Maltese Arabic: Correction?

In Victor's recent post "Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6", he wrote that "I do not include Maltese because of the Romance superstrata". A more elaborate version of this idea can be found in the Wikipedia article, which tells us that

Maltese […] is a Semitic language derived from late medieval Sicilian Arabic with Romance superstrata spoken by the Maltese people. […] Maltese is a Latinized variety of spoken historical Arabic through its descent from Siculo-Arabic, which developed as a Maghrebi Arabic dialect in the Emirate of Sicily between 831 and 1091. As a result of the Norman invasion of Malta and the subsequent re-Christianization of the islands, Maltese evolved independently of Classical Arabic in a gradual process of latinization. It is therefore exceptional as a variety of historical Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Maltese is thus classified separately from the 30 varieties constituting the modern Arabic macrolanguage.

Both Victor and Wikipedia are somewhat wrong, or at least misleading — and my main evidence for this is an amusing anecdote. So onwards…

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Language Log has been fortunate to have had several guest posts and numerous comments by Douglas Adams, doyen of Tocharian studies in America (see "Selected readings" for a sampling).  Now, stimulated by the recent post on Chinese chariotry, he has written the following ruminations in response.

I read with interest the material on early Chinese chariotry.  It was far outside my competence to judge.  As you knew, I was most interested in the comment that was looking to the possibility of Tocharian > Chinese lexical borrowings.  As you also know, it has long been my suspicion that there was more west > east influence on Chinese language and culture than is generally realized.  And the "westerners" involved were most likely to have been Tocharians of one sort or another ("Tocharian D"?).  It's probably not only PIE pigs and honey that, via Tocharian, show up in Chinese.

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Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England, part 2

A little over a year ago, Frank Jacobs published this admirable survey of a mysterious object that has perplexed and preoccupied us for the past week — The Mysterious Dodecahedrons of the Roman Empire, Big Think, Atlas Obscura (5/12/23):

The first of many of these puzzling objects was unearthed almost three centuries ago, and we still don’t know what they were for.

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Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6

This post grew out of a comment I was making yesterday to a previous post about a wall at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations]) (established 1669) in Paris that listed the many languages taught at that venerable institution.

As my eyes surveyed the mass of names on the wall, one thing struck me powerfully:  the large number of different Arabic languages.  This raised an interesting question:  common "wisdom" is that there is only one Arabic language, viz., Modern Standard Arabic [MSA], so how come there are so many different Arabic languages taught at INALCO?

Since the Arab vernaculars have been one of our favorite foci here at Language Log (see "Selected readings" below), I was interested to see how many different varieties of Arabic are represented on this wall:

Judéo-Arabe, Moroccan Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Libyan Arabic (but that is MSA), Yemeni Arabic (also MSA, though it is generally considered to be a very conservative dialect cluster), Lebanese Arabic, Palestinian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Arabe Littéral (which I take to signify written / literary MSA) in contrast to dialectal Arabic (though I'm not sure how it differs from regular MSA; perhaps it is hyper-conservative to a degree that it it not really "sayable", i.e., "writable but not sayable", cf. "Sayable but not writable" [9/12/13]; i.e., MWA [Modern Written Arabic]?).

I do not include Maltese because of the Romance superstrata, nor do I include Sorabe because that only refers to the script used to write the Austronesian language known as Malagasy, much as the Perso-Arabic script is used to write Sinitic Hui (Muslim) Mandarin.

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"Talking out of two ears"

From p. 224 of the transcript of the April 30 session of The People of the State of New York against Donald Trump, Defendant, where prosecutor Joshua Steinglass is questioning Keith Davidson, who was Stormy Daniel's lawyer at the time of the hush-money payment from Michael Cohen:

Q. During this time, were you also speaking with Michael Cohen on the phone?

A. Yes.

Q. How would you describe his demeanor during this time?

A. He was highly excitable. Sort of a pants on fire kind of guy. He had a lot of things going on. Frequently I would be on the phone with him, he would take another call, he would be talking out of two ears. Sort of like that movie with the dogs and squirrels.

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Taiwanese in France

On a wall at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales [National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations]) (established 1669) in Paris:

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Indigo and cabbage, part 2

The first part of this series, "Indigo and cabbage", written the day before Thanksgiving in 2023, is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling posts I've ever made.  This follow-up is even more of a delight, because here I get to introduce a new paper by anthropologist-linguist-textile expert Elizabeth J. W. Barber, and what a tour de force it is (see below).

