Category Archives: language

Afghan Superiority

From Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, by Thomas Barfield (Princeton U. Press, 2010), Kindle p. 42:

Few peoples in the world, particularly the Islamic world, have maintained such a strong and unproblematic sense of themselves, their culture, and their superiority as the Afghans. In abstract terms all foreigners, especially non-Muslims, are viewed as inferior to Afghans. Although the great powers might have been militarily, technologically, and economically stronger, because they were nonbelievers, or infidels, their values and way of life were naturally suspect. Afghanistan’s Muslim neighbors, however, fared only slightly better in (Sunni) Afghan eyes. The Uzbeks must have been asleep to allow the Russians to occupy central Asia for more than a century; Pakistan is a suspect land of recent Muslim converts from Hinduism (Pashtuns and Baluch excepted) that never should have become a nation; and Iran is a nest of Shiite heretics who speak Persian with a ludicrous accent. Convinced they are natural-born Muslims, Afghans cede precedence to no one in matters of religion. They refused to take doctrinal advice from foreign Salafis, who claimed they had a superior vision of Islam, coming as they did from the Islam’s Arabian heartland. Instead, even under the Taliban, Afghans continued to bedeck graves commemorating martyrs with poles and flags, tied cloth swatches to sacred trees, made pilgrimages to the shrines of saints reputed to cure illnesses or help women conceive, and placed magical charms on their children and valuable domestic animals to ward off the evil eye. Afghans responded to any criticism of these practices by arguing that since there are no purer or stronger believers in Islam than themselves, their customs must be consistent with Islam. Otherwise they would not practice them. Islamic Sufi orders (Nakhshbanidya and Chisti particularly) are also well established in the country and give a mystic turn to what sometimes appears to be an austere faith.

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Fashioning Finnish Philology

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 212-213:

In Finland, administrative ties with Sweden had been exchanged for ties with Russia, but literary life such as it was continued to develop in its own fashion. Despite the crosscurrents of Classicism, Romanticism, and Realism that were playing elsewhere in Europe, Finland’s chief concern in the nineteenth century was the development of a unified national language. Literature and theater could not emerge until a Finnish language had been developed and accepted among cultivated men, who up to that time had been conversant only in Swedish. Finland’s vast store of folklore offered the most promising area of exploration to the generation of writers who first tackled the language problem. Writing in 817 [1817?], a student argued: “No independent nation can exist without a fatherland, and no fatherland can exist without folk poetry [which is] nothing more than the crystal in which a nationality can mirror itself.” The key figure in this search for a national identity was Elias Lönnrot, who as a philologist-folklorist, collected materials from the Lapps, the Estonians, the Karelians, and other Finnish tribes, and assembled both the first dictionary of the Finnish language and its first extensive written literature. His legend, Kalevala (1835), a compilation of some 22,000 lines of oral history, tells in epic form the mythic history of the Finns from the Creation to the coming of Christianity, and it served as a rallying point for Finnish nationalist feeling, not only in subsequent literature, but in painting, sculpture, music, and political life, as the people moved toward independence.

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Return of the Elder Edda

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 39-41:

Beginning with Norwegian colonization in the tenth century, the art of heroic poetry flourished in Iceland. The tradition came with the invaders, and many of the sagas dwell on ancient Norwegian history, but the poetic gift seems to have been uniquely Icelandic. The earliest works were oral literature, composed by anonymous poets, and they survived from one generation to the next. These and many newly written ones began to be set down on calfskin in the thirteenth century by scholar-monks. Of the vast body of prose and poetry they produced, some 700 manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts have survived to inform students of Scandinavian history. The poetry falls into two broad categories – anonymous Eddaic poems, which relate the deeds of ancient pagan gods and mortal heroes, and the skaldic poems, told by professional skalds, or poets, and based upon Christian themes and personalities.

