I’m still reading Nicholas Ostler’s The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel (previously), and I thought I’d pass on his discussion of various names for Persian-speakers (pp. 134-35):

In Central Asia, from the eighth century, Persian-speaking “Tajiks” began to supplant Sogdians as the dominant merchant community, bringing their language too right across the continent. One or two references note merchants from the west turning up in the Far East in the eighth century, but the steps of their general commercial progress are not documented. The merchants would have been reinforced in the eighth century by a large number of émigré Persians looking for new homes and livelihoods beyond the reach of the Muslims. Still, the variety of names that they were called tells a story of its own.

First, the word Tajik itself, originally a Sogdian term for an incoming Muslim, began to add overtones. For example, in the Sanskrit classic Somadeva’s Ocean of the Streams of Story (written 1063–81) a party of innocent Indian travelers to “the north” is waylaid and then traded as chattels by Tājika merchants. The word spread by association to their characteristic stock-in-trade, coming also to designate an excellent breed of horse. With mercantile literacy came a patina of culture: Tājaka was also applied to astronomical treatises translated from Arabic or Persian. So much for the Indian reputation; for the Turks, Persian literacy in itself was endlessly impressive. Their first recorded use of the word is in Mahmud al-Kashgari‘s Compendium of the Language of the Turks in 1072.

Tejikler bitigde bitimiş munı | Bitigde yok erse kim okkay anı?

The Tajiks in a book set down this. In a book if it were not, who would have mentioned it?

The Chinese came to refer to the whole Arab empire—which naturally impinged on them from its eastern end—as ta dʑeĭək, writing it, perhaps in the light of experience, as 大食 ‘great food’, though a thousand years later the word is now pronounced more like dàshí. [See this LH discussion of the latter term from 2006.]

The Turks were responsible for two other words for Tajiks used widely across Asia: Sart and Tat. Each grew out of reference to a contingent fact about Persian speakers into a general quasi-racial term.

The ultimate origin of Sart is doubtful: it seems to be either a dialectal pronunciation of Soǧd or a shortening of the Sanskrit sārthavāha or Sogdian sārtpāw ‘caravaneer’. Either way, it could be a nice irony, the Persians being identified with the Sogdian caravan merchants that they were replacing, and quite comparable with the origin of Tajik itself—an Arab from the Tayy tribe, which was best known to the Persians. Sart‘s first recorded use is in the Turkic text the Qutadǧu Bilig (1070), where it already refers not to merchants but to settled populations (specifically, locally in Kashgar), whom the Turks of that age might have expected to be Persian speakers, in contrast with the free-ranging Turks. By the fifteenth century, when Mīr ‘Ali Shēr Nawā’ was robustly comparing the value of Persian and Turkish as literary languages, he happily used Sart as a strict synonym for ‘Persian’, so he could speak explicitly of Sart tili ‘the Sart language’.

As for Tat, it always seems to have been a convenient term for Turks to refer to many significant peoples that were not Turks (much in the same way as the Wall root has been used round Europe for non-Germans, Welsh, Walloon, and Wallachian). Tat was known to have been used at different times to designate Crimean Goths, Greeks, and sedentary peoples generally, but its primary reference came to be the Persians within the Turkish domains. Hence unlike Tajik and Sart it had nothing to do with any reputation of Persians as merchants. (Tat is nowadays specialized to refer to special groups with Iranian languages in the west of the Caspian Sea.)

A nice tidbit from a footnote on page 129: to illustrate “coiner’s conservatism” (“when the idea of coined money is introduced for the first time, it often continues to use quite slavishly the model of its foreign source”), Ostler points out that a mancus struck by King Offa of Mercia in the late eighth century “combines the central legend OFFA REX with the Islamic šahāda ‘There is no God but Allah…’, in Arabic, round the rim, and an Arabic inscription on the reverse. It is all copied off a 774 dinar of Manṣūr in the contemporary Abbasid Caliphate.” Here‘s an image of the mancus in question.

Addendum (Oct. 2015). I regret to report that, according to Philip Shishkin, sart is now apparently “a derogatory term the Kyrgyz use for Uzbeks, the local n-word.”


  1. The relationship between Tajik, merchant and Islam caused me to wonder if the name might have had an origin in Arabic ‘taajir’ (merchant).
    But, I would have difficulty explaining the /r/ > /k/ except very circuitously.

  2. The definition of *wal- is perfectly unitary: “a person of Romance or Brythonic speech [as seen from outside].” It began in Germanic and then spread to Slavic as well.

  3. An earlier reference that is not exactly “Tajik” but close is Naser-i Khosraw’s Safarnama, in which the author refers to Arabic as “zaban-i tazi.” That was written sometime between 1052 and 1088.

  4. Also, I’d never heard the horse-breed thing, but it just occurred to me that taz- is the present stem of takhtan, meaning gallop in Persian.

  5. On the analogy of “Tajik horses” (a breed) and “Arabian horses” (a breed), 16th century Muscovy had “Nogai horses” — though it is not clear if they specified this as a breed or as the horses place of origin. That is, if you had bought a horse that had been brought in by the Nogai from the steppe and sold at the annual horse market, and mated it with another “Nogai horse,” is the resulting foal (born in a barn in Moscow province, say) still a “Nogai” horse? Ditto question for “Tajik horses” and, I presume, “Indian ponies” in the US West.

  6. @LH and John Cowan:
    I don’t get the non-Germanic meanings or relationship to Welsh and Walloon for PIE wal-.
    The “American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots” gives a general meaning ‘to be strong.’ From it we get words like valient, valid, value, etc. and names like Ronald and Vladimir.
    I must be missing something.

  7. Hat — Is Nicholas Ostler one of your readers?

  8. Yes, since you ask. What can I do for you?

  9. Heh. You could always say “You know nothing of my work.”

  10. marie-lucie says

    *wal: Not all Germanic words have PIE antecedents, in fact quite a number of their roots are not from PIE. This root could be from another language and be coincidentally homophonous with the PIE root.
    Usually, peoples call themselves ‘strong, valiant, etc’ and have derogatory or at least not complimentary names for their neighbours. Since the words Welsch, etc applied to a variety of non-Germanic peoples spread over a wide area, it would be strange if Germanic speakers had called all of them by derivatives of the root meaning ‘strong’.

