Archives for February 2017

The Story of Dakhani.

A Tongue Untied: The Story of Dakhani is a film being made about “a vernacular form of Urdu spoken across the Deccan region”; as the website says:

Parodied and poorly regarded for centuries, Dakhani’s glorious history and rich legacy has been largely ignored. This film takes a close look at the continuing tradition of mazihiya shayri, or humour-satire performance poetry. From the early poets of the modern era such as Nazeer ‘Dahqani’, the badshah of Dakhani mazihiya shayri Sulaiman Khateeb, to the contemporary ones today including the seniors Mohd. Himayatullah and Ghouse ‘Khamakha’, the film looks at the wide range of humourists and satirists.

Including extensive travels across the Deccan plateau, interviews and conversations with poets, mushaira (poetry show) organisers, litterateurs, Sufi scholars, historians, linguists, actors, film directors, lyricists, playwrights, amongst others, the film also simultaneously uncovers the history of the language and of a composite culture.

From early mystical compositions of Sufi settlers of the 14th century, ornate fantasy tales by court poets, to romantic artistic creations of the sultans of the Deccan of the 15 & 16th centuries, the film traces the journey of the language over time till its precipitous fall in the early 18th century. The language is a marker of a great, rich mixed culture or mili-jhuli tehzeeb as it is commonly known; one that reveals the depth and beauty of syncretic Indo-Muslim traditions of central and south India.

It’s fun to watch the four-and-a-half minute video clip, with English subtitles, although most of the time I have no idea why people are laughing. Many thanks to Rajesh Devraj (of the blog Dick & Garlick) for the link!

Do the Koreas Speak the Same Language?

Deborah Smith, who translated a manuscript smuggled out of North Korea, discusses an interesting issue:

One question I’ve often been asked since I started learning Korean is: do the two halves of the peninsula speak the same language? The answer is yes and not quite. Yes, because division happened only in the previous century, which isn’t enough time for mutual unintelligibility to develop. Not quite, because it is enough time for those countries’ vastly different trajectories to impact on the language they use, most noticeably in the case of English loanwords – a veritable flood in the South, carefully dammed in the North. The biggest differences, though, are those of dialect, which have pronounced regional differences both between and within North and South. Unlike in the UK, a dialect doesn’t just mean a handful of region-specific words; conjunctions and sentence endings, for example, are pronounced and thus written differently. That’s a headache until you crack the code.

But while the original manuscript of The Accusation apparently contains around 200 words that the average South Korean would be unlikely to know, I was lucky to be working from a version that had already been edited for publication in South Korea. I also had a generous friend, Kyeong-soo, to consult in those few instances when even the internet drew a blank. Still, these blanks tended not to be drawn over anything to do with ideology, party rank or the apparatus of state. Rather the challenge was capturing details such as children playing on sorghum stilts – a specificity of a culture that is in danger of becoming shared only in memory, whose evocation reaches back to a time when north Korea meant simply the collection of provinces 100 miles up the country where the food was milder, the winters were colder, and where your aunt and uncle lived.

An interesting question, but frustratingly dealt with, in that she doesn’t give any examples; fortunately, Wikipedia comes to the rescue. (Thanks, Trevor!)

Stephen Fry on the Joys of Swearing.

Everybody likes Stephen Fry, right? Well, I do (see this 2008 post), and thanks to Bathrobe I can now favor you with a brief (two and a half minutes) video clip of him on one of my favorite subjects: “It would be impossible to go through life without swearing and without enjoying swearing.” Enjoy!

Wenzhounese in Italy.

This Victor Mair post at the Log is fascinating for two completely different reasons. First is the “Devil’s language” aspect:

Wenzhounese is the most divergent variety of Wu and is considered a separate language by some. It is not mutually intelligible with other varities of Wu. It preserves words from Classical Chinese that are no longer used in other varieties of Chinese, and its grammar differs significantly. It also has the most eccent[r]ic phonology, and as a result is considered the “least comprehensible dialect” for an average Mandarin speaker. These feature[s] are a result of the geographic isolation of the Wenzhou area.

There are links to a number of Log posts about the dialect. The second reason is the situation of the Wenzhounese who have ended up living in Italy:

What prompted me to write this post were the answers I received when I asked my informants whether their Wenzhounese relatives in Italy, of whom there are many, learned Italian, and they said, no, they don’t have to. They said that the Wenzhounese in Italy are so numerous and dispersed throughout the country that there isn’t a need to learn Italian. The networks and support services available to them are so extensive that they can easily get by just knowing Wenzhounese.

