Archive for Historical linguistics

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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More on Persian kinship terms; "daughter" and the laryngeals

Following up on "Turandot and the deep Indo-European roots of 'daughter'" (3/16/20), John Mullan (student of Arabic, master calligrapher, and expert chorister) writes:

As someone who's studied a bit of Persian and a few other Indo European languages, I've always found it odd that most all of the kinship terms in Persian—mādar, pedar, barādar, dokhtar, pesar (cf. 'puer' in Latin and 'pais' in Greek, I assume)—have easy equivalents to my ear, /except/ 'khāhar,' sister. Wiktionary suggests it's still related.

One quite recent finding of mine in PIE. As you probably know, 'Baghdad' is not an Arabic name, but a Persian one. It's composed of 'Bagh,' God (not the word used today), and 'Dād,' Given/Gift. Now I'm familiar with Bagh, ultimately, from listening to way too much Russian choral music and hearing Church Slavonic 'Bozhe.' Similarly, in the deep corners of my Greek student mind I remember names like 'Mithradates'—gift of Mithra or something along those lines—popping up as rulers/governors of city states in Classical Anatolia. What I /didn't/ pick out was the exact same construct as 'Baghdad' hiding in front of my eyes all along. There are two active NBA players named 'Bogdan(ović).' It's the same name as the city, only it's popped up in Serbo-Croatian. Funny stuff.

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Sino-Semitica: of gourds, cassia, and hemp and Old Sinitic reconstructions

In a personal communication, Chris Button recently reminded me that I had once (more than two decades ago) written about the possible relationship between Semitic and Sinitic words for "gourd":

You might remember a while back I was asking you about your Southern Bottle Gourd Myths paper.

Recently, I've been working a little more on the 瓜 series in my dictionary and have ended up with it as an etymological isolate (bar the obvious relationship with 壺). So, I started looking for an external origin. Your note on the Arabic form qarʿa jumped out at me as being strikingly similar to my reconstruction of 瓜 as qráɣ and very supportive of the areal associations you outline in the paper.

That would add to the other two Semitic loanwords 麻* and 桂** here.

The merger of *-r with *-l in Old Chinese means 麻 *mrál could have gone back to an earlier 麻 *mrár which then aligns very nicely with the Semitic source to support Prof. Mair's suggestion.

We already have a precedent for a borrowing of this nature in 桂 *qájs "cinnamon, cassia" which could regularly go back to *qjáts and is likely associated with Hebrew qetsia "cassia

source of last two ¶s

[VHM:  *má ("hemp")]

[VHM:  **guì ("cinnamon, cassia")]

I had an old, learned German friend named Elfriede Regina (Kezia) Knauer (1926-2010) who was very much aware of the Semitic origins of her nickname and often asked me about its Sinitic parallels (see here, here, here, here, and here).  Hebrew קְצִיעָה‎ ("cassia tree"). Compare cassia. From Latin cassia ("cinnamon"), from Ancient Greek κασσία, κασία, κάσια (kassía, kasía, kásia), from Hebrew קְצִיעָה‎ (qəṣīʿā), from Aramaic קְצִיעֲתָא‎ (qəṣīʿătā), from קְצַע‎ (qṣaʿ, "to cut off") (source).

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The Tocharian A word for "rug" and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 2

[This is a guest post by Zhang He in response to the original post on this subject, which attracted considerable attention, such that a lot of people will be interested in what she has to say.]

1. About the Tocharian A word "kratsu" and 罽 and kràts

I am not expert in linguistics, but from general observation and understanding, it seems that Tocharian A "kratsu" does look or sound close to Old Sinitic "kràts". I would like to add 氍毹 qūshū or qūyū for consideration as well. Doesn't qūshū sound even closer to "kratsu"?  [VHM:  氍毹  MS /ɡɨo  ʃɨo/; OS  (Zhengzhang): /*ɡʷa  sro/]

In several dictionaries (see below), 罽 is interpreted as the same with 氍毹 qūshū. According to 说文, qūshū is a kind of local or regional dialect. I think it could be easily located to 西域 (Western Regions) or 罽宾 (an ancient kingdom in northwest India). As I concluded in my study on carpet terminology –- "The terms 罽, qūshū 氍毹, and 缂 could come from any one of the following: Sanskrit kocava, kocavaka, and kaukapaka, Pali kojava, Old Persian gaud, Niya Kharoṣṭhi koj̱ava, Khotanese gahāvara, gaihe, etc., and Sogdian gaudana." Now, there could also be the Tocharian A word "kratsu".