The most famous of the historical sagas are, perhaps, the Halljreda Saga, which deals with the days of King Olaf Trygvasson, the Saga of Eric the Red, the Saga of the Greenlanders, and the Heimskringla, a collection of sagas written by Snorri Sturluson giving an account of the history of Norway through the semilegendary biographies of its kings, from early times up to the year 1177.

Two collections of sagas exist under the general name of Edda. About the year 1650, after Iceland had become an appendage of Denmark, an Icelandic bishop discovered an old parchment book whose text bore similarities to the known Edda but appeared to be of earlier vintage. He called it the Elder Edda. Unhappily for Iceland, the bishop’s daughter had just been seduced by a young priest, and her angry father was resolved that the girl’s honor should be properly avenged. Accordingly, he offered his precious manuscripts to the king of Denmark on the strict condition that the erring priest should be heavily punished. We are not told what happened to the poor young man, but in due time, the Elder Edda found its way to the Royal Library of Copenhagen to the great and lasting resentment of all Icelanders.

In April 1971, a Danish naval frigate dropped anchor in the harbor of Reykjavík to be greeted by most of the city’s 70,000 inhabitants. The ship brought back, at long last, the precious manuscripts to be given into the care of the Icelandic nation, and the occasion was one of deep rejoicing. For the Icelanders today still hold the world’s record as publishers and readers of books. Each year some 600 new books come off the presses in Reykjavík and most of these run into editions of from 5,000 to 7,000 copies. No other nation has so many publishers or readers per capita, although the Finns and Norwegians come close. With this 1,000-year tradition of love and respect for the written word, little wonder that the return of their precious sagas meant so much to the people of the little republic.

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Origins of Rus

From Scandinavia: A History, by Ewan Butler (New Word City, 2016), Kindle pp. 16-17:

While the Danes and the Norwegians were venturing southward and westward in their search for a better life, the Swedes looked toward the East. Already, Swedish Ruotsi, or rowing men, had made themselves the masters of much of the eastern coast of the Baltic and had established settlements in what would later be called Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. But the Swedes were not content to remain on the Baltic coast. They rowed their longships down the gulf which leads to modern St. Petersburg and up to Lake Ladoga, that great inland sea. Thence, the Ruotsi, or “Rus” (as the Slav tribesmen they met corrupted the name), set the prows of their vessels toward the south, down the network of rivers that run to the Black and the Caspian seas. They were led, the Russian chroniclers tell us, by Rurik and two lieutenants, Askold and Dir, who were possibly his brothers. Rurik founded a “kingdom” south of Lake Ladoga and established the city of Novgorod, while his brothers, pressing farther south, set themselves up as kings of Kiev, on the Dnieper River. By the year 900, the two Swedish colonies were united as the lusty new state of Kievan Rus. Russia owes its name and its foundation as a nation to these Swedish oarsmen.

The purpose of the Swedes was not so much conquest, though that was an essential part of their plan, as trade. Swedish ships plied the river courses in such numbers that even Constantinople was threatened by the merchant-marauders. There, at the seat of the Roman Empire, the Swedes gathered goods from the East – gold, silver, carpets, tapestries, perfumes, leatherwork, dried fruits, precious stones, and many other things never before seen in their homeland. These treasures were shipped to Gotland, a large island in the middle of the southern Baltic Sea, which developed into a rich trading entrepôt. To it came merchants from the mainland of Sweden, Denmark, and countries as far afield as France and Holland. Modern research has unearthed in Gotland hoards of coins from every part of the world known to tenth-century Europe.

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Shikoku Island League Team Names

In 2005, entrepreneurs on the island of Shikoku created an independent professional minor league designed to appeal to local baseball fans. Shikoku is not home to any of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) teams. The two main sponsors of the initiative were JR Shikoku and Shikoku’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company. (Japanese railway companies public and private have long been major sponsors of professional baseball teams.) Among the strategies for building a local fan base are uniquely localized names and the hiring of Shikoku natives for fill-in roles like designated hitters, pinch hitters, and such. Like NPB’s Pacific League, the Shikoku Island League employs DHs. The team names are just as quirky and unique as those of North American minor league teams like the Albuquerque Isotopes, Lansing Lugnuts, Montgomery Biscuits, or Savannah Sand Gnats. All the team names are written in katakana but abbreviated in roman capital letters. The Island League (IL) logo and mascot is a blue and white Manta Ray, for its baseball-diamond shape.

