Archive for Historical linguistics

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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Subtle nuances of particle usage in Sinitic languages and topolects

Let's take the following three utterances that superficially and essentially all say the same thing — "give me face":

1.

Gěi wǒ gè miànzi ba 給我個面子吧

2.

Gěi gè miànzi ba 給個面子吧

3.

Gěi gè miànzi bei 給個面子唄

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Reconstruction of Middle Sinitic

"What 'Ancient' Chinese Sounded Like – and how we know" (YouTube 7:56)

Source

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Ethnogenesis of the Mongolian people and their language

The late 13th and 14th c. portraits of the Mongol khans and their wives often show them with rather light (hazel or greenish) eyes.  For example, the 14th c. portrait of Ögedei Khan (1186-1241) clearly depicts him as having greenish blue eyes and a reddish (definitely light colored) mustache and beard.


(National Palace Museum)

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Pugu, boga, beg

From Pamela Crossley:

Just read again Chao Wu’s perplexing post on An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China. it mentions “pugu” as “a Hu title.”  This made me wonder about possible connection of “pugu” (however it was originally pronounced) and related series of titles boga / bojilie / beyile, beg / begler, boyar, etc., but can’t see this having been done on the site.  Not being a linguist, I can only express curiosity. but I wonder if “pugu” is an early citation of these medieval Eurasian titles.

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Lactase and language: the spread of the Yamnaya

[This is a guest post by Doug Hitch]

I have had a theory for a number of years about the success of the IE (now Yamnaya) people in populating the world. Here I would like to survey some of the basic reasons for their demographic spread.

Populations in all species prosper when there is adequate food. If there is a surplus of food, the population will grow to meet it. When there is a shortage, populations shrink. There are well known population cycles for lemmings and rabbits. A peak in hare population is followed by a peak in fox population. Then, with more predation, the hares diminish, followed by a decline in fox numbers. In northwestern North America the Athabaskan populations were always small, often facing starvation. One group went south and adopted corn and beans, and later sheep. There are now more Navajo than all the other Athabaskans combined.

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The geographical, archeological, genetic, and linguistic origins of Tocharian

[The following is a guest post by Douglas Adams.]

Key words:  Eastern Central Asia (ECA); Tarim Basin; Dzungarian Basin; Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) Anatolian; Proto-Indo-European; “standard average Indo-European” (“SAIE”); Hittite; Iranian; Sogdian; Khotanese; Bactrian; Avestan; Saka; Indo-Aryan; Mitanni; Assyrian; Indo-Hittite; Fertile Crescent: Yamnaya; Sintashta; Andronovo; Afanasievo; Minusinsk Basin; Qäwrighul; genetics; Yanqi Basin; Ili Valley; Yuezhi; Xiongnu; Turfan Basin; stockbreeding; barley cultivation; millet; irrigation technology; donkey; camel; brick; arrow; irrigation technology; Russian; Kazakhstan; Indo-Iranian; Sanskrit; Massagetae

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Below is a host of questions, implied questions, and questionable statements. I’m trying to get my head around the prehistoric interrelations of pre-Proto-Iranians and pre-Proto-Tocharians based on different “age-levels” of linguistic borrowing and match them with some plausible geographical / archaeological contexts. There are some conundrums here: (1) how did early borrowings from the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) folks get so quickly, by so round about a way, into Tocharian, and (2) why does Tocharian B have an irrigation vocabulary so reminiscent of Central Iranian languages (Sogdian/Avestan; not Saka), borrowed (on phonological grounds) a thousand years (at least) after Tocharians were already knowledgeable about irrigation.

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Historical dialectology and the Poetry Classic

[This is a guest post by John Carlyle written in response to the following comment by E. Bruce Brooks to "Similes for female pulchritude in an ancient Chinese poem" (7/1/20):

The formation of the Shr* corpus is currently under serious study, and it can be said with some certainty at this preliminary stage that this particular poem was added to the growing Shr collection at the end of the 05c. How much older it may be, in its own country (Wei) will depend on scrutiny of its dialect position: some of the poems from that area show traces of (original) local pronunciation; others do not. Stay tuned.

*Shījīng 詩經, aka Poetry Classic, Classic of Poetry, Shijing, Shih-ching, Book of Songs, Book of Odes, Odes, or Poetry.]

   There is justification that Wey's 衛 dialect position might suggest something about the age of some of the poems in the Wey airs. The dialect position of Wey is better understood for the later period. What that might suggest about earlier poetry is still not clear. I'll try to give a quick summary of what we know so far.

   At least by the time of Fangyan 《方言》, Wey belonged to an eastern group of Chinese dialects. The exact limits of this eastern group are not entirely settled nor are the phonological features shared by the group since studies of Fangyan are primarily lexical. Since the time of Lin Yutang's (1927) first approximation of Fangyan dialect boundaries, the dialects of Wey and Song have been grouped together. Later scholars also included neighboring states like Qi (but not "Eastern Qi") and Lu. More recently, Matsue Takashi (1999, 2006, 2013) argues that the eastern group's boundaries extent as far as Chen and that the dialect of Chen was a transitional dialect between the eastern and southern groups due to Chu incursion (2006, 2013).

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Know your Narts: cattle rearing and cattle raiding

We here at Language Log know our Ossetians:  see "Know your Ossetians" (2/17/20), and be sure to read the informative comments to that post.  Today, let us go one step deeper into their language and lore.  We shall do so through getting to know some basic things about the Nart sagas (Abkhaz: Нарҭаа ражәабжьқәа; Nartaa raƶuabƶkua; Adyghe: Нартхымэ акъыбарыхэ; Nartxıme aqıbarıxe; Karachay-Balkar: Нарт таурухла; Nart tawruxla; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Nartı kadjıtæ) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form much of the basic mythology of the tribes in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, KarachayBalkar, and to some extent ChechenIngush folklore.

The term nart comes from the Ossetian Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of nar. The origin of the root nar is of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian nar for 'hero, man', descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. In Chechen, the word nart means 'giant'.

Source:  Nart saga

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Khmer historical phonology

[This is a guest post by John Whitman]

I have a Thai student writing a dissertation on Khmer historical phonology who wrote a qualifying paper using the Zhenla Fengtuji 真臘風土記, a late 13th century gazetteer on Cambodia written by one Zhou Daguan, who was sent to the Angkor court as an emissary. The most cited source on this text is a 1951 translation by Pelliot There is a more recent English translation by Harris (2007), but it relies on Pelliot for linguistic matters. Pelliot identifies and transcribes 37 of the 44 Khmer words in the text.

Like Chinese (but probably slightly later), Khmer was undergoing loss of its voicing distinction in obstruents, but in a different way: Old Khmer voiceless obstruents became implosives, and voiced obstruents voiceless. For reasons that he doesn’t explain very well, Pelliot assumed that Zhou was using early Mandarin values for his Chinese transcription characters, with aspirated Chinese initials representing Old Khmer voiceless initials, and unaspirated initials to represent OK voiced initials. This leads to chaotic correspondences with the Khmer material.

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The sound and sense of Tocharian

Readers of Language Log will certainly be aware of Tocharian, but when I began my international research project on the Tarim Basin mummies in 1991, very few people — only a tiny handful of esoteric researchers — had ever heard of the Tocharians and their language since they went extinct more than a millennium ago, until fragmentary manuscripts were discovered in the early part of the 20th century and were deciphered by Sieg und Siegling (I always love the sound of their surnames linked together by "und"), two German Indologists / philologists — Emil Sieg (1866-1951) and Wilhelm Siegling (1880-1946), in the first decade of the last century.

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