  11. marie-lucie says

    According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the Germanic words come from a Celtic (therefore PIE) root, but that root is not *wal. See the OnEtym (or whatever their name is – I forget).

  12. Tejikler bitigde bitimiş munı | Bitigde yok erse kim okkay anı?
    The Tajiks in a book set down this. In a book if it were not, who would have mentioned it?
    Today, book in Turkish is kitap, from the Arabic kitab (Semitic root k-t-b). Interesting that in the eleventh century the Turks had not yet adopted this term.

  13. I assume Mongolian бичиг bichig ‘writing’ is from bitig?

  14. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly which conventions does etymonline use for Proto-Germanic and PIE reconstructions; I keep wondering about the laryngals.
    In any case, as for the Volcae, Wikipedia cites Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise for the full etymology of Gaulish *uolco-, which is his proposed etymon. Cognates would include Welsh gwalch ‘hawk’ and, to my surprise, Latin falco. I was under the impression that the latter was a Germanic borrowing.

  15. I remember reading the suggestion that “wal” meant Romanised Foreigner, which fits well with Welsh, Walloon, and Wallachian, and fits well with “wal” not being applied to, for instance, Gaels and Picts.

  16. Today, book in Turkish is kitap, from the Arabic kitab …. Interesting that in the eleventh century the Turks had not yet adopted this term.
    The Drevnetyurkskii slovar’ [Old Turkic Dictionary] has two citations for kitab, both from the fifteenth century.

  17. I should have written *walx- rather than *wal-; there is of course no connection with PIE *wal-. Poking around the OED, I was stunned to find /vlæk/ as the only pronunciation given for Vlach; I had always treated it as a foreign word pronounced /vlɑk/~/vlɑx/. Is this just an AmE-BrE difference?

  18. I assume Mongolian бичиг bichig ‘writing’ is from bitig?
    excuse me, how do you decide it’s from this or other source, can’t it be they borrowed bitig from our bichig
    if to allow here and there one or two ‘concessions’ soon everything ours will be claimed either Turkic or Chinese

  19. Because it is very common for t to become ch before a front vowel, and extremely unlikely for the reverse to happen.

  20. i am not convinced, just because
    it claims that our word is from turkic, if the rule said the reverse, i’d be indifferent insofar nobody wants what is ours
    and who makes these rules; well, linguistics have that, scientifically proven rules perhaps
    just it seems that everything could be so biased in it, where the mightier rules
    and scientific or folk etymologies, both seem the same to me
    just b/c someone published saying so it’s impossible to believe them/to know for sure that it’s really what it is or how it had happened

  21. mightier/more eloquent/shoutier

  22. scientific or folk etymologies, both seem the same to me
    read, such an opinion is “folk” science, to match the “folk” etymology. It is a gut feeling. But a scientific approach tries to get beyond gut feelings. It attempts to take as much as possible into account, in a systematic way, to get a coherent whole.
    There is no guarantee that a given scientific explanation is necessarily “right”, or will never be abandoned for a different explanation. But this process of change involves many scientists trying to align their opinions and explanations with each other – though not always succeeding, of course.
    Folk etymologies are just opinions that people hold for whatever reasons, and that they do not attempt to fit together into a systematic whole. If they did try to fit them together systematically, they would be on the road to reinventing a part of historical linguistics.
    It’s difficult to accept that one’s intuitive opinions can appear silly and worthless when they are exposed to public debate. You can read about it in my autobiography when it’s published.

  23. There are a lot of words that are similar between Mongolian and Turkic. I’m not in the least knowledgeable about the subject, but I understand that there has been a lot of borrowing from Turkic into Mongolian — although there is also borrowing the other way. But if I understand rightly, the oldest Turkic sources tend to be older than the oldest Mongolian ones. I don’t know if there is any sense in taking pride in being older, although I have noticed on BBSs that some Turkic speakers appear to take a similar pride in being ‘older’ or ‘more authentic’ to that shown by many Chinese. But ‘old’ is a very relative thing. Compared with the entire period of human existence on this planet, even the oldest and most venerable civilisations are ‘new kids on the block’.

  24. i don’t know how bitig is constructed but bichig comes from bich, bich-bichikh-bichig (write-to write – writing [or something written, a paper, scroll])
    if bitig is the whole word itself w/o its yazguur – root word, i am not convinced even more
    and we come from Khunnu – khun+nu – human+move, so it’s wrong to start our history from the Mongol Empire, that’s the last Empire built by our ancestors, but not the only one
    when i read about supposedly turkic origin words in Russian, for example, the explanations are always so very contorted and far fetched
    when ours are always the root words, the simplest and containing the direct meaning of the thing it means to denote

  25. I thought you were boycotting LH.

  26. although there is also borrowing the other way
    which is never acknowledged, as far as i could find, so i think how biased it must be
    i can continue if i am unwelcome to argue, just i miss N, N and others

  27. @John Cowan:
    Where did you find the *walx- PIE root? I looked and was unable to find it in my source (American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots).
    Also, what was the PIE meaning of the root?
    In any event, given the ‘wal’ link to the Latin volcae, *walx- would be a good candidate.

  28. marie-lucie says

    GW: PIE *walx can’t be right. There is no x in PIE, and even if there was, it would be an extension of the root *wal.
    The American Heritage Dictionary only lists PIE roots which occur in English words (whether ultimately from Germanic, Latin or Greek), so roots which are not in English words (including borrowings) are not listed. The same is true for the Online Etymological Dictionary where *wal is found.

  29. @Marie-Lucie: Good point about the non-existence of /x/ in the PIE inventory.
    Yes, you are right about the AHD. However, I think it would be rather unusual for there to be a PIE root surviving only in English. As you know, the entries give cognates in other languages (but focused on English).
    FWIW, based on the Latin volcae origin, it occurred to me that the PIE root might be *pela- from which we get ‘folk.’ But, this is just speculation.

  30. *walx is a Proto-Germanic root of unknown origin, not a PIE root.

  31. marie-lucie says

    JC, Did I miss your comment on it this PG root? then is the x the velar fricative?

