Archive for Morphology

Tocharian words for oil

We've had two consecutive posts on oil-related words (see "Selected readings" below).  julie lee made this comment on the first of the two:

Old Chinese/Old Sinitic *lew is similar in sound and meaning to Welsh OLEW "oil".

[From Middle Welsh olew, form Old Welsh oleu, from Proto-Brythonic *olew, from Vulgar Latin *olevum, from Latin oleum (oil).] (source)

julie's observation inspired me to ask Doug Adams whether there were any Tocharian words for oil.  He replied:

There are two (sort of),  There are both ṣalype and ṣmare.  The first is 'oil (particularly sesame oil); salve, ointment' (also oil in a lamp), the second is, as a noun, 'oil' (as in a lamp) and, as an adjective, 'smooth, even, slippery.'  The first is etymologically connected to English salve and the second to English smear.

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"A motive was immediately unknown"

Lauren Hernández, "Teen, 16, fatally shot on Oakland street with high-powered rifle", 6/9/2022 (emphasis added):

A 16-year-old boy was killed in a shooting in Oakland on Thursday evening and police are urging witnesses to come forward, authorities said.

At about 6 p.m., Oakland police received a call of shots fired in the area of 3000 block of 64th Avenue, where one person was reported to be down and a potential second victim was “somewhere else,” Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said in a video posted to Facebook.

Officers found the teen who had been shot with a “high-powered rifle,” Armstrong said. Police also received a ShotSpotter activation for the shooting, Armstrong said. “Several shots” were fired, he said.

“We are following up on the second individual who appeared to be a victim as well,” Armstrong said, adding that police believe that victim is in stable condition. Information on that victim was not immediately released.

A motive was immediately unknown on Thursday evening, Armstrong said.

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Midwife

"A person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth."  AHDEL

But not always a woman:

Men rarely practice midwifery for cultural and historical reasons. In ancient Greece, midwives were required by law to have given birth themselves, which prevented men from joining their ranks. In 17th century Europe, some barber surgeons, all of whom were male, specialized in births, especially births requiring the use of surgical instruments. This eventually developed into a professional split, with women serving as midwives and men becoming obstetricians. Men who work as midwives are called midwives (or male midwives, if it is necessary to identify them further) or accoucheurs; the term midhusband (based on a misunderstanding of the etymology of midwife) is occasionally encountered, mostly as a joke. In previous centuries, they were called man-midwives in English.

(source)

I have often wondered about the meaning and origins of the term "midwife".  My wonderment was piqued recently by several comments on this post:  "Wondrous blue" (5/9/22).

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Pleiades: From Sumer to Subaru

During the early part of my career, one of the most stunning academic papers I read was this:

Roy Andrew Miller, "Pleiades Perceived:  MUL.MUL to Subaru", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 108.1 (January-March, 1988), 1-25.

"Pleiades Perceived" was the presidential address delivered March 24, 1987 at the American Oriental Society's 197th Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.  "Roy Andrew Miller (September 5, 1924 – August 22, 2014) was an American linguist best known as the author of several books on Japanese language and linguistics, and for his advocacy of Korean and Japanese as members of the proposed Altaic language family." (source)

Miller received his Ph.D. in Chinese and Japanese from Columbia University.  He taught successively at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Yale University, and the University of Washington.  He was (in)famous for his harsh reviews, to be compared only with those of Leon Hurvitz (August 4, 1923 – September 28, 1992), who also received his Ph.D. from Columbia and, after teaching at the University of Washington, ended his career at the University of British Columbia.  Miller and Hurvitz both were immensely learned scholars who knew Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Sanskrit, and other challenging languages.  I didn't meet Miller in person, but did study for one year with Hurvitz, who was extraordinarily eccentric.

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Shooketh, rattleth, and rolleth

In his "The Good Word" column of The Atlantic (1/24/22), Caleb Madison has a new article, "Why We’re All Shooketh:  The term is online slang of Biblical proportions".  The first two paragraphs:

Lately modern life has felt all too biblical. Plagues, massive weather events, tribal divisions, demagogic leadership … and people using words like shooketh. The phrase I’m shooketh was first uttered by the comedian Christine Sydelko in a YouTube video uploaded to her account in 2017 (she was expressing her shock at having been recognized by a fan at Boston Market). The adjective shooketh took off as a way to lend biblical proportions to awestruck confusion. But the linguistic journey to its creation spans the evolution of the English language, connecting Early Modern English, turn-of-the-century adventure novels, and Twitter slang.

When we want to transform verbs like shake into adjectives, we typically use something called a participle, either present or past. The present participle of shake is shaking, as in “I’m shaking.” The past participle would be “I’m shaken.” But, for some reason, in the 19th century, the simple past tense, shook, took hold. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure classic Treasure Island, Long John Silver admits, “I’ll not deny neither but what some of my people was shook—maybe all was shook; maybe I was shook myself.” And 14 years later, in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, the form reappears within a now-common collocation with up when Dan Troop exclaims, “Well, you was shook up and silly.”

