Archive for Reconstructions

Disappearing readings of Sinoglyphs: focus on Bo (–> Bai) Juyi / Haku Rakuten

When I learned Mandarin half a century ago, it was a matter of faith, rectitude, and integrity that one should pronounce 說服 ("persuade") as shuìfú, not shuōfú, because when 說 is used with the meaning "convince; persuade", its pronunciation should be shuì, not shuō, which means "say; speak; explain", the more usual reading.  Now, however, in the PRC, according to my students from there, the pronunciation shuì basically no longer exists, not even when the character 說 is intended to mean "convince; persuade", and not even in many dictionaries.

說 can also be pronounced yuè, in which case it means "happy; delighted", and is the equivalent of 悦 (and compare my remarks on the equivalent meaning / reading of 樂 below).

In addition, 說 can also be pronounced tuō and means the same thing as 脱 ("to free; relieve").

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Languages and cultures of Central Asia

Herewith, I wish to announce the publication of a stupendous Festschrift in honor of András Róna-Tas’s 90th birthday. 

András Róna-Tas, distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Szeged, Hungary, winner of several international prestigious prizes, has devoted his long academic career to the study of Chuvash, Turkic elements in Hungarian, Mongolic-Tibetan linguistic contacts, the Para-Mongolic language Khitan and other Central Asian languages and cultures.

This book, presented to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday, contains a collection of papers in Turkic and Mongolic Studies, with a focus on the literacy, culture, and languages of the steppe civilizations. It is organized in three sections: Turkic Studies, Mongolic Studies, and Linguistic and cultural contacts of Altaic languages. It contains papers by some of the most renowned experts in Central Asia Studies.

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Tuoba and Xianbei: Turkic and Mongolic elements of the medieval and contemporary Sinitic states

James Millward sent in a very interesting and important communication (copied in full below) touching upon the ethnic composition of what has now become the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) a thousand and more years ago, especially its Turkic and Proto-Turkic components, together with its proto-Mongolic and para-Mongolic congeners.

Since it is of crucial significance for the early middle, middle, and modern history of the East Asian Heartland (EAH) and Extended East Asian Heartland (EEAH) (see the second item by Victor H. Mair in the "Selected readings"), this is a topic that I have long wanted to address in extenso on Language Log, so I welcome Professor Millward's timely submission on the origins and identification of "Tuoba".

Inasmuch as this lengthy post is chiefly about a group called Tuoba (in Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM] pronunciation of the Sinitic / Sinographic transcription of their ethnonym), supposedly a clan of a people called Xianbei (MSM pronunciation of the Sinitic / Sinographic transcription of their ethnonym), and because it is a very thorny and complicated issue having contemporary political implications, we had better gain a modicum of familiarity with who the Tuoba and Xianbei were, as well as where and when they lived.

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Heavy Velar vs Meager Bilabial Articulations in Xiongnu Language

[This is a guest post by Penglin Wang]

            The great difficulties we have with trying to study Xiongnu language persist from trying to glean Xiongnu words, especially the glossed ones, in early Chinese sources for comparison in order to know what linguistic affiliation it seems to have in the central Eurasian region. Since these difficulties cannot be overcome at all owing to its extinct status a millennium plus ago, an alternative approach could be to recognize that there are different components of language regardless of living or extinct and attempt to observe how different components can differ from one another yet still be entities that most researchers would want to treat as linguistic data or facts rather than imaginations for a comparative purpose. It could then be possible to open up a window to contribute to a solution of some classic problems in Altaic comparative studies. One such attempt is to examine the available Xiongnu words from the perspectives of articulatory phonetics and phonotactics. Concern for these is characteristic of Xiongnu studies. Pulleyblank (1962:242) has insightfully observed “only *b- initially, never *p-” in the Xiongnu transcriptions.

