Archive for Philology

Wondrous blue

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Heavy Velar vs Meager Bilabial Articulations in Xiongnu Language

[This is a guest post by Penglin Wang]

            The great difficulties we have with trying to study Xiongnu language persist from trying to glean Xiongnu words, especially the glossed ones, in early Chinese sources for comparison in order to know what linguistic affiliation it seems to have in the central Eurasian region. Since these difficulties cannot be overcome at all owing to its extinct status a millennium plus ago, an alternative approach could be to recognize that there are different components of language regardless of living or extinct and attempt to observe how different components can differ from one another yet still be entities that most researchers would want to treat as linguistic data or facts rather than imaginations for a comparative purpose. It could then be possible to open up a window to contribute to a solution of some classic problems in Altaic comparative studies. One such attempt is to examine the available Xiongnu words from the perspectives of articulatory phonetics and phonotactics. Concern for these is characteristic of Xiongnu studies. Pulleyblank (1962:242) has insightfully observed “only *b- initially, never *p-” in the Xiongnu transcriptions.

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Pleiades: From Sumer to Subaru

During the early part of my career, one of the most stunning academic papers I read was this:

Roy Andrew Miller, "Pleiades Perceived:  MUL.MUL to Subaru", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 108.1 (January-March, 1988), 1-25.

"Pleiades Perceived" was the presidential address delivered March 24, 1987 at the American Oriental Society's 197th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.  "Roy Andrew Miller (September 5, 1924 – August 22, 2014) was an American linguist best known as the author of several books on Japanese language and linguistics, and for his advocacy of Korean and Japanese as members of the proposed Altaic language family." (source)

Miller received his Ph.D. in Chinese and Japanese from Columbia University.  He taught successively at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Yale University, and the University of Washington.  He was (in)famous for his harsh reviews, to be compared only with those of Leon Hurvitz (August 4, 1923 – September 28, 1992), who also received his Ph.D. from Columbia and, after teaching at the University of Washington, ended his career at the University of British Columbia.  Miller and Hurvitz both were immensely learned scholars who knew Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other challenging languages.  I didn't meet Miller in person, but did study for one year with Hurvitz, who was extraordinarily eccentric.

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Moth eyebrows: lectio difficilior et tertium comparationis

Dieter Maue, a specialist on Old Uyghur, Tocharian, Sanskrit, and Brahmi script, wrote to ask:

The simile 'like the moon of the third day' (tertium comparationis: delicate, graceful; curved (eyebrows)) is currently occupying my mind. Attested in Tocharian A and in Uigur, it sounds, but it doesn't seem to be, Indian.

Tentatively I have translated Uig. üč yaŋıdakı ay täŋri ‘third day’s moon god’ into Chinese word for word; but sān rì yuè 三日月("moon of the third day") is not found in the dictionaries. In the Chinese Tripitaka, there is just one suitable instance. Elsewhere, the moon of the third day seems to be called éméi yuè 蛾眉月 ("moth eyebrow moon" — only poetically?). According to Giles (ChinEnglDict s.no. 7714 ): “ éméi 蛾眉 moth eyebrows, – alluding to the delicate curved eye-markings of the silkworm moth … moth-eyebrows is used figuratively for a lovely girl.   Also wrongly explained as referring to the small curved antennæ of the silkworm moth. ­ Éméi yuè 蛾眉月‚ the crescent moon’. “  The antennae of Bombyx mori are clearly visible, while I cannot find anything which corresponds to  the “eye-markings”. Do you have an idea how to solve the problem?

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Phonology and orthography in Ming China

New book from Columbia University Press:

The Culture of Language in Ming China:  Sound, Script, and the Redefinition of Boundaries of Knowledge

by Nathan Vedal

Pub Date: March 2022 ISBN: 9780231200752 320 Pages

$35.00  £28.00

Publisher's description:

The scholarly culture of Ming dynasty China (1368–1644) is often seen as prioritizing philosophy over concrete textual study. Nathan Vedal uncovers the preoccupation among Ming thinkers with specialized linguistic learning, a field typically associated with the intellectual revolution of the eighteenth century. He explores the collaboration of Confucian classicists and Buddhist monks, opera librettists and cosmological theorists, who joined forces in the pursuit of a universal theory of language.

