Sunday, June 26, 2016
  Chi-Nah

Was rereading a book on Soviet autos, which includes a chapter on Chinese autos following Soviet designs, which were following American designs. The author is an expert on cars but not so strong on language-related shit. He simply follows his sources on transliteration. The names of cars (Hong Qi) are modern, and Beijing is modern, but for some reason Shang-Hai is not modern.

The contrast made me think... we've skipped the hyphens in Chinese place names for a long time. We were writing both Peiping and Shanghai consistently in the 1930s. Google's ngram thing shows that Shang-Hai disappeared suddenly in WW1, which is rather strange. Did we consider China to be German? Checking... No. China wasn't really involved, but it was nominally on our side, along with Japan.



BUT: We continued using hyphens in personal names much longer. Even now, in the modern Pinyin transliteration, we often write Mao Ze-dong.

None of those hyphens make any sense. The hyphens aren't there in Chinese, and the names aren't considered to be compounds. The only difference is that China doesn't borrow foreign names, so the meaning of each syllable is always present in the background. English happily borrows foreign words, so most of our names aren't separable.... but we also use compounds with retained meanings, and separate words. Running along US24 east of Manhattan (borrowed Injun), we find St George (separate), Wamego (borrowed Injun), Belvue (compound with retained meaning), St Marys (separate), and Rossville (compound with retained meaning). We don't put hyphens in any of them.

Were we using hyphens for Chinese to indicate that each ideogram represented one syllable? Maybe, but we also used hyphens to separate the syllables of Injun names that had never been written in any form, as in this passage from an Osage story:
"Place this earth on your foreheads when you offer up your prayers and you will excite the compassion of Wah-Kon-Dah, the Great Spirit’, the crawfish told them. From this time on, the Little Ones rubbed this earth on their foreheads when they prayed to Wah-Kon-Dah at dawn, and in their ceremonies and vision quests; it was symbolic of their humility.
If we write Wah-Kon-Dah, we might as well write Fore-Head and Craw-Fish and Sym-Bol-Ic. In both languages Syll-Ah-Bulls are syllables.

Only possible conclusion: The hyphen thing was our way of indicating "This is a primitive language. These people can't master multisyllabic words."

= = = = =

Sidenote on the ngram: The word frequency of Shanghai moved up and down in the 30s and 40s then held steady from 1945 to the present. In reality: from 1930 to 1980, China was basically meaningless to Americans. It was a strategic tool for diplomats and generals but normal Americans had no reason to think or talk about it. After 1980, China became our factory. It's a tool for traitorous corporations to steal American jobs. We talk about it all the time. The ngram seems backwards.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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