Archive for Historical linguistics

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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The importance of archeology for historical linguistics

The last two comments, here and here, to this post ("Once more on Sinitic *mraɣ and Celtic and Germanic *marko for 'horse'" (4/28/20), like hundreds of others that have been posted on Language Log over the years, show how linguists need to at least think about the significance of archeological findings for their deliberations.  It would be folly to completely ignore evidence from archeology when attempting to clarify the development of language.  Indeed, archeological materials that are securely dated and identified with regard to culture type provide a benchmark for historical linguistic research.

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Chinese transcriptions of Indic terms in Buddhist translations of the 2nd c. AD

A fuller and more specific version of the title of this post would be "Chinese transcriptions of Indic terms in the translations of An Shigao (Chinese: 安世高; pinyin: Ān Shìgāo; Wade–Giles: An Shih-kao, Korean: An Sego, Japanese: An Seikō, Vietnamese: An Thế Cao) (fl. 148-180 CE) and Lokakṣema (लोकक्षेम, Chinese: 支婁迦讖; pinyin: Zhī Lóujiāchèn) (fl. 147-189)".

With the collaboration of Jan Nattier, Nathan Hill was able to digitize some data from Han Buddhist transcriptions back in 2017 and has now published them as a dataset on Zenodo:

Hill, Nathan, Nattier, Jan, Granger, Kelsey, & Kollmeier, Florian. (2020). Chinese transcriptions of Indic terms in the translations of Ān Shìgāo 安世高 and Lokakṣema 支婁迦讖 [Data set]. Zenodo.

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The historical phonology of "Han", the main Chinese ethnonym

[VHM:  This is a guest post by Chris Button.  It will be primarily of interest to specialists in the phonological history of Sinitic.  Since there are quite a few such scholars on Language Log, I expect that it will occasion the usual lively debate that follows posts on such subjects.  It will also undoubtedly be of interest to historical phonologists in general, as well as to a broad spectrum of Sinologists and their colleagues focusing on other Asian cultures and languages.]

I've been thinking about the etymological associations of Hàn 漢. It's often reconstructed with an aspirated coronal nasal as *hn-, in spite of the Middle Chinese x- then being somewhat unexpected (Baxter and Sagart put it down to dialects), largely on the basis of the *n- in 難. But its etymological association with 艱 and its velar *k- make this problematic. A regular source of MC x- would be *hŋ- which then at least would be a velar onset to parallel *k-. The *n- in 難 could perhaps be put down to some sort of assimilation of *ŋ- with the *-n coda (one might compare 般 *pán < *pám where there is dissimilation of the coda unlike in its phonetic 凡 *bàm) . At the very least, 漢 most likely went back to something like *hŋáns and then *xáns with a velar onset and the -s eventually becoming qu-sheng. An alternative option is rhinoglottophilia whereby a *ʔ became *n- as attested in cases like 憂 *ʔə̀w and 獶(夒) *nə́w a I mentioned here.

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Tocharian love poem

From Diana Shuheng Zhang:

This English translation is modified based on pages 26-28 of the article — Adams, Douglas Q: "More thoughts on Tocharian B prosody," Tocharian and Indo-European Studies 14 (2013), 3-30.

A fragmentary manuscript in Tocharian B, ca. 600 AD, excavated in Kucha (Qizil Miŋ-Öy), Berlin Turfan Collection. Now stored at Frankfurt. No. THT 496, B 496.

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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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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)

《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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