Archive for Language and history

Indirect archeological evidence for the spread and exchange of languages in medieval Asia

The title of this article about the Belitung shipwreck (ca. 830 AD) is somewhat misleading (e.g., there is no direct evidence of Malayalam being spoken by any of the protagonists, but it is broadly informative, richly illustrated, and well presented.

"Mongols speaking Malayalam – What a sunken ship says about South India & China’s medieval ties

The silent ceramic objects that survive from medieval Indian Ocean trade carry incredible stories of a time when South Asia had the upper hand over China."

Anirudh Kanisetti

The Print (8 September, 2022)

It's intriguing, at least to me, that the author identifies himself as a "public historian".  He is the author of Lords of the Deccan, a new history of medieval South India.

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Garbler of spices

A couple of days ago, we had occasion to come to grips with the word "garble":  "Please do not feel confused" (8/19/22).  This led Kent McKeever to write as follows:

Your recent use of "garble" has prompted me to pass on something I recently stumbled on.  I have been poking at the digital files of the Newspapers of Eighteenth Century English newspapers and ran across a reference to the London city government position of "Garbler of Spices."  From the context, it seems to be an inspector, perhaps processor, of spice imports.  Totally new to me.

Totally new to me too.

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Narts, Ossetians, and other peoples of the Caucasus

For many reasons, here at Language Log we have had a longstanding interest in the Narts, their language, literature, and lore:

The Nart sagas (Abkhaz: Нарҭаа ражәабжьқәа; Nartaa raƶuabƶkua; Adyghe: Нарт тхыдэжъхэр, romanized: Nart txıdəĵxər; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Nartı kadjıtæ) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form much of the basic mythology of the ethnic groups in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, KarachayBalkar, and to some extent ChechenIngush folklore.

The term nart comes from the Ossetian Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of nar. The derivation of the root nar is of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian *nar for 'hero, man', descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. In Chechen, the word nart means 'giant'.

(source)

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Archaic Greek in a modern world, part 3

As the art historians Richard Barnhart (Yale) and Lukas Nickel (Vienna) have shown, Greek elements, images, and techniques reached into the mausoleum of the First Emperor of the Qin (259-210 BC) and the massive terracotta army entombed there.  See "Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (12/16/18) and the many references thereto.  The continuing research of Lucas Christopolous has cemented the presence of things Greek in East Asia even more securely.  Here we present just one significant finding documented by Lucas' investigations, namely, the crouching position of warriors in the First Emperor's army and in my favorite artifact from Eastern Central Asia, a kneeling bronze statue from the south bank of the Künäs River, Xinyuan (Künäs) County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection, exhibited in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 2011.  See object 44 on p. 155 of Victor H. Mair, ed., Secrets of the Silk Road (Santa Ana, CA:  Bowers Museum, 2010).  See also p. 47 here and p. 163 of Mallory and Mair, The Tarim Mummies (London:  Thames and Hudson, 2000).

Notice that the bronze warrior is bare-chested, has a long nose and round eyes, is wearing a pleated kilt and helmet in a Trojan or other Greek style, and has additional Greek attributes.  Since another similar figure was found nearby, this is not a one-off fluke.  He is often said to be from the 5th c. BC, but see below for Lucas' slightly later dating.

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Archaic Greek in a modern world, part 2

[This is a guest post from Zhang He]

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to you at the airport of Termez, a city on the southern border of Uzbekistan with Afghanistan. This city is so far the highest point of my trip. The city’s name is very likely after Demetrius, a general of Alexander the Great, who, after the death of Alexander, ruled this area. There are several important cultures that met here: Greek, Bactrian, Buddhist, and later Islam. A village 20 km north of the city is still called Macedon (!!!) after more than two thousand years! I went to a ruin called Kampir Tepe (Tepe means “hill”) which is believed to be one of the 80+ Alexandrias: Alexandria-Oxus (Alexandria on the Oxus River, which was later called Amu Darya). It was a citadel of Greco-Bactrians from 4th c. BCE to 2nd c. CE. It is believed that Alexander himself and his troops took six days to cross the river and started a settlement here. His third wife Roxana is from a nearby place in today’s Tajikistan (less than 60 miles). I saw big ceramic storage jars. The fragments were laid out on the ground by working archaeologists from more than two thousand years ago! Really amazing!

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Archaic Greek in a modern world

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Genghis Khan and Burkhan Khaldun

Every five years or so, popular science magazines have a "Genghis Khan tomb" story.

Here's a current iteration:

"Where is the tomb of Genghis Khan?"

By Owen Jarus, published 12 days ago

The location of the tomb of Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – August 18/25, 1227; the founder and first great Khan [Emperor] of the Mongol Empire) was certainly meant to be kept secret by those who buried him.  

Marco Polo wrote that, even by the late 13th century, the Mongols did not know the location of the tomb. The Secret History of the Mongols has the year of Genghis Khan's death (1227) but no information concerning his burial. In the "Travels of Marco Polo" he writes that "It has been an invariable custom, that all the grand khans, and chiefs of the race of Genghis-khan, should be carried for interment to a certain lofty mountain named Altai, and in whatever place they may happen to die, although it should be at the distance of a hundred days' journey, they are nevertheless conveyed thither."

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Dragon Boat Festival and moral abduction

Called Duānwǔ jié 端午節 / 端午节 in Chinese, this year (2022) it occurred on Friday, June 3.

Below, I will discuss in detail the names, origins, and customs surrounding this widely and exuberantly celebrated festival.  Unfortunately, recently there has been some controversy over how to greet people on this day.  There seems to be a lot of online discussion as to whether

Duānwǔ jié kuàilè
端午節快樂
"Happy Duanwu Festival!"

or

Duānwǔ jié ānkāng
端午節安康
"[May your] Duanwu Festival [be filled with] well-being"

is the appropriate greeting for the festival, including debate about the more recent use in China (less so in Taiwan) of the latter.

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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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Sailor's bed

If I were a cruciverbalist, I might use that as a clue for "hammock", though it didn't turn up here:

https://www.wordplays.com/crossword-solver/sailor%27s-bed

nor here:

http://crosswordtracker.com/clue/sailors-bed/

but it was first here:

https://crossword-solver.io/clue/sailor%27s-bed/

With somer a-comin' — though spryng has barely sprung, at least not in these parts — it's time to drag out our dusty, trusty hammocks and hang them between two trees.  But, historically, just what is a "hammock", and where did the word come from?

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The cognation of "Rusyn", "Ruthenian", and "Russian"

Etymological aficionado that I am, as I suspected "Ruthenian" is related to "Russian".

Some notes:

Related to Ruthene, Ruthenian, Ruthenic, from Medieval Latin Rutheni, Ruteni, related to Russi, Ruzi as Prutheni, Pruteni is to Prussi, Pruzi (Prussians). Compare Rus, Russ, from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ), compare Byzantine Greek Ῥῶς (Rhôs).

(source)

Ditto for "Rusyn":

From Rusyn руси́н (rusýn), from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ, Rus). Compare Ruthenia.

(source)

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New open-access volume on Rusyn studies

Email from Wayles Brown:

I noticed the discussion on Rusyn that appeared on Language Log, and thought some participants might be interested in hearing more about the topic.

Here is a new book on Rusyn studies which just came out in Japan. [The back of the title page, in English, gives the year as 2021, but I gather that the front says "Sapporo, March 2022" in Japanese.] As you'll see, I wrote the introduction, having been interested in Rusyn for some time, and the articles are by people who know more about Rusyn than I do.

As you see from the letter from Mr. Fujimori of the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University, everyone is welcome to forward it to others who might be interested.

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