Archive for Language and culture

Respect the local pronunciation: runza and Henri

After I left Omaha and headed westward on Route 30 / Lincoln Highway, I began to notice that every little town along the way with a population of around three thousand or more had a restaurant called Runza.  My instinct was to pronounce that "roon-zuh", but the people around here say "run-zuh".

Because I was not familiar with them, at first I didn't pay much attention to the Runza restaurants, but then I saw a sign that said they made legendary burgers.  Since I'm a burger freak, always in quest of a superior hamburger, by the time I reached Cozad — which somehow has captured my heart, for more than one reason — I decided to stop in and try one.

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 5

Spotted on the counter for tea/coffee service at the Residence Inn in Omaha, Nebraska:

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 4

Wherein we embark upon an inquisition into the divine proportions of the dodecahedron and its congeners, take a peek at the history of accounting, explore the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, and examine the humanistic physics of Werner Heisenberg*.

[*Heisenberg's father was a professor of medieval and modern Greek studies at the University of Munich in Germany. Heisenberg had more a “humanistic” education, i.e. more Latin and Greek than in natural sciences.  One morning the young Werner Heisenberg discovered reading Plato's Timaeus a description of the world with regular polyhedra. Heisenberg could not understand why Plato being so rational started to use speculative ideas. But finally he was fascinated by the idea that it could be possible to describe the Universe mathematically. He could not understand why Plato used the Polyhedra as the basic units in his model, but Heisenberg considered that in order to understand the world it is necessary to understand the Physics of the atoms. (source)  He contributed to atomic theory through formulating quantum mechanics in terms of matrices and in discovering the uncertainty principle, which states that a particle's position and momentum cannot both be known exactly. (Britannica | Apr 23, 2024)


We have had an exciting, joyful journey through dodecahedra land, from the archeological discovery of a new specimen in England, to deep, dense discussions about the meaning and purpose of these mysterious objects, to scampering through and clambering over a playground installation of a related form.  In this post, I would like to return to the essential twelveness of the dodecahedra.

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 3

I stopped short when I passed by this piece of gym equipment in a kindergarten playground near my home.

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Maltese Arabic: Correction?

In Victor's recent post "Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6", he wrote that "I do not include Maltese because of the Romance superstrata". A more elaborate version of this idea can be found in the Wikipedia article, which tells us that

Maltese […] is a Semitic language derived from late medieval Sicilian Arabic with Romance superstrata spoken by the Maltese people. […] Maltese is a Latinized variety of spoken historical Arabic through its descent from Siculo-Arabic, which developed as a Maghrebi Arabic dialect in the Emirate of Sicily between 831 and 1091. As a result of the Norman invasion of Malta and the subsequent re-Christianization of the islands, Maltese evolved independently of Classical Arabic in a gradual process of latinization. It is therefore exceptional as a variety of historical Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Maltese is thus classified separately from the 30 varieties constituting the modern Arabic macrolanguage.

Both Victor and Wikipedia are somewhat wrong, or at least misleading — and my main evidence for this is an amusing anecdote. So onwards…

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A Sino-Iranian tale of the donkey's Eurasian trail

By now, we have conclusively traced the path of the domesticated horse from the area around the southern Urals and Pontic Steppe through Central Asia to East Asia.  It's time to pay more attention to another equid, this one not so glamorous, but still redoubtable in its own formidable way:  Equus asinus asinus.

Samira Müller, Milad Abedi, Wolfgang Behr, and Patrick Wertmann, "Following the Donkey’s Trail (Part I): a Linguistic and Archaeological Study on the Introduction of Domestic Donkeys to China", International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics, 6 (2024), 104–144.  (pdf)


How and when did domestic donkeys arrive in China? This article sets out to uncover the donkeys’ forgotten trail from West Asia across the Iranian plateau to China, using archaeological, art historical, philological, and linguistic evidence. Following Parpola and Janhunen’s (2011) contribution to our understanding of the Indian wild ass and Mitchell’s (2018) overview of the history of the domestic donkey in West Asia and the Mediterranean, we will attempt to shed light on the transmission of the beast of burden to Eastern Eurasia.

