Archive for Language and history

Another Illusion Shattered: "leprechaun" not native Irish

So we learn from this article:

"Leprechaun 'is not a native Irish word' new dictionary reveals", by Nuala McCann BBC News (9/5/19)

Leprechauns may be considered quintessentially Irish, but research suggests this perception is blarney.

The word "leprechaun" is not a native Irish one, scholars have said.

They have uncovered hundreds of lost words from the Irish language and unlocked the secrets of many others.

Although "leipreachán" has been in the Irish language for a long time, researchers have said it comes from Luperci, a group linked to a Roman festival.

The feast included a purification ritual involving swimming and, like the Luperci, leprechauns are associated with water in what may be their first appearance in early Irish literature.

According to an Old Irish tale known as The Adventure of Fergus son of Léti, leprechauns carried the sleeping Fergus out to sea.

A new revised dictionary created from the research spans 1,000 years of the Irish language from the 6th to the 16th centuries.

A team of five academics from Cambridge University and Queen's University Belfast carried out painstaking work over five years, scouring manuscripts and texts for words which have been overlooked or mistakenly defined.

Their findings can now be freely accessed in the revised version of the online dictionary of Medieval Irish.

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Green box deep male shrine

Photograph taken by Yuanfei Wang in Baihou Town 百侯镇, Tai Po 大埔, Guangdong Province:

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The origins of the Turkic word for "stirrup"

Ulf Jäger has just published this impressive article:

"A Unique Alxon-Hunnic Horse-and-Rider Statuette (Late Fifth Century CE) from Ancient Bactria / Modern Afghanistan in the Pritzker Family Collection, Chicago", Sino-Platonic Papers, 290 (August, 2019), 72 pages (free pdf).

In this study the author offers a first attempt to describe, discuss, and interpret the bronze statuette of a noble horse-and-rider of the so-called Alkhon/Alxon wave of the "Iranian Huns," dated to the end of the fifth century CE, from Northern Afghanistan.

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Cryptic, allusive messages from Hong Kong's wealthiest tycoon

People have been wondering when Hong Kong's magnates would speak out on the prolonged protests in their city.  Finally one has.  That's Li Ka-shing, the richest of them all:  "HK Billionaire Li Ka-Shing Breaks Silence Over Protests" (8/15/19 newscast on YouTube).  He took out full page advertisements (both seem to be on the front page) in two of Hong Kong's most influential financial newspapers:  Hong Kong Economic Times and Hong Kong Economic Journal.  Here's the first:

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Yoshikawa Kojiro on sashimi in Tang China

[This is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei]

In 1976 I was in Kyoto for my sabbatical leave and I attended Yoshikawa Kojiro's (Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎; 18 March 1904 – 8 April 1980) private seminar on Tu Fu (712-770).  The seminar was held in a room in the Kyoto University Faculty Club and we were reading Tu Fu.  One day when we were reading "Lìrén xíng 麗人行" ("Ballad of Beautiful Women"),Yoshikawa looked up and said to me:  "Méi xiānshēng, Zhōngguórén zài Táng cháo yǐjīng zài chī sashimi 梅先生, 中國人在唐朝已經在吃 sashimi" ("Mr. Mei, the Chinese were already eating sashimi during the Tang Dynasty [618-907]"). And he pointed to this passage:  "Shuǐjīng zhī pán xíng sù lín, xī jīn yànyù jiǔ wèi xià, luán dāo lǚ qiè kōng fēnlún 水精之盤行素鱗,犀筋饜飫久未下,鸞刀縷切空紛綸。")  ("Crystal plates brought out raw fish; Satiated revelers stopped using their ivory chopsticks; [The chefs] wielded their ornate cutting knives in vain.")

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Ich bin ein Hongkonger

The genesis of this post lies in the following newspaper headline:

"Ich Bin Ein Hong Konger:  How Hong Kong is turning into the West Berlin of the quasi-cold war between the West and China", by Melinda Liu, Foreign Policy (7/16/19)

Every historically literate person immediately recognizes the allusion to John F. Kennedy's famous speech in West Berlin on June 26, 1963:

Speaking from a platform erected on the steps of Rathaus Schöneberg for an audience of 450,000, Kennedy said,

Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum ["I am a Roman citizen"]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner!"… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "the right (of the people) to … bear arms"

An introduction and guide to this series of posts is available here. The corpus data can be downloaded here. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

Having dealt in my last post with how bear arms was ordinarily used and understood in 18th-century America, I'll turn in this post to the question of how it was used in the Second Amendment.

I'll begin by considering how the right to bear arms would most likely have been understood during the Founding Era. As I will explain, I think it would have been understood to mean something along the lines of 'serve in the militia.' I'll then ask whether that conclusion is changed by the fact that the right to bear arms is described in the Second Amendment as belonging to "the people." My answer will be that my conclusion is unchanged.

My next post will wrap up my examination of the Second Amendment by considering whether my interpretation is ruled out by the fact that the Second Amendment deals not simply with the right of the people to bear arms but with their right to keep and bear arms. And again, the answer will be no.

