Archive for Language and culture

An Austronesian word for "betel"

On Joshua Yang's Twitter (@joshiunn):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)

Slaves and clients; Arabic Mamluks and mawlas: a fishy Turkic tail

From my 10th grade high school world history class in 1959, I was intrigued by the evocative, mysterious Mamluks.  I was impressed by their achievements in statecraft, art, architecture, and many other fields.  Thus Mamluk is a word that is very well known in English, even to a rural highschooler in Osnaburg Township of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, but I never imagined that their name meant "slave".  Rather, I thought of the mighty Mamluks as military forces who were like knights, and in some cases were  even rulers who founded states of their own.  That they were, but I didn't realize they were of slave origin.

Mamluk (Arabic: مملوك mamlūk (singular), مماليك mamālīk (plural), translated literally as "thing possessed", meaning "slave", also transliterated as Mameluke, mamluq, mamluke, mameluk, mameluke, mamaluke, or marmeluke) is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse (mostly Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern and Southeastern European) slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties, serving the ruling Arab dynasties in the Muslim world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

IHTFP

Today the MIT Sloan Executive Education program sent me an email with the subject line "The Spirit of Hacking at MIT":

While the terms hack and hacker have many shades of meaning, the hacker ethic has always been celebrated at MIT. Referring to a difficult, complex, and creative campus prank, hacking at MIT is everything from transforming MIT's Green Building into a giant game of Tetris to the most recent redecoration of the Great Dome as Captain America's shield.

To us, hacking means more than just practical jokes. It represents a culture of free information, hands-on experimentation, and disregard for (or redefinition of) bureaucracy. At MIT Sloan Executive Education, we recognize that the spirit of (ethical) hacking is the same fearless spirit that drives invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

At MIT Sloan, we applaud the “hackers” among you who are making waves. We encourage you to channel that spirit and hone those skills in Executive Education courses designed to help you revolutionize your business strategy, find creative solutions to systemic problems, and generate breakthrough business ideas.

The link goes to a page on the IHTFP Hack Gallery site listing "Hacks by Year" — other pages include "Best of the Gallery", "Hacks on Harvard", and "Frequently Asked Questions", where you'll learn that IHTFP doesn't really stand for "Interesting Hacks To Fascinate People".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

Who owns kimchi?

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

"Korean kimchi originally came from China."

–Or so China’s online encyclopedia Baidu Baike declared in its article on kimchi.

Koreans were outraged. What gall for Chinese to lay claim to their national dish! Adding to the furor, China’s English-language newspaper Global Times reported last year that the International Organization for Standardization (the ISO) had recognized an “international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.”

Indignant Koreans flooded the Internet: “It’s total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” a South Korean netizen said. Another wrote: “I read a media story that China now says kimchi is theirs, and that they are making international standard for it. It’s absurd.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

Irasshaimase?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I never thought this day would come.

From convenience stores to high-end luxury retailers, the daily soundscape of Japan is punctuated by millions upon millions of calls of “Irassshaimase!” It’s a greeting so pervasive that it becomes one of the most searing impressions of the country for first-time tourists, and for those of us who live here long-term it’s hard to imagine Japan without it. But perhaps now we will have to. The unthinkable, it seems, has been thought.

Irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ) is a formal imperative form. It comes from the root verb irassharu (いらっしゃる), a “polite” verb that can mean to come, go, or be. The simple imperative is irasshai (いらっしゃい), which, though more unusual these days, can still be stumbled upon if you escape some of the more formalized spaces of the mainstream bourgeois economy. Both irasshaimase and irasshai mean, more or less, “Come on over!” or “Come on in!” In its modern incarnation, used primarily to greet customers who have already entered a store or restaurant, the nuance of irasshaimase is closer to “Welcome!” Occasionally you’ll hear it paired with “Goyukkuri dōzo” (ごゆっくりどうぞ), in other words, “Please take your time.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (40)

The Wool Road of Northern Eurasia

We all know about the Silk Road (which is actually a recent term), and some of us also know about the Bronze Road, the Iron Road, the Horse and Chariot Road, the Fur Road, the Glass Road, the Spice Road, and the Tea Road.  Now we really have to take seriously the existence of a Wool Road.

As I have often noted, I began my international investigation of the mummies of the Tarim Basin as a genetics project in 1991, since that was around the time that it became possible to study ancient DNA.  After four years of diligent collection and analysis, I grew disenchanted with the expected precision of genetics research, and in 1995 I returned to Eastern Central Asia (ECA) with Elizabeth Barber and Irene Good, prehistoric textile specialists, to study the archeologically recovered textiles of the region.  The results of their work turned out to yield tremendously valuable and revealing results about the origins and technology of the ancient textiles we examined.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

What a prehistoric pair of pretty pants can tell us about the spread of early languages

The following is a photograph of the world's oldest known pair of trousers:


(source)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Synchronicity

Just a few minutes after I finished "Equal representation in the halls of quackery", this email arrived [names obscured to protect the guilty]:

Dear Dr. Liberman,

The journal P________ is currently running a Special Issue entitled "Molecular Dynamic Simulation for Food Products and Processes". Prof. Dr. A_____ S___ and Prof. Dr. V_____ R_______ are serving as Guest Editors for this issue. We think you could make an excellent contribution based on your expertise and your following paper:

Pitch-range perception: the dynamic interaction between voice quality and fundamental frequency. 17TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL SPEECH COMMUNICATION ASSOCIATION (INTERSPEECH 2016), VOLS 1-5: UNDERSTANDING SPEECH PROCESSING IN HUMANS AND MACHINES 2016, 0, 1350-1354.

This Special Issue aims to present recent advances and breakthroughs in the application of MD simulations, in the development and maintenance of the safety and quality of food products and processes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Clumsy classicism

In his addresses to the Liǎnghuì 兩會 (Two Sessions), annual plenary meetings of the national People's Congress and the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that have just concluded in Beijing (March 4-11), Xi Jinping repeatedly stressed “guó zhī dà zhě 国之大者”.  The grammar is clearly literary, with the first character a monosyllabic version of vernacular "guójiā 国家" ("country"), the second character a classical attributive particle, and the fourth character a classical nominalizing particle. Thus the phrase stands out like a sore thumb midst the matrix of vernacular in which it is mixed.  What's worse, even fluent readers of Mandarin generally misinterpret what it means.  Most educated persons to whom I've shown the phrase think that it means "big / large / powerful / great country", "that which (can be called) a big / large / powerful / great country"), etc., when in fact Xi intends for it to mean "something that is important for the country", "that which is important for the country" "things that are important for the country", etc.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Radio Garden

In case you missed it — Radio Garden:

Radio Garden invites you to tune into thousands of live radio stations across the globe.

By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away.

Radio Garden is based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Our dedicated team is hard at work tending to the garden on a daily basis. Planting seeds for the future and keeping the weeds at bay.

[h/t Bradley Sherman]

Comments (5)

Mongolian museum mystery

Comments (19)

Kunlun: Roman letter phonophores for Chinese characters

Lucas Klein writes from Hong Kong:

I just read Don Wyatt’s Blacks of Premodern China (which I believe you published?), and I found that someone who had previously borrowed the book from the library had left a sticky note in it… and evidently whoever it was forgot how to write 崑崙, so wrote it out in pinyin with the mountain radical!

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Tsai Ing-wen's multilingual New Year's greetings

The multilingual part of this message from the President of Taiwan comes near the end of this 2:26 Twitter video:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)