Category Archives: Language

Limitations of Suzhounese

Suzhounese 蘇州話, spoken in Suzhou 蘇州 (anciently known as Gusu 姑蘇) in Jiangsu 江蘇 province, sounds nice for saying nice things to your wife, and it sounds very attractive when spoken by women, but I couldn’t take seriously any military orders given in that language.

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Tfw Cannot Speak Taishanese

Central Guangdong

My ancestral home is in Taishan (Toisan) 台山 County, Guangdong 廣東. Even though I don’t speak or even really understand the Taishanese language – my mother tongue, and that of my parents, is Cantonese – and even though my grandfather was the last person among my closer relations who ever lived in Taishan County, I do identify as Taishanese. (The phænotypes of broadly Cantonese folk differ enough that I can sometimes tell which county people are from, and certainly there are people from Panyu who do not look like anyone from Taishan.) That I cannot understand much Taishanese, let alone speak it fluently, is something I find regrettable. A great majority of my ancestry is from Taishan County or from Xinhui County next to it, whose language is very similar.

 The Seiyap languages are in light purple, and the Guangfu dialects (Cantonese and similar languages) are in pink.

Edit: The Seiyap language group, to which belong the languages of Taishan 台山, Xinhui 新會, Kaiping 開平, and Enping 恩平, is arguably not Cantonese (or Yue) at all, being closer to Cantonese only through convergent evolution. According to Sau-Lim Tsang (no close relation of mine) in ‘Bilingual Education in a Chinese Community’ (pdf, 1982), however, ‘Research on Siyi phonology has also found that Cantonese and Siyi show regular and systematic correspondence.’

Taishanese is often thought to be a variety of Cantonese, but the two are about as different as Portuguese and Italian: the average Hongkonger who speaks Cantonese can understand about 30% of Taishanese accurately, and my guess is that a native speaker of Taishanese can understand about 50% of Cantonese without prior exposure. For those who know or can recognize Cantonese, this is a Tang dynasty (618–907) poem by Li Bai 李白 read aloud in Taishanese:

Here’s something more colloquial, about certain reduplicative constructions in Taishanese (warning: there’s one curse phrase in there):

Probably the most Taishanese thing about me is my boneheaded hillbilly stubbornness. Who knows? Maybe that could help me learn a bit more of the language.

A New Generation Poem for the Tsangs?

中華曾氏祖根地 (vignette)

中華曾氏祖根地: the Chinese lineage’s ancestral rootland.

In many Chinese and Korean families, you see that the names of the sons of the same generation share a character, a generation name 班次. My ancestor of the Sòng dynasty, for example, Emperor Taìzōng, was named Zhào Kuāngyì 趙匡義; his older brother, Emperor Taìzŭ, was named Zhào Kuāngyìn 趙匡胤. Besides sharing the surname Zhào , they had in common the generation name Kuāng . Now, as Wikipedia explains,

The sequence of generation is typically prescribed and kept in record by a generation poem (bāncì lián 班次聯 or pàizì gē 派字歌 in Chinese) specific to each lineage. While it may have a mnemonic function, these poems can vary in length from around a dozen characters to hundreds of characters. Each successive character becomes the generation name for successive generations.

For the Sòng dynasty House of Zhào, the poem goes, 若夫,元德允克、令德宜崇、師古希孟、時順光宗、良友彥士、登汝必公、不惟世子、與善之從、伯仲叔季、承嗣由同。 The poem’s 42 characters were split into three groups of 14 for the offspring of Sòng Taìzŭ and his two brothers. As Emperor Taìzŭ set forth for the family (with older romanizations from the book quoted),

Together with the Prince of Chin, Kuang-i, and the Prince of Ch’in, Kuang-mei, we will constitute three branches. Each will establish fourteen characters [for generation names] in the Jade Register so as to distinguish the streams and give order to the [spirit] tablets. Although our posterity may be distant in time and in relationship, they will not lose their order.

According to this præscription, my grandfather had the character in his name, as did all of his brothers. So it has been, for my mother’s family, since the 10th century of our Lord Jesus Christ; but my own clan, despite its descent from the Xià king Shàokāng 少康, has not had such a long and constant usage.

zhao-genealogy-kuangyin-kuangyi

This record shows the ancestry of Zhào Kuāngyì 趙匡義.

zhao-genealogy-dun

The ancestry traces back through Zhào Dùn 趙盾.

