THE RUNES THAT WEREN’T.

An e-mail from Nick Jainschigg pointed me to this page (“5 Huge Mistakes Nobody Noticed for a Shockingly Long Time,” by Evan V. Symon for Cracked.com); it was headed “#1,” which sent me down the page to “#1. Scholars Mistake Random Cracks in a Rock for an Epic Poem”:

In the 12th century, a rock bearing what appeared to be slowly fading runic symbols was discovered in Blekinge, Sweden, because ancient Norsemen just wrote shit down wherever they could. The king of Denmark sent a team of skilled translators to figure out what it said, but they were all stumped, claiming that the Runamo Inscription (as it would come to be called) was written in a form of Viking that was just too obscure for them to read. The actual reason they were unable to decipher the inscription is because it isn’t an inscription at all — it’s just a bunch of random fissures in the surface of the rock.

[…] Then, in the early 1800s, an Icelandic scholar named Finnur Magnusson, who would eventually become famous for habitually identifying meaningless naturally occurring bullshit as authentic runic writing, translated the Runamo Inscription as an epic poem about warrior chieftain Harald Wartooth defeating the Swedish king in the eighth century. This was a potentially huge discovery, because at the time little was known about the famous battle, and the rock would serve as a genuine historical record. … Sweden sent its own scientists to verify Magnusson’s story, which they determined to be categorically false, much to the chagrin of hopeful historians and terrible Icelandic rune experts everywhere.

Not only was this amusing for its own sake, it immediately explained where Osip Senkovsky got the inspiration for the long Bear Island section of “The fantastic journeys of Baron Brambeus” that I described here; what I didn’t mention in that post is that the long hieroglyphic cave inscription Brambeus and his pal deciphered turned out to be natural outgrowths on the rock faces that they had mistaken for writing. Ripped from the headlines!

Comments

  1. Neat find – even though I study writing systems I had never heard of the Runamo inscription. Reminds me of the ‘methods’ of the late Barry Fell in _America B.C._ and his other books. “Look! Three sort-of straight lines in a row! Must be ogham! Or maybe Phoenician! Those crazy Celts have done it again!”

  2. marie-lucie says:

    I too immediately thought of Barry Fell. He was also fond of “Lybico-Berber” mixed with something else. I saw him on TV once “translating” a bunch of more or less straight lines on a cliff to a group of adoring fans. Of course ogham is not written on the face of flat rocks but on the edges of squared stones in very unnatural-looking patterns. Isn’t it strange that all actual writing ever found on stones and rocks doesn’t look at all like nature’s productions?

  3. I think it’s possible for people even today to “find” (or nudge into being with a little work) miraculous Arabic inscriptions inside of tree trunks, rocks, beehives etc. Somehow the Latin alphabet doesn’t seem to lend itself to this sort of thing as easily.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Kind of like the face of Christ or the Virgin Mary appears on tree-trunks (among other objects), especially where a large branch has been cut off and the oval scar left on the trunk looks a little like a human face shape, in which other vaguely human features may develop as the scar heals. Nobody notices the “miraculous face” until one person does, and then more and more people “see” it.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    AG: If this is happening in Arabic-speaking countries, the proliferation of different abstract shapes used in Arabic calligraphy, an art form developed in part because of the prohibition on reproducing natural shapes, may make it easy to confuse random natural lines with those of some Arabic letter variations.

  6. @ marie-lucie –
    I agree… and I think those sort of miraculous findings are probably an interesting commentary on the interplay among art, religion, writing system, culture, etc. Christians seem to look for human faces first, while Muslims would understandably see lines of calligraphy everywhere.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything on the subject, but I assume it’d be pretty easy for Chinese characters to be “found” in natural lines. Especially the simpler ones like “human”, “mountain”, “sun”, etc. I wonder if that sort of “discovery” is common in China and Japan.

