Archive for Reconstructions

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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So spoke Zoroaster: camels and ancient Sinitic reconstructions

How did he speak?  What did he speak?  When did he speak?

There seems to be a lot of dissension, even among Iranists, concerning the basic facts of his life and times.  For the founder of a major religion, little hard evidence is available concerning the man and his message.  Of course, basic biographical data for the life of Jesus Christ are also scarce, including whether or not he was born on December 25, 0, and whether he died on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday before arising from the dead on Easter Sunday in AD 30 or 36?

From the time I first encountered Friedrich Nietzsche's book (1883-1885) in high school, I was puzzled by the archaic style of the title, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and the twin names of the founder of Zorastrianism, who was the namesake of the hero of the novel. 

Zoroaster (/ˈzɒræstər/, UK also /ˌzɒrˈæstər/; Greek: Ζωροάστρης, Zōroastrēs), also known as Zarathustra (/ˌzærəˈθstrə/, UK also /ˌzɑːrə-/; Avestan: ‎, Zaraθuštra), Zarathushtra Spitama or Ashu Zarathushtra (Modern Persian: زرتشت‎, Zartosht)

(source)

The full title of the novel in its original German is Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None).  It wasn't long before my etymological obsession led me to the explanation of the prophet's name as having something to do with camels (which would make sense for someone who hailed from the homeland of the Bactrian species).

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 7

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu, with additions at the bottom by VHM and others]

On the akinakes* (Scythian dagger / short sword) and Xiongnu (Hunnish) horse sacrifice

Chinese historical records suggest that the akinakes, transliterated from Greek ἀκῑνάκης, may be endowed with spiritual significance in the eyes of ancient Chinese and Northern Barbarians, for it was used in solemn ceremonies.  Let me cite two recorded ceremonies and a special occasion where an akinakes is used to “finesse” an emperor.

In the Book of Han (漢書), Chapter 94 B, Records of Xiongnu (匈奴傳下), we see an akinakes is used in a ceremony sealing a treaty of friendship between the Han and Xiongnu.  The Han emissaries, the Chief Commandant of charioteers and cavalry [車騎都尉] Han Chang (韓昌) and an Imperial Court Grandee [光祿大夫] Zhang Meng (張猛) visited the Xiongnu chanyu** (單于) [VHM:  chief of the Xiongnu / Huns] in 43 BC.  Han and Zhang, together with the chanyu and high officials, climbed the eastern hill by the river Nuo (諾水)***, killed a white horse, and the chanyu using a jinglu knife (徑路刀) and a golden liuli**** (金留犁, said to be a spoon for rice) mixed the horse blood with wine.  Then they drank the blood-oath together from the skull of the King of Yuezhi, who had been defeated by the ancestor of the chanyu and whose skull had been made into a goblet.  Essentially, this jinglu knife was a holy mixer.

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Macaque and Old Sinitic reconstructions

I've long been deeply intrigued by the word "macaque".  It's an odd-looking term with a murky history, but somehow it just seems to fit the creature that it designates.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed.:

French, from Portuguese macaco, of Bantu origin; akin to Kongo makako, monkeys : ma-, pl. n. pref. + -kako, monkey.

Online Etymology Dictionary:

East Indian monkey, 1757, from French macaque, from Portuguese macaco "monkey," a Bantu word brought from Africa to Brazil (where it was applied 17c. to a type of monkey there).

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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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Middle Eastern harps and "harp" in Eastern Central Asia

There is an abundance of ancient harps archeologically recovered from the Tarim Basin and surrounding areas.  Just in the Tarim Basin alone, there are 23 harps dating to the first millennium BC:

Yánghǎi 洋海 (east of Turpan, just south of the foothills of the Flaming Mountains at the broad, pebbly ("gobi") terrace embouchement of the Toyuq Gorge) — Uyghur Yankhi, Yanghi, Yangkhe, Yangxé. Uyghur Wikipedia has Yanqir; Turkic Yarghol (5 harps dating from 999-250 BC)

Zhāgǔnlǔkè 扎滚鲁克 (village in Toglaklik Township, Chärchän / Qiemo County) — Uyghur Zaghunluq (3 harps dating 600-300 BC)

Àisīkèxiáěr 艾斯克霞尔 (southern cemetery, along the lower reaches of the Baiyang / White Poplar River [originally a Mongolian name transcribed in Sinitic as Nàmùguōlè 纳木郭勒] in the vicinity of Qumul / Hami) — Uyghur Eskişehir, Eski Sheher ("Old City") (11 harps dating 8th-5th c. BC)

Qūmàn 曲曼 (Zankar cemetery near Tashkurgan) — Chushman (2 harps dating 6th-3rd c. BC

Yú'érgōu 鱼儿沟 (west of Turpan about a hundred miles and south of Ürümchi about a hundred miles, in Dabancheng District — modern Uyghur name is Iwirghol or Éwirghol (1 harp dating 3rd c. BC)

Chärchän / Qiemo District Museum (1 harp collected from the people)

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The Altaic Hypothesis revisited

"Altaic: Rise and Fall of a Linguistic Hypothesis", NativLang (9/28/19) — video is 12:29; extensive discussion after the page break

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"Skin" and "hide" ("pelt") in Old Sinitic and Proto-Indo-European

Browsing through the The American Heritage Dictionary "Indo-European Roots Appendix", a favorite activity of mine, even before the pandemic lockdowns, I came to "pel-3" and was stunned when I saw that one of the derived words was Greek peltē, a shield (made of hide), about which three years ago I had written a very long post (nearly three thousand words): 

"Of armaments and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 6" (12/23/17)

Utilizing a mass of archeological, art historical, textual, linguistic, and other types of evidence, I had shown a close resemblance between the Greek peltē and Sinitic fá 瞂  pelta; small shield — Middle Sinitic bjwot — as defined in Paul Kroll, ed., A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (Leiden: Brill, 2015), p. 104a.  In that whole, long post, I did not mention Sinitic pí 皮 ("skin; hide; pelt; leather"), because I was determined to cite only linguistic evidence from the Classical Greek to the Middle Sinitic period and the associated artifacts and images.

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Transcription and digraphia in the rapidly changing linguistic landscape of China

With notes on 兑, 說 / 説, 悦, 銳, 脱.

From Stephen Tschudi:

A colleague was watching a tuōkǒu xiù 脱口秀 ("talk show") online today, and was shocked when a well-known actress did not pronounce "duìxiàn 兑现" (vb. "cash [a check]; fulfill / honor [a promise / commitment]") correctly. She was even more shocked when, in the audience chat that was scrolling across the screen, an audience member typed "dui 现不是 yue 现“ (no tone marks). The Pinyin leaped out at her visually. I bet there aren't too many examples of this mixture of Pinyin into daily discourse. Just an interesting tidbit! (I asked her for the source but she was watching too casually to remember.)

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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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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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