Robinson Mason and I have been discussing the creation of a script for the Kasgen people of Hadanus. The two big questions on my mind are:

1. What does the Kasgen script look like? What is its ductus (< Latin 'drawing')?

2. How does it work? What is its modus? (I just made up that use of the Latin word.)

Ductus and modus are intertwined yet distinct. It's possible to have two scripts with similar-looking characters that work differently: e.g., the Cherokee syllabary resembles the Latin alphabet and even has some identical shapes but is not an alphabet. Cherokee characters represent syllables. A few Cherokee syllables can be romanized with a single vowel letter, but most can't:

Cherokee character Cherokee phonetic value
D a
H mi
L tle
S du
K tso
B yv [jə̃] (v is a vowel in Cherokee romanization)

The Japanese kana syllabaries have a modus similar to Cherokee (generally one character = one syllable), but have different ducti. Hiragana is cursive and katakana is written with strokes also used in Chinese characters.

Phonetic value Cherokee: Hiragana Katakana
a D
mi H

Although the kana syllabaries are both based on Chinese characters, the three scripts have distinct ducti:

Hiragana: cursive, few strokes

Compare three-stroke あ to its six-stroke Chinese source 安.

Katakana: angular, few strokes

Compare two-stroke ア to its eight-stroke Chinese source 阿.

Chinese characters: angular, many strokes, most characters are stacks of multi-stroke elements

Horizontal stacking: 宀 + 女 = 安

Vertical stacking: 阝 + 可 = 阿

(For simplicity, I am overlooking Chinese cursive.)

Ran out of time. More tomorrow.

8.23.3:15: Here's an East Asian example of similar ducti but different modi. Out of context, the three characters can look identical (though the fonts make them appear slightly different on my computer):

Chinese Japanese katakana Korean hangul
Modus Represents morpheme Old Chinese *khoʔ and its descendants: Mandarin kou, Cantonese hau, etc. Syllabic: represents Japanese syllable ro Alphabetic: represents Korean consonant m

8.23.4:05: And at the other extreme, here's a South(east) Asian example of one basic modus with different (yet distantly related) ducti:

Devanagari Tamil Tibetan Burmese Oriya Bengali Thai Lao Khmer
Modus: k- + base vowel ka kɔɔ kɑɑ
Character က

The base vowel was central except in the east where it was back (e.g., Bengali kɔ). The Thai and Lao scripts are derivatives of ancient Khmer whose back base vowel (*ɔɔ, now ɑɑ) seems to reflect an East Indic modus. Although Burmese is adjacent to Bengali, the Burmese base vowel is a, perhaps because a was the closest vowel in ancient Burmese which lacked ɔ. AN O-NOMALOUS ZERO ONSET

In the last two posts, I mentioned the Cantonese name for Optimus Prime

柯柏文 Obaakman

which would be read as Kebowen in Mandarin with K- instead of zero. Cantonese also has k- corresponding to Mandarin k-, so why doesn't Cantonese have k- instead of a zero initial?

Cantonese also has h- and f- corresponding to Mandarin k-: e.g.,

康 Ct hong, Md kang

苦 Ct fu, Md ku

One might first assume that Ct k-, h-, Ø- descend from different Middle Chinese initials that all merged in Mandarin:

Middle Chinese Cantonese Mandarin
*X1- k- [kh] k- [kh]
*X2- h-
*X3- f-
*X4- Ø-

However, Vietnamese borrowings from a Middle Chinese dialect resembling Cantonese seem to indicate that southern Middle Chinese had only one initial *kh-:

Middle Chinese Vietnamese Cantonese Mandarin
*kh- (in both northern and southern dialects) kh- k- [kh] k- [kh]

(I am going to ignore cases of MC *kh- > Mandarin q- [tɕh], since this post concerns Cantonese sounds correpsonding to Mandarin k-, not the Mandarin reflexes of MC *kh-.)

Vietnamese kh- is [x] today, but was [kh] in the 17th century.