Tokushima IndigoSocks (IS) – Tokushima Prefecture is famous for its indigo, so it’s not surprising that the team color is blue. The mascot is a spider, who wears four pairs of socks. The IndigoSocks won the 2019 league championship, but lost to the Tochigi Golden Braves in the interleague championship.

Kagawa Olive Guyners (OG) – Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture is the league headquarters, and the Olive Guyners have won the most league championships so far. Kagawa is famous in Japan for its olives and olive oils, home games are played in Olive Stadium, and the team color is green. Guyners is an anglicized rendering of the local Sanuki dialect word gaina ‘strong’.

Kochi Fighting Dogs (FD) – Kochi Prefecture (once known as Tosa Domain) is famous for its Tosa fighting dogs, Japanese mastiffs, so its team name and mascot were easy to choose. The team color is black and their gray mascot wears a yokozuna belt like that of sumo champions. The FD won the first league championship in 2005, but haven’t done so well since then. In 2017 they hired Manny Ramirez but he left in mid-August with a knee injury.

Ehime Mandarin Pirates (MP) – Ehime Prefecture is famous for its mandarin oranges (mikan), and its seafaring heritage. Their basketball team is the Ehime Orange Vikings. The team color is orange in both cases.

In 2007, the league expanded to include two teams on Kyushu and changed its name to the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League. But the Nagasaki Saints (named for the prefecture’s long Roman Catholic heritage) and Fukuoka Red Warblers (named for the color of ume and the Japanese bush warbler) didn’t last long. Nor did the Three Arrows team from Mie (三重 ‘three weights’) Prefecture, on Honshu across the Kii Channel from Tokushima. So now the official name of the league is Shikoku Island League plus, presumably to allow for other expansion attempts.

In 2014, two independent baseball leagues, Shikoku Island League plus and Route Inn Baseball Challenge League, formed the Japan Independent Baseball League Organization. The champions of each league play each other at the end of each season. Shikoku Island League plus has also sent all-star teams to play all-stars from the independent Can-Am League in North America.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Dey vs. Bey

From Dawn Like Thunder (Annotated): The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the U.S. Navy, by Glenn Tucker (Corsair Books, 2019), Kindle Loc. ~630:

For nearly two hundred years the deys of Algiers had inclined toward greater independence from the Porte.

They were loosely united with the Ottoman Empire. Although the terms dey and bey are often used interchangeably, they are distinct, the dey being, after the revolt of 1710, the head officer of Algiers. The two words have different Osmanli stems, the dey coming from the Turkish dai, meaning at first a maternal uncle, but applied by the Janissaries to any well-thought-of elder.

When the Janissaries deposed the pasha and elected their own commander the head of the province, they gave him the friendly title of dey, which prevailed until the French conquest of 1830. The bey, originally beg, meant an Ottoman governor or prince, as begum meant a princess or queen. It was a more common term than dey.

Eventually beg came to be pronounced bey and moved over into the English language in that form, but its application broadened to include the ruler of a district, an appointive governor, or an individual of rank. While there were many beys among the Ottoman rulers, there was properly only one dey, the half-independent ruler of Algiers.) [sic; poorly edited] The cord with the empire was there, and at times it could be binding.

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Welsh Differences in 13th Century

From A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain, by Marc Morris (Pegasus, 2015), Kindle pp. 26-28:

Geographically, of course, there were similarities between Wales and Scotland that a first-time visitor would have readily appreciated, and this meant that economically, too, they had certain similarities – Wales, like Scotland, was poor in comparison with England. Culturally, however, Wales was very different from both its near neighbours. Perhaps most obviously, the Welsh spoke Welsh, even at the highest social levels. This was a source of pride to the Welsh themselves, but to the French-speaking kings and nobles of England and Scotland it sounded like so much incomprehensible babble.

