Archive for Language and history

Whose New Year is it anyway?

The struggle for cultural priority, supremacy, and naming between China and Korea is perennial:  fishing nets, printing with metal movable type, kimchi….  Now it's over the lunar new year that is currently being celebrated.

"NewJeans' Danielle apologizes for calling the 'Lunar New Year' 'Chinese New Year'"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/21/23)

 

"Chinese netizens terrorize the Instagrams of Korean celebrities who gave lunar new year greetings, including IVE's Wonyoung and CL"

Yaki-Jones, allkpop (1/22/23)

Might be better to avoid the orthological controversy altogether and just refer to it as the Lunar New Year.

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The invention, development, and decipherment of writing

Long article by Josephine Quinn:

Alphabet Politics:
What prompted the development of systems of writing?

The New York Review (1/19/23 [online 12/19/22])

This is a detailed review of these two books:

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

by Silvia Ferrara, translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 289 pp., $29.00
 

Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present

by Johanna Drucker
University of Chicago Press, 380 pp., $40.00

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Decoding an emperor's letter: the dark arts of diplomacy

BBC (11/27/22) article by Hugh Schofield:

"Charles V: French scientists decode 500-year-old letter"

A coded letter signed in 1547 by the most powerful ruler in Europe has been cracked by French scientists, revealing that he lived in fear of an assassination attempt by an Italian mercenary.

The article begins like a historical mystery novel:

Sent by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to his ambassador at the French royal court – a man called Jean de Saint-Mauris – the letter gives an insight into the preoccupations of Europe's rulers at a time of dangerous instability caused by wars of religion and rival strategic interests.

For historians, it is also a rare glimpse at the dark arts of diplomacy in action: secrecy, smiling insincerity and disinformation were evidently as current then as they are today.

Cryptographer Cecile Pierrot first heard a rumour of the letter's existence at a dinner party in Nancy three years ago. After lengthy research she tracked it down to the basement of the city's historic library.

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Ancient Greek and Roman shorthand

Inasmuch as we recently puzzled over modern shorthand, it should be fun to take a look at what shorthand was like two millennia and more ago.

There Are Still Codes Throughout Ancient Roman Literature

For centuries we’ve ignored the marginalia writing of slave stenographers, but focusing on it now could give fresh insight into their lives, and into military and literary history.

By Candida Moss, The Daily Beast (11/5/22)

What happened is like a rediscovery of a century-old discovery of a cultural practice that was common two millennia and more ago.

Several years ago, Ryan Baumann, a digital humanities developer at Duke University, was leafing through an early 20th-century collection of ancient Greek manuscripts when he ran across an intriguing comment. The author noted that there was an undeciphered form of shorthand in the margins of a piece of papyrus and added a hopeful note that perhaps future scholars might be able to read it. The casual aside set Baumann off on a new journey to unlock the secrets of an ancient code.

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Léon Vandermeersch (1928-2021) on the differences between Western and Chinese rationalities

Received today the newsletter of INSTITUT RICCI – Centre Sèvres, Paris.

Actualités de novembre 2022
 
Le 19 octobre dernier, l'Institut Ricci a rendu hommage le temps d'une journée au grand sinologue disparu il y a un an, Léon Vandermeersch. A partir de son étude de la divination et de la naissance de l’écriture en Chine ancienne, il a mené une réflexion de fond sur les différences entre rationalités occidentale et chinoise, qualifiées respectivement de « téléologique » et « morphologique ». La journée a permis d’évoquer son apport à la compréhension de la Chine et, surtout, de convaincre les participants qu’il faudrait un colloque plus substantiel qui permettrait une évaluation approfondie de cet apport.

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The Complexities of Eastern Slavic

After reading this post — "Ukrainian at the edge" (10/30/22) — Peter B. Golden appended the following comment to it:

