Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Grammaticalization Cycle

This is pretty technical, but it's so interesting I couldn't help post it. A graduate student of mine in linguistics (thanks, Mikael!) forwarded the quotation to me, and I figured it might as well sit around on my blog as on my hard drive on my office computer. Plus, I've noticed that there is actually a significant number of amateur historical linguists out there, and this is one of the more interesting descriptions of a basic concept that I've seen. It's from R.W. Dixon's The Rise and Fall of Languages, pp. 41-2. Follow the link to the amazon.com entry and the book seems pretty interesting. Certainly his idea of most languages approximating each other as areal families works a lot better with Altaic languages (Mongolian, Turkish, Uzbek, Manchu, etc.) than the classic divergent/genetic family approach.

Languages can be roughly classed into three types: isolating, where each meaning element makes up a distinct word (e.g. Vietnamese and Chinese); agglutinative, where a word is likely to contain several meaning elements but these are clearly separable (e.g. Turkish and Swahili); and fusional,where a word will contain several meaning elements some of them being fusedtogether, so that a single vowel may simultaneously mark, say, tense,voice, and person and number of subject (e.g. Latin and Sanskrit).

Proof of genetic relationship rests heavily on grammatical elements, including affixes. The ideal situation is to have a proto-language that is agglutinative [Proto-Indo-European had a fairly fusional structure (with ablaut and stress shift). This structure can be reconstructed because these fusional features have been retained in many of the descendants (and we are fortunate in having old records)] and modern languages that vary from agglutinative to fusional. If a group of modern languages are all basically isolating, with few grammatical affixes, if may never be possible to prove genetic connection with the same degree of confidence as for an agglutinative group.

As languages change over time, they tend -- very roughly -- to move around a typological circle: isolating to agglutinating, to fusional, back to isolating, and so on. If we place the isolating type at the four o'clock position, agglutinative at eight o'clock and fusional at twelve o'clock,around a clock-face, it is possible to describe recent movements in various language families. Proto-Indo-European was at about twelve o'clock but modern branches of the family have moved, at different rates, towards amore isolating position (some to one or two o'clock, others toward three o'clock). Early Chinese is thought to have been at about three o'clock, Classical Chinese was a fairly pure isolating type at four o'clock, while Modern Chinese languages are acquiring a mildly agglutinative structure, towards five o'clock. Proto-Dravidian was on the isolating side of agglutinative, at about seven o'clock, and modern Dravidian languages have moved around the cycle towards nine o'clock. Proto Finno-Ugric may have been at around nine o'clock, with modern languages moving to ten or eleven o'clock...For Egyptian, which has a long recorded history, Hodge (1970)* describes how it moved right around the cycle from fusional back again to fusional over a period of about 3,000 years.

My graduate student noted that stress and syncopation seem to be the motor driving the grammaticalization cycle. Inflectional/fusional languages that have lots of grammatical meanings coded into single phonemes are vulnerable to losing them through syncopation or dropping of unstressed syllables. So they add on prepositions or postpositions to make the meanings clearer. Once all the inflections have been syncopated out, your grammatical meanings are expressed only by these separate pre/post-positional words. That's the isolating position. But over time, unstressed pre/post-positions tend to get attached to the neighboring words. (A good example can be seen with the infinitive marker "to" in English which is now in spoken speech attached to preceding auxilliary verbs: "D'you wanna go?" "No, I hafta clean my room" -- or more briefly "D'you wanna?" "I hafta," etc. The additional -a is now marking a particular type of auxilliary verb function.) So agglutinative endings are mostly former pre/post-positions. But as more and more such separate unstressed particles are "glued" onto words, they tend to combine and form complex endings coding for more than one grammatical meaning and voila! you have a fusional/inflecting language and the cycle starts all over again.

*Refers to Carleton Hodge, 1970. " The Linguistic Cycle," Language Sciences 13: 1-7



Monday, August 21, 2006

To Flee or Not to Flee New England

Ross Douthat on the American Scene has a great post up about some of the problems with environmentalism as a conservative cause. Excerpts:

I want to agree with this, and I certainly dislike overdevelopment and uglification, and the Brandywine country is really quite pretty and it's important to make efforts to conserve it, but . . .

Crusading against sprawl, passing zoning restrictions, designating swamps as "wetlands" and old buildings in need of a wrecking ball as "historic properties," refusing to expand highways to keep up with population growth - all of these have been, for many many years, the tools that well-to-do northeasterners have used to maintain their privileges and their property values . . .

