Archive for Language and archeology

Tilting vessel

Earlier this year, we had a post about a fascinating new Wikipedia article on "Goblet word" (5/30/20).  That post was about a vessel that served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word").  Now we have another magisterial Wikipedia article by an anonymous master of Chinese esoterica.  It's about another name for a similar type of vessel called qīqì 欹器, "tilting vessel".

The qīqì (欹器, "tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel") was an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

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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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The importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 3

The cattle head-and-hooves offering in this recently unearthed burial caught my attention:

Since the article is not long and is full of extremely interesting and valuable information, I copy it below.

First, however, I should note that Elizabeth J. W. Barber long ago postulated that the horse head-and-hooves sacrifices had been preceded by cattle head-and-hooves sacrifices, before horses became widespread.  She did so on the basis of the cattle heads and hooves above the royal tombs at Alaca Höyük, ca. 2600 BCE in Anatolia (see The Dancing Goddesses, pp. 308-12 and in Festschrift for J. P. Mallory). Judging from this new archeological evidence from Britain, it would appear that she was right.

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The importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 2

This note is about the site of Shimao in northern Shaanxi.  It is dated to around four thousand years ago.  The architectural details alone are astonishing for that age and place, but there are so many other cultural riches, including sculpture and engraving, plus agricultural advances not found in central China till later.  It is only recently, within the last decade, that the site began to be excavated, and new discoveries are ongoing, so we can expect more important findings from Shimao.

Shimao (Chinese: 石峁; pinyin: Shímǎo) is a Neolithic site in Shenmu County, Shaanxi, China. The site is located in the northern part of the Loess Plateau, on the southern edge of the Ordos Desert. It is dated to around 2000 BC, near the end of the Longshan period, and is the largest known walled site of that period in China, at 400 ha.

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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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University of Texas Linguistics Research Center

Three decades ago, in 1990, I attended a five-week summer institute on Indo-European linguistics and archeology at the University of Texas (Austin).  The institute was organized by Edgar Polomé (1920 [b. Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Brussels, Belgium]-2000) and Winfred Lehmann (1916 [b. Surprise, Nebraska]-2000) and was supported by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  It seemed like half of the most important Indo-Europeanists of the day paraded through the Institute.

I remember Homer Thomas drawing hundreds of pots on the gigantic blackboard, stretching about 50 feet across the front of the lecture hall and 7 or 8 feet tall, and unerringly identifying their site and culture names, pointing out their relationships by shape and ornamentation.  That was really quite a breathtaking performance, one that went on a whole week for a couple of hours each day, if I remember correctly.

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Kanji or not?

Stone artifact from around the beginning of the first century AD, excavated at the Tawayama remains in Matsue, capital of Shimane Prefecture:

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically).

Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر(sīr)). The Middle Persian word is cognate with Parthian (šarg, Leo; Lion), Khotanese [script (šarau, Leo; Lion), Khwarezmian شرغ(šrγ /šarγ/, Leo; Lion) and Sogdian (šrwγ /šruγ/) , ܫܪܘܮ(šrwγ /šruγ/, Leo; Lion)

Middle Persian:

Manichaean: ‎ (šgr)

Source

Kipling-Disney:  Shere Khan (" Tiger Lion" — from Persian and Mongolian)

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Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This post was prompted by the following comment to "The emergence of Germanic" (2/27/19):

…while riding horses _in battle_ is post-Bronze Age (and perhaps of questionable worth at any time), I think riding in general is older, and probably (assuming the usual dating of PIE) common Indo-European.

The domesticated horse, the chariot, and the wheel came to East Asia from the west, and so did horse riding:

Mair, Victor H.  “The Horse in Late Prehistoric China:  Wresting Culture and Control from the ‘Barbarians.’”  In Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle, ed.  Prehistoric steppe adaptation and the horse,  McDonald Institute Monographs.  Cambridge:  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003, pp. 163-187.

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Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions

[The first page of this post is a guest contribution by Chris Button.]

I've been thinking a little about the word represented by chái 豺* which I would normally reconstruct as *dzrəɣ (Zhengzhang *zrɯ) ignoring any type a/b distinctions. However, it occurred to me that a reconstruction of *dzrəl (for which Zhengzhang would presumably have *zrɯl) would give the same Middle Chinese reflex (I'm not citing Baxter/Sagart since they don't support lateral codas presumably for reasons of symmetry). I'm not sure if outside of its phonetic speller cái 才 there is any reason to go with -ɣ rather than -l in coda position for 豺. However, if we go with a lateral coda as *dzrəl, it looks suspiciously similar to Old Iranian šagāl from Sanskrit śṛgāla (perhaps even more so if we fricativize the Old Iranian /g/ to /ɣ/ intervocalically as in modern Persian).

[*VHM:  This is always a challenging word for translators.  "jackal" and "dhole" are two possibilities.]

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Of dogs and Old Sinitic reconstructions

At the conclusion of "Barking roosters and crowing dogs" (2/18/18), I promised a more philologically oriented post to celebrate the advent of the lunar year of the dog.  This is it.  Concurrently, it is part of this long running series on Old Sinitic and Indo-European comparative reconstructions:

I will launch into this post with the following simple prefatory statement:

Half a century ago, the first time I encountered the Old Sinitic reconstruction of Mandarin quǎn 犬 ("dog"), Karlgren GSR 479 *k'iwən, I suspected that it might be related to an Indo-European word cognate with "canine" [<PIE *kwon-]).

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Tangut workshop at Yale

On the weekend of January 19-20, 2018, there was a Tangut Workshop at Yale University.  Organized by Valerie Hansen and sponsored by the Yale Council of East Asian Studies, this was an intense, exciting learning experience for the 35 or so people who were in the room most of the time.

Many readers may be scratching their heads and asking, "Tangut?  What's that?  And why should we at Language Log be concerned with it?"

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