Archive for Historical linguistics

Shandong vernacular, then and now

A week ago, Julie Lee made this interesting comment on Language Log:

…when I studied Yuan dynasty drama and had books from the library, my husband (a physicist) picked them up to read and was amazed at the 13th century dialogue. "That's just the way we spoke at home in Shandong", he exclaimed. He grew up in Tengxian County*, Shandong, and went to school in Qingdao. I couldn't understand his Shandong speech. I too was amazed that Chinese colloquial speech (in Shandong) lasted from the 13th century till the 20th century — 700 years. The dialogue in Yuan drama was popping with lively expressions.

[*Likely the birthplace of the populist, egalitarian, pragmatic, empirical, scientific minded philosopher, Mo Zi / Micius (ca. 470-391 BC.)]

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Prefixes "yǒu" ("to have") and "wú" ("to not have") in Old Sinitic

My brother Denis and I have long been intrigued by the use of the prefix yǒu 有 ("there is / are / exist[s]") in a wide variety of circumstances in Old Sinitic:  e.g., before the word for family temples (yǒu miào 有廟), before the names of barbaric tribes (yǒu Miáo 有苗), and before place names (yǒu Yì 有易).  We wonder whether similar constructions exist in other languages.

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Who owns kimchi?

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

"Korean kimchi originally came from China."

–Or so China’s online encyclopedia Baidu Baike declared in its article on kimchi.

Koreans were outraged. What gall for Chinese to lay claim to their national dish! Adding to the furor, China’s English-language newspaper Global Times reported last year that the International Organization for Standardization (the ISO) had recognized an “international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.”

Indignant Koreans flooded the Internet: “It’s total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” a South Korean netizen said. Another wrote: “I read a media story that China now says kimchi is theirs, and that they are making international standard for it. It’s absurd.”

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Genetic evidence for the peopling of Eastern Central Asia during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

Summary article on the genetics of the Tarim Basin and Dzungarian Basin and surrounding areas:

"Ancient Xinjiang mitogenomes reveal intense admixture with high genetic diversity"

Wenjun Wang, Manyu Ding, Jacob D. Gardner, Yongqiang Wang, Bo Miao, Wu Guo, Xinhua Wu, Qiurong Ruan, Jianjun Yu, Xingjun Hu, Bo Wang, Xiaohong Wu, Zihua Tang, Alipujiang Niyazi, Jie Zhang, Xien Chang, Yunpeng Tang, Meng Ren, Peng Cao, Feng Liu, Qingyan Dai, Xiaotian Feng, Ruowei Yang, Ming Zhang, Tianyi Wang, Wanjing Ping, Weihong Hou, Wenying Li, Jian Ma, Vikas Kumar, and Qiaomei Fu

Science Advances  31 Mar 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 14, eabd6690sss
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd6690

"Xinjiang", a contentious political designation, may geographically be better situated by referring to it as "Eastern Central Asia" (ECA).

Because I have been primarily interested in the initial settling of the Bronze Age peoples and their languages, the quotations below focus on that aspect of the article, though the article as a whole takes into account the Iron Age and Historical Era as well.

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What a prehistoric pair of pretty pants can tell us about the spread of early languages

The following is a photograph of the world's oldest known pair of trousers:


(source)

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Of chains and Old Sinitic reconstructions

[This is a guest post by Rhona Fenwick]

Though best-known for its titanic consonantal inventory, Ubykh also has an etymologically fascinating vocabulary, heavy with loans from a diverse array of sources. Many of these are drawn from the indigenous lexicons of its Circassian and Abkhaz sisters, but Circassian and Abkhaz both also acted as proxies by which Ubykh became a linguistic placer deposit of sorts, receiving substantial loan strata from millennia of the ebb and flow of Kartvelian, Turkic, Mongolic, Semitic, and Indo-European cultural tides. More recently the Ubykh nation’s exodus from their homeland and subsequent exile in Anatolia, following extensive genocides at the end of the Great Caucasian War (Ubykh: Adəɣaʁʷərda ‘the Rape of Circassia’), added yet another layer of complexity and invested the language with loans from whole new branches of Indo-European, Turkic, and Semitic. This makes compiling an Ubykh etymological dictionary a complex and challenging project, and while engaged in it I’ve often found myself having to track etymologies along paths that lead deep into other language stocks entirely. This post began as a question to Victor Mair while I was playing bloodhound along one such trail, and it was on his suggestion that I reworked it into a post for LL. Thank you for having me!

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The "whole mess" of Old Sinitic reconstruction

In the comments to "The Altaic Hypothesis revisited" (12/10/20), Peter Golden, a Turkologist, mentioned that, as a non-Sinologist, he uses the reconstructions of the following scholars — Karlgren, Pulleyblank, Schuessler, Baxter/Sagart, Kroll and Coblin — "to get some sense" of the Old Sinitic, Late Han, Middle Sinitic (Early Middle Sinitic and Late Middle Sinitic) sounds that are "masked" by the Sinographic renderings of foreign names.  Alexander Vovin raised the problem of the inadequacies of the reconstructions of Christopher Beckwith, saying that it "is not a reconstruction at all, at least not in the sense of Karlgren, Pulleyblank, Baxter/Sagart, Zhengzhang Shangfang, Li Fang-Kuei, Coblin, etc."  Vovin continues:

I think that Beckwith is a very interesting historian (as far as I can judge, not being one myself — some of his books are very interesting reading, imho), but when he starts to talk about historical linguistics, whether it is Chinese, Japanese, Turkic, Mongolic, etc., it is methodologically simply not acceptable and it is further aggravated by the corruption of data.

