Wednesday, 3 June 2009

bonze and samovar

Proto-Indo-European *sem- "one, together with" became Sanskrit saṃgha (combined with *gʷʰen- "to strike"). Monier-Williams says this means "close contact or combination" and also "the whole community or collective body or brotherhood of monks". This word was borrowed into Middle Chinese, then into Japanese as "monk", then was combined with bon "ordinary" to form bonsō, bonzō (凡僧) "unranked priest" (bonsō also means "foolish monk" according to WWWJDIC). This was borrowed into Portuguese as bonzo, then into French, then into English as bonze.

The above etymological madness is brought to you by the AHD. As usual, the OED doesn't go this far; it just suggests that the Japanese word might be from Chinese fă-sze "teacher of the law". (Has this anything to do with 法則 fǎzé "rule, law"?)

In the meantime, *sem- became Russian samo- "self", which combined with varit' "to boil" (from *wer- "to burn") to form самовар samovar literally "self-boiler".


Glen Gordon said...
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Glen Gordon said...

"Teacher" in modern Mandarin is translated as lǎoshī (see here), but lǎo (老) here literally means "old" and shī (师) originally meant "master" or "teacher" just by itself.

A fǎshī (法师) is apparently a "Buddhist master" (see here) but fǎzé (see here) refers to "law".

If you play the audio on the website, you'll here a distinct difference between how shī and are pronounced. The letter "i" is used here to represent a retroflex mid-high vowel (ie. sounds much like English "erh") while "e" represents an unrounded back vowel (ie. pronounce "o" without rounding the lips).

goofy said...

So is it possible that the OED's fă-sze "teacher of the law" is the same as your fǎshī, but in a different transliteration system?

Joseph B. said...

Sze is an older transliteration equivalent to Hanyu Pinyin si, e.g. Szechuan=Sichuan. There does not seem to be a word "fasi" as far as I can find, so fǎshī (法师) is likely to be what was meant. Conflating the retroflex and sibiliant consonant series (s-sh, z-zh, ch-c) is common in Central and Southern China.