Are the four Cantonese reflexes of MC *kh- predictable? Offhand:

f- is only before u: e.g, 苦 Ct fu < *xu < *khu < MC *khoʔ

h- and k- occur in the same environments, but h- seems to be the most common reflex. k- may be in later borrowings: e.g.,

鈳 Ct ko, probably from Md ke (Ct -o regularly corresponds to Md -e) 'columbium' (named in 1801; the Chinese forms are neologisms based on the first syllable co-)

cf. presumably native 可 Ct ho < *kho < MC *khaʔ

(Near-)homophones in Middle Chinese can belong to different strata in Cantonese: e.g.,

康 MC *khaŋ > Ct hong (presumably native)

慷 MC *khaŋʔ > Ct kong (later borrowing?)

(The MC final *-ʔ has no correlation with k- instead of h-.)

Both 康 and 慷 have kh- [x] < pre-17th c. *kh- in Vietnamese: khang, khảng.

Ø- is only (?) before o in open syllables: e.g., 柯 Ct o < *ho < *xo < *kho.

(Oddly the MC reading of 柯 according to the dictionary tradition was *kaʔ with *k- but both Mandarin and Cantonese have forms implying *kha with aspiration and without a final glottal stop. Comparing modern languages can enable us to reconstruct earlier popular forms excluded from literature.)

Some but not all MC *kh- were lost before *o (but why not before other rhymes?).

軻 MC *kha > Ct o

珂 MC *kha > Ct ho (not o!)

Both 軻 and 珂 are kha [xa] < pre-17th c. *kha in Vietnamese.

8.22.00:50: It occurred to me that if *kh- > *x- > *f- before -u, a similar sound change involving voiced initials may have had a *v-stage:

苦 MC *khoʔ > *khu > *xu > fu

胡 Late Old Chinese *go > MC *ɣo >*ɣu > ?*vu > wu

This *v-stage and the *-o > *-u shift must postdate the Chinese borrowings in Vietnamese, since 胡 is Viet hồ rather than vù.

I used to reconstruct the late MC initial 奉 as *v-, but if this is correct, it must have devoiced before *ɣ- > *v-, since it became labiodental f- in Cantonese rather than w-:

Late Old Chinese Early Middle Chinese Late Middle Chinese Vietnamese Cantonese (before -u) Mandarin (before -u)
*kh- *kh- *kh- kh- [x] < *kh- f- k- [kh]
*g- *ɣ- *ɣ- h- w- h-
*b- *b- *v- ph- [f] < *ph- f- f-

Vietnamese seems to reflect a very late stage of MC with devoiced fricatives. If late MC *v- had not devoiced, it would have been borrowed as Vietnamese *b-, just as late MC *f- was borrowed as Vietnamese *ph-. LESS THAN OPTIMAL

Here are the derivations of six names for Optimus Prime from easiest to hardest:

Mandarin 歐普 Oupu < Op(timus)

?Mandarin 奧提摩 Aotimo < Optimus

?Mandarin 奧提馬 Aotima < Optimus

I am guessing these last two are from Taiwan rather than Hong Kong because they would be Outaimo and Outaima in Cantonese, and Cantonese -tai- is not a good match for the -ti- of Optimus.

Cantonese 柯柏文 Obaakman < Op(timus) Prime (the phonetic resemblance is ... less than optimal)

Mandarin 柯博文 Kebowen, apparently a respelling of the above name 柯柏文 which would also be Kebowen in Mandarin (assuming that 柏 is read as bo as in 柏林 Bolin 'Berlin' rather than as bai 'cypress'; in Cantonese, 柏 baak is never homophonous with 博 bok)

Mandarin 康寶 Kangbao < Convoy (OP's name in Japan which is, strictly speaking, Konboi; I initially thought 柯博文 Kebowen also somehow came from Convoy, but I was mistaken)

If all English evidence for the Transformers disappeared, could Optimus Prime's name be reconstructed on the basis of these transcriptions? Would anyone even guess that the first five represented the same name? The link between Aotimo and Aotima is obvious, but their links to the other three aren't.

