Hansen and sponsored by the Yale Council of East Asian Studies, this was an intense, exciting learning experience for the 35 or so people who were in the room most of the time.

Many readers may be scratching their heads and asking, "Tangut?  What's that?  And why should we at Language Log be concerned with it?"

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Translating the I ching (Book of Changes)

For the last two decades or so, my brother Denis and I have been working on a translation of the Yìjīng 易經 (Classic of Changes).  We shall probably finish the first draft within a year.

Of all the Chinese classics, the I ching is the one that most Sinologists do not want to touch because of its maddening opacity.  In this regard, it is worth quoting at some length the words of James Legge (1815-1897), the Victorian translator of all the Confucian classics, a monumental achievement that still stands today as an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to acquaint him/herself with these essential texts of early Chinese civilization.

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Mao Zedong's "three jewels"

On the eve of the establishment of the PRC, Chairman Mao referred to united front (tǒngyī zhànxiàn 統一戰線) work as one of the Party's "three great fabao" (sān gè dà fǎbǎo 三个大法宝).  So what is a fabao, what did Mao mean by that expression, and where did he get it?

Mao's "fabao" is often glossed as "magic weapon" or "secret weapon", and it seems to be a reference to the "Three Jewels / Treasures" (sānbǎo 三宝 / 寶; Skt. triratna) of Buddhism: the Buddha (Fó 佛), the Dharma (fǎ 法, the "Law" or "Doctrine" of Buddhism), and the Sangha (sēng 僧, the community of Buddhist monks and the monastic order to which they adhere).

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Utterly lost in translation

During a search for something else, I happened upon this page at the Bible Study Tools site. It provides a nice reminder (for the two or three people out there who might still need it) of the fact that it's dangerous to trust websites, in linguistic matters or in anything else. As the screenshot shows, it purports to show Psalm 86 in two parallel versions, the Latin Vulgate and the New International Version.

"Filiis Core psalmis cantici fundamenta eius in montibus sanctis" is translated as "Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy." The correct translation is debatable, but the first four words mean "A song psalm for the sons of Korah", and the rest means either "Its foundations are in the sacred hills" or (according to the Revised Standard Version) "On the holy mount stands the city he founded." Verse 2, "Diligit dominus portas Sion super omnia tabernacula Iacob" (roughly, "The Lord loves the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob") is translated as "Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God." The third verse begins Gloriosa dicta sunt ("glorious things are spoken") but is translated as "have mercy on me". This is worse than the worst botch I ever saw from Google Translate. And I suspect human error is to blame.

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Chinese, Greek, and Latin, part 2

[This is a guest post by Richard Lynn.  It is all the more appreciated, since he had written it as a comment to "Chinese, Greek, and Latin" (8/8/17) a day or two ago, but when he pressed the "submit" button, his comment evaporated.  So he had to write the whole thing all over again.  I am grateful to Dick for his willingness to do so and think that the stimulating results are worth the effort he put into this post.]

James Zainaldin's remarks concerning the Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and the Dao de jing, his frustration by the limits of grammatical or lexical analysis, that is, the relative lack of grammatical and lexical explicitness compared to Greek and Latin texts, is a reasonable conclusion — besides that, Greek and Latin, Sanskrit too, all are written with phonetic scripts — easy stuff! But such observations are a good place to start a discussion of the role of commentaries and philological approaches to reading and translating Literary/Classical Chinese texts, Literary Sinitic (LS). Nathan Vedal's remarks are also spot on: "LS is really an umbrella term for a set of languages. The modes of expression in various genres and fields differ to such a high degree that I sometimes feel as though I'm learning a new language when I begin work on a new topic."

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