Archive for Language and culture

Mud season in Old English

[This is a guest post by Pamela Crossley]

I was recently doing something with my old undergraduate major, Old English, and was reminded of the word Salmonath (Solmonath), which put me in mind of this old conversation on your blog:

"Mud season in Russia: Putin, Rasputin" (3/31/18)

So you'll like this one. Like the others we were discussing before, the Anglo-Saxons referred to a mud season, specifically the "muddy month" of February — Salmonath or Solmonath. There has been a lot of confusion about exactly what Salmonath means. A passage in Bede has been interpreted as saying that he translated "Salmonath" as "cake month," but I think the passage only means that people also called Salmonath "cake month." Somebody else said it was "Sol" as in the sun, obviously silly. Virtually everybody eventually agrees it means "muddy month" but they don't go any further with what this "Sal" or "Sol" is supposed to be. The most illuminating discussion I have now read is in Wedgwood, A Dictionary of English Etymology (1865), Vol III, pp. 25-256, which you can now read online. Turns out, this word is very well attested in other Germanic languages. It is only very distantly related, if at all, to "soil," which comes to English from French; "soil"'s original meaning was place, spot, ground, that kind of thing. Solid.

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Turkic kaymak and Sinitic sū: a dairy product and a food texture

From Jacob Reed:

Inspired by Miss Gao's 小高姐's latest video, I've been trying to track down how 酥 acquired its present, seemingly contradictory connotations of "crispy" and "soft / relaxed". Paul Kroll's Classical / Medieval dictionary lists that it originally comes from the Persian for kaymak / clotted cream. 汉语大词典* indicates that this meaning is first attested during the Tang period.  Neither provide any indication of how we got from kaymak / clotted cream to "crispy" (the use of butterfat in pastry?).

In any case, I'm now curious if there's a more general trend of Sinitic dairy terms (like horse-related terms) coming from Central Asia, which would only make sense.

[VHM:  *Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Sinitic)]

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Preventive Care for Local Languages

February 21st is International Mother Language Day, proclaimed by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1999 and celebrated every year since, aimed at promoting linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. In honor of the day, the following is a guest post by Alissa Stern, the founder of BASAbali, an initiative of "linguists, anthropologists, students, and laypeople, from within and outside of Bali, who are collaborating to keep Balinese strong and sustainable." BASAbali won a 2019 UNESCO Award for Literacy and a 2018 International Linguapax Award.


We're told "Don't wait" to treat our bodies, secure our homes, or maintain our cars. We should do the same for local languages.

Despite all the years of language revitalization, we are still losing about one language every two to three weeks.  In this century alone, the number of languages on the planet will be halved. A little preventive care would help.

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Year of the muroid

Many people have asked me, should it really be the lunar new year of the rat?  Such a disgusting creature!  Or should it be the year of the mouse?  Although we do our best to trap them and otherwise keep them out of our living spaces, mice are much cuter than rats, and some people even have special mice as pets, plus there are folk tales and songs and proverbs about adorable little mice, and who doesn't love Mickey and Minnie?

In contrast, in lore and literature, rats are invariably cast as tricky at best and villainous, criminal types at worst.

So, if I had to choose between Year of the Rat and Year of the Mouse, I would definitely pick Year of the Mouse.  Alas, most people choose otherwise (I know not why):

Year of the Rat — 44,000,000 ghits

Year of the Mouse — 6,300,000 ghits

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"The Two" and other poems

Yesterday Nick Montfort returned to Penn to give a talk under the title "Lean Computer-Generated Poetry as Exploration of Language, Culture, and Computation". The talk was basically a commentary on (some of) the contents of his interactive website https://nickm.com/, so you can explore the same material yourself, minus the commentary.

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MLK linguistics

There have been a few LLOG posts focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. over the years, notably "Martin Luther King's rhetorical phonetics" (1/15/2007), "Celebrating the Linguistic Significance of Martin Luther King Jr." (1/17/2016), and "There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice" (1/15/2018).

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New New Year's couplets

From a friend in Hong Kong:

The following pictures are from Shatin mall last night. They show people lining up to get individually calligraphed Chinese New Year's couplets that take up the key slogan of the protests: "Restore HK's glory: revolution for our times." On the way up to mass today, we saw new slogans spray-painted calling for HK independence as "the only way out". "It ain't over yet."

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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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"An indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike"

I'm in Paris for the UNESCO International Conference Language Technologies for All (LT4All), which happens to coincide with another event in France, a national strike that (among other things) created a very long trip from the airport. In my hotel's elevator there was a sign whose first sentence taught me a couple of new words:

Ce Jeudi 5 Décembre aura lieu une grève interprofessionelle reconductible indéterminée.

There was also an English translation:

This Thursday, December 5th, will be an indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike.

 

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically).

Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر(sīr)). The Middle Persian word is cognate with Parthian (šarg, "Leo; Lion"), Khotanese [script (šarau, "Leo; Lion"), Khwarezmian شرغ(šrγ /šarγ/, "Leo; Lion") and Sogdian (šrwγ /šruγ/) , ܫܪܘܮ(šrwγ /šruγ/, "Leo; Lion")

Middle Persian:

Manichaean: ‎ (šgr)

Source

Kipling-Disney:  Shere Khan (" Tiger Lion" — from Persian and Mongolian)

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Waterless smart public toilet; toilet revolution!, part 3

For nearly two years, we've been following the awesome Chinese toilet revolution.  See especially the last comment to this post:

"Toilet Revolution!!" (11/26/17)

But see also the follow-up posts listed in the "Selected readings" below.

In its frenzied race to catch up with the past of privies, it would appear that China has decided to make a Great Leap Forward into the future of lavatories.  So now we have the "waterless smart public toilet".

"Beijing's first waterless smart public toilet has been put into use", by Zhao Tong (People's Daily Online), October 29, 2019

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Should there be a Constantine Memorial Column in Istanbul?

Sign for a tram stop in Istanbul:

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Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

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