Of the generation poems used by those of the ancient House of , there are so many (beware: Tripod page with popup adverts!), and of such diversity, that there clearly is nothing like a standard. What was once used by my branch of the family has been interrupted by the convulsions of the 20th century. Though we clearly maintain commonalities between brothers – my father’s generation having the character and mine having , even for my cousin – these generation names have not at all been drawn from the poem formerly used. Instead, my father’s generation received an accent on the nation, and mine on righteousness. In each, of course, is an ethical orientation. Herein I see the makings of a new generation poem that has yet to be written. Since my grandfather was the seniormost Christian in the family (though his conversion was not the first), his name should be the one that heads the poem, and the poem can mark a new beginning by expressly giving glory to Christ the Saviour of the nations.

炳國義, and the rest is unwritten. But even here, with just three characters, we can see some order. My grandfather’s character ‘bright, luminous’ has the radical for fire, ; my father’s character ‘territory, nation’ clearly suggests earth; my character ‘righteousness, justice’ is associated with metal. Thus we have gone from summer to the ripe season to autumn, and the next in the cycle of the five phases of matter and energy (wŭxíng) is winter and water. A cycle of five itself suggests lines of five characters each, whether four lines for 20 syllables or eight lines for 40. Numerologically, 40 can correspond to the days of rain and flooding in the time of Noah, or the years of Israel’s wandering until the faithless generation had died, or the days of Jesus’s fast in the wasteland to suffer the temptations of man; 20, however, is of no significance. But when the cycle of five has gone eight times, which makes an octave of a feast to the Lord, signifying the spiritual Eighth Day of the week, then shall we have the number of trigrams and the number of persons on Noah’s Ark and the number of the Beatitudes. Let the poem, the jìntĭshī 近體詩, be written thus.

炳國△△ 義某 某△○ ●
某某○○ 某某 某△△ ●

某某○○ 某某 某○△ △  parallelism
某某△△ 某某 某△○ ●

某某△△ 某某 某○○ △  parallelism
某某○○ 某某 某△△ ●

某某○○ 某某 某○△ △
某某△△ 某某 某△○ ●

The Beauty of Suzhounese

Is it just me, or is Suzhounese the most beautiful language ever sung by women? I think I have a serious weakness for that dialect.

Read Aristotle’s Poetics

My high school’s instruction in English, when it came to Greek tragœdy such as Sophocles’s Antigone, gestured at Aristotle’s unities of place and time; but these seemed arbitrary things to commit to memory. Not until I had graduated from university, and was taking a class about the history of rhetorical theory, did I actually read Aristotle’s Poetics and understand what he was on about. I wish we had been set to read Aristotle in high school to understand literature and rhetoric. Richard Carroll gives a review of the Poetics at Thermidor Magazine. Unlike Mr Carroll, who recommends the Loeb version, I might instead recommend the translation of Rhys Roberts and Ingram Bywater, which is bound together with Aristotle’s Rhetoric; which to choose depends on what you need.

If you haven’t read Mr Carroll’s review, do go and allow him to persuade you to read Aristotle’s Poetics. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Bless, O Lord, This Ring?

kate-middleton-royal-wedding-ring-1

In PECUSA’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the order of solemnization of holy matrimony specifies that the priest may say, before delivering the ring to the man, ‘Bless, O Lord, this Ring, that he who gives it and she who wears it may abide in thy peace, and continue in thy favour, unto their life’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ The North American Anglican has published my short piece on whether to bless a ring or its wearer. Check it out. What do you think?

‘Doubtful Novelties’ in Church Names

Walker Rumble, in a printing history series, tells us about great Episcopalian printer Daniel Berkeley Updike. About names of churches he says,

Berkeley Updike and Harold Brown thought Episcopalians named and dedicated their churches inappropriately and in a slipshod manner. Nomenclature became thoughtless and frivolous, and things got worse with spreading evangelical congregations. According to Updike and Brown, ‘the names of our Lord, and of the Apostles and Saints of the New Testament’ – traditional sources – were ‘quite sufficient’. Names such as ‘Heavenly Rest’ or ‘House of Prayer’ were as ‘meaningless’ as ‘Precious Blood’ or ‘Bread of Life’. These were ‘fanciful names’. If we demand variety, ‘let us have at least no doubtful novelties.’