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Future past?

David Gelles, "Ben Smith Is Leaving The Times for a Global News Start-Up", NYT 1/4/2022 [emphasis added]:

Ben Smith, the media columnist for The New York Times, is leaving the media outlet to start a new global news organization with Justin Smith, who is stepping down as chief executive of Bloomberg Media.

Ben Smith said in an interview that they planned to build a global newsroom that broke news and experimented with new formats of storytelling. He did not provide details on what beats or regions would be covered, how much money they planned to raise or when the new organization would start.

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Morphemes without Sinographs

Commenting on "Educated (and not so educated) guesses about how to read Sinographs" (11/16/21), Chris Button asked:

I’m curious what you mean by “pseudo explanation”? The expected reflex from Middle Chinese times is xù, but yǔ has become the accepted pronunciation based on people guessing at the pronunciation in more recent times. Isn’t that a reasonable explanation?

To which I replied:

It's such a gigantic can of worms that I'm prompted to write a separate post on this mentality. I'll probably do so within a few days, and it will be called something like "Morphemes without characters".

Stay tuned.

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Another early Sinitic disyllabic morpheme: "(unopened) lotus blossom"

I take great pleasure in finding morphemes in early Sinitic that are disyllabic, i.e., neither syllable of which means anything by itself, but acquires meaning only in combination with another morpheme to which it is customarily linked.  I have found hundreds of ancient terms composed of such morphemes and have written about many of them on Language Log ("grape", "coral", "lion", "reindeer", "macaque", "earthworm",  "spider", "phoenix", "sinuous, winding", "awkward", "knot", "pimple", "balloon lute", "harp", and so on and so forth).

There are two main reasons why I pay particular attention to such disyllabic morphemes:

1. Their numerousness certifies that early Sinitic was not exclusively monosyllabic (a widespread misconception), if we go by its Sinographic form in the latter part of the first millennium BC.

2. Many of these disyllabic morphemes have cognates (i.e., originate) in non-Sinitic languages (e.g., Iranian, Tocharian), which shows that Sinitic language (and culture) did not develop in isolation, but evolved in close association with other languages and cultures.

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"Linguistician"?

Helen Barrett, "‘Ça plane pour moi’ was a burst of Belgian punk with a dark twin", Financial Times 6/1/2020 [emphasis added]:

Meanwhile, the perennially lucrative “Ça plane pour moi” may not be all that it seems. Bertrand mimed it in TV studios, but whose is the bratty voice on the record?

It is a question that has been the subject of several court cases. Bertrand initially insisted it was him, then changed his story, telling a newspaper in 2010 that he did not sing on the track, despite being credited. During a court case that same year over royalties, a Belgian judge commissioned a linguistician to examine the original. Expert evidence suggested the true vocalist was of northern French origin. Deprijck, who has claimed to be the real vocalist, is from northern France.

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Om, sumo, and the universality of sound

From Zihan Guo:

A Japanese expression I came upon in a reading from Takami sensei's class reminded me of the "om" you mentioned weeks ago in our class.

阿吽の呼吸(aun'nokokyū あうんのこきゅう)
 
It refers to the synchronization of breathing of sumo opponents before a match. I read about this in an article about an interview with a sumo wrestler. But the "aun あうん" part lingered in my mind. Then I realized that it was the Japanese transliteration of the "om" that you were telling the class that encompassed all sounds:  "a" and "un" signify the beginning and end of the cosmos respectively, or so wikipedia explains. The Japanese phrase means a harmonious, non-verbal communication.

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A poster with an uncommon character denoting a common Cantonese word

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Another early polysyllabic Sinitic word

In various publications and Language Log posts over the years, I have collected scores of old polysyllabic words (e.g., those for reindeer, phoenix, coral, spider, earthworm, butterfly, dragonfly, balloon lute, meandering / winding, etc.), which proves that Sinitic has never been strictly monosyllabic, although that is a common misapprehension, even among many scholars.  The reason I call the one featured in this post "another early polysyllabic Sinitic word" is because I don't think I've ever pointed it out before.

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Prefixes "yǒu" ("to have") and "wú" ("to not have") in Old Sinitic

My brother Denis and I have long been intrigued by the use of the prefix yǒu 有 ("there is / are / exist[s]") in a wide variety of circumstances in Old Sinitic:  e.g., before the word for family temples (yǒu miào 有廟), before the names of barbaric tribes (yǒu Miáo 有苗), and before place names (yǒu Yì 有易).  We wonder whether similar constructions exist in other languages.

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