  32. David Marjanović says

    can’t it be they borrowed bitig from our bichig

    Then they wouldn’t have changed the consonant, because they have a ch.
    In contrast, when di or ti enter Mongolian, they become ji or chi. This is well known.

    if to allow here and there one or two ‘concessions’ soon everything ours will be claimed either Turkic or Chinese

    The argument from consequences is a logical fallacy.
    But, no. While Mongolian does contain lots and lots of ancient Turkic loanwords, it is not itself a Turkic language.
    And yes, there’s plenty of borrowing from Mongolic into Turkic, though most of it happened from Genghis Khan’s time onward.

    and we come from Khunnu – khun+nu – human+move

    Hang on a second.
    In Genghis Khan’s time, there was no kh in Mongolian, it was [q].
    That would have arrived in the West as k, not as h. Yet, they’re Huns, not Cuns.
    It also doesn’t let you get to Chinese Xiongnu. I’d expect something with k or q, or at least g or j, but not with x.
    See, this is a way to identify folk etymologies.
    Sergey Starostin wrote a paper on Chinese reports about the Xiongnu in which he concluded they spoke a Yeniseian language, not a Mongolic one.
    In the West, practically nothing is documented about the language of the Huns. But can you make sense of the name Bleda (Attila’s brother… Attila being a Gothic nickname)?

    which is never acknowledged, as far as i could find

    That’s because you don’t read the scientific literature!

    However, I think it would be rather unusual for there to be a PIE root surviving only in English.

    It’s all over the rest of Germanic, too.

    FWIW, based on the Latin volcae origin, it occurred to me that the PIE root might be *pela- from which we get ‘folk.’

    How do you get from PIE [p] to Latin [w]?

    then is the x the velar fricative?

    I suppose so. Grimm’s Law: [p t k] turned into [f θ x], and then [x] turned into [h] in front of vowels and at the beginnings of words (which happens pretty often, globally speaking).

  33. @David Marjanović:
    You ask, “How do you get from PIE [p] to Latin [w]?”
    [p] > [f] > [v] > [w]
    I said if it was speculative. But, [p]> [v] is documented in *ped > vamp, *per > veer, *pela- > veldt, etc. And there are many [v] > [w] migrations.

  34. how do you know there was no h at that time?
    sure, khun is pronounced(hun)and written as khumuun in uigurjin, not gun which is an entirely different word, meaning depth or a count(comte), just b/c uigurjin transliterates g and h similarly it wouldn’t perhaps mean that the native speakers don’t or can’t pronounce them and how one can believe just the written sources from that time,it could be interpreted this or other way, the same goes perhaps for all the similarly written letters
    and what Chinese Xiongnu are you talking about, their transliteration of the name is better to say, otherwise even Khunnu could be claimed theirs, see what they do with Tibet, and their transliteration is not the final instance, imho, how one would expect the word correctly be transcribed in the kanjis, surely all the phonetics would be somehow distorted
    well, yes, i have no idea of the scientific papers on the matter, but scholars themselves are just individuals who could err or be biased

  35. For what it’s worth, Clauson’s “Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish” (p. 299) cites ‘biti-‘ as “to write; to write (something w. acc.)” as an unrecorded loanword from Chinese “pi” (writing brush) (Giles 8,979; Pulleyblank’s Middle Chinese ‘piit’); it became an early loanword in Mongol as ‘bichi-‘ which was in turn reborrowed into some Northeastern Turkic languages. In Turkic, it survives only in Southeastern Turkic (i.e., Uyghur).
    There follow numerous examples from various old Turkic texts.

  36. well, in the end everything becomes that, Chinese invention, we know that so very well
    if it’s unrecorded, isn’t it better to treat that as such, another culturally biased speculation

  37. and even how pi is so very close to biti and it’s like accepted so scientifically is beyond my understanding, of course

  38. marie-lucie says

    GW: based on the Latin volcae origin, … the PIE root might be *pela- from which we get ‘folk.’ – DM: How do you get from PIE [p] to Latin [w]? – GW: [p] > [f] > [v] > [w]
    David’s question was not about the stages of a phonetic evolution from [p] to [w], it was about the fact that PIE [p] does not result in Latin [w] but remains [p].
    I said if it was speculative. But, [p]> [v] is documented in *ped > vamp, *per > veer, *pela- > veldt, etc.
    With Dutch words beginning with v like veldt, it seems to me that either this v actually represents the sound [f] (as in German), or has weakened its pronunciation from earlier [f] to present [v], since all the Germanic languages changed PIE [p] to PGmc [f] in most cases (esp. initially), hence German Feld, English field, Dutch veldt.
    The few cases of English initial [v] which are traceable to PGmc are from the Southeastern dialects, closest to the Netherlands, which have weakened [f] to [v], for instance German Fuchs, Eng fox, local dialect [v]ox, hence the dialectal feminine vixen adopted into Standard English.
    And there are many [v] > [w] migrations.
    I think that the opposite is more common, at least in Europe. PGmc [w] has stayed as [w] in English but changed to [v] in most if not all of the other Germanic languages. Latin [w] became [v] in almost all cases in the Romance languages, especially in initial position. After this Latin change had been completed, Germanic words starting with [w] were borrowed with [gw], eg werre/warre (English war, Italian guerra. Instances of [v] > [w] seem to be rarer and to occur intervocalically not initially.

  39. David, you’re wasting your time; read has no interest whatever in linguistic facts, only in defending the primacy of Mongolia and the Mongolian language.

  40. primacy or what, but if to keep silent it’s all too convenient for all to next deny and us to be denied of our very existence, for you the scholars it must be just a matter of erudition, for us it’s something different and it the subject just can’t be proven like objectively, shouldn’t one try to refrain in one’s hypothesis, theory, speculation whatever, from stating something that would hurt others

  41. if

  42. @marie-lucie & David,
    I didn’t intend to make a serious proposal, I just said that it occurred to me and I have not attempted to trace it though the possible IE languages.
    Each of the sound segments suggested ( [p] [f] [v] [w]) exist within the IE family and each sound change is plausible and attested in languages.
    Within Indo-European languages it is possible to go from PIE [p] to a modern language [w]. Which ones and when it occurred is another matter. But, *pela > wal would not be impossible.
    In any event, I will be more careful in the future about posting my musings.

