Archive for Lexicon and lexicography

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Creating scientific terminology for African languages

Article in Nature

"African languages to get more bespoke scientific terms:  Many words common to science have never been written in African languages. Now, researchers from across Africa are changing that", Sarah Wild, Nature 596, 469-470 (August 18, 2021)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02218-x

Here are some selected passages:

There’s no original isiZulu word for dinosaur. Germs are called amagciwane, but there are no separate words for viruses or bacteria. A quark is ikhwakhi (pronounced kwa-ki); there is no term for red shift. And researchers and science communicators using the language, which is spoken by more than 14 million people in southern Africa, struggle to agree on words for evolution.

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How to “get the fuck out” in Japanese

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

The issue of profane language in Japanese has been discussed on LL at some length and with sundry examples, at least one of which I provided myself (shitshow).

Nevertheless, while recognizing the risk of flogging a dead or moribund steed, I was sufficiently taken aback by a headline in today’s news to feel it warranted a bit of exposition.

The headline, which, notably, came from Japan’s hard-right, anti-China Sankei newspaper, was:

「中国よ、消えうせやがれ」 フィリピン外相、“禁句”使って怒り爆発

“Chūgoku yo, kieuseyagare” Firipin gaishō “kinku” tsukatte ikari bakuhatsu

“Hey China, fuck off!” Philippines foreign minister uses taboo word in angry explosion

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Recognizing half of a character and half of a word

I have a student whose given name is Zǐhàn 子菡.  The first character means "child; son; offspring; seed; small thing", plus lots of other things, for which see here.  The second character is much more problematic, since it doesn't mean anything by itself, but only in combination, as in the disyllabic word hàndàn 菡萏 (literary term for "lotus flower, especially one that has not blossomed")

Reconstructions

(Zhengzhang): /*ɡuːmʔ  l'oːmʔ/

(source)

As is my habit with my many students from other countries, I asked 子菡 if — following what is indicated in dictionaries — I were pronouncing her name correctly:  Zǐhàn.  She acknowledged that Zǐhàn is indeed the canonical pronunciation as given in lexicographical sources, but that people — including she herself — actually pronounce her name as Zǐhán.  Oh, woe is me!  That sort of blew my mind away.  It's not enough to be scrupulously observant of canonical prescription for pronunciation, I must needs learn another, noncanonical, pronunciation for the 菡 of 子菡's given name.

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Merriam-Webster gives "vaccine" a new definition

Prefatory note:  In this post, I take the noun "vaccine" as the basic word under discussion, but also consider other cognate terms ("vaccinate", "vaccination").

Here's a standard dictionary entry for "vaccine":

n.

1. any preparation of weakened or killed bacteria or viruses introduced into the body to prevent a disease by stimulating antibodies against it.
2. the virus of cowpox, used in vaccination, obtained from pox vesicles of a cow or person.
3. a software program that helps to protect against computer viruses.

[1800–05; < New Latin (variolae)vaccīnae cowpox = vacc(a) cow + -īnae, feminine pl. of -īnus -ine]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

(cited)

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Odoriferous Mandarin term for "copycat"

A gēnpìchóng 跟屁虫 (lit., "follow-fart-bug / worm") is somebody who tags along after someone else so as to smell his farts, i.e., someone who follows another person all the time, a copycat, a shadow, a flatterer, sycophant, boot / ass licker, kiss-ass, yes man.

And here's a cute little tutorial about how to be a gēnpìchóng:  

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Cancel Olympics

Recently published in the Wall Street Journal:

"Tokyo’s Anti-Olympic Movement Ask: Why Haven’t the Games Been Canceled? The Japanese public remains opposed to the Tokyo Olympics as coronavirus cases surge across the country", by Alastair Gale, WSJ, April 14, 2021

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New Sino- words in the OED

From the latest updates to the online OED, new senses added to these words:

Sinicism, n., sense 2: “A Chinese word, phrase, or idiom borrowed into, or introduced into a sentence in, another language.”

Sinitic, adj. and n., sense B: “The languages of East Asia considered collectively; spec. the branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family to which the Chinese dialects belong.”

Sino-Tibetan, adj. and n., sense A.2a: “Linguistics. Of or relating to a variety of the Tibetan language strongly influenced by Chinese, e.g. in having numerous Chinese loanwords or using…”

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On the origin of the term "hanzi"

[This is a guest post by Nicholas Morrow Williams]

I recently came across this article on the first occurrence of hanzi 漢字 ("Chinese character; Han character; Sinogram; Japanese: kanji; Korean: hanja; Vietnamese: hán tự/chữ hán漢字/漢"):
 
Wang Yong 王勇. "'Kanji' tanjō no isseki: 'bonzi' kara 'kanji' e" 「漢字」誕生の一齣――「梵字」から「漢字」へ.
Bukkyō shigaku kenkyū (The Journal of the History of Buddhism), 56.1 (2013): 1-11.
 