  7. Then there’s the Kensington Runestone, a runic inscription that somehow happened to be discovered in the most densely Scandinavian area of the US.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kensington_Runestone

  8. marie-lucie says:

    I assume it’d be pretty easy for Chinese characters to be “found” in natural lines
    This occurred to me too, and like you I haven’t ever run into anything about it. One difference between Christian-Muslim and East Asian religions/cultures is that the former consider God (and people too to some extant) as separate from nature, so finding signs of God or religious figures in nature is something unusual although it may be hoped for by many humans. East Asian religions on the other hand are more likely to find the sacred within nature, and people would probably not be so surprised to discover such signs. See for instance the legend of the Korean alphabet first written on some leaves, without obvious agency, as opposed to the Ten Commandments carved on stone tablets given to Moses directly by God.

  9. Jeffry House says:

    Mormonism is based upon the “finding” of buried golden plates which were transcribed into English by Joseph Smith, who then “gave them to an angel” so no one can check on the translation….

  10. marie-lucie says:

    In the study of mythology (eg by Lévi-Strauss and others) there is a recognized phenomenon called inversion: we find the same general motifs between one people and another, but with some discrepancies which are also correspondences, as if the people adopted a myth but changed some of the details into their opposites, probably in order to differentiate themselves from their neighbours: land vs sea, flatland vs mountain, sky above vs underground below, etc. Similarly Mormonism inverts some of the motifs of the Judeo-Christian tradition: stone tablets from the sky/gold plates in the earth, given by God/discovered by man, etc.

  11. Heh! When the Chinese did find writing on old bones, they didn’t know what it was; they thought they were Dragon Bones!

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, I understand that the discoverers were illiterate, or at least unable to read the ancient script. It took quite a while before a person able to read or at least recognize this script identified it on the bones.
    Some years ago, after I had learned about the existence of the divinatory practice in ancient China, I saw a TV program about the Inuit and was amazed to see an elder holding a scapula to a flame and moving it around, for the purpose of divination! This must have been the most ancient practice in China too, before the spread of writing.

  13. “the oval scar left on the trunk looks a little like a human face shape, in which other vaguely human features may develop as the scar heals. Nobody notices the “miraculous face” until one person does, and then more and more people “see” it.”
    Just yesterday, on Mason Neck (near DC), I was hiking with my dog in a wooded area where a sign invited me to see a human face (though not necessarily the Virgin Mary) in two scarred trees, which I barely managed to make out with a generous dose of imagination.

  14. dearieme says:

    I had a friend once who liked his soft-boiled egg a little overdone. It was his habit to slice the top off, stare at the yolk in fake fascination, and then declare “It is the Virgin Mary. Again.”

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Bill W, of course “who” you see depends on your (sub)culture as well as your visual imagination. Only “identified” faces, usually religious ones, make it into the popular press.
    When I was younger I could often see faces at the cut end of tree trunks (while walking in a forest where logging operations had been going on). At one time I decided to photograph them. Once the pictures were developed, they showed the cut ends of tree trunks, none of them looked like faces. I think that the “faces” needed the slight relief seen in the actual wood, and the photographs being flat did not show this relief.

  16. befuggled says:

    The Kensington Runestone is an entirely different issue, though. It has a clear, easily readable text written in one of the runic alphabets. Sure, it’s a fake, but there’s no ambiguity about it being a text.

  17. Phillip says:

    I saw the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast once, it was kind of cool.

  18. I’d almost completely forgotten about this. How embarrassing that it didn’t come to mind when you posted about the Bear Island story.
    I hate that I forget so much.

  19. I see the topic turned to the Blessed Virgin in the interim.
    The phenomenon is called pareidolia, and the best example is appearing in Bad Astronomer Phil Plait’s shower curtain.

  20. Heh. Not only did I write about pareidolia back in 2004, I actually linked to the shower-curtain Lenin!

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Who wants cool toast?

  22. dearieme says:

    Ahoy, Hat. The distinguished scholar John Chadwick on p54 of his The Decipherment of Linear B: “… once spelt 38-03-31-06-37, and once …”.
    (The two-digit numbers stand for the syllabic signs in Linear B.)
    See: “spelt”! Neither Cambridge University Press nor Penguin Books seems to have objected.

  23. Why would they? They’re UK institutions and it’s a UK spelling.

  24. Who wants cool toast?
    The English, evidently, judging by their invention of the toast rack, a device evidently meant to cool toast as fast and efficiently as possible.

