Reduplicated Compounds in Turkish?

Bruce Allen writes:

Oedipus Schmoedipus — so long as he loves his mother.

Years and years ago, I had a professor of Greek who said that this particular kind of reduplicated rhyming compound (schm-) originated not in Yiddish, but in Turkish.

I don’t find anything to substantiate this and he died years ago, but I figure if anyone can shed light on it, it’s LH readers, if not yourself.

I can’t shed light myself, so I turn it over to the assembled illuminators.

Français de nos régions.

Le français de nos régions vous intéresse ? (Does regional French interest you?) Then you’ll enjoy this site, with sections on pneu ou peneu ?, words pronounced differently in different parts of France (persil: is the final -l pronounced or not?), words newly added to the dictionary, and much else. I know marie-lucie will be interested; I hope others will.

Fastness.

Today’s mail brought a very welcome package: a copy of Trevor Joyce’s Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser. The “About the Author” page begins “For fifty years, since publication of his first book in 1967, Trevor Joyce has been a unique voice in Irish writing,” and the second paragraph reads:

His early work explored possibilities of the lyric, and began a lifelong engagement with translation. In the mid-seventies he gave up publishing and turned instead to the study of Chinese poetry, while working as a systems analyst in industry. His later work, following twenty years silence, is unparalleled within Irish poetry. Successive books explore the possibilities of found text, computer-mediated composition, writing under constraint, and radical approaches to translation.

All of which is to say, he’s an interesting guy and the perfect person to do what he’s doing here, which is to rethink and rewrite Spenser’s Mutability Cantos (original and “translation” are presented en face). Some quotes from the introduction will give you an idea of what perfect LH material this is:
[Read more…]

Constant Motion.

Stan Carey has a fine Macmillan column on the fact that language constantly changes and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well accept it:

Understandably, this unsettles people. We may refuse to accept a new usage, especially if the change happens in our lifetime: Why can’t words stay as they are, with a fixed meaning and sound and use? Words here can be a substitute for deeper concerns. We tend to prefer when things are stable, and find instability disturbing.

The converse also applies. If we get on board with the fact that everything is in flux, it becomes easier to adjust to linguistic change instead of being automatically upset by it. It can be seen as a form of realism: we drop the false idea that language doesn’t or shouldn’t change.

It’s well said, and of course I thoroughly agree, but I might not have posted it here if it hadn’t begun thus: “To Heraclitus we owe the saying (variously phrased) that you can’t step into the same river twice.” Check out that parenthetical link; you may be as surprised as I was that the “same river twice” interpretation is basically folk philology — according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “we call a body of water a river precisely because it consists of changing waters; if the waters should cease to flow it would not be a river, but a lake or a dry streambed. There is a sense, then, in which a river is a remarkable kind of existent, one that remains what it is by changing what it contains.” That is actually more interesting than the traditional interpretation, at least to me.

Jungaria.

I’m now about halfway through Perdue’s China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (see this post) and have just gotten to the central event, the extermination by the Qing Empire of the Western Mongol nation he calls the Zunghars in the 1750s: “The [Qianlong] emperor deliberately targeted young and able men in order to destroy the Zunghars as a people…. This deliberate use of massacre has been almost completely ignored by modern scholars.” It’s a splendid, brilliantly written historical account, but history is not the remit of LH, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about the name of the nation, which is variously spelled Dzungaria (the Wikipedia version), Zungharia, Zungaria, Jungharia, Jungaria, and Dzhungaria. (I was tempted to title this post “J/Dz(h)ung(h)aria,” but it looked too ugly.) If the Jungar Empire had not been wiped out, presumably we would have settled on one version, but since it’s been nearly forgotten, we have to look under D, J, and Z in the index of every historical work that might cover it in hopes of finding it. (I’ve taken to penciling in cross-references under each of those letters pointing to whichever one the book uses.)

Fortunately, Christopher I. Beckwith (see this post) published an article called “A Note on the Name and Identity of the Junghars” (Mongolian Studies 29 [2007]: 41-45) that deals with just this topic. He begins by discarding the “very old” folk etymology from Middle Mongolian jegün gar ‘left (or east) hand (or wing of an army)’ (“nonsensical historically”; he later says “it is impossible at this point to establish a genuine etymology of the name”); he continues:

The spellings ‘Dzungar,’ or ‘Zungar’ represent modern Mongolian dialect forms that developed after the Mongol Empire period and have become dominant since the Junghar Empire period. The spelling ‘Dzungar’ reflects the pronunciation of the name in the dominant modern Khalkha dialect, whereas the spelling ‘Zungar’ reflects the modern Kalmyk züünghar [zü:ngar]. […]

The pronunciation züünghar is reflected in a number of modern foreign transcriptions. However, historically contemporaneous oral transcriptions of the name ‘Junghar’ into directly neighboring languages (Russian, Chinese, Tibetan, and Persian) — that is, transcriptions made at the time of the Junghar Empire — regularly give the initial consonant as j-/j– [ʤ] or in some cases unaspirated č– [ʧ], both reflecting foreign [ʤ] […] The most accurate historical spelling in English would thus seem to be ‘Junggar,’ or simply ‘Jungar,’ as in one of the most frequent spellings of the name of their homeland, ‘Jungaria.’ I have however spelled it ‘Junghar’ in order to reflect the undeniable influence of the putative etymology on the modern forms in Mongol dialects. In any case, the pronunciation of their name by the Junghars themselves during the time of their empire thus seems fairly clear.

Me, I’m going with Jungaria because it’s the simplest and apparently reflects their own pronunciation, but feel free to pick and choose according to your own inclination. Nobody will care except a few scholars.

