Archive for Language and culture

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Should there be a Constantine Memorial Column in Istanbul?

Sign for a tram stop in Istanbul:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (46)

Another Illusion Shattered: "leprechaun" not native Irish

So we learn from this article:

"Leprechaun 'is not a native Irish word' new dictionary reveals", by Nuala McCann BBC News (9/5/19)

Leprechauns may be considered quintessentially Irish, but research suggests this perception is blarney.

The word "leprechaun" is not a native Irish one, scholars have said.

They have uncovered hundreds of lost words from the Irish language and unlocked the secrets of many others.

Although "leipreachán" has been in the Irish language for a long time, researchers have said it comes from Luperci, a group linked to a Roman festival.

The feast included a purification ritual involving swimming and, like the Luperci, leprechauns are associated with water in what may be their first appearance in early Irish literature.

According to an Old Irish tale known as The Adventure of Fergus son of Léti, leprechauns carried the sleeping Fergus out to sea.

A new revised dictionary created from the research spans 1,000 years of the Irish language from the 6th to the 16th centuries.

A team of five academics from Cambridge University and Queen's University Belfast carried out painstaking work over five years, scouring manuscripts and texts for words which have been overlooked or mistakenly defined.

Their findings can now be freely accessed in the revised version of the online dictionary of Medieval Irish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

Zo sashimi

From June Teufel Dreyer:

When I went to the supermarket yesterday for my weekly sashimi fix, I noticed that the preparer seemed to have cloned herself.  It was her brother (the preparers wear caps concealing their hair and the two looked virtually identical). Sister was instructing brother on exactly how I like the sashimi in a language that sounded unfamiliar. Ever curious,  I had to ask.  "Zo," she replied "Z, O."  I looked it up this morning, discovered that these Chin tribes are related to the Naga who, with the Mizo, were part of a longstanding effort by the Chinese to torment the Indian government.

Sometime when there aren't other customers waiting—this may never happen—I'll ask how she and her brother got to Miami and my neighborhood Publix store.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

Spiritually Japanese

A cartoonist and her collaborator have been arrested in China for being "spiritually Japanese" (jīng Rì 精日).  They have also been accused of "insulting China" (rǔ Huá 辱华).  The latter term is transparent, and I've been hearing it a lot for the last couple of decades, whereas the former term is morphologically more difficult to understand (lit., "spirit Ja[pan]") and is new to me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Amazing things you can do with the Japanese writing system

Hanasaki, a curious term, depending on how you read and interpret it:  "flower blooming" > "scab"

A Japanese correspondent asked me the following set of questions (below, after the page break) about the name of a Yosakoi-Sōran dance group.  I'm not sure what the meaning of "Yosakoi" is, other than that it is the designation of a festival in Kochi Prefecture where this type of dancing originated in the early 90s.  I've watched a few videos of Yosakoi-Sōran dance and find it fascinating and stimulating because it is extremely energetic and combines traditional Japanese dance moves with contemporary Western-influenced street dance routines.  It is accompanied with rhythmic beating of naruko 鳴子 ("clappers") and repeated shouts of "sōran そうらん" (with a long "o", i.e., "ō").  I'm not certain what that means either, since there are many homophonous expressions with quite different meanings; one that might be applicable here is 騒乱, meaning "disturbance; riot; mayhem" for the uninhibited, sweeping gestures characteristic of the dance.  More likely, though, it is derived from the chant of fishermen to encourage themselves as they went about their work of hauling nets, pulling ropes, and so forth, in which case it would perhaps mean roughly "that's right" or "like that".

N.B.:  When the Japanese correspondent says "Chinese symbols", he seems to mean just "Chinese characters", i.e., kanji.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Reality attack vs. panic attack

Fifteen years ago or more, I used to hear the expression "panic attack" quite often.  When someone told me they were having a panic attack, I knew it was something serious, and I had to pay close attention to what they were doing and be extra nice to them.  I don't think that I've heard anyone say "panic attack" for the last decade or more, so I wonder if people aren't having panic attacks any longer, and if so why?  Or has a new term come along to replace "panic attack"?

In contrast, South Koreans have become exceedingly fond of saying that they face what they call "hyun-ta 현타" ("reality attack").  This is a shortened version of "hyunsil tagyuk 현실 타격".  That means facing reality; for example, people use this expression when they come back from vacation and have to go to work the next day.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (29)

Finland's national radio broadcaster pulls the plug on the news in Latin

During the last few decades, I have served as the "opponent" in several Scandinavian doctoral defenses.  I wore a tuxedo, top hat, and silk socks, plus gleaming black shoes.  Much of the ritual was conducted in Latin, so I was quite aware of the high place accorded that ancient language in Scandinavian academia, especially in Finland, where all of my colleagues, no matter what their field, had received extensive training in Latin already in high school back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  It seems, however, that Latin education has been rapidly declining since that time.

Now, one of the last holdouts for general knowledge of Latin in Finland is being terminated:

"Requiescat in pace: Finland's Yle radio axes Latin news show after 30 years:  Public broadcaster cancels weekly summary Nuntii Latini as original presenters retire", AFP in Helsinki, The Guardian (6/24/19)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

"Eastoxification" supersedes "Westoxification" in Persian

One never ceases to be amazed at the articles one comes upon in Wikipedia.  First, in this comment to a discussion on anti-Westernism in China ("War on foreign names in China" [6/22/19]), I encountered the notion of "Westoxification" in contemporary Iranian discourse.  Reading the Wikipedia article on this subject is so interesting that I copy passages of it here for Language Log readers (the whole article is fascinating and well worth reading):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Double-barrelled surnames: ask Language Log

Eoin Cullen writes:

For a while I've been familiar with the fact that there is an established set of two-character surnames in Chinese including Sīmǎ 司馬 and Ōuyáng 歐陽, but I was interested to see the novel two-character surname of the head of the SAR government in HK, Lam4zeng6 Jyut6ngo4 林鄭月娥.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Whistled Turkish

Malin Fezehai, "In Turkey, Keeping a Language of Whistles Alive", NYT 5/30/2019:

Muazzez Kocek, 46, is considered one of the best whistlers in Kuşköy, a village tucked away in the picturesque Pontic Mountains in Turkey's northern Giresun province. Her whistle can be heard over the area's vast tea fields and hazelnut orchards, several miles farther than a person's voice. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Kuşköy in 2012, she greeted him and proudly whistled, "Welcome to our village!"

She uses kuş dili, or "bird language," which transforms the full Turkish vocabulary into varied-pitch frequencies and melodic lines. For hundreds of years, this whistled form of communication has been a critical for the farming community in the region, allowing complex conversations over long distances and facilitating animal herding.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

A quantum leap in the Chinese toilet revolution

A friend was visiting in Lijiang, Yunnan Province (southwestern China) earlier this week.  She stayed in Yuhu 玉湖 village where Joseph Rock (1884-1962; the famous Austrian-American explorer, geographer, linguist, and botanist) lived nearly a century ago at the foot of Yulong 玉龙 Mountain.  The area around Lijiang has become a famous tourist destination, not only for the beauty of its natural scenery, but for the richness of its local culture (more about that below).  While in Lijiang, my friend was surprised to come upon signs for unisex toilets:

Here is some signage for such toilets in China:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)