  25. I’ll show myself out …

  26. Adelfons says:

    I thought I saw Jesus in my toast once, but it was David Gates. (Release the bread puns!)

  27. dearieme says:

    The toast rack isn’t for cooling toast it’s so that it’s kepped crisp.

  28. I know that, Dearieme; I just enjoy repeating Aunchient Slanderes from time to time. “How many cigars can a Scotsman smoke at once?” Etc.

  29. All right, I’m going to have to know the answer to the Scotsman riddle.

  30. “Any given number.” Which apparently refers to the supposed excessive thrift of the Scots: they would make new cigars out of the shreds of old ones, a process that could continue indefinitely until in principle there might be bits of hundreds of original cigars in a third- or fourth-level “remanufactured” one. This slander is also applied to Southern Italians and perhaps other groups who are in general poorer than their neighbors.
    And don’t think I didn’t notice that over-regularized preterite there.

  31. marie-lucie says:

    The everlasting Scottish cigar reminds me of the legendary everlasting Parisian soup: the pot was never completely empty, and new ingredients were just added to it every day.

  32. Indeed, m-l. But the pot is merely additive, whereas the cigar is multiplicative: 1000 original cigars make 100 second-level cigars (assuming 10 butts = 1 cigar), which make 10 third-level cigars, which make 1 fourth-level cigar: when smoking that 1,111th cigar, our Scotsman is in principle smoking the original 1000 cigars simultaneously. You can’t do that with a pot.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    Scotland: 999, Paris: 1

  34. Well, multiplicative versus additive may be a little misleading. It’s true that you wouldn’t save up the last bits of ten soups to suddenly put them all together some day and make a new soup–it’s a more gradual process–yesterday’s soup gets a bit more added to it to make today’s soup, and so on. Still, on the 1111th day you can be said in some sense to be eating a vast number of the soups of yesteryear.

  35. A fresh paper in Harpers discusses reemergence of the rovás Hungarian runes, but I also couldn’t figure out if these runes ever existed for real ….
    https://harpers.org/archive/2019/08/the-call-of-the-drums-hungarian-far-right/

    It also mentions contemporary songs in Cuman language :O

  36. resolved

  37. David Marjanović says:

    Of course they existed. They just weren’t as close a match to the modern Hungarian sound system as what today’s ultra-ultra-nationalists are peddling.

    Via the Turkic runes, they’re descended from Sogdian.

  38. David Marjanović says:

    …and they weren’t used much, or for long, outside of Transylvania.

    The article doesn’t mention that Pozsony is Bratislava, and mentions the idea of “a socialist plot to make Hungarians feel like a guilty people” – that’s exactly what German-speaking neo-Nazis have been saying s/Hungarians/Germans ever since 1945.

  39. John Cowan says:

    It’s been said that almost all the Ogham inscriptions that have ever existed were notes passed in schools by children trying to keep them secret (as if!).

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Argh, I failed to mention that the similarity of Hun and Hungarian isn’t coincidental as the article claims. Medieval chroniclers who interpreted the Magyars (and the Avars) as Huns put the H in. It is lacking closer to Hungary (Ungar, węgier…). The name is etymologized as West ( = Ogur) Turkic on ogur, “ten Ogur [tribes who rode along with the Magyars]”.

  41. Lars (the original one) says:

    Define closer — French has Hongrie, Finnish has Unkari. (But you could argue that the H doesn’t count when not pronounced). Maybe German vs French influence was important here, though WP intimates that the H first appeared in Medieval Latin.

  42. Stu Clayton says:

    With today’s universal education and dyslexia in the West, inconsistent spelling is rife. Is it being assumed that this was not the case in ancient times ? Maybe H or its absence in this word doesn’t count for much, pronounced or not. How many gossamer strands are required for a “reconstruction” ?

    Other necessary ingredients seem to be a willing suspension of disbelief, and a determination to be a team player. Unfortunately I lack those qualifications in this area, indeed even in those areas I am most interested in – philosophy, sociology. I suppose that’s why I work in IT, so as not to have to join any mainstreams and feign to be an acolyte of the truth.

