Archive for Diction

Sanskrit is far from extinct

[This is the first of two consecutive posts on things Indian.  After reading them, if someone is prompted to send me material for a third, I'll be happy to make it a trifecta.]

Our entry point to the linguistically compelling topic of today's post is this Nikkei Asia (11/29/23) article by Barkha Shah in its "Tea Leaves" section:

Why it's worth learning ancient Sanskrit in the modern world:

India’s classical language is making a comeback via Telegram and YouTube

The author begins with a brief introduction to the language:

The language had its heyday in ancient India. The Vedas, a collection of poems and hymns, were written in Sanskrit between 1500 and 1200 B.C., along with other literary texts now known as the Upanishads, Granths and Vedangas. But while Sanskrit became the foundation for many (though not all) modern Indian languages, including Hindi, it faded away as a living tongue.

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Mandarin and Manchu semen

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

Recent discussion of that most Taiwanese expletive, 潲 siâu ‘semen’ (“Hokkien in Sino-Japanese script”), made me think of a favourite item. Although Mandarin 㞞 sóng has the same literal meaning, in my experience that’s less familiar to some speakers than nouns that contain it, e.g. 㞞包 sóngbāo (literally ‘bag of semen’), roughly ‘weakling’.

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Spoken Classical Chinese

Tom Mazanec saw an announcement of a course in Hong Kong, in which the teacher, Dr. Lai Chi Fung 黎智豐, proposes to teach Classical Chinese by focusing on vocabulary for everyday use, just as if one were learning a foreign language. So you learn greetings, introductions, and the like. The idea intrigued Tom, especially since the language of instruction is Cantonese (which would make spoken Classical a little more intelligible than if it were in Mandarin).

If the course were taught in Mandarin, I think it would be a big flop, but since it is being taught in Cantonese, there is a somewhat higher possibility of limited, meaningful spoken communication.  Cantonese preserves more features (phonological, lexical, grammatical, syntactical) of earlier stages of Sinitic than does Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  Just in terms of phonology, Cantonese has more than 2,200 possible different syllables, almost twice as many as MSM (source).

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