Archive for Language and history

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!"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

"Mulan" is a masculine, non-Sinitic name

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

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%.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (101)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

Tocharian C: its discovery and implications

[This is a guest post by Douglas Q. Adams]

For over a hundred years now linguists have known of a small Indo-European family comprised of two closely related languages, Tocharian A and Tocharian B, in the Tarim Basin of eastern Central Asia (Chinese Xinjiang). Tocharian B speakers occupied the northern edge of the Tarim Basin, north of the Tarim River, from its origin at the confluence of the Kashgar and Yarkand rivers eastward to about the halfway point to the Tarim's disappearance into Lop Nor. Politically Tocharian B speakers were certainly the major constituent of the population of the kingdom of Kucha and natively they called the language (in its English form) Kuchean. To the east-north-east, in the Karashahr Basin, were speakers of Tocharian A, centered around Yanqi (Uighur Karashahr, Sanskrit Agni). On the basis of the Sanskrit name this language is sometimes referred to as Agnean, though we do not have any direct or conclusive evidence as to what the speakers themselves called it. To the east-south-east of Kuqa, along the lower Tarim was the historic kingdom of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan < Han Chinese *glu-glân). The administrative language of Loulan was Gandhari Prakrit, obviously imported into the Tarim Basin along with Buddhism from northwestern India. In documents of the Loulan variety of Gandhari Prakrit are non-Gandhari words that have been attributed to the native language of the area. Some of those non-Gandhari words look like Tocharian (e.g., kilme 'region' beside TchB kälymiye 'direction') and it has seemed a reasonable hypothesis that the native language of Kroraina/Loulan was another Tocharian language, "Tocharian C." (That the native language of Loulan was Tocharian was first suggested by Thomas Burrow in his The Language of the Kharoṣṭhī Documents from Chinese Turkestan, 1937.) This is a reasonable hypothesis, for which the evidence is admittedly meager, and many have been (reasonably) dubious or unconvinced.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

China and Rome

In preparing a new edition of Friedrich Hirth's venerable China and the Roman Orient: Researches into Their Ancient and Medieval Relations as Represented in Old Chinese Records (1885) (CRO), for the sake of comparison I included in my introduction a section on Frederick J. Teggart's Rome and China:  A Study of Correlations in Historical Events (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1939), written 54 years later.  Superficially, the two books share similar titles and topics, but they could hardly be more different in their orientations and goals.  Whereas Hirth was determined to identify the names of places, peoples, and things from the far west of Eurasia that were Sinographically transcribed in ancient Chinese – an extremely difficult philological task, Teggart's aim was far more theoretical.  Teggart strove to demonstrate that battles, movements of peoples, and other events that occurred in western Eurasia, Central Asia, and East Asia for half a millennium during the Roman Empire were intimately interrelated, although in Rome and China, he focuses intensely on the period from 58 BC to AD 107.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

There is a long-standing puzzle that has attracted historical linguists' interest. This is a single sentence of 10 characters in two clauses: "秀支替戾岡, 僕谷劬禿當" (xiù zhī tì lì gāng, pú gŭ qú tū dāng). The sentence does not make sense in any of the Sinitic topolects. Obviously, this appears to be from a foreign language using Sinographs as phonetic transcriptions. Indeed, the source document which gives this mysterious sentence clearly indicates this is in Jié 羯, a non-Sinitic language that showed up in China during the chaotic period known as the Sixteen Kingdoms (304-439 CE) marked by uprisings of 五胡 wŭhú 'Five Barbarians' (Xiōngnú 匈奴, Jié 羯, Xiānbēi 鮮卑, Dī 氐, and Qiāng 羌) against the Jìn 晉 dynasty.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (141)

Slavs and slaves

I am in the Czech Republic for lectures and meetings with colleagues.  This morning I climbed up to the gigantic oppidum at the top of a steep hill outside Prague near the little town of Zbraslav.

Oppidum is a Latin word meaning the main settlement in any administrative area of ancient Rome, and applied more generally in Latin to smaller urban settlements than cities, equating to "town" in English (bearing in mind that ancient "cities" could be very small by modern standards). The word is derived from the earlier Latin ob-pedum, "enclosed space", possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *pedóm-, "occupied space" or "footprint".

Wikipedia

After agonizing over the pronunciation of the consonant cluster at the beginning of Zbraslav, I speculated over the meaning of the second part of the name (I surmised that the name as a whole means "glory / fame / renown of weapons").  This led to a discussion with my host, Jakub Maršálek, who is well informed about the archeology and history of the region, about the connection between "slave" and "Slav".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (45)