My beloved New England is increasingly the preserve of well-off rentiers, resting on their socioeconomic laurels and zoning the young out of the real estate market. And not coincidentally, the region is more liberal than it's ever been before . . . because the price of a home and the burden of a commute is forcing those twenty and thirtysomethings who do stick around to put off marriage and family - which are, of course, the two things most likely to turn indie yuppies into social conservatives.

This post also exemplifies the reasons why I'm finding "The American Scene" to be one of my "must-read" blogs.

1) I love the dynamic between Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat. It's one of the few group blogs that actually work: they post about equally frequently, they're different yet compatible, so they complement each other so nicely. For example, he adds parenthetically: "Reihan, were he writing this post, would recommend that you read this book." (Go ahead, follow the link -- it's a very interesting book).

2) Like me, he's a child of New England, and every time I go back, I feel the tug of the beautiful environment, warring against my rejection of what all that beauty stands for. He's holding out:

But this my home, and I want to be able to raise my family here, and I'll be damned if a bunch of "conservation easements" keep me from doing so.

Unconsciously, I did more or less what he says he's resisting:

There is, I suppose, a case to be made for heightening the contradictions of life on the eastern seaboard, until it becomes so unbearable for anyone who wants to have a house and a family on a middle-class salary that everyone suddenly snaps and joins a great diaspora out to the Midwest or Montana, where they will all have fat American wives and raise rabbits, and huge families, and vote for a revived right-wing populism.

(Except my wife isn't fat, we only have two kids, and I don't like Caleb Stegall much -- otherwise the portrait's perfect).

Speaking of going back to New England, I'll be doing that for the next week, before I spend a year doing research at Princeton. The transition should be nice and chaotic, and I probably won't be posting for a week or so.

Topics I'm thinking of writing about:

What if not just poison gas, but bombing too, had been banned after World War I?

What if we legalized all natural drugs, but banned only the techniques for artificially strengthening them? I mean if God made coca leaves, didn't he have a purpose therein?
You have a 10% chance of going postal!

Congrats! You're not going to shoot up a strip mall anytime soon. You're so well-adjusted, it's creepy.

How Likely Are You to Go Postal?
Create Your Own Quiz

Hhhmm. That's reassuring. But I can't help but notice that John H (to whom be the HT) has only 1% chance of going postal. Maybe I shouldn't have let on about my various middle school humiliations during recess. Or my inability to get a date in college. Or . . .



Friday, August 18, 2006

Proverbs 31 in Chinese

Who should control the checkbook in the family? The husband or the wife? Despite the stereotypes of male domination in the East, it is interesting that throughout East Asia, the answer is clear: the wife should control the checkbook and have full power to manage all aspects of the household. A husband who inquires into how his paycheck shows a small-mindedness unbefitting of a man. By contrast, the tendency in traditional European households was to follow the description given by Mr. Tilney to Catherine Morland:

In marriage, the man is supposed to provide for the support of the woman, the woman to make the home agreeable to the man; he is to purvey, and she is to smile.

Making the home agreeable may certainly involve some managerial functions, but the focus on smiling seems to indicate a largely decorative role for the wife.

Recently, I've been reading Bettine Birge's rather dense book on how the Mongol conquest influenced women's legal position in China, Women, Property, and Confucian Reaction in Sung and Yuan China (960-1368). The book is pretty good academic history, although rather on the dry side (even for me and I'm a specialist!). But it does have some very interesting quotations from case law and eulogistic literature. In one chapter, Professor Birge traces the origins of the East Asian concept of "woman as household bursars." It seems to have originated rather late, in the Neo-Confucian revival of about A.D. 1000 (yes, in Chinese history, that's late). Before then, wifes are only rarely praised for their efficient management of household resources.

From then on, eulogies of model wives focus particularly on the frugal management of the household. For example, the eulogy of Madam Li writes:

Her husband had a famous reputation both in the capital and out in the prefectures. He devoted himself to affairs of office and never asked about the resources of the household. Madam Li said, "Managing the household is my occupation." She took what she had accumulated [from household funds] as well as her own personal dowry property, and used these to buy good land and build a house in Linquan, fulfilling the family's intention of establishing a residence there.

One day someone came carrying a sack of rice to deliver to the house. Her husband was surprised and asked her about it. She laughed and said, "This is rent for our household." He thereupon thanked her for being a true help to the family. . .

Madam Li was skilled at managing the family. She had rules for governing all household matters, large and small. With money and grain she knew when to economize. She relieved relatives, both agnates and affines, according to their needs and relations to the family (p. 180).