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Proto-Turkic Consonants

I seldom announce the publication of Sino-Platonic Papers on Language Log, but this one, although seemingly highly esoteric, will actually be of interest to many readers.  Aside from numerous Turkic tongues, among other languages and groups it touches on, the following are mentioned:  Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Tocharian, Uyghur, Bulgar, Tatar, Bactrian, Tungusic, Celtic, Dravidian, Yeniseian, Samoyedic, Chuvash, Latin, Italic, Prussian, Slavic (various languages), Sanskrit, Kitan, Hungarian, Xiongnu (Appendix 2 is a list of Xiongnu words surviving in Altaic languages), Circassian, Caucasian, Avar, Dingling 丁零, Khotanese Saka, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Old Persian, Middle and New Persian, Pashto, Ossetian, and numerous Iranian languages, Yuezhi, Koguryŏan (Korean).

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Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-twenty-fifth issue:

"On *p- and Other Proto-Turkic Consonants," by Orçun Ünal (Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Göttingen, Germany)

Dedication:

To my first teacher in Mongolian

Claus Schönig (1955–2019)

http://www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp325_proto_Turkic_consonants.pdf

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Greek and Latin in China

Stimulating, substantial article by Chang Che in SupChina (1/13/22):  "China looks to the Western classics".  Here are the first three paragraphs:

A block east of Tiananmen Square, in a classroom last July, Chinese school children were singing the nursery rhyme “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in Latin: “Donatus est agricola, Eia, Eia, Oh!” The students, aged 11 to 17, were taking an introductory Latin class with Leopold Leeb, a professor of literature at the prestigious Renmin University.

Every weekday during the summer, from nine a.m. to noon, Leeb holds a public class in a marble white church just a stone’s throw away from Beijing’s central government. On the day I attended, Leeb had given each student a Roman name. There was a Gaius, a Flavius, a Monica, and two sisters, Amata and Augusta. The sisters came from Changping, a two-and-a-half-hour train ride away. They sat in the front row and took naps during the 10-minute breaks.

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The foreign origins of the lion dance and words for "lion" in Sinitic

Here at Language Log, we have shown how the most common word for "lion" in Sinitic, shī 獅, has Iranian and / or Tocharian connections (see "Selected readings").  The etymological and phonological details will be sketched out below.  For a magisterial survey, see Wolfgang Behr, "Hinc [sic] sunt leones — two ancient Eurasian, migratory terms in Chinese revisited", International Journal of Central Asian Studies, 9 (2004), 1-53.  This learned essay has appeared in multiple guises and many places (I knew it originally and best while it was still in draft, perhaps back in the 90s), so I don't know which one the author considers to be the most authoritative version.  Perhaps he will enlighten us in the comments to this post.

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Historical Chinese pronunciations in a new video game

[This is a guest post by Lizhou Sha]

As a long-time reader and fan of Language Log, I'd like to call your attention to an unusual appearance of reconstructed historical Chinese pronunciations in the newly released Age of Empires IV, the latest of a popular real-time strategy (RTX) game series by Microsoft. I found an excellent YouTube video by a player named Der Rote where he systematically featured the voiceover lines of the Chinese units and did an excellent job rendering them into modern Mandarin:

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Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

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Xiongnu (Hunnic) Shanyu

One of the most hotly debated questions in early Chinese studies is the origin and pronunciation of the title of the ruler of the Xiongnu (Huns), which is written with these two Sinographs, 單于.  The current scholarly consensus is that the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation should be chányú.  Although it is much contested, the current scholarly consensus for the pronunciation of the name of the son of the first Xiongnu ruler, Tóumàn, is Mòdú (r. 209-174 BC): 

Modun, Maodun, Modu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdùn Chányú ~ Màodùn Chányú, c. 234 – c. 174 BCE), also known as Mete khan across a number of Turkic languages, was the son of Touman and the founder of the empire of the Xiongnu. He came to power by ordering his men to kill his father in 209 BCE.

(source)

The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang, which takes a different approach, and for the first time offers a novel source for the Hunnic title.  The state he refers to is Shanshan, better known as Loulan, which would make its language Indo-European (Tocharian or Gandhari Prakrit), for which see here.

For caṃkura as a Gandhari Prakrit title, see A Dictionary of Gāndhārī here.

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A new derivation of the Sinogram for verb "fly"

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Mongolian museum mystery

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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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