The question of Beckwith's reconstructions being ad hoc in nature was also raised.

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 4

[This is a guest post by W. South Coblin in response to these questions which I asked him about the distinction between qing 清 ("clear") and zhuo 濁 ("muddy; turbid") in Chinese language studies:

1. when and how it arose

2. how it functions within traditional Chinese phonology

3. how it correlates with concepts in modern linguistics]

What you’re asking for would require a treatise, or maybe even a monograph on these things, and I must pass on that assignment right now. But I can help you out a little. First of all, these points are dealt with in two handy sources. The first is Jerry [Norman]’s book Chinese, Chapter 2. The index to the book will lead you to the relevant parts of the chapter. The other source is a full exposition of traditional medieval Chinese phonology by Guillaume Jacques. You will find it here.  Start reading on p. 6 and then read as much as you find useful.

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The language of Genghis Khan

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology

A key concept in traditional Chinese phonology is the distinction between "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy / turbid / murky" (zhuó 濁).  Although it is mainly applied to the sounds of language, the qīng 清-zhuó 濁 distinction also has applications / implications for music.

Roughly speaking, the linguistic and musical correlations are qīng 清 ("clear; high pitch") and zhuó 濁 ("muddy; low pitch").  Also applicable to music are the wǔshēng 五聲 ("five musical tones [of the pentatonic scale])": gōng 宮, shāng 商, jué 角, zhǐ 徵, and 羽 — equivalent to do, re, mi, sol, and la in western solfège. (source)

I've often wondered how and when these terms arose, how they function in historical phonology, and how they correlate with usages in modern linguistics.  I asked several specialists in Chinese historical linguistics their opinion on these matters.

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Two questions about Japanese borrowings from Middle Chinese

[This is a guest post by Markus Mikjalson.]

I have a couple of questions about Sino-Japanese historical linguistics, which I have not been able to find an answer to elsewhere. If you have the time, I would greatly appreciate a response.
 
Modern Mandarin forms with the rhyme -ing regularly correspond to Sino-Japanese -you (formerly -yau) and -ei, the first being Go-on and the second Kan-on. Sometimes there is a Tou-on with -in. In the case of 京, the development of Middle Chinese seems to have been something like /kiaŋ/ > /kiŋ/. With Middle Chinese coda -ŋ regularly corresponding to -u/-i in Sino-Japanese, the Go-on lines up well with the earlier Middle Chinese form, and the Kan-on with the later form.

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Trefoils across Eurasia: the importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 4

Hour-long video:  "A Sacred Emblem: Trefoil in Early Korean Metalwork and Beyond":

October 8, 2020 – Trefoil or “three-leaved plant” is a stylized form found in artifacts and architecture across culture and time. Dr. Minjee Kim begins the story with her first encounter with a gold headdress ornament of the Balhae kingdom (698-926) and traces the migration of its trefoil form throughout the 4th-6th century across Asia. Then, she travels to France, where “fleur-de-lis” adorned French crowns, clothing, textiles, and furniture as a symbol of royalty, leading to its wide contemporary appropriation by many Western institutions. The journey ends with the long and rich tradition in Kyrgyzstan where the motif is still strongly embedded in various realms of material culture of the people. While offering a view on Korean artifacts within a wider context of material resonance in human history, Dr. Kim highlights the way these artifacts adorned the body and how the craftsmanship was employed to articulate the social hierarchy.

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Inclusive and exclusive first person plural pronouns in Sinitic

On September 11, Friday afternoon, Diana Shuheng Zhang gave a virtuoso presentation before the Cornell Classical Chinese Colloquium (CCCC), a venerable institution that has been meeting regularly for decades.  The text she discussed was what she calls the "rhapsodic subcommentary" of the Daoist scholar, Cheng Xuanying 成玄英 (ca. 605-690), on the Zhuang Zi 莊子 (3rd c. BC).

In her explication of the 46th passage of the first chapter of the Zhuang Zi, Diana quoted Cheng Xuanying as stating:  "yǔ, wǒ yě 予,我也" ("'I' is / means 'I'").  Naturally, that led to a discussion of how such a definition would be necessary or helpful.  I pointed out that there are numerous first person pronouns in Sinitic.  Aside from the two already mentioned, there are also yú 余, wú 吾, and zhèn 朕 (like the royal "we" in English) and still others, not to mention several other humble self-references.  In addition, I mentioned zán 咱, which I knew was much later than the others, more highly colloquial, and regionally restricted.  It was part of my main observation that, in order to account for such phenomena (e.g., why are there two completely different words for "dog" — gǒu 狗 and quǎn 犬 ("dog") — we need to adopt the notion of linguistic stratification.  That is to say, the complex formation of the Sinitic peoples evolved over at least five millennia and involved the incorporation of diverse genetic, ethnic, and linguistic components.

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