  43. David Marjanović says

    No time tonight to address any of the several interesting issues that have come up. Just so much:

    scholars themselves are just individuals who could err or be biased

    Well, yes. Yes!
    The difference between the scientists and you is that the scientists at least know what they’re talking about. They know what the languages they compare are like, they know their old documents, they know how languages change, they know how words are borrowed, and so on.
    Their guesses are rooted in reality. Yours are not. Yours just float in the air.

  44. marie-lucie says

    GeorgeW, what you say is quite right, and I did not say that those changes were not plausible (they are documented elsewhere), just that the sequence was not right for what is known of the history of the Germanic and Italic/Romance languages.

  45. Their guesses are rooted in reality
    yeah, if to repeat many times pi pi pi it becomes biti, very convincing

  46. @David: “The difference between the scientists and you is that the scientists at least know what they’re talking about.”
    I assume the “you” refers to me. I agree, you win.

  47. marie-lucie says

    read, I think some people here are a little too hard on you: it is galling when people who don’t speak your language seem to think they know more about it than you do. But no one here is trying to put you, your country or your language down, let alone deny their existence! Since I don’t know any Mongolian or Turkish or Chinese, etc, I don’t have anything to say one way or the other about your examples, but I can say something in general.
    No language has developed in isolation, every language (or at least some of its speakers) has had contacts with other languages and borrowed words from them. Consider the history of English: at one time (centuries ago) English adopted a huge number of words from the French spoken at the time, but the English language or the English people did not disappear because of that. If you read a history of the English language, it will mention that huge amount of French “borrowings” which happened at the time, but it will probably not mention that the reverse is happening in the modern period, since that is irrelevant to English itself. Similarly, if you read a history of the French language, it will probably not mention that English borrowed a large number of French words, because that fact is irrelevant to the history of French itself. Russian is also full of French words, and so is Turkish: this does not mean that Russian or Turkish have ceased to exist, and those facts are not mentioned in histories of the French language because they are irrelevant to the history of French itself. So if a majority of linguists who have studied the history of a language say that it has borrowed words from one or more other languages, but the reverse is not mentioned, that does not detract from the language itself, and it does not mean that the reverse has not happened or that those linguists are trying to see only on side of the question: a language does not lose words if others “borrow” them (for instance, you can get pizza, an Italian invention, all over the world now, but the Italians have not lost that word), and those borrowings by others do not affect the original language.
    You say that some linguists could “err or be biased”: error is always a possibility, but linguists, like other scientists, don’t just copy each other, they are very critical of each other and try to rectify others’ mistakes when they spot them. As for “bias”, that can work both ways, and again linguists and all scientists try very hard not to be biased: a person showing an obvious bias would lose the respect of their colleagues and that might mean losing their jobs too, so they are usually very careful before making any statements which others could contradict.
    Finally, studying or even trying to reconstitute the history of a language or language family is not something obvious, even for a linguist dealing with their own language. There are many factors to consider, and even though one might only see a few words in the examples (as in my first reply to George W), those words are only samples of what has happened to many similar words.

  48. so if to admit there always how it goes, how it happened, the language borrowings occured from Chinese to Turkic, then finally to my language, then all would be oh so happy and satisfied
    but i am saying we are not happy, for the linguists it is a matter of that, removed detached science maybe, which could be erring to that and nobody would know that for sure, for us it’s the matter of survival, of still ongoing, actual, struggle
    the other day i read in the twitter feed, i guess, that they published the results of a study on the lice genome and found that humans got clothed and started spreading out of Africa several thousand years earlier or later, forget, while it took mlns yrs to stay unclothed
    such an example of frivolous science, who needs to know that, just to show off the technological advance, right, mol, we can sequence the lice genome, while you can’t get rid of them
    so if an ancient source states pi is the source of biti, and nowadays scholars cite that, i prefer to believe my people saying khunnu are our ancestors, period.

  49. hundreds thousands, whatever

  50. read, you repeat that pi thing so often, I’m surprised no one has corrected you.
    Forrest referred to “Pulleyblank’s Middle Chinese piit“. That’s because in Middle Chinese it wasn’t pi, it was piit. Where do you think Japanese got the pronunciation of hitsu for 筆 from? The tsu ending didn’t just grow out of thin air; it came from Chinese.
    You are basing your comments on pure emotion. No one is trying to deny the Mongols anything. The culture of the steppes has been there for a long time, and the peoples of the steppes borrowed from each other, as well as from the Chinese. The Mongols were the latest and possibly the greatest people of the steppes, but it’s no slight to say that there were many people there before them. The steppes also appear to have been a multilingual sort of place, so recognising the linguistic contribution of the Turkic peoples isn’t a slight to the Mongols, either. In fact, I find it very appropriate that the Mongols have such close links with other steppe peoples as it shows they were fully a part of the steppe world, just as the Turkic peoples were. The Mongolians freely acknowledge their links to the older steppe peoples, by placing their people and country in a direct line from ancient empires like the Hunnu or Xiongnu.
    Quote from the Mongolian President: “In foreign relations, the year 2011 will be another special year. Mongolia will commemorate the centenary anniversary of the establishment of the Mongolia’s modern diplomatic service, moreover, the 2220th anniversary of the First Mongolian Statehood counted by the establishment of the Hunnu Empire”.

  51. so pi can be just brushed off that easily, how credible other linguistic evidences could be then
    No one is trying to deny the Mongols anything
    you can say that to Inner Mongolians or Tibetans, on what claims their independence is denied
    “…the 2220th anniversary of the First Mongolian Statehood counted by the establishment of the Hunnu Empire”.
    chto i trebovalos’ dokazat’ or i mean i said what we think about Khunnu (Hunnu) and was immediately reputed by DM, so i got heated a bit, yes
    well, but it’s worth it, i mean the subject and my emotions

  52. Marie-Lucie: The velar fricative indeed. The word is written walh in OE, since written h represents [h] only when it is alone in the onset. Otherwise it is like Modern German ch: [ç] next to front vowels, [x] otherwise.