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"Mulan" is a masculine, non-Sinitic name

There is much hullabaloo over the new "Mulan" trailer:

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "bear arms" (part 3) [UPDATED]

[Part 1, Part 2.] An introduction and guide to this series of posts is available here. The corpus data can be downloaded here. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen. 

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

From The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut
From October, 1735, to October, 1743, Inclusive

—♦—

THIS WILL BE my final post about bear arms, and it will be followed by a post on the right of the people to … bear arms and another on keep and bear arms. These posts will directly address the linguistic issues that are most important in evaluating the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller: how bear arms was ordinarily used in the America of the late 18th century, and how the right of the people, to keep and bear Arms was likely to have been understood.

As I've previously explained, the court held in Heller that at the time of the Framing, bear arms ordinarily meant 'wear, bear, or carry … upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.' In my last post, I discussed the uses of bear arms in the corpus that I thought were at least arguably consistent with that that meaning. Out of the 531 uses that I identified as being relevant, there were only 26 in that category—less than 5% of the total.

In this post I'll discuss the other 95%.

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An Indo-European approach to the alphabet?

[Update by Mark Liberman: Knowledgeable commenters have serious objections to the content of this guest post (e.g. John McWhorter, Sally Thomason), and others cite apparently racist content and publication location in other writings by John Day (e.g. Suzanne Kemmerer, Jamie). It was a serious mistake to have given this work a platform on this blog, which tries to present reputable linguistic perspectives in a public-facing way. I'm not going to delete it, since the comments are worth preserving, but it's important to put this warning up front. We'll try to avoid such mistakes in the future.]

[This is a guest post by John V. Day]

John V. Day, The Alphabet Code: The Origins of Our Alphabet and Numbers (Kindle 2018).

At present, almost every scholar follows Herodotus about the Greek alphabet being created by non-Indo-European Phoenicians (despite an earlier tradition attributing the invention of writing to the legendary hero Palamedes). Whereas my book, The Alphabet Code, argues that Indo-Europeans created the alphabet.

One problem with the orthodox story, as Isaac Taylor pointed out in the 19th century, is that the Greek letters and their alleged Semitic forerunners suffer from a 'nearly absolute dissemblance of form': for example, zēta and Semitic zayin, mu and Semitic mem; san and Semitic tsade; rhō and Semitic resh.

Furthermore, as Barry Powell admits, 'The signs of the West Semitic signaries bear little resemblance to the objects they are said to name.' Α, for example, supposedly depicts the head of an ox, although only after being rotated by 180°; Β, a house; Θ, a hand; Π, a mouth. Yet no one doubts the Phoenician hypothesis.

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Prakritic "Kroraina" and Old Sinitic reconstructions of "Loulan", part 2

What follows is Doug Adams' draft of an excursus that is not trying to be complete in itself (i.e., it's not a free-standing article), but rather something that will provide a certain amount of orientation to readers of the review of Schmidt's Nachlass (for which see the first item in the "Readings" below).

[Excursus: The Name of Lóulán/Kroraina: It is universally assumed (1) that Lóulán (the contemporary Chinese pronunciation of the relevant Chinese characters) and Niya-Prākrit Kroraina (Sogdian krwr'n) refer to the same place[1] and, further, (2) that they are, at bottom, the same word.  In discussions of Lóulán/Kroraina, Lóulán is confidently given the earlier (Old/Middle?—the age is not usually noted) Chinese pronunciation of *γləulan or the like (Schmidt gives *γlaulan).  Since Middle Chinese (ca. 600 AD) /l/ is known to reflect Old Chinese (ca. 1000-200 BC) /r/, it would seem to be a short hop to a reconstruction of *γrəuran in, say, 500 BC.

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Prakritic "Kroraina" and Old Sinitic reconstructions of "Loulan"

Inquiry from Doug Adams:

As you know I'm working on a review for JIES [Journal of Indo-European Studies] on KT Schmidt's Nachlass [VHM:  see here].  I need to say something about the name Loulan itself and, not unusually, I'm sinking uncontrollably into the quicksand of reconstructed Chinese. The question arises concerning the first syllable, represented by Karlgren's character 123b. The modern pronunciation is lóu. Because it is assumed to be the Chinese transcription of the first syllable of the native word Kroraina, one finds, in discussions of Loulan, reconstructions like *gləu or *γləu, with the (unstated) assumption that the *l stands for a yet earlier *r. But, when the name Loulan is not part of the discussion, i.e., in general reconstruction, the initial is just *l– or, earlier, *r– (Schuessler gives OCM * or roʔ [and Late Han (about the turn of the millennium) *lo or lioB]) The Khotanese word referring to Loulan/Kroraina is raurana– and is obviously the same word as the Chinese and, indeed, very probably a borrowing therefrom.         So where does the *gl-/*γl– come from? Or is the Chinese Loulan not a transcription of Kroraina but merely an accidental (partial) look alike?

Any elucidation you can give would be appreciated.

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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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