Dostoevsky’s Worst Novel.

If you google the phrase “Dostoevsky’s worst novel” (with quotes, because otherwise it defaults to telling you about his best novels), the reply is unambiguous: The Insulted and Injured [Униженные и оскорбленные]. I’ve read three of the four parts, and I’m here to tell you that that judgment is faultless; if it hadn’t been by Dostoevsky, I’d have given up after a few chapters. It starts with a fine passage, mind you: Ivan, a struggling writer, tells how a year ago he saw an old man and a dog going into an eatery, followed them in, and witnessed a scene that ended with the ragged old Jeremiah Smith dying on a Petersburg street. Unfortunately, he then moves into the late Smith’s wretched top-floor apartment, meets his granddaughter Elena (aka Nelly), saves her from prostitution, and acts as go-between for his love Natasha and her parents, whom she left to live with the foolish young Alyosha, whose father, Prince Valkovsky, wants him to marry the heiress Katya… In short, it gallops straight into melodrama and never looks back. There are the pure of heart, who are crushed (or, if you like, insulted and injured) by the mustache-twirling villain, and there is the improbably simple-minded author/narrator, who tells us the tale, with frequent cliffhangers and repetitions of “I’ll tell you all about it… but not right now.”

I’m exaggerating for effect; naturally, since it’s Dostoevsky there are many good things, culminating (as far as I’ve read) in a splendidly malicious rant by the prince at the end of the third part. I’ll probably provide an update when I finish it, with whatever more mature judgment I reach. But at the moment I want to point to a couple of things of linguistic interest.

[Read more…]

Tombac.

I ran across the Russian word томпак [tompak], looked it up, and discovered it was defined as “tombac.” Just this once, the Oxford dictionary took pity on the ignorant user and added the parenthetical “(copper and zinc alloy),” so I knew what it meant, but of course I wanted to know the derivation. Vasmer told me it was from French tombac and originally from Malay, AHD said “French, from Dutch tombak, from Malay tembaga,” and Wikipedia says the latter is “an Indonesian/Malay word of Javanese origin meaning copper,” but the best (or at any rate most intriguing) etymology I’ve found (via Google Books) is in Robert Blust’s “Linguistics versus Archaeology” in Archaeology and Language III: Artefacts, Languages and Texts, p. 138:

A second term that spread in much the same way as Dempwolff’s *pirak was the Prakrit /tamraka/ ‘copper’, attested as Tagalog /tumbaga/ ‘copper-gold alloy’, Malay /tembaga/ ‘copper’. As noted in Blust (1992) this term appears to have entered the AN world during the early Srīwijaya period. During the later Srīwijaya or early Islamic period it was diffused via Malay trading activities into the Philippines, apparently arriving first in the area of Manila Bay. In time the Manila galleon trade which brought New World metals to the Philippines to trade for southern Chinese silks led to a redefinition of the earlier Tagalog /tumbaga/ ‘copper’ to mean ‘copper-gold alloy’, and the borrowing of a Southern Min word (Tagalog /tansoʔ/) as a new term for copper’.

And Prakrit tamraka is presumably Sanskrit ताम्रक tâmra-ka ‘copper,’
whose etymology I do not know. A well-traveled word!

The Lesser Prince of the Night.

I recently came across the Polish word księżyc ‘moon’ and thought “That’s odd — the other Slavic languages have reflexes of either Proto-Slavic *luna (like Russian) or *měsęcь (like Serbo-Croatian and Czech). Where did this come from?

It turns out (and this is a great etymology) that it’s originally a diminutive of książę ‘prince’; to quote Buck’s Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages: “As the sun was the lord of the day, the moon of the night, the latter was the lesser ‘prince’.” What I want to know is, is that transparent to Poles, or is it something they learn with at least mild surprise when they see it pointed out?

Palimpsests at Saint Catherine’s.

Richard Gray at the Atlantic writes about a perennially interesting topic:

The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests—manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record. […]

Over five years, the researchers gathered 30 terabytes of images from 74 palimpsests—totaling 6,800 pages. In some cases, the erased texts have increased the known vocabulary of a language by up to 50 percent, giving new hope to linguists trying to decipher them. One of the languages to reemerge from the parchments is Caucasian Albanian, which was spoken by a Christian kingdom in what is now modern day Azerbaijan. Almost all written records from the kingdom were lost in the 8th and 9th century when its churches were destroyed.

“There are two palimpsests here that have Caucasian Albanian text in the erased layer,” says Michael Phelps, the director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library and leader of the project. “They are the only two texts that survive in this language … We were sitting with one of the scholars and he was adding to the language as we were processing the images. In real time he was saying ‘now we have the word for met’ and ‘now the word for fish.’”

Another dead language to be found in the palimpsests is one used by some of the earliest Christian communities in the Middle East. Known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, it is a strange mix of Syriac and Greek that died out in the 13th century. Some of the earliest versions of the New Testament were written in this language. “This was an entire community of people who had a literature, art, and spirituality,” says Phelps. “Almost all of that has been lost, yet their cultural DNA exists in our culture today. These palimpsest texts are giving them a voice again and letting us learn about how they contributed to who we are today.”

I look forward to many more such discoveries. Thanks, Ryan!

Hysteria over Hyphens.

The Economist‘s Johnson column (on language) has a good roundup of the vexed issue of hyphens, which starts with the classic quote “If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad.” I got the link from this post by Lucy Ferriss, who is quite wrong about spelled-out numbers followed by a reference to a measurement, as in “a twenty-five-year-old car.” She thinks it’s OK to “skip one or two, e.g. a twenty-five year-old car.” No. It is not. You use every one of those hyphens or you fail my copyediting test.