Eurasia: archeology, historical linguistics, gender

Below are the opening paragraphs of a review by Richard Foltz in Caucasus Survey (2022), 1-2 [10.30965/23761202-bja10006; published by Brill].

Warwick Ball,The Eurasian Steppe: People, Movement, Ideas, Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 2022. 414+xix pp. ISBN: 978-1-4744-8806-8, £19.99 (pbk).

The work under review is a revised and expanded edition of the author’s earlier The Gates of Asia: The Eurasian Steppe and the Limits of Europe (London:  East & West Publishing, 2015), although he prefers to describe it as “a new book rather than a new edition” (p.4). In taking on the vast sweep of Eurasian steppe history, the author’s stated aim is “to focus on those subjects that shaped Europe, even at the cost of glossing over the effect on other regions such as the Middle East, South Asia, or China” (p.3).  Ball is an archaeologist, so it is not surprising that the book draws heavily on archaeology, although he ventures as well in to other topics such as language, ethnicity, mythology, and art (the possible echoes of Scythian motifs in art nouveau, for example).

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The status of Mandarin in Taiwan

Article by Keoni Everington in Taiwan News (11/19/22):

"90% of Taiwanese say learning Mandarin beneficial to job, relationships"

'Mandarin education should not be a victim of politics,' say National Taiwan Normal University professors

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"Sins against the language"

Jonathan Bouquet, "May I have a word about… the sins of Twitter, Meta and Amazon", The Guardian 11/20/2022:

[As if making thousands of people redundant were not bad enough, they compound it with their use of language]

It won’t have escaped your notice that the internet giants are going though turbulent times, with huge job losses announced at Twitter, Meta and Amazon. In the case of the last, it has been reported that the company is to start cutting 10,000 jobs within days to make its “fulfilment centres” more streamlined. In my day, a place where goods are stored, packed and sent to customers who have ordered them used to be known as a warehouse. […]

And thank you to Roy Perry for the following: “An offering from the November magazine of Weardale Railway Trust (of which I am a member): ‘Train operations have continued throughout the summer and ridership has been very encouraging.’”

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"Why I think the Chinese writing system is TERRIBLE"

That's the title of this YouTube video (12:39; 4,572 views  Nov 18, 2022) by ABChinese (34K subscribers):

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Crap Lolly Pop

Ambarish Sridharanarayanan sent in this image of a restaurant menu from Chennai:

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The invention of an alphabet for the transcription of Chinese characters half a millennium ago

The Latinization of Chinese characters will ultimately prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of writing.  We usually attribute this epochal achievement to the Italian Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), but he was assisted in that monumental endeavor by several individuals.  One of the most important of these was the Jesuit Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628), whose Xīrú ěrmù zī 西儒耳目資 (An Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati) helped to establish the alphabetization of Sinitic on a solid footing.

In "Printed Editions of the Xiru Ermuzi", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, no. 79 (2021), 1-32, TAKATA Tokio has carried out a detailed codicological study of all editions and copies of Trigault's text.  In the process, he has brought to light two hitherto unknown editions of Xiru Ermuzi, greatly enhancing our understanding of the development of this vital work.  Takata's study is extremely detailed and heavily footnoted.  Here I present his Introduction and Concluding Remarks.

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Palestra: wrestling of the mind

I played college basketball for Dartmouth for four years.  That means I had ample opportunity to play in Penn's hallowed Palestra.  All of the Ivy League schools had unique, distinctive gymnasia, and they remain sharply etched in my mind.  But the Palestra was something else altogether, as though it belonged in a different league, a different world.  Entering the vaulted space was intimidating enough by itself, but the fact that the bleachers (in)famously came right down to the edge of the floor, with no separation of the fans from the game, made it all the more nerve-wracking to play there, not to mention that the Penn teams were always extremely well coached and fiercely determined.

Since I do not know of any other sports arena in America that is called by such a classical, Greek sounding name, nor of any other that has such a distinguished history, it would be worth our while to inquire how it became so.