That’s a common phenomenon in many situations, of course, but I wouldn’t have expected it for the speakers of an obscure Chinese topolect in Italy.


Another tidbit from Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada]: they’re in Manila and have finally found what is apparently the only inn/hotel in town, run by a Frenchman named Demien and his wife, and Demien recommends that after the siesta (when it’s too hot to go out and everything’s closed anyway) they take a look at the кальсадо [kal’sado], which he explains thus: “Это гулянье около крепости и по взморью: туда по вечерам собираются все кататься” [It’s a promenade around the fortress and along the seashore: everyone goes for a drive there in the evenings]. It’s transparently a Spanish word, and Goetze renders it Calzado, which seems reasonable, but as far as I know calzado means only ‘footwear’ (and the feminine form calzada means only ‘road(way)’). The phenomenon itself is familiar from all around the Mediterranean, where it is called volta, passeggiata, or korzo (see this 2009 post), and I suppose it’s possible calzado was a mid-19th-century term specific to Manila, but it’s not mentioned in La lengua española en Filipinas by Antonio Quilis and Celia Casado Fresnillo (CSIC Press, 2008), and I can’t find any other references to it by googling, so I suspect that Goncharov may have misunderstood/misheard what his host said. But I thought I’d bring it here so the Varied Reader can put in their dos reales.

Update. It turns out the original form is Calzada (feminine); as a quote found by Y in the comments below says, the Calzada was “what Hyde Park is to London and the Champs Élysées to Paris and the Meidan to Calcutta… the gathering place of the opulent classes… crowded with carriages, equestrians and pedestrians.” You can see an excellent image here.


Rhododendron threat raised in Dáil” is a brief but piquant news story well summed up in the first sentence: “Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae has claimed that the spread of rhododendron in Killarney National Park is so bad that the army may have to be called in to sort it out.” I bring it here solely for the accompanying video clip, less than half a minute long, which presents, as Trevor, who sent it to me (thanks, Trevor!), says, “a reminder of what a strong Kerry accent sounds like.” It’s truly a thing of wonder; as I said in response, I love the way he says the word rhododendrons.


I’m on the home stretch of Rieber’s The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands (see this post), and in the course of reading up on the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875 and its consequences (which ultimately included the First World War and the entire last century’s worth of awfulness) I’ve run across items that satisfy my addiction to both long-forgotten, short-lived territorial entities (in this case the Republic of Tamrash, which seceded from the almost equally obscure Eastern Rumelia) and splendidly sonorous aristocratic monikers (see, for instance, this 2014 post, with Louis Phélypeaux de Saint-Florentin; le duc de Fitz-James; and la princesse de Salm-Salm, duchesse de l’Infantado, among others, and this 2003 one, with Astrid Pouppez de Ketteris de Hollaeken, la baronne Laetitia de Villenfagne de Vogelsanck, and Gioia Sardagna von Neuberg e Hohenstein Ferrari). I give you the family Khevenhüller:

Khevenhüller is the name of a Carinthian noble family, documented there since 1356, with its ancestral seat at Landskron Castle. In the 16th century, the family split into the two branches of Khevenhüller-Frankenburg, Imperial Counts (i.e. immediate counts of the Holy Roman Empire) from 1593, and Khevenhüller-Hochosterwitz, raised to Imperial Counts in 1725 and, as Khevenhüller-Metsch, to princely rank (Fürsten) in 1763. […]

Johann IV von Khevenhüller zu Aichelberg (born ca 1420-1462) was the first to hold the family title “of Aichelberg”, yet Johann V Khevenhüller (died 1462), son of Wilhelm II Khevenhüller and Margareta von Auersperg, was Burgrave of Federaun, whereas his son, Augustin Khevenhüller, who died 1516, is referred to as Herr (i.e. Lord) of Hardegg. His mother was one “Miss” von Lindegg, who together with her grandson Sigismund III, Herr Khevenhüller in Hohen-Osterwitz (1507–1558) appears among the ancestors of Prince Charles. Her youngest grandson, Bernard von Khevenhüller (1511–1548) was “Herr auf Sternberg and Hohenwart”; her eldest grandson, Christoph Khevenhüller (1503–1557) was Lord of Aichelberg.

