Archive for February, 2020

Sino-Semitica, part 2: of massage and Old Sinitic reconstructions

As part of our research on the dictionary of Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) that Zhu Qingzhi and I have been working on for more than two decades, I was tickled by this quaint poem (below on the second page) by the medieval Buddhist poet, Wáng Fànzhì 王梵志 (Brahmacārin ब्रह्मचारिन् Wang; fl. first half of 7th c.).

I have been an avid fan of Wáng Fànzhì's unique poetry for nearly half a century.  Quaint, indeed, and also quirky.  Wang Fanzhi is self-demeaning in a funny, adorable way.  The poem I'm about to introduce you to is a good example of his trademark self-abnegation.

What attracted me particularly to this poem for the purposes of our research on MVS is the first word in line 2, chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time"), which does not exist with this meaning in Literary Sinitic (LS) / Classical Chinese (CC).  Finding chǎngtóu 長頭 ("for a long time") in Wang Fanzhi's poem was already enough of a treat, but when I got to the last word of the couplet, I was even more delighted.  As you will momentarily see, what Wang says about his wife's tummy is funny by itself, but the word he uses to describe what the wife does to her tummy made me even more excited.

But let's read the poem first, then I'll talk about the word in question, namely, méisuō 沒娑 ("massage").

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On the center

From Jonathan Falk:

When Wuhan is called the "epicenter" of the coronavirus outbreak, do people know that epicenter is a term borrowed from geology and is just a metaphor for what is in fact the "center" of an outbreak, or are they fooled by the "epi-" prefix to think it has something to do with "epidemic?"

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Dwindling measure words in Mandarin

Tweet from the University of Westminster Contemporary China Centre Blog @CCCblogUoW:

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Sino-Manchu seals of the Xicom Emperor

Tweet by Sulaiman Gu:

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Nested calligraphy

Clément Pit-Claudel writes:

I was recently at the Boston antiquarian book fair, where I spotted a book titled The Battle of Foochow about the Fuzhou Uprising of November 8, 1911, in which revolutionaries defeated the Qing (Manchu) army, a significant step on the way to the fall of the last dynasty in traditional Chinese history, when the six-year-old Last EmperorPuyi, abdicated on February 12, 1912.  Here's a photograph of the cover:

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Northernmost runic finds in the world

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Learning to speak Sicilian

Here's little two-year-old Leah having a discussion with her great-grandma (bisnonna). At a young age, Leah is already very aware of her cultural trait of Italian hand speaking.

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The PRC censors its own national anthem

The people are outraged at what happened to a doctor named Li Wenliang at Wuhan Central Hospital who called attention to the outbreak of the coronavirus on December 30, 2019, before it became an epidemic.  Instead of the government praising him, they sent police to threaten and harass him, as part of their effort to cover up the burgeoning contagion.  While treating patients, he contracted the disease himself and succumbed to it on February 7, 2020.  To add insult to death, the government first denied that he had died, then admitted it and began a propaganda campaign to promote him as a hero.

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Oral vs. written rhetoric

Megan McArdle ("Four things Democrats need to understand about beating Trump", WaPo 1/31/2020) has something important to say about the style of Donald Trump's extemporized speeches:

Trump is a good public speaker. "Nails on a chalkboard" doesn't quite capture how educated urbanites feel about Trump's speaking style. A closer analogy would be having your teeth drilled — without Novocain.

His fragmented sentences, simplistic formulae (see those insults above) and rambling style would drive them wild even if the content and partisan ID were more to their taste. They like "polished" candidates who speak in complete sentences that read well when written down.

Trump, by contrast, sounds like … well, actually, he sounds a lot closer to how most people talk than a "good" public speaker. He speaks in short sentences and uses a small vocabulary. He makes up names for stuff to aid listener memory. He repeats himself. He digresses at random.

Trump talks, in short, the way people talk when they aren't expecting their words to be written down. This informal approach horrifies those of us who love reading enough to do it on weekends. But one way to think about this is that it is not so much the difference between good and bad; it is the difference between an oral culture and a written one.

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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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Budgets on Mars

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Topless meeting

From Nathan Hopson:

Can't believe I had never heard this marvelous Japanglish until now:

トップレス‐ミーティング(toppuresu mītingu = "topless meeting")or トップレス会議 (kaigi = meeting)

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Kanji or not?

Stone artifact from around the beginning of the first century AD, excavated at the Tawayama remains in Matsue, capital of Shimane Prefecture:

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