  43. Lars (the original one) says:

    I think the difference in this case is very traditionally founded, by which I mean that Hongrie and Unkari are the official spellings of the name of that country in France and Finland, and not likely to be changed according to the whims of individuals. Maybe some people in France spell it Ongrie, I would not be surprised, but the Finns do know what an haitch is and won’t put one in gratuitously.

    Now, how the official names came to be official may well depend on some individual medieval authors’ choices in German and French, and maybe on their knowledge of Greek or Old Bulgarian as opposed to Latin, but my point was really that the current distribution of H does not correlate well with distance from the country itself.

  44. Stu Clayton says:

    The *current* distribution of H ! Somehow I missed that qualification. Maybe it is implicit when one knows how the game is played, as I do not. This seemed to be all about genealogy.

    If over time the fluctuating presence or absence of H “depended on some individual medieval author’s choices” in various countries, and on their knowledge of Greek etc, then it’s not surprising that the current distribution of H does not now correlate well with distance in space and time from those authors, and their countries. On those premises, you wouldn’t expect the current distribution to correlate much with anything. Have I misunderstood your point ?

  45. David Marjanović says:

    Maybe German vs French influence was important here, though WP intimates that the H first appeared in Medieval Latin.

    Uh, yes, all of that. French got it from written Latin, German didn’t. Finnish probably got it from German through Swedish.

  46. Lars (the original one) says:

    Somehow I missed that qualification — that’s because it wasn’t there originally, not explicitly at least. David’s original comment seemed (to me) to be about the present day situation, so that’s what I opined about. In the next comment I was trying to express agreement with your point that it was probably more random in the era before standardized spelling. I think we agree, actually.

    (I don’t even know how early anybody might have had occasion to write about Hungary in Finnish — seeing that the language of administration and scholarship was Swedish at least until sometime in the 19th. But substitute Swedish to get around that).

  47. John Cowan says:

    The Mandarin for ‘Hungary’ is 匈牙利 Xiōngyálì. The second two characters are pure phonograms: their meanings are ‘tooth’ and ‘benefit; sharp’, which are obviously irrelevant. But 匈 is the same as in 匈奴 Xiōngnú, the western people who may or may not have been the Huns.

    As for the H, Mediaeval Latin had both forms, and the modern distribution is patchy (per Wikt):

    Written and (normatively) pronounced: Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Armenian, Basque, Bengali, Breton, Burmese, Cantonese, Cherokee, Chuvash (secondary), Dhivehi, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Hausa, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Ido, Indonesian, Interlingua de IALA, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Malay, Navajo, Sinhalese, Sorbian, Tahitian, Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Welsh, Yoruba.

    Written but not pronounced: Asturian, French, Galician, Normand, Portuguese, Spanish.

    Not written: Bulgarian, Catalan, Czech (before 1918), Danish, Estonian, Faroese (but historic form Húnaland), Finnish, Georgian, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Livonian, Luxembourgish, Macedonian, Maltese, Manx, Mongolian, Northern Sami, Norwegian, Occitan, Old Church Slavonic, Pontic Greek, Romanian, Scottish Gaelic, Sicilian, Slovak (before 1918), Slovene (before 1918), Swedish, Tagalog, Tamil, Ukrainian, Yiddish, Zhuang. (Note that the Celtic languages are surrounded by English with /h/, and have /h/ in their sound-systems, but this word is /h/-free.)

    Forms based on Magyar-: Abkhaz, Azerbaijani, Crimean Tatar, Czech, Hindi, Hungarian, Karachay-Balkar, Kazakh, Korean (secondary), Mongolian (secondary), Pashto, Persian, Rusyn, Serbo-Croatian, Silesian, Slovak, Slovene, Tajik, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, Volapük, Yakut, Zazaki.

    Forms beginning with /ven/: Bashkir, Belarusian (plus secondary form < Ukrainian but with prefixed /v/), Chuvash, Gagauz, Karakalpak, Kyrgyz, Latgalian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Tatar, Turkmen, Udmurt, Uyghur. (These seem to have started from Polish Węgry, of which I don’t know the exact etymology, and then spread.)

