Manchu cropping up in very strange places

A while ago I posted about a guy I bumped into with Manchu script on his shirt.  Now I found something even more odd.  You’ve probably seen those kinds of notebooks that students often buy with forms in them where their classmates are supposed to fill in their contact information and their likes and dislikes.  Look at this example (below the fold): Continue reading Manchu cropping up in very strange places

Manchu script in modern fashion

Having started summer vacation, I brought my kids up to Jilin to see the relatives for a couple weeks. I skipped down to Beijing for a couple days to meet up with Victor Mair, David Moser, Joel Martinsen, Brendan O’Kane, and Syz.  On the way back I had to switch trains in Changchun.  I found a cell phone charger and while I was waiting for it to charge, a guy came up and stood near me.  I glanced at his t-shirt and was very surprised at what I saw. Continue reading Manchu script in modern fashion

Where the story took place

The story of the Nishan Shaman is generally considered to be a legend, undoubtedly because there is no empirical evidence that shamans can travel to the underworld and raise the dead.  But many legends are based on real events.  And of course there is a lot of fiction that is set in real places.  Based on matching geographical information from the story to real geographical information, I believe I have determined the physical setting of the beginning of the story. Continue reading Where the story took place

Where is Lolo?

As soon as my kids got out of school for the Spring Festival (mid-February), I stuffed them in the car and headed up to Harbin to see the Ice Festival. We passed a village on Route 202 called 拉林 (lālín), and it crossed my mind that with a little phonetic change, maybe it used to be Lolo, the village mentioned in the opening sentence of The Book of the Nisan Shaman.  On the way back I stopped there to get some snacks and found that it was a Manchu village and there was Manchu writing on signs everywhere. Continue reading Where is Lolo?


In the fifth installment of The Book of the Nisan Shaman there is a word “caise” mentioned as being a kind of food that is prepared for Sergudai Fiyanggo’s funeral.  Pawel looked up the word in P. Schmidt, “Chinesische Elemente im Mandschu. Mit Wörterverzeichnis” in: Asia Major volume 7, 1932, and found a strange Chinese character.  He referred me to the entry in the dictionary:


I couldn’t find that character anywhere, and neither could several people I asked, so I sent the entry to Victor Mair.  After several days of hunting, he finally tracked it down.  He says that when he finally spotted it in Hanyu Da Zidian, 5.3164, he “laughed / sobbed bitterly / mournfully”.  The following is a guest post by Victor Mair: Continue reading Caise


I posted this in response to a query on the American Dialect Society mailing list (ADS-L), and am cross-posting it here because it is more relevant here than there.  Someone had asked about a strange Chinglish translation: smallpox for 天花灯 (tiānhuādēng).  The answer to that is easy enough, and James Harbeck answered it there: the same characters are used for ceiling (天花板) and smallpox (天花).  Another poster, Douglas G. Wilson, then asked the more difficult question of why they are so named.

As I was looking for something else in some Manchu-related materials I serendipitously found the answer to this question. Continue reading Smallpox

Sanjiazi 07: Showing off students

Previous entries: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

A couple of students came to the office to demonstrate their Manchu skills.  Mrs Guan was given the third book I mentioned in the last post (which you can open up and look at to follow along, if you like), so she could say some words in Chinese and have the students say their Manchu equivalents.  Continue reading Sanjiazi 07: Showing off students

Kids’ Corner 01

Often children’s stories feature language that native speakers know and take for granted, but is not often found in texts that are intended for the day to day business of adults.  They often include animal names, as well as words denoting things and actions one might encounter in daily life, but would not normally write about.  This series of posts will explore stories that are found in one of the books I purchased in Taipei: Manju gisun aji gurun gisun i jube, 满语童话故事, by 庄吉發, who is a researcher in residence at Taipei Gugong.


Continue reading Kids’ Corner 01