More perplexing still for English and Scottish onlookers, and far more problematic, were Welsh social attitudes, which stood in sharp opposition to their own. Take, for instance, the rules governing inheritance. In England and Scotland, and indeed almost everywhere else in western Europe, the rule was primogeniture: firstborn sons inherited estates in their entirety. This was hard on any younger brothers or sisters, but had the great advantage of keeping a family’s lands intact from one generation to the next. In Wales, by contrast, the rule was ‘partibility’: every male member of the family – not just sons and brothers, but uncles and nephews too – expected his portion of the spoils, and rules of precedence were only loosely defined. This meant that the death of a Welsh landowner was almost always followed by a violent, sometimes fratricidal struggle, as each male kinsman strove to claim the lion’s share.

The result of this idiosyncratic approach to inheritance was that Welsh politics were wont to be tumultuous. The fact that partibility applied at the highest levels was one of the main reasons why there was no single political authority in Wales as there was in England and Scotland. Welsh poets spoke of their country as if it were neatly divided into three kingdoms, but this was a broad simplification; the reality was a complex patchwork of petty lordships. Occasionally one ruler might, through force of arms, diplomacy or sheer good luck, contrive to establish something greater. But such constructs were always temporary. When a successful Welsh ruler died, his work was swiftly undone by the general carve-up that inevitably followed.

Such cultural and political differences meant that the English found it difficult to do business with the Welsh as they did with the Scots. Inherent instability meant that amicable relations were hard to sustain. The king of England could marry his daughter to the king of Scots, safe in the knowledge that her rights would be guaranteed; but he would not give her away to a Welsh ruler, no matter how great, for who knew how long his greatness might last?

And yet, if the English found the practice of partibility baffling, they were far more troubled when the Welsh showed any signs of abandoning it. From the start of the thirteenth century, up until the time of Edward’s birth, there had been a worrying (from the English point of view) movement in the direction of pan-Welsh political unity. Gwynedd, the most remote and traditional of Wales’s three ancient ‘kingdoms’, had extended its power from the mountains of Snowdonia to cover much of the rest of the country. When, therefore, the architect of this expansion, Llywelyn the Great, had died in 1240, Henry III had been quick to intervene and undo his work. In the years that followed, Gwynedd was torn down to size, and its pretensions to leadership were crushed. Llywelyn’s descendants were forcibly persuaded to follow traditional Welsh practice and share power among themselves. Lesser Welsh rulers who had formerly acknowledged Llywelyn’s mastery were disabused, and obliged to recognise that their proper overlord was, in actual fact, the king of England. Most contentiously, Henry confiscated and kept for himself a large and comparatively prosperous area of north Wales. Known as Perfeddwlad (middle country) to the Welsh, and as the Four Cantrefs to the English, this region between the rivers Dee and Conwy had been contested by both sides for hundreds of years, but Henry was determined that from that point on the English would retain it for good. The Four Cantrefs, he declared, were an inseparable part of the Crown of England, and to give force to this assertion he built two new royal castles there, one at Dyserth, the other at Deganwy. At the same time, lordship in the region was made more exacting. From their base at Chester, royal officials introduced English customs and practices, including more punitive financial demands. By 1254, when the Four Cantrefs (or ‘the king’s new conquest in Wales’, as they were now also being termed) were handed over to Edward as part of his endowment, the castles were complete, and the process of anglicisation well advanced. At the time of Edward’s visit two years later, his officials there were in a supremely confident mood. According to chronicle reports, his chief steward boasted openly before the king and queen that he had the Welsh in the palm of his hand.

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Filed under England, language, nationalism, Scotland, Wales