  48. Of course they existed. They just weren’t as close a match to the modern Hungarian sound system as what today’s ultra-ultra-nationalists are peddling

    I guess I didn’t word my question quite right. What I wondered about was the runes’ existence in the early centuries of the Hungarian conquest. As I understand, the runic inscriptions are typically documented in a much later era, from XVI c. on, and typically in a specific ethno-geographic context (in the lands of the warlike Szekely who prided themselves on being the descendants of Attila’s troops, and residents of their Carpathian mountain redoubts since way before the Magyars). Of course there is no substantial evidence that the Szekely were ever anything other than a group of Hungarians (they do have fractionally larger amounts of Central Asian DNA, but it’s equally possible that all Medieval Hungarians had a higher fraction of it too, only it later got diluted by wars and migrations on the Pannonian plain).

    But in the violent world of the Transylvanian frontier, a strong claim of some legendary fearsome ancestry was almost as good as the actual ancestry itself. Perhaps the ancestors of the Szekely adopted the script from some older Turkic group then surviving in the mountain refugia of the Carpathians, as a part of the “Attila the Hun claim”? There were / are researchers in Hungary claiming that the Szekely descended, if not from the Huns, then from the Avars / Bulgars / Kabirs, and that their runes were originally of Avar origin, or generally derived from a a runic script predating the Hungarian conquest in the Carpathians (Kárpát-medencei rovásírás). I just wonder if there are phonetic / epigraphic / vocabular reasons to believe any of these explanations.

  49. SFReader says:

    Mongolian has two words for Hungary – native Majar (dating back to 13th century) and more recent Ungar (borrowing from German). In 1930s, also Russian-Polish ‘vengr’ was used, but it is now obsolete.

  50. These seem to have started from Polish Węgry, of which I don’t know the exact etymology

    There is an “n-less” Belarussian spelling, Вугоршчына ( Wugorschina ~~ the land of Wugry), forming a close continuum with Ukrainian Угорщина ~~ Ugorschina and Old Slavic Ugry (singular Ugr)

    We discussed the early use in the Russian chronicles in this thread about the Avars etc. ( http://languagehat.com/they-perished-like-avars/ )
    Basically they use Ugr / pl. Ugry interchangeable for contemporary Hungarians and for the historic Turkoi of the Byzantine Greek sources. No doubt it’s from Ogur.

    The initial W in Polish and Belarussian must be just a prothetic addition, common in many other vowel-initial Slavic words (“Вумный как вутка” was a classic teasing-phrase of my childhood, and Google indicates that the full version was “Вумный, как вутка, только вотруби не ест”)

  51. anhweol says:

    Don’t Polish Węgry and Czech Uhry (and similar) both come from older Slavic Ѫгри (Ǫgri) by regular sound change? (Ǫgri is from Wiktionary which doesn’t quote a source but seems consistent with other early forms such as Οὔγγροι and Ungri).

  52. PlasticPaddy says:

    If the Huns were small, why German Hüne? Or did the Huns have giant shock troops, a sort of the Prussian lange Kerle?

  53. Dmitry Pruss says:

    a runic script predating the Hungarian conquest in the Carpathians (Kárpát-medencei rovásírás)
    This apparently relies largely on a hoard with fragmentary inscriptions in Greek letters and runes, dating back to the Avar times and found in Nagyszentmiklós, some distance from the base of the Carpathians where the foothills give way to the Steppe expanse of the Puszta, once the invading nomad’s favorite slice of the Pannonian Plain.

    One relatively long undeciphered Greek text is often understood as marking the gold vessel as a possession of a certain zhupan which is then equated with the latter-eras Slavic feudal title.

    Anyway the connection between the Avar-era epigraphics and the Szekeli runes is mostly due to the alternative decipherings of Gábor Vékony, who saw Hungarian in these fragmentary texts (also including an Avar-era bone inscription from Szarva), despite a common idea that the ancestors of the Hungarians weren’t yet anywhere close to Pannonia then.