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Excepted for publication

I wrote to a colleague who helped me edit a paper that it had been accepted for publication.  She wrote back, "I’m glad it is excepted".

Some may look upon such a typo as "garden variety", but I believe that it tells us something profoundly significant about the primacy of sound over shape, an issue that we have often debated on Language Log, including how to regard typographical errors in general, but also how to read old Chinese texts (e.g., copyists' mistakes, deterioration of texts over centuries of editorial transmission, etc.).

Often, when you read a Chinese text and parts of it just don't make any sense, if you ignore the superficial semantic signification of the characters with which it is written, but focus more on the sound, suddenly the meaning of the text will become crystal clear.  In point of fact, much of the commentarial tradition throughout Chinese history consists of this kind of detective work — sorting out which morphemes were really intended by a given string of characters.

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Absence of language study in humanities programs

Tweet from Bryan Van Norden:

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A revolutionary, new translation of the gospels

[This is a guest post by Mark Metcalf, who makes no claim to having any language proficiency with New Testament Greek.]

Since you're an überlinguist, thought I'd forward some thoughts on a recent translation of the Gospels by Sarah Ruden.
 
Wasn't sure if you're interested in New Testament translations, but her introduction is inspiring. As is the subsequent glossary. Just like the comments on your translation methodology in the forward to your translation of the Sunzi, understanding how & why a translator implements his or her craft.  Here's what I sent to our rector and the parishioner who recommended the translation:

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Involution, part 2

[This is a guest post by Diana Shuheng Zhang.  It was prompted by "'Involution', 'working man', and 'Versailles literature': memes of embitterment" (12/23/20), where we discovered that the word "involution", which is little known in English-speaking countries, except in highly specialized contexts, has gone viral in China in a sense that is barely known in the West.]

The resource curse of Chinese textualism and Sinology's paradox of involuted plenty

I. Hyperabundance of texts

To me, the predicament of Sinology seems like a resource curse. The "paradox of plenty”. “Paradox of plenty” is an economic term, referring to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have worse development outcomes than those with fewer natural resources. I have been thinking about this in my head for a few days. The “resource curse” for China studies is that Chinese culture, especially Classical Chinese-based culture of writings, has too many raw texts. The discovery of the Dunhuang manuscripts has added even more to the already abundant, if not excessive, textual residue that scholars devote their lives to, accumulating and laying out textual evidence before they can reach the point — maybe they never can if they do not intend to — of analyzing, integrating, utilizing, and theorizing them.

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Oldest manuscript of the Confucian Analects discovered in Japan

Article by Eiichi Miyashiro in The Asahi Shimbun (9/27/20):

"Oldest writing about teachings of Confucius found in Japan"

The manuscript of a compilation of commentaries on Confucian teachings produced by Chinese scholar Huan Kan (488-545) bears a mark suggesting ownership by the Fujiwara clan. (Provided by Keio University)

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"Between the Eyes and the Ears": SPP turns 300

There is a phenomenon in Japanese publishing called "san-gō zasshi  三号雑誌", which refers to a short-lived magazine that puts out three issues and then folds.  Sino-Platonic Papers, a scholarly journal I started in 1986, just put out its 300th issue, and we're still going strong, with about ten more issues in the pipeline, and others lined up to come after that.

The latest issue is "Between the Eyes and the Ears: Ethnic Perspective on the Development of Philological Traditions, First Millennium AD", by Shuheng Zhang and Victor H. Mair, which appeared yesterday (July 19, 2020).

Abstract

The present inquiry stands as a foray into what may be thought of as a “Summa Philologica Sinica.” To be more precise, this paper is about the study and developmental trajectory of philology rather than philology per se. The approach here, drawing on the prefaces and comments of primary historical resources, conceives of philology as subject to the transitions of philosophy, an amalgam within which variegated traditions and schools contend and consent with each other, rather than as a static, ahistorical antithesis between the study of script and that of sound. The bifocal panoply behind philological texts and the s 勢 (“immanent configuration”) that oscillates between indigenous systems of thought and foreign philosophy, defense of nationality and openness to foreign voices, reflected in the realm of language studies, presents itself as focused on characters (eyes) versus sounds (ears).

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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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