Archive for Language and history

Know your Ossetians

We here at Language Log know our Ossetians:

"Blue-Green Iranian 'Danube'" (10/26/19)

"Sword out of the stone" (8/9/08)

And we know our Scythians, who are closely linked to the Ossetians, too:

"Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (12/23/18)

"Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China" (11/11/19)

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

"Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (4/21/19)

"Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstruction" (12/16/18)

Now Richard Foltz (a cultural historian specializing in ancient Iranian religion), on his blog, "A Canadian in Ossetia:  Life in the central Caucasus", has given us the opportunity to greatly expand our knowledge of Ossetian / Ossete / Ossetic and the Ossetians who speak it with two new, substantial articles:

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Indo-European "cow" and Old Sinitic Reconstructions: awesome

For at least four decades, I have suspected that IE gwou- ("cow") and Sinitic /*[ŋ]ʷə/ (< uvular? [Baxter-Sagart]) ("cow") are related.  Some new scientific research makes this surmise all the more believable.

More than three decades ago, Tsung-tung Chang already published on this idea in his "Indo-European Vocabulary in Old Chinese", Sino-Platonic Papers, 7 (January, 1988), p. 18 (of i, 56), citing Pokorny 482 gʷou and giving "gou" as his OS reconstruction.

Looks pretty simple and straightforward, doesn't it?  Well, it isn't simple at all

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The Hu: a wildly successful Mongolian rock band

Here's the official video of their viral hit, "Wolf Totem":

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A museum for the languages of Taiwan

Language Log readers will be aware that "Chinese", i.e., "Mandarin" (Guóyǔ 國語), is not the only language on the island.  Indeed, it is a Johnny-come-lately, having become the official language of the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1945, and was strongly enforced as such after 1949 when the retreating mainland KMT armies of Chiang Kai-shek occupied the island.

The earliest indigenous languages of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesian.  And we should not forget that there was a period of partial Dutch rule (1624-1662), especially in the south, and Spanish Formosa (Formosa Española) was a small colony of the Spanish Empire established in the northern part of the island from 1626 to 1642.  Consequently, both Dutch and Spanish had an impact on the linguistic development of Taiwan during the 17th century.  The first Europeans to take notice of Taiwan, however, were the Portuguese who, passing Taiwan in 1544, recorded in a ship's log the name of the island as Ilha Formosa ("Beautiful Island").

Taiwan was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945, during which period Japanese was the official language.  As such, it was important for the development of language on the island, and its significance lasts till today.

The influence of English in Taiwan has been enormous during the last two centuries.

See "Languages of Taiwan".

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New Years party themes

Today's xkcd:

The mouseover title: ""Off-by-one errors" isn't the easiest theme to build a party around, but I've seen worse."

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An 8th-century Chinese epitaph written by a Japanese courtier

Here's news of a remarkable discovery:

"Ancient Chinese epitaph penned by Japanese found in China", THE ASAHI SHIMBUN (December 26, 2019 at 19:00 JST).

The article includes a photograph of a rubbing of the last line of the epitaph with the following kanji:

日本國朝臣備書

I can read that easily as Sino-Japanese "Nihonkoku chōshin Bi sho", which would mean "written by the Japanese courtier [Ki]bi".  The article says that the last line of the epitaph reads "Nihonkoku Ason Bi Sho", so it would appear that I am reading "朝臣" incorrectly as "chōshin" instead of as "ason".

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Sanskrit inscriptional evidence for Muslims in 12th-century Bengal

Herewith, I would like to call your attention to a new article by Ryosuke Furui (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo) titled "Sujanagar Stone Inscription of the Time of Bhojavarman, Year 7" in Pratna Samiksha, A Journal of Archaeology (Centre for Archaeological Studies & Training, Eastern India, Kolkata), New Series, Volume 10 (2019), 115-122.