Khevenhüller-Hochosterwitz! Burgrave of Federaun! Herr of Hardegg! “Miss” von Lindegg! Further down is Bartlmä Khevenhüller, but the real gems come in the Spanish branch: Don Camilo Ruspoli y Khevenhüller-Metsch, Marescotti-Capizucchi y Liechtenstein, dei Principi Ruspoli! Don Luigi Ruspoli y Godoy, de Khevenhüller-Metsch y Borbón, dei Principi Ruspoli, 3rd Marquis of Boadilla del Monte! Don Adolfo Ruspoli y Godoy di Bassano, de Khevenhüller-Metsch y Borbón, dei Principi Ruspoli, 2nd Duke of Alcudia! The last-named was a Grandee of Spain First Class, as well he might be.


In his Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada], Goncharov uses Ликейские острова for what are now called острова Рюкю, the Ryukyu Islands. I found the old name curious, and when Goncharov goes on to say “Что это такое Ликейские острова, или, как писали у нас в старых географиях, Лиеу-Киеу, или, как иностранцы называют их, Лю-чу (Loo-Choo), а по выговору жителей ‘Ду-чу”‘?” [What are these Likei Islands, or as the old geographers wrote, Lieu-Kieu, or as foreigners call them, Loo-Choo, or in the local accent Du-chu?] I turned to Wikipedia, where I found this section on “Historical usage”:

Ryūkyū” is an exonym and is not a self-designation. The word first appeared in the Book of Sui (636). Its obscure description of Liuqiu (流求) is the source of a never-ending scholarly debate over what was referred to by the name, Taiwan, Okinawa or both. Nevertheless, the Book of Sui shaped perceptions of Ryūkyū for a long time. Ryūkyū was considered a land of cannibals and aroused a feeling of dread among surrounding people, from Buddhist monk Enchin who traveled to Tang China in 858 to an informant of the Hyōtō Ryūkyū-koku ki who traveled to Song China in 1243. Later, some Chinese sources used “Great Ryukyu” (Chinese: 大琉球; pinyin: Dà Liúqiú) for Okinawa and “Lesser Ryukyu” (Chinese: 小琉球; pinyin: Xiǎo Liúqiú) for Taiwan. Okinawan forms of “Ryūkyū” are Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?) or Duuchuu (ドゥーチュー?) in Okinawan and Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?) in the Kunigami language.[13][14] An Okinawan man was recorded as having referred to himself as a “Doo Choo man” during Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s visit to the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1852.[15]

From about 1829 until the mid-20th century, the islands’ English name was spelled Luchu, Loochoo, or Lewchew. These spellings were based on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters “琉球”, which in Mandarin is Liúqiú, as well as the Okinawan language’s form Ruuchuu (ルーチュー?).

All of which is complicated enough, but none of it explains the Russian term Ликейские острова [Likei Islands] (and the Russian Wikipedia article doesn’t address the issue). Any thoughts?

Bill of Goods.

My wife and I were out walking when one of us mentioned somebody being “sold a bill of goods” and we looked at each other in that this-is-a-case-for-Languagehat way and said “How did that expression arise?” We surmised, correctly, that a bill of goods is literally a consignment of merchandise (in the words of Merriam-Webster), but how did it come to mean (to quote their second definition) “something intentionally misrepresented : something passed off in a deception or fraud”? Anybody know the history of this?

Two Japanese Questions.

1) In Jangfeldt’s Mayakovsky bio, he says “After his return from Berlin in May 1924, Mayakovsky met with the Japanese author Tamisi Naito, who was visiting Moscow.” (In the original: “Efter hemkomsten från Berlin i maj 1924 träffade Majakovskij den japanske författaren Tamisi Naito, som var på besök i Moskva.”) I can find no reference to such an author elsewhere, and I suspect the name may have gotten garbled; anybody know who this might be?

2) In Goncharov’s Фрегат “Паллада” [The Frigate Pallada] (see this post), he repeatedly refers to a cry of Japanese oarsmen, “оссильян” [ossil’yan], which Goetze renders “ossilian.” The -l- makes this impossible Japanese, of course, and I suspect there are other distortions; anybody know what the original word or phrase is?

(The hapless Goetze transliterates Хагивари, the name of one of the Japanese officers [the Russian word for ‘officer’ here, баниос, is borrowed from Dutch banjoost, but I have no idea what that’s from], three different ways: Kagivari, Chagivary, and best of all Charivari. He also omits large chunks of text — several pages on what Goncharov perceives as similarities between Chinese and Japanese, half a dozen pages on the need for Japan to open itself to the outside world, and every passage in which a fellow member of the expedition, Goshkevich, makes an anti-Semitic remark. For shame!)