  54. Written but not pronounced
    In standard French and Spanish at least, h is pronounced as a glottal stop (and, btw, increasingly so in Hebrew). I don’t know if any Romance languages consistently pronounce initial <ha> as [a] rather than [ʔa], and whether any [h]-less languages distinguish <a> from <ha>. Perhaps Etienne could elaborate on that.

  55. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: About your list: it needs to be nuanced a little. First, “Magyar” is an accepted form in French today. Second, while French lacks a /h/ phoneme today, it once did have such a phoneme (still present in some non-standard varieties) which was spelled with the letter H; the same letter, however, was often used even when no /h/ phoneme was present (often for etymological reasons). There still exists today a distinction between what is called “h aspiré” and “h muet”: the former blocks contraction, and the latter does not: hence French “Le homard” (h aspiré) versus “L’homme” (h muet): the former word once had an initial /h/ phoneme, the latter never did (In French, that is!).

    Now, “Hongrois” and related words in French all have aspirate H: “La Hongrie, le hongrois, la hongroise”. So that I think French could arguably be placed among those languages where the H of the ethnonym is written and (in a way) pronounced.

    Y: I have never heard of a Romance variety where H stands for a glottal stop! Some varieties of French today do have a glottal stop present phonetically before what would otherwise be an initial vowel, but this is not represented by a H in writing.

    As for Spanish written H, it is no more pronounced today than French H is, but a few centuries ago H was realized as /h/, later /x/, when it derived, etymologically, from Latin /f/: as in the case of French written H was often present even when no /h/ or /x/ phoneme was present, again chiefly for reasons of etymology. Thus, Spanish “hombre” was always vowel-initial (again, in the history of Spanish: the Latin phoneme /h/, present in “homo, “hominem” -the latter being the etymon of the Spanish and French words “hombre” and “homme”, respectively- had been lost in Late Latin), but “hoja” (Latin *FOLIA, a plural form of FOLIUM which in Late Latin was re-analyzed as a feminine singular instead of a neuter plural), which is today pronounced /oxa/, was once pronounced /xoxa/, as it indeed still is in some varieties of Spanish.

  56. Bathrobe says:

    A discussion of the Tree of Kumbum (a temple I regrettably was unable to visit this year) can be found here.

    The tree of Kumbum with leaves miraculously manifesting divine images — or Tibetan or Sanskrit or Senzar letters according to some — has a long history of discussion outside Tibet. My point today is not to rehash all those discussions, although if you are short for time, you can just look at the Huc & Gabet, the Mdm. Blavatsky and the Van Manen testimonies, these being the most influential voices among them.

    I might be disclosing my Tibeto-centric biases in saying so, but I think the Tibetan evidence* carries more weight of meaning than all the rest, although I leave it up to you where exactly to weight the meaning, as I always do. It’s hardly ever my aim to rule my readers here in Tibeto-logic, to confine them to thinking a certain way. Not that the evidence speaks for itself — you need to prepare yourself to hear it rightly — but I assume you’re ready. I assume you know that sacred images and letters often manifest themselves spontaneously on the Tibetan plateau, and not just on trees, but indeed primarily on rocks and bones.** As you will see if you take the time to read through today’s blog offering, the missionaries are eager in the extreme to supply naturalistic explanations for a miraculous phenomenon. How richly ironic, as if miracles never happened to Christians, as if their miracles too couldn’t send us searching for the rationalizations rationality can (sometimes all too readily) supply. Even in our day everyone looks for health in their own ways. Everyone hopes for a miracle.

    (*This Tibetan evidence comes in the form of a devotional guidebook for pilgrims to Kumbum, the one we will transcribe presently, that has unfortunately never been taken into consideration in those just-mentioned discussions.) (**When they appear on water and sky, I suppose we would just call them visions.)

    Further discussion of the miraculous tree follows.

  57. Bathrobe says:

    Further description at Kumbum Monastery. (I haven’t put the two citations together as two links in one post would be stretching it).