A few notes: krai (край) means "edge, border" and "territory, land, country" in Russian as well. There are numerous overlaps in Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian – and a number of "false friends.” All three languages derive from Eastern Slavic, the language of the Kyivan Rus' state (Novogorod, in what is now northwest Russia was the second city of that state). The literary language of Kyivan Rus’ was heavily influenced by Church Slavonic and with slight variants remained the literary language of the Eastern Slavs in the aftermath of the Mongol conquest as well as the Lithuanian and Polish takeover of what became Belarus’ and parts (western) of what became Ukraine. The Old Belarusian/Rus' language became the primary written language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Texts in those languages are mutually intelligible, indeed, barely differentiated. It was the shattering of an already fragmenting Kyivan Rus' state produced by the Mongol conquest and the Lithuanian and Polish gobbling up of those lands that the Mongols did not take, that over time produced three distinct peoples: Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Dialect divisions were already apparent in the Kyivan period and a number of scholars have argued for the existence even then of "Old Ukrainian" etc. Some of the dialect divisions cross "borders." The dialect associated with the Chernihiv (Chernigov) principality of Kyivan Rus', now in Ukraine, extends into Belarus'. The dialect of Chernobyl' (of sad fame) in Ukraine is virtually identical to the dialect of the area of Rogachov, Belarus. I know this from personal observation. The career of Feofan Prokopovich/ Prokopovych, d. 1736 who moved easily between Moscow and Kiev (and other places) and helped to shape the modern Russian literary language is typical of more than a few who are called "Ukrainian" or "Russian" depending on the stance that one takes. Ahatanhel Krymsky of Crimean Tatar (paternal) and Polish (maternal) origin, became one of the leading Ukrainian Turkologists-Orientalists was not an ethnic Ukrainian, but identified as Ukrainian – and was ultimately accused of Ukrainian nationalism (1941) by the Soviet government and died in exile in Kazakhstan in 1942. More than a few families in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus’ have branches in all three areas (mine does). Yes, today, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are separate and distinct languages and their speakers take national identities accordingly…but not always what one would expect. National identity, so often the case, had to be taught or situationally adopted. In the pre-Soviet era there was much movement between Belarus’ and Ukraine. Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus’, has a typical Ukrainian last name and is vaguely aware of distant Ukrainian origins…and is much more at home speaking in Russian than in Belarusian. He is far from unique.

Putin is a KGB thug and now a war-criminal with a Soviet elementary school understanding of Russian history and of the peoples that comprised the Soviet Empire for which he has such nostalgia (shared by some older Russians). If you are interested in serious studies of the formation of the Ukrainians (and Belarusians) read the works of Serhiy Plokhy.

[Not long thereafter, Peter wrote to me saying that he "was just getting warmed up :)" and sent me the following, which, with his permission, I'm making into a guest post:.]

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Ukrainian at the edge

The war drags on, and once again one wonders how different Ukraine is from Russia, Ukrainian from Russian.  This superb article will help us get a handle on what the issues at stake are:

"A short history of language in Ukraine"

Norman Davies, Spectator (2 October 2022)

The article is so richly illuminating and timely that it deserves to be quoted in extenso:

After six months of war in Ukraine, most observers agree that the roots of Russian aggression lie in the country’s deep-rooted attitudes to culture and history. In line with Russia’s nationalist traditions, Putin denies any place for a separate Ukrainian identity.

The Ukrainians, in contrast, see themselves as a proud nation with their own history, culture, centuries long struggle for independence, and, of course, language. And while Ukrainian has been dismissed as a dialect of Russian in Moscow, it in fact has a long history – and is very much a language in its own right.

That independence can be seen in the genesis of the word ‘Ukraine’ itself. In most Slavonic languages, the letter ‘U’ – and written in Cyrillic as У – is a preposition of location; according to context it can be translated as ‘in’, ’on’ ‘at’ or ‘near’, and it is followed by nouns in the genitive case. In Ukrainian, the word Kray means ‘edge’ (although in Russian it means ‘land’ or ‘country’). So ‘U Krayu’ stands for ‘At the Edge’, and Ukraina for ‘the Land on the Edge’ or ‘Borderland’. It is very similar to the American idea of the ‘Frontier’.

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Indo-Greeks: the importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 4

During our discussion of the Iranian antecedents of "kiosk", we also touched upon the Indian origins of "stupa".  In this post, I would like to focus on a single monument of utmost importance that shows the intimate intermingling of Indic and Greek archeological, architectural, artistic, iconographical, religious, numismatic, and, not least, linguistic elements.

The Butkara Stupa (Pashto: بت کړه سټوپا) is an important Buddhist stupa near Mingora, in the area of Swat, Pakistan. It may have been built by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, but it is generally dated slightly later to the 2nd century BCE.

The stupa was enlarged on five occasions during the following centuries, every time by building over, and encapsulating, the previous structure.

The stupa was excavated by an Italian mission (IsIOAO: Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente), led by archaeologist Domenico Faccenna from 1956, to clarify the various steps of the construction and enlargements. The mission established that the stupa was "monumentalized" by the addition of Hellenistic architectural decorations during the 2nd century BCE, suggesting a direct involvement of the Indo-Greeks, rulers of northwestern India during that period, in the development of Greco-Buddhist architecture.

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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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