Sunday, May 1, 2016

Research Book Post #6

February 2

Book: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler

Section: More of Chapter 4 (Page 140 to 170)

The Chinese Retreat South and the Triumph of Fertility

     While the Chinese were successful at repelling the Xiongnu through the use of their own cavalry, the Great Wall, as well as control of key trade cities along with the constant garrison of their borders, all this was costly, meaning that once the strong central government of the Han fell, the Xiongnu were able to penetrate China once more. This led to a bloody period during which Turks and Mongols fought over the northern regions of China, leading to the center of Chinese power and culture to move south, to the city of Nanjing, where the Wei rulers, who were Turkish speaking, adopted Chinese and outlawed Turkish in favor of the more common Chinese. All this also led the Chinese language to extend even farther south through refugees and immigrants moving and having their Chinese language adopted. When China was reunited in 589, Chinese still continued to spread south. Through traders the religions of Zoroatrianism, Manicheanism, Islam, Buddhism, and Nestorian Christianity, along with the languages of Aramaic and Arabic, spread to the Chinese but had little effect on the overall language of the area, and by the end of the Tang dynasty, all but Buddhism and Islam had been completely eliminated. The Chinese would eventually take back the north, however they would continue a back and forth between the control of the north as it would switch between Chinese and Turkic speakers. This cycle would end with the Manchurian Qing dynasty in the 17th century, who would conquer China and although their language would officially be Turkic in origin until the 1900's, in reality it was overtaken even in Manchuria during the late 18th century by Chinese. Their language would survive, called Xibo, through a detachment of troops dispatched to the Xinjiang province of China. Many theories behind why northern Chinese is still so similar to its southern brethren despite being ruled by Altaic speakers include that Altaic and Chinese languages are simply to different for any hybrid to be established, leading to each dynasty picking one or the other. Chinese did not fair so well in other parts of Asia, and despite controlling Vietnam for centuries, the Chinese were never able to truly spread their language to the region. The only area remotely affected is the island of Java, whose eastern dialects were created as exiles from southern China fled to the region and merged their language with the natives. One reason for the Chinese lack of success was the fact that the Chinese governments often did not back its overseas populations and traders, placing bans on them and even declaring many outlaws. With the rise of the Qing dynasty, overseas populations of Chinese were literally massacred due to some supporting the old Ming, leading to all being declared enemies of China. Overtime, and in no small part due to the rise of European trade in the region, the Chinese opened up to trade and spread their population across South East Asia, to the islands of Malaysia and the lands such as Vietnam. Languages such as Egyptian and Chinese survived for several reasons over such a long period of time. They both were united as a culture under a single ruler and empire very early on, be it Egyptian Menes or Chinese Shi Huang Di. They both used their culture and religion to reinforce loyalty in the concept of a single ruler, meaning that there would be a reason to unite under one ruler, be it the concept of the god king pharaoh or the Chinese Mandate of Heaven. Finally both simply had many speakers, so that they were immune from being swamped by foreigners as they could simply out populate their enemies, even if they could not keep them out.

     One interesting note is that nobody knows how Egyptian hieroglyphs were developed, and while the common theory is that they developed from cuneiform, it has not been proven. The reason this is so fascinating is that when Egyptian hieroglyphs first appear, they do not undergo the usual evolution of other writing systems. Rather, it remains pretty much the same for 3500 years, adding minor changes and some new words over time, but remaining pretty consistent until Christianity brought with it Greek alphabets and changed Egyptian writing and administration. This proves that Egyptian hieroglyphs were very effective and sufficient for Egypt, as they saw no need or desire to change their system until forced to as new administrations introduced their own government and language, from the Romans and Persians to the Greeks. Part of the reason they could be forced in the first place was the belief among Egyptians that scribes were a higher caste, with whom all knowledge of writing should rest, meaning that it was easy to introduce other forms of writing to the lower strata who never knew their own way in the first place. Chinese writing, however, survived foreign invasions and dialect creation, mainly due to the fact that while dialects may string them together differently, Chinese symbols are still the same across all dialects, tying them all together through writing even when not mutually intelligible when spoken. Chinese also spread literacy to much of its population, especially when Confucian values and bureaucracy was introduced.
     China and Egypt were both similar in the way they interacted with foreigners, in that they did not actively do so often. Egypt mostly interacted through trade, but this was done through intermediaries, be it the Phoenicians or the Greeks later on. They conquered areas such as Syria and Palestine, but they never attempted to spread their culture here to create permanent ties. They may have been more active pushing south into areas such as Kush, due to the similarity in some ancient languages to Egyptian in the region as well as some records, but the extent of this is unknown and probably not large. This was largely the same with China, which spent most of its history on the defensive in regards to culture, with interactions mostly occurring due to foreign initiative, which is how things such as Buddhism and Islam spread to China. This continued up to the 16th century. The Chinese strategy was to allow foreigners to come to them, for the most part. In modern day, there are major Chinese communities in almost every large city in Southeast Asia, which are a principal source of investment capital in the regions. In the Philippines they make about 1% of the total population, but own about half of the stock market, and in Indonesia it is 4% and 75%, respectively. According to one estimate, 51 million overseas Chinese control an economy worth $700 billion, the same size as the 1.2 billion mainlanders. China, unlike Egypt, does have three 'disciples'. They are Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, each of which speak a different language than Chinese, had to resist Chinese invasions, but adopted Chinese writing instead of forming their own.
     The book goes on to talk about how the reasons the Egyptians survived the recorded incursions and immigrations of foreigners such as the Libyans and Kushites is mainly due to their massive population centered on the Nile. There were simply to many to convert the culture, so interlopers were doomed to merge. Egypt finally fell after it was bombarded so many times that it slowly became diluted and bilingual as so many outsiders moved in, and finally it could not resist the invasion of Arabic, brought on the backs of Islamic conquerors. By being forced to accept Islam as their religion, they were also forced to adopt Arabic, which slowly spread as Islam spread. With the loss of both their religion and then their language, the independent Egyptian identity faded, as they became more and more as simply Arab Muslims. Chinese on the other hand, was held together by two main things for so long. The first was the sense of unity the Chinese people maintained as they believed themselves the center of the world, surrounded by barbarians. The constant threat of these barbarians tied the Chinese together against a common enemy. The second was the introduction of the meritocratic examination bureaucracy that allowed for Chinese speaking institutions to always remain, as well as it leading to the standardization of the Chinese language under the Qing Dynasty.

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