Looking at you, c4so diocese. With a diocese name like that, how can you avoid frivolous names for parish churches?

c4so-header-logo

But Chinese churches should also take note. Such names as Mr Updike cited are not out of the ordinary for a Chinese church, and their frivolous novelty is no less than it was in 1892, the year that he and Harold Brown published On the Dedications of American Churches. Many evangelical Chinese churches, trying to signal their orthodox evangelical credentials, have chosen novelties to shout their decency, and in so doing have negated their own orthodoxy.

It is far better, as Mr Updike says, to take ‘the names of our Lord, and of the Apostles and Saints of the New Testament’ – among whom, I take it, he includes saints who are not mentioned in the pages of New Testament, but who lived and died in the New Testament. It is no novelty, after all, to name a church after a local martyr or a saint from another place whose influence is felt as far as the church to be named. Thus might a church in Edinburgh be named after St Cuthbert, who lies buried in Durham, or a church in Vancouver’s Chinatown after St Robert Morrison, translator of the Scriptures into Chinese. These are names that concretely draw the Christian’s heart to the life of Christ, or to his life in a particular saint.

st-johns-cathedral-hong-kong

The Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Hong Kong.

The more our churches seek to differentiate ourselves from the whole work of the Holy Ghost on earth, by taking vain names, the more we separate ourselves from the Church. May the Lord’s blessing rest upon the churches devoted to the glory of his Name.

Russian and Uyghur for the Children

When I was in high school, I had autistic dreams of having my children natively speak an analytic language, an agglutinative language, and a fusional language. As a Chinese American, I thought Chinese would work well for analytic and Latin for fusional; for agglutinative, Finnish. Even at that time, of course, I knew that it would not be practical, as Romantic as it might be, for the son of a Chinaman to speak Mohawk.

I take for granted that, if I marry and God give me children, they should speak Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and (if possible) my grandfather’s mother tongue, Taishanese; Latin also remains eminently good and useful. In addition to these languages of Chinese and Christian heritage, though, I hope they can speak Russian and Uyghur.

modern-uyghur-grammar-by-haimit-tdmiir-16-638

For that hope, I have my reasons: (1) Eurasian bloc integration and (2) the Back to Jerusalem movement. The two are related, and of this I shall say more later.

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The Iceberg of Latin Literature

My friend has made a great Latin meme. Go bump it if you have Facebook, and #MakeLatinGreatAgain. Syke! Latin’s already great.

Rightly Dividing the Law of God

It is common to hear of the law of God, especially in the Old Testament, divided into moral, cæremonial, and civil law. And Christian students of the Old Testament, hearing of this distinction and eager to take some parts seriously while discarding other parts that they believe to be inapplicable for our time, are often quick to classify particular statutes of God as one or another of the three. But Zacharias Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, uses the classic threefold division differently:

ursinus-sabbath-exposition-beginning

Speaking of the Fourth Commandment, which of the ten is the most often cited as a reason that even the Decalogue does not apply to us today, Ursinus does not classify the commandment simply as moral or as cæremonial or as civil. Instead, he tells us that the Fourth Commandment has two parts: a commandment and a reason for it. Further, he discriminates between two parts of the commandment: ‘the one moral and perpetual, as that the Sabbath be kept holy’; and ‘the other ceremonial and temporary, as that the seventh day be kept holy’.

Ursinus shows, usefully, that the common threefold division of the law is not to classify the ordinances of God as one or another of the three, but to distinguish the various aspects of each in order to find a legitimate application. He identifies the commandment’s general æquity, the underlying præcept that, when applied in the circumstances in which the commandment was delivered, yields the commandment in the form given. This is also how we ought to examine the commandments delivered to us, that we may be faithful doers of the word and not hearers only.

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Christ Enthroned on the Theotokos

Drawing by Veronica Cruwys.

He whom heaven and earth cannot contain is cradled in his mother’s lap, for me and for you.

Behold the mighty arm of the Lord. Behold the revelation that binds together the fragments by which the majestic God could not but be expressed by the prophets and the pagan sages. Behold the light of God’s face, which Moses could not see and live, which now burns in the hearts of all who believe in his Name. Worship him now; bend the knees of your heart and kiss the light of his countenance, which gives you peace.

Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Richer Images in Church Instruction

Children’s Sunday schools in Protestant churches are typically full of moralistic stories and impoverished figures on felt boards. What I like better are the line drawings offered by John Matusiak, many of which are based on Eastern Orthodox icons:

Annunciation.