Also, I quoted in my same study on terminology:

"For example, Bailey's entries for Khotanese karasta– and kīḍakyä give such references as:

karasta– 'fur garment'; Pašto krasta 'felt, woolen cloth.' Base IE Pok (?). kēr 'to cut' (Bailey 1979, p. 54)

《康熙字典》:《疏》罽者,織毛爲之,若今之毛氍毹也。《註》師古曰:罽,織毛也。氍毹之屬。
《说文解字》(100–121 CE) 毛部:氍:氍毹、毾㲪,皆氊緂之屬,蓋方言也。从毛瞿声。毹:氍毹也。从毛俞聲。

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Indo-European "cow" and Old Sinitic Reconstructions: awesome

For at least four decades, I have suspected that IE gwou- ("cow") and Sinitic /*[ŋ]ʷə/ (< uvular? [Baxter-Sagart]) ("cow") are related.  Some new scientific research makes this surmise all the more believable.

More than three decades ago, Tsung-tung Chang already published on this idea in his "Indo-European Vocabulary in Old Chinese", Sino-Platonic Papers, 7 (January, 1988), p. 18 (of i, 56), citing Pokorny 482 gʷou and giving "gou" as his OS reconstruction.

Looks pretty simple and straightforward, doesn't it?  Well, it isn't simple at all

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The Tocharian A word for "rug" and Old Sinitic reconstructions

There's a Chinese character 罽 (Mandarin jì, Old Sinitic *kràts), which means "rug, carpet; woolen textile; fish net").  On the basis of its sound, meaning, place, and date of occurrence, it would seem to be related to Toch. A kratsu "rug".

This raises two questions:

1. Does this Tocharian word have cognates in other IE languages?

2. Who borrowed it from whom?   Sinitic from Tocharian or Tocharian from Sinitic?

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Beneath modern Melbourne lie(s) clues

Bob Ladd sent in a screenshot from the Guardian, with the message:

I think this suggests that, except with auxiliary verbs, subject-verb inversion is not really something that is fully a part of English speakers' competence any more. The agreement discrepancy of "clues" and "lies" would be instantly detectable in most other contexts, but not when it's required by residual English verb-second constraints.

He notes that the screen shot came "from first thing this morning UTC, but it was still up and uncorrected at mid-afternoon UTC". And he suggests that things would be very different with a copula or auxiliary verb, e.g. "Beneath modern Melbourne is two of the richest hoards of pirate gold ever found".

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The Mandarin grammatical particle "le" — one or many?

When I was learning Mandarin over half a century ago, the more grammatically minded Chinese language teachers argued that historically and functionally there were multiple "le" particles that just happened to end up being written with the simple two-stroke character 了.  Then a contrary movement set in, and linguists tried to prune down all the "le" into two or even one, claiming that all of the different 了 developed out of an ur-了.

The irony of it all is that, before the 20th century, there was no established, systematic, explicit grammar for Sinitic languages in indigenous sources.

See, inter alia, Victor H. Mair (1997), "Ma Jianzhong and the Invention of Chinese Grammar," in Chaofen Sun, ed., Studies on the History of Chinese Syntax. Monograph Series Number 10 of Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 5-26.  (available on JSTOR here)

Mǎshì wéntōng 馬氏文通 (conventionally rendered as "Ma's Grammar", though it would probably be closer to the original meaning in Chinese to translate it as "Written Language Unobstructedness"; 1898)

Just as we have seen in a recent post, before the 20th century there was no Chinese concept of "word":

"HouseHold GarBage" (12/6/19)

Which leads to the question:  can you have grammar without words?