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"Horse Master" in IE and in Sinitic

This is one in a long series of posts about words for "horse" in various languages, the latest being "Some Mongolian words for 'horse'" (11/7/19) — see also the posts listed under Readings below.  I consider "horse" to be one of the most important diagnostic terms for studying long distance movements of peoples and languages for numerous reasons:

  1. In and of itself, the horse represents the ability to move rapidly across the land.
  2. The spread of horse domestication and associated technology such as the chariot is traceable, affording the opportunity to match datable archeological finds with linguistic data.
  3. The symbolic, religious, military, political, and cultural significance of the horse is salient in widespread human societies outside the normal ecological reach of the animal itself.  In other words, the horse is treasured in areas far beyond its natural habitat (the Eurasian steppeland), such that it is a symbol of royal, aristocratic power and prerogative.  Indeed, for many societies, it is a sacred animal imbued with divine power.
  4. In studying the words for "horse" in various languages, we have been fortunate on Language Log to benefit from the expertise of historical linguists who have been providing cutting edge analysis of data drawn from numerous languages belonging to different groups and families.

And so forth.

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Marathi and Persian

One of India's major tongues, Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by 83.1 million people in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.  For those who know Persian, it will sound uncannily familiar.

According to Pushkar Sohoni,

The Marathi language is heavily infused with Persian, which was widespread in administrative and military usage all over the Indian sub-continent for several hundred years. There are two essays in the early 20th century that detail this connection. One is in Marathi by the historian V.K. Rajwade titled 'marāṭhīvara phāraśī bhāṣecā prabhāva' (The influence of Persian on the Marathi language) written in the nineteen-teens. The other one is by the literary figure Baba-i Urdu Maulana Abdul Haq, written a couple of decades later, and titled similarly in English [Abdul Haq 'The Influence of Persian on Maharathi' in Islamic Culture (Hyderabad, 1936), pp. 533-609].

For more, see this article in Iranica online.

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Blue-Green Iranian "Danube"

A curious phenomenon of Old European hydronymy that I've noticed for a long time is that many of the most important rivers in Central and Eastern Europe — Danube, Don, Donets, Dnieper, Dniester, and others — all have names that derive from the ancient Iranian (Scythian) word for "river" (cf. don, "river, water" in modern Ossetic).  Source

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A Sino-Mongolian tale in three languages and five scripts

"Silk Road Tales: A Look at a Mongolian-Chinese Storybook"

By Bruce Humes, published

This post features the tale of Zhang Qian, diplomat and explorer of the "Western Realm" during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141-87 BCE). The book is in Chinese and Mongolian (traditional script) and forms part of a "Socialist Core Value" (社会主义核心价值观幼儿绘本) picture-book series for children aged 5-6.

To facilitate comparison, the blogger has provided the text in three languages, five scripts: the original Chinese and Inner Mongolian script (vertical); Hanyu Pinyin; Cyrillic Mongolian (used in Mongolia); and a translation of the text into English.

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Should there be a Constantine Memorial Column in Istanbul?

Sign for a tram stop in Istanbul:

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"Tocharian C" Again: The Plot Thickens and the Mystery Deepens

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

Readers of this blog may remember the excitement generated a few months ago by the announcement that "Tocharian C," the native language of Kroraina (Chinese Loulan) had been discovered, hiding, as it were, in certain documents written in the Kharoṣṭhī script ("Tocharian C: its discovery and implications" [4/2/19]). Those documents, with transcription, grammatical sketch, and glossary, were published earlier this year as a part of Klaus T. Schmidt's Nachlass (Stefan Zimmer, editor, Hampen in Bremen, publisher).  However, on the weekend of September 15th and 16th a group of distinguished Tocharianists (led by Georges Pinault and Michaël Peyrot), accompanied by at least one specialist in Central Asian Iranian languages, languages normally written in Kharoṣṭhī, met in Leiden to examine the texts and Schmidt's transcriptions.  The result is disappointing, saddening even.  In Peyrot's words, "not one word is transcribed correctly."  We await a full report of the "Leiden Group" with a more accurate transcription and linguistic commentary (for instance, is this an already known Iranian or Indic language, or do the texts represent more than one language, one of which might be a Tocharian language?). Producing such a report is a tall order and we may not have it for some little time.  But, at the very least, Schmidt's "Tocharian C," as it stands, has been removed from the plane of real languages and moved to some linguistic parallel universe.

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