This kind of problem is not purely theoretical. I face it with many names from ancient East Asia. What was the true name of the founder of Koguryo and the subject of a recent TV series, variously recorded in Chinese characters as

(Kor = modern Korean, LOC = Late Old Chinese, the stage of Chinese spoken when at least some of these spellings might have been devised)

東明 Kor Tongmyŏng, LOC *toŋmɨaŋ 'Eastern Brightness'

The -ɨa- in the second syllable doesn't match the o or u in other versions of the name. The creator of the name may have compromised phonetic similarity in favor of positive semantics.

朱蒙 Kor Chumong, LOC *tɕuomoŋ < Old Chinese *tomoŋ

鄒蒙 Kor Chhumong, LOC *tʂumuŋ

鄒牟 Kor Chhumo, LOC *tʂumu

衆解 Kor Chunghae, LOC *tɕuŋhkɛʔ

Ryu Ryŏl (1983: 210) thinks this is an error for 衆牟 Kor Chungmu, LOC *tɕuŋhmu

解 not only looks like 牟 but is also the name of this king's father 解慕漱 Hae Mosu

The alternate name 象解 Kor Sanghae, LOC *zɨaŋhkɛʔ could be a distortion of Ryu's hypothetical 衆牟

仲牟 Jpn Chuumu < Old Jpn Tiũmu, Middle Chinese and LOC *ʈuŋmu

都慕 Jpn Tomo or Tobo < Old Jpn To(m)bo, Middle Chinese *tom(b)oh < LOC *tomoh

I presume that these all represent a Koguryo name like *tʊmʊ, though some spellings suggest an affricate iniital. Perhaps the name had a variant *tumʊ that became *tsumʊ or *tɕumʊ in some Koguryo dialects (cf. the shift of tu > tsu in Japanese*) and the Japanese recorded a variant 都慕 from a dialect without affrication. 朱 had *t- in Old Chinese and could have had an archaic reading *tʊ in Koguryo borrowed before affrication in Chinese: Old Chinese 朱 *to > LOC *tɕuo.

A less likely possibility is that Koguryo had no affricates and borrowed Chinese affricates as stops, so 鄒蒙, etc. were pronounced with *t-. However, if that were the case, why aren't there Chinese affricate/stop alternations in other names?

The zero ~ ŋ alternations in the names may tell us that the Koguryo language had no final nasals, so the Koguryo may have borrowed 東 LOC *toŋ as an open syllable *tʊ (cf. its Japanese reading tou < Old Jpn toũ).

*If Japanese is related to the Koguryo language, the tu > tsu shifts in the two languages occurred independently centuries apart. ARE THERE CHINESE CHARACTERS ON CYBERTRON?

I found at least nine different Chinese names for Optimus Prime in Wikipedia:

Meaningful in Chinese

Mandarin 擎天柱 Jingtianzhu 'Pillar of Strength' (lit. 'support heaven pillar') in the PRC

Mandarin (無敵)鐵牛 (Wudi) Tieniu '(Invincible) Iron Bull' in Taiwan

Mandarin 至尊 Zhizun 'Supreme' in Taiwan (i.e., prime)

Meaningless in Chinese; characters chosen for phonetic values only

Mandarin 柯博文 Kebowen in Taiwan

Cantonese 柯柏文 Obaakman in Hong Kong

Mandarin 康寶 Kangbao in Taiwan

Mandarin 歐普 Oupu in Taiwan

?Mandarin 奧提摩 Aotimo (in Taiwan?)

?Mandarin 奧提馬 Aotima (in Taiwan?)

Can you guess the derivations of those last six names?

And can you guess the derivation of 孩之寶 Hai zhi bao 'Child's Treasure'? Since 孩之寶 is meaningful, I didn't even realize it was also a loose phonetic transcription. WAS LATIN SPOKEN ON CYBERTRON?

And was Chinese spoken (and written) at the dawn of Japan?

No and no.

Optimus Prime and Jinmu are both impossible names.