  53. marie-lucie says

    I just looked at Wikipedia under “Mongolian language”. I see that a lot of work is being done on the study of the language, there is a huge bibliography and the authors are certainly not all foreigners, there are Mongol linguists too, some of them writing in Mongolian (and there will certainly be more of them in the future).
    The article mentions loanwords (borrowed words) from a variety of languages, but the problem with such a listing (in general, not just for this language) is that some people (not linguists) might get the impression that most of the vocabulary is from other languages: this is not at all the conclusion one should draw, especially since there are no numbers or percentages given. One might as well say that English is just a hodgepodge from French, Latin, Spanish, German, Arabic, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Russian, and numerous other languages: this focus on borrowed words would lead to the wrong conclusion, since it would exclude old English words, and more importantly, it would neglect the fact that English has its own way of forming words and sentences, which is one of the things that make the language what it is. Even if Mongolian has borrowed a number of words from Chinese or Tibetan (to name a few), the word and sentence formation in Mongolian is nothing at all like those languages (I don’t know those languages myself, but I have seen many sentences written in them, with explanations). From where I stand, I don’t see a reason to think that the Mongolian language is threatened within Mongolia by the fact that it has borrowed words in the distant past, or even some (eg Russian) in the more recent past. No linguist would dismiss Mongolian on this basis, since it would mean dismissing just about every language on earth! (The situation of Mongolian or Tibetan in areas disputed with China is another problem altogether, which is a political and cultural problem, not a linguistic problem in itself).

  54. i don’t agree with your last sentence, m-l, in the parenthesis
    language equals people, the linguistic problem can’t be taken aloof, separately from politics and culture and the threat for us feels just too real to feel a bit perhaps paranoid about it, 3 mln of us against 1bln, and with our natural resources rich land the iraq or afganistan or georgia case is just too real to repeat, the mightier decides the rules!
    so i just say even in linguistics which seem so harmless perhaps one ought to try to not add a detail to harm others especially if it’s something speculated, or devise the seemingly, to me at least, very arbitrarily looking rules biasedly, say pi was pronunced piit in mid-chinese, so i simply want to know how one know that, if it’s just kanji and a written source to rely upon, for me it sounds just like the case with uigurjin, h or q, and why in that case it’s so easily reputable, but if chinese kanji it’s treated all like that, the law of nature or what
    one goes to the metropoliten museum and finds all the exponates there somehow connected with our history labeled china, must be they were found from inner mongolia or the curator was chinese and very careful to not omit china or was told to do so upon purchasing the exhibits
    or else, being asked from where i am and when i tell from
    mongolia, people always bring up china, that ignorant or
    uninformed and you say we are not threathened

  55. god, so many mistakes, but to not sound stubborn and, sure, foolish in your eyes, but i hope repeating all that repeatedly i made it clear enough for all of you why it’s such a touchy subject for us

  56. read, I think some people here are a little too hard on you
    I disagree; if anything, people are not being hard enough on someone who is a classic example of blind, bigoted, incorrigible, proud ignorance. If read went into a physics discussion board and started yammering on about how the universe was created last week and the stars are fairies twinkling up above and refused to listen to any corrections, the treatment would be much harsher. Furthermore, what is involved here is nationalism, which to me is one of the most repugnant of ideologies. That aggrieved “everybody despises and threatens us, we must defend ourselves” attitude is what fuels the worst wars, from the Balkans to the Caucasus to Sri Lanka. Furthermore, I don’t understand why read wants to stick around here when apparently everything we say is so offensive. There must be many other places on the internet where the glory of Mongolia is not continually besmirched.

  57. give me the unreputable 100% sure proof how pi was piit back then, then you can label me however you like
    and your physics discussion analogy sounds equally bigoted, like the lice genome study

  58. bigoted, like the lice
    That’s rather unfair to parasites. Most people I know are lousy with liberal opinions.
    the stars are fairies twinkling up above
    Gosh, the stuff I learn on this site ! But I wonder: why are they just twinkling, instead of doing something more productive ? I hope they’re not confined to wheelchairs.

  59. so, i kept using repute instead if refute and nobody corrected there, laughable, sure
    though that i’d have appreciated

  60. It’s pit [pit] in Taiwanese, and bat [pɐt] in Cantonese. The -t ending is lost in Northern dialects of Chinese, while it is partially retained as a -ʔ in Central dialects: pjɪʔ in Shanghainese Wu, piʔ in Jianghuai Mandarin etc. Further evidence is given by the Japanese loan hitsu, in 17th-century Japanese fitsu, coming from an earlier pitu, the -u bit comes from the Japanese language’s disallowing of consonant codas.
    I hope it’s clear.

  61. It is also to be noted that (Northern) Middle Chinese pronunciation is itself recorded in rime dictionaries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rime_dictionary), and there, 筆 is collected into a rhyme where the modern reflexes, in dialects / foreign language loans which preserves the -p/-t/-k distinction end always in -t, a fact that pretty sure proves that the word is pronounced with a -t in the Standard pronunciation somewhere back in the history of the Chinese language.

  62. give me the unreputable 100% sure proof how pi was piit back then, then you can label me however you like
    Why can’t you at least make an attempt at finding out for yourself, instead of insisting that you are right unless everyone can prove you wrong? You obviously know nothing about it, so what grounds have you got for rejecting the findings of people who have devoted considerable time to studying the matter?
    The pronunciation of Chinese in ancient times is a difficult topic, but people like Karlgren and Pulleybank have at least made educated attempts.
    If you want to find out more about the reconstruction of Middle Chinese or Old Chinese, try looking at the Wikipedia articles on Middle Chinese and Old Chinese for a start. Just refusing to believe something merely because you don’t want to is a non-starter.
    The fact that Turkic or Mongolian might have got the word for ‘writing’ from Chinese isn’t something shameful or unpalatable. Check the etymology of the English word for ‘write’:
    O.E. writan “to score, outline, draw the figure of,” later “to set down in writing”, from P.Gmc. *writanan “tear, scratch” (cf. O.Fris. writa “to write,” O.S. writan “to tear, scratch, write,” O.N. rita “write, scratch, outline,” O.H.G. rizan “to write, scratch, tear,” Ger. reißen “to tear, pull, tug, sketch, draw, design”). Words for “write” in most I.E languages originally mean “carve, scratch, cut” (cf. L. scribere, Gk. grapho, Skt. rikh-)”
    So ‘write’ is a pure Germanic word originally meaning ‘to scratch’! The Germans, on the other hand, got their word for ‘write’ (schreiben) direct from Latin.
    If you prize Germanic purity, English ‘write’ is obviously a much nobler term. If you prize the heritage of Latin civilisation, German is the nobler form. Although, of course, the Germans have totally nativised the original Latin form as a strong verb (shreiben, schrieb, geschrieben).
    But this way of viewing things is so much ideological nonsense, whether you prize Germanic purity or high Latin civilisation. Unfortunately, many people make quite fallacious judgements based on this kind of reasoning. There is nothing wrong with bichig having come from another language. That doesn’t make it any less Mongolian, and doesn’t detract from the beauty or fascination of Mongolian as a language. Reacting against Chinese imperialism for political or nationalist reasons is understandable, but to take that as a reason for rejecting or reinterpreting history is quite indefensible.