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Zoroastrianism between Iranic and Sinitic

I've always been intrigued by this odd character:  祆.  It's got a "spirit; cult" semantophore (radical; classifier) on the left (shì 礻) and a "heaven" phonophore (tiān 天) on the right.  Read "xiān", it is customarily translated as "deity; divinity; Heaven" and is thought of as the central figure of Xiānjiào 祆教 ("xian doctrine / religion").  The traditional Chinese explanation of Xiānjiào 祆教 is Bàihuǒjiào 拜火教 ("fire-worshipping doctrine / religion"), which is rendered into English as "Zoroastrianism" or "Mazdaism".  According to zdic, Xiān is Ormazda, god of the Zoroastrians; extended to god of the Manicheans.

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How Many Languages Are There in China?

At least three hundred.

I like the title, not the one on the first panel, but the one at the top of each frame, which I have also given as the title of this post.

You probably don't have time to watch the whole video (13:54), but it's pretty good:

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Catchphrases, mantras, and verbal tics

David Marjanović mentioned Ramzan Kadyrov's verbal tic [dɔːn] (a contraction of the Chechen filler /duj huna/, literally "there is for you"), no matter if he's speaking Chechen or Russian.  That made me wonder what the equivalent would be in other languages?  Something like "ya know" in English?

The common Mandarin word for this type of expression is kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 ("catchphrase; favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase; mantra", where kǒutóu 口頭 ["on the mouth / lips; oral"] is the disyllabic modifier of the head noun).  The three constituent morphemes mean "mouth / oral", "head", and "Zen / Chan (< Skt. dhyāna ["meditation"]), i.e., a meditative mantra (from Sanskrit मन्त्र (mantra, literally “instrument of thought”), from Proto-Indo-Aryan *mántram, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *mántram, from Proto-Indo-European *mén-tro-m, from *men- (“to think”). Doublet of mind) that is always on one's lips.

A synonym for kǒutóuchán 口頭禪 / 口头禅 is kǒupǐ 口癖, a slang neologism ("one's favorite expression; stock phrase; pet phrase", where pǐ 癖 means "craving; disposition; addiction; weakness for; habit"), which is an orthographic borrowing from Japanese kuchiguse 口癖 ("phrase that one uses regularly").

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Particles are not unimportant

People studying Sinitic and other languages featuring particles tend to deemphasize them as some sort of window dressing — ornament, elaboration — not much different from intonation or emphasis.  Witness this comment by an accomplished student of several Asian languages:

Unfortunately, these particles play only a peripheral role in Western (Latin-based) accounts of grammar and therefore miss out on the scrutiny given to other parts of speech. I know that my Vietnamese teachers dismissed them as 'meaningless'. This is a pity since they play an incredibly important role in conveying meaning. In fact, the ability to use them properly is half the battle in learning to sound like a native!

It would be an interesting exercise to do an interlinguistic comparison of these kinds of particles, but first you would need to develop a systematic analysis of the nuances they convey (affirmation, confirmation, tentativeness, contradiction, etc.).

Particles may convey essential aspectual, modal, structural, and other functions.  Here's some evidence for the importance of particles from the language acquisition experience of a bilingual child.

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Ask LLOG: "Big dumb hat" v. "Dumb little dog"

From T.S.:

I have read before about English’s very rigid adjective order – we say “nice green chair” not “green nice chair”.

A recent (not very funny) sketch on Saturday Night Live featured Amy Schumer extolling the virtues of wearing a “Big dumb hat”. The punchline was that this accessorises perfectly with a “Dumb little dog”.

“Big dumb hat” sounds right and “Dumb big hat” sound wrong.

“Dumb little dog” sounds right and “Little dumb dog” sounds wrong.

Whither English’s rigid adjective order?

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The Twittering Machine

Illustrating Ben Tarnoff's 11/11/2022  NY Review of Books article "In the Hothouse", Paul Klee's 1922 painting Die Zwitscher-Maschine ("The Twittering Machine"):

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