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From Chariot to Carriage

In our studies of the transmission of Indo-European language and culture across the Eurasian continent, one of the most vital research topics is that of horse-drawn wheeled vehicles.  During this past semester, I taught one of the most satisfying courses of my entire half-century career, namely, "Horses and humans".  Among the many engrossing subjects that we confronted are the nomenclature for wheeled vehicles, how horses were hitched to them, and so forth.  Many of these questions are now authoritatively answered in the following paper by three of the world's most distinguished scholars of equine equipage.


Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-forty-fourth issue:

"From Chariot to Carriage: Wheeled Vehicles and Developments in Draft and Harnessing in Ancient China," by Joost H. Crouwel, Gail Brownrigg, and Katheryn Linduff.

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Winged lions through time and space

We're talking about the griffin / griffon / gryphon (Ancient Greek: γρύψ, romanizedgrýps; Classical Latin: grȳps or grȳpus; Late and Medieval Latin: gryphes, grypho etc.; Old French: griffon), "a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, and the head and wings of an eagle with its talons on the front legs".  (source)

Wolfgang Behr called my attention to an interesting paper by Olga Gorodetskaya (Guō Jìngyún 郭静云) and Lixin Guo 郭立新, who teach at National Chung-cheng University in Chiayi, Taiwan and at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, which hints at early West-East (Mesopotamia-East Asia) contact, an ongoing concern of ours here at Language Log:

Liǎng hé liúyù ānzǔ shényīng zài dìguó shíqí de yǎnbiàn jì yīngshī yìshòu xíngxiàng de xíngchéng


"The evolution of the Anzu condor in Mesopotamia during the imperial period and the formation of the image of the griffin-winged beast

The paper is available from Academia here.  Although the text is in Chinese (11 pages of small print in three columns), it is replete with scores of illustrations (mostly drawings of seals and seal impressions), and has a lengthy bibliography consisting of dozens of publications, mostly in European languages and again mostly about seals and their impressions.

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Kabbalistic phonetics

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Scythians between Russia and Ukraine

To situate the Scythians linguistically, before delving into their history and culture, let us begin by noting:

The Scythian languages (/ˈsɪθiən/ or /ˈsɪðiən/ or /ˈskɪθiən/) are a group of Eastern Iranic languages of the classical and late antique period (the Middle Iranic period), spoken in a vast region of Eurasia by the populations belonging to the Scythian cultures and their descendants. The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythian-speakers were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic–Caspian steppe. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was an Indo-European language, more specifically from the Iranic group of Indo-Iranic languages.


Everyone will recognize the current avatar of this ancestress of the Scythian nation:

Source:  The Mixoparthenos (half-maiden), a hybrid creature from the Black Sea, limestone sculpture, 1st-2nd century AD, from Panticapaeum, Taurica (Crimea)

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Political drumbeat: cultural confidence

Yesterday, the hypernationalistic CCP government propaganda organ, Global Times, published the following article:

"China shows cultural confidence as world shares Spring Festival’s spirit, legacy, joy", by Ai Peng, Global Times (2/18/24)

Mark Metcalf called the conspicuous expression "cultural confidence" to my attention:

It's appeared in LL twice. 

Apparently it has propaganda 'legs' and, of course, the blessing of Xi Dada – see the articles below. It has even showed up in numerous Jiěfàngjūn 解放军报 (People's Liberation Army Daily) articles in recent months.
Is it just another throwaway term or is it being used to push CCP members toward a particular goal?
Considered from another perspective, all this talk about instilling confidence could easily be interpreted to mean that CCP members don't have the desired level of cultural confidence ("Party" confidence?).

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Lunar New Year's greetings, part 2

You can't really have a traditional Lunar New Year's celebration without posting spring couplets, as witness here.

In recent years, though, these "spring couplets" (chūnlián 春聯 / 春联) — a special type of "antithetical couplet" (duìlián 對聯 / 对联) — have morphed into all sorts of different forms and formats, such as this set, which we studied back in February 2019 (see "Selected readings" below):

I leave it to you to read for yourself.

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Super Bowl rhoticism

The most linguistically focused of this year's Super Bowl commercials:

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