  63. Why can’t you at least make an attempt at finding out for yourself, instead of insisting that you are right unless everyone can prove you wrong?
    i don’t know Chinese that’s why, isn’t it easier for the people knowing the language to provide the evidence of the fact if there is any, the rhyme dictionaries seem could be useful to establish that piit, which keeps changing by the way, now pit, otherwise i don’t, as i said, see any difference between our uigurjin h/q pronunciation distinction dispute or kanji’s ancient pronunciation, couldn’t there be any doubt? is to doubt something/anything is such a great crime?
    and why you people keep comparing me with nazis when i would identify our cause with more like the Jewish or Roma cause, say everything you said to me to a Jewish person That aggrieved “everybody despises and threatens us, we must defend ourselves” attitude is what fuels the worst wars and you’ll find what i find offensive
    and if you here express that fervent anti-national sentiments, don’t be a bigot and say all those correct things in the other thread, about minority languages, be consistent, that’s all
    the thing is we are not their minority even, and be implied in everything even in our language to be their derivative feels strange, provoking resistance
    and comparison with English is also not very matching, nobody threatens English with complete annihilation/assimilation throughout history, so for you it’s easier to acknowledge whatever influence and not feel threatened, imagine if you’d be forced to give up your language and how defensive you’d feel then

  64. So suggesting or showing that bichig could come from Turkic or Chinese is a threat to Mongolian?

  65. So suggesting or showing that bichig could come from Turkic or Chinese is a threat to Mongolian?
    i repeat, is to doubt something that impossible thing in linguistics?

  66. is to doubt something that impossible thing in linguistics
    Doubting is fine, but only if you have something other than rank prejudice to put in place of the results of careful research. You refuse to accept the results of other people’s research simply because you personally find it unpalatable, not because you have rational grounds for doubting it.

  67. Plenty of good things have come from doubting established theories. But your doubts come from having a closed mind, and I doubt if anything useful can come from closed minds.

  68. rational grounds, so should accept how uigurjin transliterations are just shrugged off and silently accept Chinese supremacy in our root, basic words,
    especially if those are based on the kanji pronunciations alone which could be doubtful and if not us ourselves, who would even dare to doubt
    if it’s not bichig, but some other word of smaller importance i wouldn’t notice perhaps, yes we borrowed many words from Chinese, biir yantai for example which is pi/piit, doesn’t it sound a bit different from bichig?

  69. All people who study Mongolian linguistics, especially historical linguistics, refer to the classical language (as written in Mongol bichig). No one is shrugging it off.
    Of course it’s possible that bichig didn’t come from Middle Chinese biit; Clauson could have got it wrong. But he was familiar with a number of these languages and looked into their ancient texts in detail. You haven’t come up with anything except to say that you don’t like the theory because you’re afraid of China dominating Mongolia! And as people keep telling you, it doesn’t matter a fig whether bichig came to Mongolian from Chinese or Turkic. Your doubts aren’t based on any kind of knowledge, they’re based on visceral discomfort totally divorced from any knowledge of language. It’s like a person saying they doubt the theory of relativity because they don’t like it, when they don’t even understand the maths.
    For your information, most Chinese have a similar blind spot when it comes to acknowledging Japanese influence on their language. All Chinese know that their culture and language are much older than Japan’s, and they find it repugnant that the hated Japanese should have had an influence on Chinese, so they close their ears and look offended or uncomfortable if someone suggests that Japanese might have influenced their language. Their rejection isn’t based on facts, research, or anything else; it’s based on ignorance, blind prejudice and emotion.

  70. No one is shrugging it off
    Hunnu can’t be written in uigurjin, remember, cz there were no hs at that time but q only, that’s not shrugging it off?
    Of course it’s possible that bichig didn’t come from Middle Chinese biit; Clauson could have got it wrong. etc.. thank you, that is all i want, just a possibility of doubt
    biir yantai which is a borrowed word and means pi/piit/pit is the word for a brush for writing, is it not what i’m proposing
    sounds to me a bit different from bichig
    well, it will never end this way, so i give up

  71. Borrowing can take place at different times in history and in different ways.
    Бийр looks like a more recent borrowing. With its final р looks like it comes from rhotacised 笔儿 bǐr, which would be modern or early modern Beijing dialect (I can’t say I’ve heard it myself, but it certainly wouldn’t be strange).
    The derivation of бичиг from Middle Chinese would be a very old borrowing.
    I guess you would reject that the English words ‘wheel’ and ‘chakra’ are derived from the same word since they don’t look alike. The fact that you can’t see the connection at first glance doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You can’t reject things simply because you yourself don’t know (or don’t want to know).

  72. there were no hs at that time but q only, that’s not shrugging it off
    Knowing modern Khalkha and Mongol bichig doesn’t imply a deep knowledge of Classical Mongolian phonology. You really seem closed to the idea that there is something you don’t know. Better to remain in denial than admit that some people might have researched things better than you ever could.

  73. Бийр looks like a more recent borrowing…
    The derivation of бичиг from Middle Chinese would be a very old borrowing.

    really? so how they must be were writing without naming the thing itself first, by stylus, i suppose
    if it’s derived from really a word brush not write even
    i don’t doubt other people researched manuscripts in both languages and you and your ancient sources are very learned scholars, there is no doubt in that at all, just those manuscripts itself could be biased from the beginning
    Mongolian is not Japanese which is really derived from Chinese with its kanji borrowing and on/kunyomi and following enlightenment and kanji were rejected by our ancestors to our peril or blessing, as their tool of cultural assimilation
    so i just can’t believe that our basic, root words were getting borrowed that like casually
    if bich was a borrowing, what about unsh – reading, again it came from Chinese?
    again bringing up here English is not working for me, if they all are derived from that,PIE, say, if you were told wheel is from Chinese you would have revolted too perhaps
    but it’s meaningless to argue with a linguist to a non-linguist not knowing the other language, sure, i will be beaten on all accounts, just there are things that seem to me improbable and i ask questions and get labeled, what i’m doing here if not learning too, i would believe you more willingly than to any ancient Chinese source, i guess
    and in that willingness i say, what your sources say, aren’t there any mismatches, in the end somebody was writing them too, who could have been wrong just in this instance, for example, is it that absolutely impossible, unimaginable thing
    that i become instantly a nazi and idiot and not welcome here

  74. Before complaining about being labeled for asking questions, please read the explanation I have given for the /pit/ (or similar) reading of the word for stylus in Middle Chinese. If you have questions, ask them; many would be glad to explain further.