Since children’s Sunday schools will almost invariably use images, it seems best to me that these images should look serious and not frivolous, their iconography rich and not simplistic, their conception mature and not childish. The images used to teach should be a tool for children to understand other instructive images, that their eyes may be enlightened by faith rather than that their spirits may be seduced by the sensuous.

From young children’s colouring books to devotional books and church walls, images should, besides drawing the attention of the senses, also invite reflection on doctrine and personal piety.

The Last Judgement.

Aside

Regarding Gaius Julius Cæsar and his De bello Gallico, the question is not whether to read; for the power of his writing is well known, and the force of his person spellbinding. The question is whether his student should read … Continue reading

The Language Nest of Prayer

Photograph by Pedro Szekely (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Responding to a New Yorker article about efforts to bring back dying languages, in the face of culturally dominant languages in cities and on the Internet, Rod Dreher compares the Christian faith to a language that needs ‘language nests’ where people can study their faith in an incubator setting and put it into use in daily life. I believe Christians can make every church a place to do this. Last week, after a rough start, God gave me the opportunity to walk some of my friends through part of the classic service of Evening Prayer in its Anglican form. I was able to explain something of the service’s background and priestly purpose, as well as to give some commentary on the meaning and the significance for priestly duty of some of the service’s particular parts. A habit of common prayer, I think, is the practical centre of catechesis in the Church, putting straight into practice St Peter’s theology of the Church as the temple and the holy priesthood of God:

Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Given mercy and called away from evil, we are chosen by God to show forth his praises, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to him which are acceptable in Jesus Christ. To do this well, God also requires that we desire the milk of his holy word, that both in prayer and in other parts of our daily living (in which we pray without ceasing) he may give himself glory. This is the purpose of his word: that it may make us into a people who are ready in our daily living to give glory to God. For the Lord is in his holy temple, and from his voice comes our authority to subdue the earth to the order of his holy Name. For this reason we are to study his word, that it may be translated into the due praise of God in word and in deed – not so that we may feel close to him, but so that he, dwelling in us, may turn the whole world into a city where, as Malachi says, in every place incense shall be offered unto the Lord’s Name. Therefore, as the Psalmist says, Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

If this be the main purpose for which Christians gather – to come together as the holy temple of the Lord – I believe that upon the solid rock of Christ our chief cornerstone we shall not founder, we shall not be wrecked, but we shall like living stones be able to weather the storms that beat upon the temple. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. This is the wisdom of the Lord applied. By this word rightly used the temple shall withstand the onslaught of the pagans and not become the home of the false faith of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which serves the false god Mammon. For the kingdom of Christ is not from this world.

And if Christians strengthen one another across imagined boundaries, meeting for the priestly act with those of ‘other churches’, who in fact belong to the same Church, the holy catholic Church of Jesus Christ, we will have and we will feel the strength of the Holy Ghost who works in all. What keeps us apart is the god Mammon, on whose demands Christians segregate around institutions to which they pay money, fancying that these are churches and congregations; but the Holy Spirit of the Lord expels such fantasies, and he bids us move and feel as one Church, regardless of the institutions of man.

On this earth we shall always need some institutions to handle money, some structure to deal with practical needs; but our orientation must be toward the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not in buildings made by human hands, nor is it in gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. For the honour of God’s blessed and holy Name we are bound to find the Church not in things of man’s devising but in things of God’s revelation: the word of God, the sacraments, and a pure offering. When our sacrifices are to the true God and not to idols, when we direct our selves and our lives not to the demands of earthly corporations but to the Lord in prayer, we will have our faces set not backward, upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but forward, upon the heavenly Jerusalem and the life of the world to come, when earth and heaven will flee and the judgement of the Lord will reign in righteousness.

Let our language nests speak the language of Zion. Let our lives themselves be turned to the death of idols and the resurrection of the dead, that when the Lord comes again he may find faith on earth. Let us begin with the habits of prayer, that our mouths may shew forth the praise of God.

A Dummy Subject Changes Much

The difference of a single it: One word, a dummy subject, turns a subject noun clause into the object of to say. It also potentially changes a vel into an aut.

[Whether this is a case of [life imitating art or art masquerading as history]]SBJ is impossible to say.

[Whether this is a case of [life imitating art] or [art masquerading as history]]OBJ itSBJ.DUMMY is impossible to say.

Sentence source: a New Yorker article about Seneca (HT: Fred Sanders).