Archive for Morphology

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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Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

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NOUN(s) NOUN

The discussion of Boxer(')(s)(') Trail  ("Signs and wonders", 6/12/2021 ) brought up the question of plural forms in English nouns in structures like mouse trap, activities center, and iron bar, which has been much discussed in the linguistic and psycholinguistic literature — and also here on Language Log.

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Wanna, gotta

From Doonesbury 5/2/2021:

Linguists have paid a lot of attention over the years to  wanna-contraction, starting with George Lakoff's 1970 paper "Global rules" — see these lecture notes for a discussion, if you're interested. But gotta-contraction has gotten a lot less attention — 7 Google scholar hits vs. 658.

The reason for this difference is simple: "want to" is occurs in different structures that have different contraction frequencies, thus entangling syntax, morphology and phonology in a pattern that people have been trying since 1970 to figure out how to untangle. "Got to" seems to occur in the same structures, but these turn out to involve quite different senses of get, which maybe even should be considered different words.

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Odoriferous Mandarin term for "copycat"

A gēnpìchóng 跟屁虫 (lit., "follow-fart-bug / worm") is somebody who tags along after someone else so as to smell his farts, i.e., someone who follows another person all the time, a copycat, a shadow, a flatterer, sycophant, boot / ass licker, kiss-ass, yes man.

And here's a cute little tutorial about how to be a gēnpìchóng:  

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Amicus, amici, whatever

Lin Wood has gotten some social-media ridicule for various aspects of a brief that he filed in support of Texas's failed attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out four other states' votes in the 2020 presidential election ("Supreme Court Rejects Texas Suit Seeking to Subvert Election", NYT 12/11/2020). The linguistically relevant issues have to do with (grammatical) number:

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Sour waist

When I first began to have extensive interactions with Chinese friends more than sixty years ago, I was puzzled upon hearing them say, "My waist is sore / hurts / aches / pains".  I thought my puzzlement would disappear when I started to learn Mandarin around five years later, but I actually became more confused because what I heard them articulating in Mandarin, "yāo suān", sounded like they were saying "waist is sour".  In those years I didn't pay much attention to the characters, but focused primarily on the spoken language.

"Yāo" was not a problem because I knew that if you had a body part that was troubling you and it was pronounced "yāo", then it must be your waist.  But in English we don't usually talk about problems with your waist unless you're complaining that it's too wide.  We wouldn't normally think of a waist as being "sour".

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Eat vinegar, Jesus Christ, and Middle Persian

I've always been intrigued by the Chinese expression "eat vinegar" (chīcù 吃醋) meaning "be jealous".  To convey the idea of "jealous", one can also say dùjì 妒忌 or just dù 妒 (note the female semantophore).  I learned the disyllabic form with the syllables reversed, hence jìdù 忌妒.  The monosyllabic form (dù 妒) is ancient, going back to classical times.

I said jìdù 忌妒 instead of dùjì 妒忌 because the former is what all my Chinese friends and relatives said, though my impression is that the latter is more common across the Mandarin-speaking population.  Nonetheless, I felt that saying jìdù 忌妒 was awkward because, except for the tones, it is homophonous with Jīdū 基督, which I always understood as some form of "Jesus".  In fact, Jīdū 基督 is a short form of Jīlìsīdū 基利斯督, which is a transcription of "Christ", from Ancient Greek Χριστός (Khristós).  The Sinitic transcription of "Jesus" is Yēsū 耶稣, which ultimately also comes from Ancient Greek:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), possibly via Latin Iesus and other European languages. Doublet of Yīyīsūsī 伊伊穌斯/伊伊稣斯.  (source)

Incidentally, jì 忌 is a simplified form of  嫉 ("to envy, be jealous; to hate, resent").  Note that this traditional form of the character, like dù 妒, its synonymous morpheme partner in the disyllabic word jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous"), also has a female semantophore.  Thus we get a double whammy of misogyny in jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous").  

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Sleep and dream

A chart in Wikipedia ("Indo-European vocabulary") [rearranged here] — see under "Bodily functions and states" — shows the connection between words for "sleep" and "dream" in IE languages, including Tocharian.

1. PIE: *swep- "to sleep", *swepnos "dream (n.)" 

2. English: archaic sweven "dream, vision" (< OE swefn); NoEng sweb "to swoon" (< OE swebban "to put to sleep, lull") 

3. Gothic: ON sofa "sleep (v.)" 

4. Latin:  somnus "sleep (n.)"

5. Ancient Greek: húpnos "sleep (n.)"

6. Sanskrit: svápnaḥ "sleep, dream (n.)" 

7. Iranian: Av xᵛafna- "sleep (n.)" NPers xwãb- "sleep" 

8. Slavic: OCS spěti "sleep (v.)", sŭnŭ "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

9. Baltic: OPrus supnas "dream", Lith sapnas "dream"

10. Celtic: OIr sūan, W hun "sleep (n.)" 

11. Armenian: kʿnem "I sleep", kʿun "sleep (n.)"

12. Albanian: gjumë "sleep (n.)"

13. Tocharian: A ṣpäṃ, B. ṣpane "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

14. Hittite: sup-, suppariya- "to sleep"

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Bamlanivimab

"Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Monoclonal Antibody for Treatment of COVID-19", U.S. Food and Drug Administration 11/9/2020:

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adult and pediatric patients.

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