  75. so what they used, stylus or brush? next, you would say they wrote on papyrus
    what i don’t like in this discussion is that your arguments keep changing and people are so quick to name me names, linguistics must be a very hot tempered people’s science
    i wish i were trained formally a linguist, perhaps there are many pitfalls out there that people wouldn’t acknowledge out of the fear of looking foolish or unlearned/unsophisticated, whatever

  76. it will never end this way, so i give up
    Excellent. I hope you’ll go away as well. You are wasting everyone’s time and energy, as it is clearly impossible to convince you of anything.

  77. marie-lucie says

    read, not everyone here is a linguist, and there is no shame in not being a linguist any more than in not being a biologist or an architect or a physicist or any number of other things which require years of training. You would not insist that all those other people must be biased, why should linguists be more biased than others? And bias cuts both ways: people can be biased for or against something, and in both cases their bias will work against them as their work will be discredited in front of their colleagues, something which is VERY serious in the scholarly world.
    Scholars do not work in a vacuum, their work is discussed and evaluated by other scholars, and nothing is accepted without discussion: that’s how errors and bias are discovered if they exist. Yes, there are many pitfalls, but scholars take great care to avoid them, since other scholars will only be too happy to criticize hasty conclusions. Only untrained persons assume that anything one scholar says will be accepted by the others – this may happen in the newspapers, but scholars are not journalists, and before they write anything they have to make quite sure that they know what they are talking about, in linguistics as in other branches of scholarship. It does not mean that they all agree on everything, but they have to give good reasons why they hold one opinion rather than another.
    Besides, linguists are not all Westerners, there are also Mongolians who are linguists. If you want to learn something about linguistics, you might be able to start with linguists from your own country, writing in your own language.

  78. hope you’ll go away as well
    not that easily i’m afraid
    you might be able to start with linguists from your own country, writing in your own language.
    so i am making you all this uncomfortable, that you all are too ready to suggest me to go elsewhere
    doesn’t seem like a blog – free media where one can express whatever one thinks without being chased away if one chooses to not comply, out of foolishness, ignorance, stubborness or just love of discussions/communicating, you decide of course
    so that is important for you to win at whatever cost that you dismiss people that quickly

  79. not that easily i’m afraid
    Another case of sheer orneriness to add to the others.

  80. most Chinese have a similar blind spot when it comes to acknowledging Japanese influence on their language.
    Yes, a lot of modern Chinese vocabulary for “Western” concepts was borrowed in the 19th/early 20th century from Japanese coinages using classical characters – 世界 shijie (world), 社会 shehui (society), 经济 jingji (economy), etc. But obviously it’s easy for Chinese to deny the Japanese influence since the indivual characters and morphemes are Chinese. I suppose they could argue that some Chinese person would have come up with those words eventually anyway and the Japanese just saved them the bother. Are there any examples like this in other languages? Has modern Greek borrowed back English words made up from classical Greek roots?

  81. marie-lucie says

    I believe it did happen in many cases, the made up words not being specifically English but also French, Italian, Spanish, etc and circulating internationally. Not much science was taught in Greece during the Ottaman domination, while in Western countries scientists and philosophers were coining needed new words, often using Greek roots (oxygen, thermometer, etc). Such words were adopted internationally, including by Greeks themselves as they rejoined the international scientific community. (I don’t have a reference for this but remember reading about it a few years ago).

  82. @vanya:
    I know little of Greek but an example of a re-loan is the Arabic ‘amiral’ (navy admiral). This was borrowed from one of the European languages (I would guess French). But, it was originally borrowed from Arabic ‘amir al-bahr, literally, ‘commander of the sea.’
    So, we have Arabic > European > Arabic.

  83. marie-lucie says

    you might be able to start with linguists from your own country, writing in your own language.
    read, a lot of your comments suggest that you think that Western linguists are biased against the Mongolian language. This is why I made that suggestion: surely Mongolian linguists writing for people of their country would not be biased against their own language.

  84. marie-lucie says

    vanya, there are examples of Old French words borrowed into English in earlier times, which have later been borrowed into French in their English guise and with their English meaning. A well-known example is budget: this word was borrowed from OF as bougette meaning a kind of flattish leather bag or large wallet. English budget reflects the OF pronunciation of the consonants at the time. The word went out of use in French, but in Middle English it was applied to a bag for carrying documents, then for the specific type of financial documents carried in the bag, and so on until it acquired the meaning of financial plan, at which point it was borrowed into French as le budget, treated as it it was a French word (masculine article, French sound of the letter u, final t silent), which in turn became the base for the French adjective budgétaire (I am not sure if English budgetary or to budget came before or after French budgétaire).
    Another, less ancient example is flirt: there is an old French expression conter fleurette à which means more or less “to sweet talk”. From fleurette “little flower” came the verb fleureter, adopted in English with the sound of the verb stem and written flirt. Later the English word was borrowed into French with a reading pronunciation as it the word was French, but also sounding the t because everyone knows that English pronounces written final consonants. Both pronunciations of the English word are in current use in French, but the word used as a noun means either a person with whom you have a flirting (ie not serious) relationship, or that relationship itself.

  85. blog – free media where one can express whatever one thinks without being chased away if one chooses to not comply
    You do not seem to understand what a blog is. A blog is not “free media,” a blog is a private site. This is my personal blog, an online equivalent of my living room, in which I host a continuing discussion group. It is not a street corner, and it is my right to decide whether someone is welcome or not.
    not that easily i’m afraid
    You wrote above that you would continue your boycott “if i am unwelcome.” I am telling you you are unwelcome.

