Poll #1965203
Open to: All, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 5

The blanket on custard...

View Answers
2 (40.0%)
0 (0.0%)
God, no.
0 (0.0%)
What on earth are you on about, Venta?
3 (60.0%)

Philology and Sinology


I was going to post this as a comment to Mark Liberman's "What would a 'return to philology' be a return to?", but it got to be too long, so I'm putting it up as a separate piece.

To begin with, when people ask me what my profession is, I've always replied that I am a Sinologist, but most people don't know what a Sinologist is, so that leads to complications.

Let me illustrate.

The first book that I published with a commercial press was Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way (New York:  Bantam, 1990), a translation of the Literary Sinitic text, with extensive commentary and notes.  My editor asked me how I wished to identify myself, and I told her that I was a "Sinologist".  She said, "That won't do, because nobody knows what a Sinologist is.  Can't you call yourself a linguist?"  I told her "That won't do either, because I'm not a linguist."

I do not consider myself a linguist (e.e., historical linguist, phonologist, etc.) per se, though I certainly do dabble in these things quite a lot, but truly am a Sinologist, and have been since I began graduate school.  Yet it's not only in commercial publishing that I can't call myself a Sinologist, in current academia it's not fashionable to refer to oneself as a Sinologist either, so I am formally designated as "Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania".

If I have time and opportunity to go into more detail, I still will always style myself as a Sinologist.  When people look at me and say, "Huh, what's that?", I reply that a Sinologist is a philologist who specializes on matters pertaining to China.  To which they will generally ask, "Huh, what's that?"  Whereupon I will say, "A philologist is someone who studies ancient texts for the purpose of understanding the languages and cultures of the times in which they were written."

I definitely think of myself as a philologist specializing in Sinology.  Disciplines parallel to Sinology are Indology, Japanology, Semitology, and so forth.   For the majority of scholars, these have now morphed into Indian Studies, Japanese Studies, Semitic Studies, and so on, but I'm old fashioned and still cling to the old ideals and old methods of Sinology, though happily assisted now by modern technology and techniques (computers, data bases, online resources, etc.).  There is, however, clearly an effort on the part of many to get Beyond Sinology (title of a brand new book by Andrea Bachner, with the subtitle Chinese Writing and the Scripts of Culture), by which they usually prescribe the approaches of individuals like Paul de Man (born as Paul Adolph Michel Deman), Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser, Stanley Fish (though he sometimes gets serious about textual and historical studies), Fredric Jameson…. (the list is very long).

My views on all of this are spelled out in a lecture entitled "Sinology then and now: Methods and Aims", which I delivered at Peking University, June 7, 2012, available here and here, but it's two hours long, so don't start watching it unless you have a leisurely morning, afternoon, or evening with nothing else to do.

In closing, I would like to declare, as I have on many occasions, that although I do not consider myself a pucka linguist, I deem it a very great honor to write for Language Log, where everyone else is a real linguist.

[Thanks to Stephan Stiller]

Wimseyfic! I originally intended to write this to coincide with the Olympics, which just goes to show what my productivity has been this year. But here it is at last!

Summary: When Lord Peter Wimsey accompanies his wife to a Swiss ski resort in order to research the setting for her next detective novel, it isn't long before he finds himself investigating a mystery of his own. How has a British tourist vanished from a gondola ski lift - and why are the young woman's parents reluctant to involve the police?

The Elevated Investigation of the Empty GondolaCollapse )


My tweets


Easter eggs

Since I’m not religious, don’t like chocolate, and I’m a freelancer Easter doesn’t loom large in my calendar as an important holiday. However, the weather has been marvellous this year, and people are in rare good humour, so there’s been a great vibe – plus the Galway Food Festival is on so the city is buzzing.

Although I don’t partake of the chocolate variety I do like normal eggs, and always buy organic. A lot of the time I get eggs that originate from a poultry farm in the Burren called Poulataggle. When I bought my most recent carton of eggs I found a surprise inside:

Easter eggs

It’s a small gesture, but that made me happy when I saw it (and secured my custom). The extra egg went to Martin, who eats chocholate.

Finally, here’s a line-up of golden, chocolate bunnies for the season that’s in it. The ironic thing is that I took this image in February, when they started appearing in the shops!

Happy Easter/Passover to those that celebrate it!

Chocolate bunnies

~ Originally published at Splinister. You can comment here or there. ~


Saturday 19th April 2014


4164/17083I was gigging at Walton Playhouse tonight, though when I arrived the front doors were locked and I had to walk around the building twice before I could find a way in I wondered for a while if the gig had been cancelled and no one had bothered to tell me, but then I heard laughter coming from inside, so either the show was happening or I was the victim of a Jeremy Beadle style stunt and that was the studio audience mocking me. It was the former.