A eulogy of Madam Shao notes that her husband had a rule for the whole family that:

The comings and goings of men and women, all income and expenditure of money and property, all procurement and dismissal of servants and maids must be reported to the head of the family

But the head of the family meant here is his wife, Madam Shao, not himself. Her role extended outside the family as well:

Of the farming households of southeast Qingjiang [modern Jiangxi], several hundred lived in thatched huts along the river. Periodically the river flooded over them. The people scrambled up buildings and trees to save themselves, but some would be swept away. Madam Shao began to order boats and rice porridge to save them and she came to do it every year. She would store up coffins in advance and dress the bodies of those who died in epidemics. People cherished her kindness (p. 176-77).

A good husband was "genial and easy-going" and "did not consider matters of the family and the property to be his business." This is illustrated in the eulogy of Madam Xu:

Mr. Zhang's family previously had abundant wealth, and he loved to entertain guests. In his middle years, when the family became in want and constrained, he was not in the least bit troubled. When old friends came to the door, he always ordered the kitchen to prepare delicacies, and together with his guests would enjoy drinking as in former times. When he housed guests in his home, he did not mind if they stayed ten days or a month. His wife economized with her clothes and food in order to provide the [needed] money, and never expressed any difficulty. She did not let Mr. Zhang know that things were different from before (p. 175).

Neo-Confucian writers like Zhen Dexiu also noted that this meant that yielding and obedience were not the sum of an ideal woman's character:

The Book of Changes takes the female principle (kun) as the way of a woman, but people are only aware of yielding (rou) and obedience (shun) and that is all. Previous Confucians elaborated on this, saying, "If a woman is not resolute (jian), she will not be able to complement (pei) the male principle (qian). Therefore even though the worthy women of old took complaisance (wan), yielding (i), purity (shu), and kindness (hui) as fundamental, when it came to their accomplishments, there are some things that even heroic men cannot do. Who can have done these without strength (gang) and intelligence (ming)? Can one say that women like Madam Cai [an admirable widow] are not strong and intelligent?

He concludes with this admonition:

Use obedience and submission to establish the foundation, use strength and intelligence when extending to action. Only then will a woman's virtue be complete (pp. 184-85).

Professor Birge goes on to describe some of the more regrettable results of the Neo-Confucians revival, particularly the deprivation of inheritance rights for daughters and widows, and the legal impediments to widows remarrying. Likewise, the eulogy of Madam Xu already shows hints of the over-rigid adherence to principle that seventeenth-eighteenth century Confucians would later criticize in the Neo-Confucian revival. But the Neo-Confucian elevation of a wife's managerial function, like the similar elevation in Proverbs 31, seems to point to a fuller and more satisfying exercise of a wife's talents than "he is to purvey, and she is to smile."

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Nükhesel / Conditions

One of the good things about traveling away from your usual home is both the absence of usual reading materials, and the presence of long periods of waiting. Without the diversion of books or internet and passing the long spaces on train, cars, or airplanes, you have a lot of time to think, to get to the bottom of things. And for me these thoughts will revolve around a single idea or concept: this trip, the concept was nükhesel (Buriat, from Mongolian nökhtsel) or conditions.

The concept was introduced to me by the top Buddhist lama in Russia, the Khamba Lama (chief abbot) Damba Ayusheev (that's his picture, presenting an award at a traditional sports match). In a mesmerizing rant of one hour, this burly lama, alternating shrewd insight with deliberate provocation and sly humor, repeatedly returned to the theme of nükhesel or conditions. Christians believe in a Creator, he said, and so they believe people can be changed, converted, remade. But we Buddhists do not, he insisted; we believe in nükhesel. People can't be changed, but they can be brought up as children to follow the right path.

He said much more, but that concept came back again and again to me, as I struggled with the temptations of travelling away from my family, my church, and my accustomed routines. For anyone who has travelled in China, Mongolia, or Russia, you will know that drunkenness is a great temptation that any one not rigidly teetotalling will experience. In America, in the bosom of my family, a glass of wine with dinner will end there. But in Russia or Mongolia, a friend screwing the cap off a bottle of vodka with a smile must end with the bottle empty -- and quite likely one or two more on top of that.

In 1221, a Chinese envoy to the Mongols wrote:

Whenever the Mongols see a foreign guest talk uproariously, make noise, and act rude in a drunken state, or else vomit or fall asleep, then they are very happy and say, "The guest gets drunk, so his heart is one with ours, without any difference."

"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" -- this is most certainly true. And yet I also speak from experience that drinking together, before it leads to such painful and disgusting scenes, leads to a greater intimacy and understanding. In the mild exhiliration of moderate drinking, I spoke much more confidently about my deepest feelings -- among them for my God -- than I did in cold sobriety. And in my teetotalling Presbyterian days, I often passed up the bottle, only to ridicule and slander absent people in "friendly" conversation. But several times -- four or five, depending on how you count -- my inebriation passed beyond any possible limit. Why was it so easy to be sober at home and so hard abroad? Nükhesel, of course.