    Origins: The Tree of Great Merit

    Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was born nearby in 1357. According to one tradition, Tsongkhapa’s father took the afterbirth and buried it here, and soon a sandalwood Tree grew on the spot. Another version has it that the Tree grew up where drops of blood from Tsongkhapa’s umbilical cord had fallen on the ground. In any case this Tree became known as the “Tree of Great Merit.” The leaves and the bark of this Tree were reputed to bear impressions of The Buddha’s face and various mystic syllables and its blossoms were said to give off a peculiarly pleasing scent.

    The four-storied golden-roofed temple built around the Tree where Tsongkhapa is said to have been born is called Serdong or ‘Golden Tree’ and is considered the holiest place in Kumbum.

    “On the porch of the Golden Temple, pilgrims prostrate themselves one hundred Times and the boards are worn into grooves where their feet and hands touch. . . . We were taken into one great temple capable of seating twenty-five hundred priests. The great pillars were covered with brilliantly woven rugs, skins of Animals, and the bright “pulo” cloth of the Tibetans. It was a mass of brilliant, garish colors and to my Mind would have been wonderful in a more subdued Light.”

    Two Catholic missionaries, Évariste Régis Huc and Joseph Gabet who arrived here in the 1840s when the Tree was still living were fully prepared to dismiss “The Tree of Great Merit” as just another fanciful legend. “We were filled with an absolute consternation of astonishment,” Huc noted in his famous book Travels in Tartary, “at finding that, in point of fact, there were upon each of the leaves well-formed Tibetan characters . . . Our first impression was a suspicion of fraud on the part of the lamas; but after a minute examination of every detail, we could not discover the least deception.” Section of this Tree are now preserved in a Stupa in the Great Golden Temple .”

  58. John Cowan says:

    Don’t Polish Węgry and Czech Uhry (and similar) both come from older Slavic Ѫгри (Ǫgri) by regular sound change?

    Well, semi-regular. In Polish the Old Slavic nasal vowels merged and then split again, not necessarily along the ancient divisions; in all other Slavic languages they had very various outcomes, none of them nasal except in Kashubian. So /ven/ in the other languages shows a borrowing, directly or indirectly, from Polish.

    If the Huns were small, why German Hüne?

    People running in panic tend to see (and especially to report) their adversaries as huge monsters, hence ogres.

    Hüne, by the way, is a Low German borrowing: native Heune ‘Hungarian’ was displaced in early modern times.

    “Magyar” is an accepted form in French today

    It’s certainly not unknown in English either, especially in contexts that distinguish ethnicity from citizenship.

    Bathrobe: We can do up to five links now.

  59. We can do up to five links now.

    And the number of comments going into moderation has drastically diminished, even when they don’t have what would have been a link problem; I have no idea why, but I’m thrilled.

  60. Etienne, when I hear (Latin American) Spanish, I consistently hear a glottal stop, so much so that I am making a conscious effort to correct my own pronunciation, to pronounce e.g. hacer as [ʔaser] and not [aser]. It is of course a matter of degree, but I unmistakably hear a closure.

    Are there acoustic surveys addressing this question that you know of?

  61. David Marjanović says:

    and that their runes were originally of Avar origin, or generally derived from a a runic script predating the Hungarian conquest in the Carpathians (Kárpát-medencei rovásírás).

    Ah, I had no idea.

    In Polish the Old Slavic nasal vowels merged and then split again, not necessarily along the ancient divisions

    The split was conditioned by tone, it says on Wikipedia somewhere.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    (Latin American) Spanish

    Interesting. I haven’t noticed that in European or Chilean Spanish. Glottal stops are also wholly absent from the restricted variety of French I’ve encountered, except after a pause, and even there they’re optional.

  63. I mostly have been exposed to Chilean Spanish, plus a bit of Mexican, Salvadoran and Argentine. FWIW.

    Even this detailed study of Chilean Spanish doesn’t include [ʔ]. Mysterious.

  64. Chilean Spanish is weird. I don’t remember hearing glottal stops in the Spanish I’m familiar with (mostly Argentine and various NYC varieties).

  65. Rodger C says:

    (Note that the Celtic languages are surrounded by English with /h/, and have /h/ in their sound-systems, but this word is /h/-free.)

    /h/ doesn’t occur initially in base forms in Irish or Gaelic, only in grammatical alternation with zero.

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