There have been countless papers, articles, dissertations, and monographs on le 了.  Here I'm going to introduce two dissertations on le 了 written within the last few decades and the latest monograph on le 了 as representative of what has been happening with regard to the conceptualization of this protean particle in recent times.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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"Horse" and "language" in Korean

A Korean student was just in my office and saw this book on my table:  mal-ui segyesa 말의 세계사.

She said, "Oh, a world history of words!"

But I knew that couldn't be right because the book is a world history of horses.  It's actually a Korean translation of this book by Pita Kelekna:

The Horse in Human History (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009)

So what happened?  Did the student make a mistake?

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A disyllabic autantonymous stative verb

Lucas Klein and Nick Williams asked me about this interesting word:  落魄.

It can mean either "free-spirited" or "downtrodden", which appear to directly contradict each other, and it has at least three variant pronunciations (luòpò, luòbó, luòtuò).  Source

Negative meanings:  "down and out; in dire straits; abject".

Positive meanings:  "unrestrained; unconventional; untrammeled by convention; casual".

Seems to be a literary term.

Source

Goes all the way back to Shǐjì 史記 (Records of the [Grand] Scribe / Historian; completed ca. 94 BC), scroll 97, "Lì Shēng zhuàn 酈生傳" ("Biography of Li Sheng").

Can also be written 落拓 (cf. 落魄 above and note that both the semantophores and the phonophores of the second characters of the two variants are starkly different).

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"Tocharian C" Again: The Plot Thickens and the Mystery Deepens

[This is a guest post by Douglas Q. Adams]

Readers of this blog may remember the excitement generated a few months ago by the announcement that "Tocharian C," the native language of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan) had been discovered, hiding, as it were, in certain documents written in the Kharoṣṭhī script ("Tocharian C: its discovery and implications" [4/2/19]). Those documents, with transcription, grammatical sketch, and glossary, were published earlier this year as a part of Klaus T. Schmidt's Nachlass (Stefan Zimmer, editor, Hampen in Bremen, publisher).  However, on the weekend of September 15th and 16th a group of distinguished Tocharianists (led by Georges Pinault and Michaël Peyrot), accompanied by at least one specialist in Central Asian Iranian languages, languages normally written in Kharoṣṭhī, met in Leiden to examine the texts and Schmidt's transcriptions.  The result is disappointing, saddening even.  In Peyrot's words, "not one word is transcribed correctly."  We await a full report of the "Leiden Group" with a more accurate transcription and linguistic commentary (for instance, is this an already known Iranian or Indic language, or do the texts represent more than one language, one of which might be a Tocharian language?). Producing such a report is a tall order and we may not have it for some little time.  But, at the very least, Schmidt's "Tocharian C," as it stands, has been removed from the plane of real languages and moved to some linguistic parallel universe.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "keep and bear arms" (Part 2)

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

COFEA and COEME: lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This post will complete my analysis of the Second Amendment—for now. So far, I've focused almost entirely on the Second Amendment's specification of the right that it protected—the right of the people, to keep and bear Arms—and have said little or nothing about well regulated or militia. That doesn't mean I have nothing to say about those expressions, it just means that I'll defer that discussion until sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, here in the present, this post will try to answer the question that I raised in the last post: whether the Supreme Court was right in saying that the fact that bear arms appears in the phrase keep and bear arms means that bear arms couldn't have been used in its idiomatic military sense:

[If bear arms were given its idiomatic meaning,] the phrase "keep and bear arms" would be incoherent. The word "Arms" would have two different meanings at once: "weapons" (as the object of "keep") and (as the object of "bear") one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying "He filled and kicked the bucket" to mean "He filled the bucket and died." Grotesque.

It's true that interpreting bear arms as having been used idiomatically would mean that arms conveys two different meanings (a phenomenon known as copredication). But as explained in my last post, that doesn't rule out such an interpretation. Now, in this post, I'll argue that interpreting bear arms in that way is more than just a theoretical possibility. I'll discuss evidence that makes it reasonable to think keep and bear arms was intended to convey such a meaning, and that such an interpretation would have been more likely than the alternative.

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