I believe in my Creator and I believe in the recreation of hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom I grieved. But I think the abbot's insistence on nükhesel is not a strange thought to the Christian tradition. What is it saying, but the impotence of the Law? I know drunkenness is wrong, but somehow I did it anyway. So I learned something: I learned that my heart wants someone else's approval more than it wants God's approval. I learned that I am weak. If no great shame or transgression happened to me, it is no credit to me but only to God's watching over me in His providence and in His kind compliance with the prayers of the faithful.

Historians have often written about the internalization of the Protestant ethic as the transformation from a shame culture to a guilt culture. So instead of veiling women and locking them away from men as found in cultures not transformed by the Gospel, the sexes would be allowed to mix in the confident expectation that a mature, Christian inner direction would prevent the occurrence of evil. This is a glorious hope -- but a hope that is rarely fulfilled without nükhesel.

Children from perfectly decent families go to college and live lives of drunkenness and debauchery before marrying and leading respectable lives. (As this article in a magazine left on the set next to me on the shuttle bus from the airport illustrated.) Why? Because the nükhesel are different. Why? Because college administrators believed (or at least said they believed) that mature judgment is a better protector than parietal laws and all the external apparatus of social rules to protect youth from acting out what's in their hearts.

So I've learned something from waking up with a hangover too many times. That I am weak. That people can do bad things, even knowing they're bad. That I need to try harder to live according to my beliefs. That absent weekly worship and Holy Communion the Word of the Lord can lose its due power on our souls. That I depend on other people to prop up the tottering house of my sanctification -- and that others depend on that from me. That I should have sympathy with those ambushed by sins they abhor. That social rules and conventions that prevent our undisciplined desires from coming to fruition are good things, despised only by the arrogant. That we really are donkeys, ridden by God or by the devil, and that there's a reason that "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil" is the conclusion of our best prayer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Well, I'm Back

I got back from my big trip to Beijing, Mongolia (including trips to Qara-Qorum and the western Uws Province), and Russia's Buriat regions in southern Siberia on Sunday evening. Overall the trip was very productive, but I'm still jet-lagged and I've still got lots of things to take care of. I have not had time to mentally "unpack" the whole trip, just the flight back, which was slightly eventful.

On the way home, I had to give up two glass bottles of currant juice, which I had been given by Bolormaa, pupil of a colleague and friend of mine in Uws Province. I got them through security in Ulaanbaatar, but flying from Beijing to Chicago, the check-in agents for United told me it wouldn't be allowed at security, so I took it out and told them to enjoy. If I'd known what was going on before hand, I would have repacked them in plastic bottles and put them in my checked luggage. That was a real disappointment to have to give them up -- Uws in Mongolia is the center of currant (ükhriin nüd) and buckthorn (chatsargana) production, and berry juice was different from the usual Mongolian souvenirs of dried curds or Chinggis Khan vodka.

The whole international transfer in Beijing was a mess -- I got wrong advice and stood for 20 minutes in the wrong line before getting redirected. But in the end it was alright -- because I was so late, the last person to check in, as the agents said, they decided that even though my luggage was overweight -- chao guo le -- they didn't have time to charge me for it! Mei shijian! Things like this kept on happening to me, giving me a quite extraordinary feeling I had of being kept and upheld by prayer, despite my own foolishness and inadequacy.

Highlight of the flight home? Seeing the polar pack ice northwest of Queen Elizabeth Island from 30,000 feet. It may be melting but there's still a lot there! Flights "over the Pacific" now often don't cross an inch of the Pacific: this one went from Beijing up through Manchuria, then Siberia, before skirting the edge of the Arctic, and crossing Canada down to Chicago.

Lowlight of the flight home? Having a screw on my glasses finally do what it had been threatening to do all trip -- come off and get lost. There I am sitting in the window seat, scrunched up, and knowing the screw must be somewhere on my lap, but with me and the two passngers all having our trays down and dinner on it, so I couldn't get up and look for it. (Why was in the window seat? Because I was the last person to check in! -- isn't that obvious?). But no biggie -- I managed to save the loose lens and the frame, and had another pair in my carry on.

Main observation: every aspect of air travel is getting worse and worse, except the inflight music programming.

The picture is of an azure winged magpie, which I first saw on the campus of Peking/Beijing University. I'd often visited friends there in the 1980s as a student -- it has the most lovely campus of any university in eastern Asia. There's a nice photo (which I couldn't copy) of an azure-winged magpie in China here.