Greg Pingle on Mongolian Sinitic; and John Phan on Sino-Vietnamese

Greg Pingle has a cool Quora answer to the question: what if Ainu had borrowed from Chinese? He compares it to Mongolian Sinitic loans, which are unlike Sino-Xenic in being a) whole-word, not morpheme-based, and b) orally transmitted.

In the discussion thread for the old post on Sino-Xenic, commenter 番 brought my attention to John Phan’s work on Sino-Vietnamese. Phan has kindly uploaded a preview to his dissertation, Lacquered Words, where he argues, contra Miyake, that

unlike Sino-Korean or Sino-Japanese, Late Sino-Vietic resulted from a bilingualism in Sinitic and Vietic languages that flourished in the area of northern Vietnam throughout the Tang dynasty.

[…] Contrary to current analyses of Sino-Vietic lexica (which assume reading-based transfusions similar to the origins of Sino-Korean or Sino-Japanese), I claim that the bulk of Sinitic loanwords in Vietnamese resulted from bilingual contact, between a form of Sinitic native to the region of modern day northern Vietnam and contemporary forms of Vietic language. For reasons discussed below, I have termed this variety of Sinitic “Annamese Middle Chinese” (AMC). Unlike in the Korean peninsula or the Japanese archipelago, I claim that the river plains of northern Vietnam were home to a rooted and thriving community of AMC speakers for most of the first millennium, and it is the presence of this community and the bilingual effects of their coexistence with Vietic speakers that fundamentally defines the nature of Sino-Vietic contact throughout history.

[…] However, when AMC obsolesced as a spoken language in the region, it left a form of Literary Sinitic behind which entered into a hyperglossic relationship with the new dominant form of speech, i.e. pVM. This hyperglossic relationship was in turn analogous to contemporary hyperglossic arrangements in Korea and Japan of the 2nd millennium.

In this way, even though Vietnamese is not a Sinitic language, ancient Vietnamese speakers were bilingual in some form of spoken Middle Chinese. This makes the Vietnamese a kind of interesting hybrid:

  • Like Mongolian, there was oral transmission and bilingualism;
  • But, like Japanese and Korean, there was diglossia (or “hyperglossia”) with Literary Sinitic (wényán/kanbun), including a “system of sinographic reading” based on the Qieyun rime tables.

I eagerly await the full dissertation.

Writing kanji on the air is even better practice than writing on paper

Margaret Thomas, Air Writing as a Technique for the Acquisition of Sino-Japanese Characters by Second Language Learners.

Summary: When studying a kanji, native Japanese speakers often trace its strokes with their fingers on the air, palm, or thigh, while keeping their eyes fixed on the source model. (They do it for recalling, too, often closing the eyes or averting the gaze). This is called “air writing” (kūsho 空書 or karagaki 空書き). Thomas experimented with 75 non-native learners, of 22 different mother languages, and found that air writing helped retention significantly more (p < 0.01) than pen writing or visual memorization—though the effect size was modest, and only noticeable when memorizing harder kanji (some 15.43% more hits for the hardest kanji set).

Interestingly, six participants who were told to not use kūsho still did it spontaneously during recall tasks; either with their hands, or by mimicking kūsho patterns with subtle head or torso movements.

Thomas tested only kanji recall, not recognition (which is likely the most important task in the modern age). However, she does mention a couple studies suggesting that native speakers can recognize kanji more easily when allowed to air-write (Matsuo et al, Dissociation of writing processes: functional magnetic resonance imaging during writing of Japanese ideographic characters, 2000; and Matsuo et al, Finger movements lighten neural loads in the recognition of ideographic characters, 2003).

I think it’s reasonable to suppose that, for non-native learners, too, air-writing helps with both recall & recognition. This is good news because you can practice anywhere with your own body.