Here I give an extended account of her scholarship, especially her early activities in the computer analysis of Chinese, because she was instrumental in helping to make that possible at its foundational stage.

She earned a bachelor's degree from Bryn Mawr College in Archaeology and Greek in 1962. Her chief mentor was Mabel Lang from whom she learned Linear B and who advised her honors thesis on Linear A. In addition to Lang, Wayland wrote her thesis under Emmett L. Bennett Jr. Her thesis used computer indices of the Hagia Triada Linear A texts in an attempt to decipher its signs and symbols. The computer indices were made via punched cards, a method which was preceded by the work of Alice E. Kober on Linear B. She earned her PhD from Yale University in linguistics in 1968. Her doctoral study at Yale University was supervised by Sydney Lamb, under whom she wrote her dissertation, "The Computer Aided Analysis of Undeciphered Ancient Texts."

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AI voice-over?

On 5/8/2024, the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) offered a "Graphical representation of how the precision cutting charges will be used on key bridge section":

Several bits in the voice-over suggest that it was generated by a text-to-speech program — I'll note a couple of them below. And the failure to capitalize "Key Bridge" in the page's title might also be a symptom of AI-generation?

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Perso-Arabic script for Mandarin, Pe̍h-ōe-jī for Taiwanese: sad cripples?

We have been intrigued by Iskander Ding since encountering him on X/Twitter a while back, several posts from his account having made it onto Language Log (see "Selected readings").

With a handle like his, where Iskandar is the Persian form of the name of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (256–323 BC) and Ding has an unmistakable Sinitic / Hannic ring to it, we suspected from the start that he is a Hui (Chinese Muslim).  So far, though, we have not been able to track down the sinographs for his full Hannic name, which is a bit unusual, where even Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other non-Sinitic people are compelled to take Sinographic names.

Iskandar Ding is currently writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Yaghnobi linguistics and culture at SOAS in London (see this page for basic information about him).

Yaghnobi is an Eastern Iranian language spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people. It is considered to be a direct descendant of Sogdian and has sometimes been called Neo-Sogdian in academic literature.


Here is a 53 second video of ID announcing a talk on Perso-Arabic-script Hannic.

Here is the 43.44 talk ("Xiao’erjing – Writing Chinese with Perso-Arabic Letters" – Iskandar Ding | PG 2022) as it actually happened.  IA comment:  "What he said throughout the talk was pleasing now and then — saying 'Eastern Turkistan' in Uighur for example…".

Here is a 1 hour 22 minute interview with ID. If you click the link it will open at the 18:11 mark, where he speaks of Perso-Arabic-script Hannic . That part ends at 22:40.

The above is based largely on information provided by IA, and the following quotes IA directly:

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Violent destruction as excellence

In the title of yesterday's post about the Apple ad where a giant industrial press compresses all human creativity into an iPad Pro, I started with the weak pun "Tim Cook crushes it" — which led me to think about  idioms where violent destruction conveys high praise, and to wonder about other cases of this metaphor, and the analogies across languages and cultures.

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A Sino-Iranian tale of the donkey's Eurasian trail

By now, we have conclusively traced the path of the domesticated horse from the area around the southern Urals and Pontic Steppe through Central Asia to East Asia.  It's time to pay more attention to another equid, this one not so glamorous, but still redoubtable in its own formidable way:  Equus asinus asinus.

Samira Müller, Milad Abedi, Wolfgang Behr, and Patrick Wertmann, "Following the Donkey’s Trail (Part I): a Linguistic and Archaeological Study on the Introduction of Domestic Donkeys to China", International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics, 6 (2024), 104–144.  (pdf)


How and when did domestic donkeys arrive in China? This article sets out to uncover the donkeys’ forgotten trail from West Asia across the Iranian plateau to China, using archaeological, art historical, philological, and linguistic evidence. Following Parpola and Janhunen’s (2011) contribution to our understanding of the Indian wild ass and Mitchell’s (2018) overview of the history of the domestic donkey in West Asia and the Mediterranean, we will attempt to shed light on the transmission of the beast of burden to Eastern Eurasia.

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Tim Cook crushes it everything

The video featured in Tim Cook's latest Xeet:

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Latin oration at Harvard

[Introduction, transcription and translation follow on the next page]

Latin Salutatory | Harvard Commencement 2022 | Orator:  Benjamin Porteous

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