The Transformer robots of the planet Cybertron wouldn't know Latin. So why would the leader of the Autobots have a Latin/English hybrid name? (Optimus means 'best'.) Suppose their 'language' (would it even be spoken if Transformers were realistic?) were translated into English. I can believe that the second half of OP's name could be translated into English as Prime, but Optimus isn't an English word. I suppose the omnipotent translator device was trying to find a word that conveyed the feeling of some classical Cybertronian word and resorted to Latin Optimus instead of English Optimal or Best. I feel like a comic book letter column writer trying to cover up a mistake in a previous issue.

Optimus Prime is just the latest in a long line of sci-fi 'alien' names that are based on not-so-alien Latin: e.g., the Vulcans and Romulans of Star Trek. The villain of the latest Star Trek movie was named ... Nero. How probable is this? I guess the universe is big enough to accomodate anything. If I keep looking, maybe I will find aliens named ... Frank and Ethel Davis!*

It just occurred to me that the Japanese generally don't give aliens Chinese-based names. But they gave such names to their earliest supposed rulers. 神武 Jinmu is Japan's mythical first emperor. But even if he did exist, he would have died long before Japan had any contact with Chinese language and culture. Yet his posthumous name 神武 Jinmu is a Chinese-based name! Jinmu is a Japanization of Middle Chinese *ʑin muoʔ 'divine [and] martial'. Posthumous names are a Chinese practice.

(8.19.0:45: Thanks to Robinson Mason for setting me on the path to finding out that the name Jinmu was very posthumous. It was given to Jinmu in the 760s. Prior to that, he was known by various native names.)

I was going to rant about 居佛理 Kŏbulli (3804 BC-3718 BC) in the pseudohistorical 桓檀古記 Hwandan kogi being another absurd mythological name because it contained 佛 'Buddha', who didn't even exist until over three millennia later. The graph 佛 'Buddha' is not even two thousand years old yet. But I found out that 居佛理 in Wikipedia is a misspelling for 居弗理 without 佛 'Buddha'. That correction still doesn't address other problems, like how the name could be transmitted for millennia without leaving a trace in any other records besides the Hwandan kogi which may not have even existed before the distant past of ...1979. Or why Kŏbulli ruled a place with a Chinese name - 神市 Shinshi, the 'Spirit City'. This is as likely as a Hungarian king of a place with the Greek-based name 'Olympus' in 4000 BC. (The actual Greek name of Olympus is Όλυμπος Olympos with -os; -us is a Latin ending.)

So what do a cartoon and two nonexistent rulers have in common? Names that tell us about their creators' beliefs in linguistic hierarchy. Even though few Americans, Japanese, or Koreans know Latin or Classical Chinese, elements from those languages are still prestigious in modern society. To an American, Optimus Prime sounds nicer than, say, Mejor Prime, even though Spanish mejor 'better' is equivalent (but not cognate to) Latin optimus. Similarly, Jinmu and Shinshi must have sounded impressive to the Japanese and Korean men who coined them; their English equivalents might be Theomachus** and Theopolis.

*In Jim Shooter's "The (Super) Girl in the Green House" in Action Comics #344 (December 1966), Supergirl visits the planet Gaea which is a double of Earth and is inhabited by Homo sapiens lookalikes Frank and Ethel Davis. 15-year-old prodigy writer Shooter cooked up a scenario on Gaea not unlike Wild in the Streets (1968) two years later in which teenagers take over.

**Greek θεόμαχος theomakhos 'fighting against God' has an 'against' absent from 神武 but it's the closest and nicest parallel I could think of offhand. WHAT DO OPTIMUS PRIME AND EMPEROR JINMU* HAVE IN COMMON?

The answer involves their names. That question came to mind yesterday as I was reading about the rulers of 神市 Shinshi listed in 桓檀古記 Hwandan kogi. The name that jumped out at me was 居佛理 Kŏbulli (3804 BC-3718 BC). Can you guess why? Hint: 佛 means 'Buddha'.

(8.18.22:11: 居佛理 is an error in Wikipedia for 居弗理 without 佛 'Buddha'. See the next entry.)

*A.k.a. 神武 Jimmu with -mm- which is the more common and more phonetic spelling. The -nm- I use on this site reflects Japanese spelling.

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