It's obvious when you think about it, but of course there was originally no need to write the word hanzi when Chinese characters were the only game in town, writing-wise. Wang first refers to some earlier identifications of the earliest use of hanzi dating to the Song (960-1279) or Yuan (1271-1368), and then points out that the Japanese monk-scholars Kūkai 空海 (774-835) and Saichō 最澄 767-822) seem to have used it in their works, though the details are a bit complex. The clearest single usage seems to be in a text completed by Saichō in 818, entitled the Jugokoku kaishō 守護国界章. But then Wang further points out the Fànyǔ qiānzì wén 梵語千字文 by Yijing 義浄 (635-713), which explains in its introduction that it uses hanzi in correspondence to each Sanskrit letter. The overall point is clear: the term hanzi first came into common usage among Tang-era (618-907) monks as it was required to distinguish Chinese writing from Sanskrit. This insight does not seem to have been incorporated into all the standard reference works yet (my Hanyu da cidian identifies the earliest usage in the Song).

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Dangerous heights and tipping vessels

Chris Button says that he was looking at the oracle-bone form for wēi 危 ("precarious, precipitous; perilous; high; ridge [of a roof]; dangerous") and noticed that Huang Dekuan (2007 mammoth dictionary of ancient forms of characters) treats it as depicting a qīqì 欹器 ("tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel").  This was:

…an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

(source)

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Eat vinegar, Jesus Christ, and Middle Persian

I've always been intrigued by the Chinese expression "eat vinegar" (chīcù 吃醋) meaning "be jealous".  To convey the idea of "jealous", one can also say dùjì 妒忌 or just dù 妒 (note the female semantophore).  I learned the disyllabic form with the syllables reversed, hence jìdù 忌妒.  The monosyllabic form (dù 妒) is ancient, going back to classical times.

I said jìdù 忌妒 instead of dùjì 妒忌 because the former is what all my Chinese friends and relatives said, though my impression is that the latter is more common across the Mandarin-speaking population.  Nonetheless, I felt that saying jìdù 忌妒 was awkward because, except for the tones, it is homophonous with Jīdū 基督, which I always understood as some form of "Jesus".  In fact, Jīdū 基督 is a short form of Jīlìsīdū 基利斯督, which is a transcription of "Christ", from Ancient Greek Χριστός (Khristós).  The Sinitic transcription of "Jesus" is Yēsū 耶稣, which ultimately also comes from Ancient Greek:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), possibly via Latin Iesus and other European languages. Doublet of Yīyīsūsī 伊伊穌斯/伊伊稣斯.  (source)

Incidentally, jì 忌 is a simplified form of  嫉 ("to envy, be jealous; to hate, resent").  Note that this traditional form of the character, like dù 妒, its synonymous morpheme partner in the disyllabic word jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous"), also has a female semantophore.  Thus we get a double whammy of misogyny in jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous").  

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Sleep and dream

A chart in Wikipedia ("Indo-European vocabulary") [rearranged here] — see under "Bodily functions and states" — shows the connection between words for "sleep" and "dream" in IE languages, including Tocharian.

1. PIE: *swep- "to sleep", *swepnos "dream (n.)" 

2. English: archaic sweven "dream, vision" (< OE swefn); NoEng sweb "to swoon" (< OE swebban "to put to sleep, lull") 

3. Gothic: ON sofa "sleep (v.)" 

4. Latin:  somnus "sleep (n.)"

5. Ancient Greek: húpnos "sleep (n.)"

6. Sanskrit: svápnaḥ "sleep, dream (n.)" 

7. Iranian: Av xᵛafna- "sleep (n.)" NPers xwãb- "sleep" 

8. Slavic: OCS spěti "sleep (v.)", sŭnŭ "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

9. Baltic: OPrus supnas "dream", Lith sapnas "dream"

10. Celtic: OIr sūan, W hun "sleep (n.)" 

11. Armenian: kʿnem "I sleep", kʿun "sleep (n.)"

12. Albanian: gjumë "sleep (n.)"

13. Tocharian: A ṣpäṃ, B. ṣpane "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

14. Hittite: sup-, suppariya- "to sleep"

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Is the Amarakosha a thesaurus after all?

If not, what is it?  And how and why did people memorize it?

Responding to this post, "Memorizing a thesaurus" (10/28/20), Dan Martin remarks:

I found some of this discussion rather strange since to a kâvya* expert of the Indian and Tibetan realms (I am not one of them, although I got to hang with some of the great ones not so many years ago), this is a given: that the Amarakosha was never meant to be a dictionary for ordinary word meanings (.: absolutely not a Webster's), let alone a practical thesaurus for writers of expository prose (.: absolutely not a Roget's). It was meant, and went on to be used as such, as a resource for writers who wanted to write great poetry in the kâvya style. Even in Tibet, it was a way of 'Indianizing' your poetic output as was regarded as quite the hip, cool 'rad' thing to do until the mid 1980's (okay, for some self-styled modernists). I mean, maybe (who am I to judge?) it would have proven useless for Chinese literati who supposedly sinified everything they touched, but not so in Tibet.

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