  86. so it’s final, i’ve tried three times, enduring deletions, name callings and straight insults
    and really nasil’no mil ne budesh’, what to do
    i am happy to go away and not bother you anymore, hope you’ll be a little less bigoted and consistent in your beliefs, mr. feminist, cosmopolitan and scholar

  87. I can perfectly sympathise with read’s sentiments about the Chinese. They are shared by most Mongolians. A laager mentality isn’t a good thing, but given historical circumstances is understandable.
    But we’re not talking about Mongolians’ national sentiment here. We’re talking about an issue of linguistics, specifically the borrowing of vocabulary. The problem is that read, who knows nothing about either Turkic or Chinese, insists that hypotheses put forward by people who do are wrong because she “doesn’t like them”. It’s one thing to fear and dislike Chinese influence; it’s another to insist that your own fear and dislike of the Chinese is a good reason to dismiss hypotheses put forward by people who have at least made a study of the field. It doesn’t help that she continually ignores concrete arguments or evidence put forward by others on the blog.
    read’s emotional reaction to the suggestion that bichig had its original source in Chinese starts to look positively hysterical when she asks whether unsh- came from Chinese too. No one has said that, and merely suggesting it shows that she’s incapable of rational discussion.
    I don’t remember anyone calling read a Nazi. I’m afraid I agree with LH. I can’t imagine why she would think that continually complaining of people taking a linguistic approach to a linguistic problem is “wrong”, and why she would think that insisting on airing the various chips on her shoulder (about men, scholars, Westerners, etc.) is a fit subject for a blog.

  88. Yeah, I have no problem with people disputing ideas and suggesting alternatives, but when someone is consistently unwilling to listen or even think about what they’re told and cannot engage in constructive dialog, it’s just tiring and wastes everyone’s time.

  89. Japanese influence on Chinese:
    The words that Vanya refers to are well-known examples of what we might call “international Sinitic vocabulary” comparable to Latin or Greek in the West.
    But in fact there are also cases where the Chinese have borrowed purely Japanese words into Chinese. The mechanism of borrowing is fairly simple: the Japanese write many native Japanese words with Chinese characters; the Chinese feel free to adopt them into Chinese precisely because they are written in characters. Well-known examples are 手続き te-tsuzuki ‘procedures, formalities’, borrowed as 手续 shǒuxù and 取り消す tori-kesu ‘cancel’, borrowed as 取消 qǔxiāo. In looking at bird names, I’ve also discovered that quite a few Japanese bird names have been borrowed into Chinese, again based on kanji usage — including cases where the Japanese applied existing characters to different birds from the original Chinese, or where they created new characters that didn’t originally exist in Chinese. All of these have been taken into Chinese as though they were Chinese words.

  90. One example that mystified me for a long time was 鶯 yīng. In Chinese this traditionally refers to the oriole or 黃鶯 huáng-yīng. But modern Chinese dictionaries give as a second meaning ‘member of the Sylviidae’ (i.e., the warblers). The extension of the word for ‘oriole’ to the warblers makes a certain kind of sense, but is still mystifying — until you look at the Japanese.
    What seems to have happened is that the Japanese took the character 鶯 and applied it to their own cultural equivalent of the oriole, namely the uguisu (scientifically known as the Cettia diphone), a bird celebrated in Japanese poetry for its beautiful song. Thus, the word uguisu came to be written with the character 鴬 in Japanese. The uguisu eventually gave its name to the whole family of Sylviidae, 鴬科. Under Japanese influence, Chinese ornithologists then appear to have applied the character 鶯/莺 to the Sylviidae and thus to the many species of warbler. Since 鶯/莺 is an old Chinese character, this kind of influence from Japanese goes right under the radar of most Chinese.

  91. I wonder, is there any way of knowing if the Chinese piit/pit might be related to PIE *peiḱ- ‘paint, mark’ (yielding Latin pingō ‘paint, colour’ and OCS pisati ‘write’) at all? A strangely tantalising thought… (Which I hope won’t induce too much laughter :)).

  92. @Domen K: Unlikely. Dialectal forms were attested in Yang Xiong (53 BCE–18)’s Fangyan with a medial r.

  93. FWIW, etymonline.com suggests that the word “Welsh” derives ultimately from P. Gmc. *Walkhiskaz and that it is connected to the Volcae.

  94. This just came today and I’m starting in on it.

  95. Nick Nicholas just mentioned a conspicuous example of Greek roots > French > Greek, the word τηλαισθησία ‘extra-sensory perception < French télésthesie. This word obviously cannot be Classical Greek, nor can it be a Modern Greek coinage, because Modern Greek (quoth Nick) no longer has τηλ- as a living prefix, but only the full form τηλε-, as a consequence of abandoning Classical Greek’s hiatus rules.

  96. marie-lucie says

    JC, I agree that the word must be a French coinage (although “telesthesia” exists in English), but it seems to me that télesthésie would be the result whether the Greek prefix was τηλ- or τηλε-, since two identical vowels together would normally be merged in French in such compounds.

  97. Looking through this contentious thread, there is one thing I got wrong.

    I’ve since found out that Mongolian biir ‘writing brush’ is a loanword from Tibetan, which in turn borrowed it from Chinese.

  98. m-l: Quite so. But if the word had been coined in Modern Greek, either originally or as a calque, it would be τηλεεσθησία.

  99. From what I read, 筆 has no clear Chinese or Sino-Tibetan etymology. Ancient sources say the word originates from the region of former state of Qin which is known for its barbarian heritage.

    Perhaps we should seek some old Iranian or Tocharian word sounding something like **p.[r]ut.

    Tocharian B: paruwa – feather or Avestan: parǝna-feather could be the source.

  100. I regret to report that, according to Philip Shishkin, sart is now apparently “a derogatory term the Kyrgyz use for Uzbeks, the local n-word.”

    Sart did also mean “Uzbek” in Kazakh; e.g. in Word Two of Abay’s “Qara Söz” (early 20th century), where it is used as a non-derogative term (and mis-printed “Start” the first time it occurs in the English version). The dictionary I normally use for Kazakh marks it as уст. = устаревшее “obsolete”. I assume it was previously used as a neutral designation in Kyrghyz as well, and has become derogatory only when it was replaced by “Uzbek” as the official designation.

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