Idiosyncreatures - How Many More Of China's Critters Can The English Language Swallow?
Into the Bestiary Business
Should Chinese creatures be incorporated into Anglo-Saxon parlance, and if so, where to draw the line in number and color? This goes beyond linguistic pedantry and serves as nucleus for life-and-death questions about global language and –if not properly addressed- a potential source of academic conflict (e. g. How about next censoring YOUR beloved critters out of world history? Leprechauns, pixies -anyone? )
It's a simple but profoundly complex issue: How much pluralism and foreign knowledge should we permit to exist? China has greatly enriched the world of fairy tales and legends with fantastic concepts such as mogwai (you remember the film ‘Gremlins’?), but also less known characters such as the ao, the bixie, the longma, the pixiu, the fenghuang, and the qilin –to name but a few.
Translation often doesn't do foreign ideas justice. How boring and unimaginative when a bixie becomes a chimera; an ao a turtle; a pixiu a winged lion; a fenghuang a phoenix, and a qilin just another unicorn? while in fact they are often very different, not only apparently but also historically. Imagine a world without Brother Grimm's Fairy Tales (its richness of Germanic vocabularies and terms). That's right, Chinese folkloric idiosyncreatures are as fascinating, and its family tree no less gorgeous and impressive, than European beasts of fur and claws.
Two years ago, the China Daily newspaper approached your author for an essay on the Chinese ‘long’ on the occasion of celebrating the Lunar Year of the Dragon. I knew the Chinese ‘lung’ (as it was spelled in Germany) from my childhood days, when Germany was very open to East-Asian words thanks to the cultural pull of Japan.
No translation, please!
It was fashionable to call things by their real, authentic names, not making up German translations. This attitude, however, has changed dramatically later in high school (where only unpolluted, clear German diction became permissible) and, generally, in the last two decades of our so-called cultural up-tightness concerning the global Westernization, especially in the English speaking world which was traditionally –at least in the upper crust of society- kept snobbishly clean and coherently complete away from too many Chinese words. [This is about to change.]
Here is the punchy dragon piece with the appropriate title:
LONG INTO THE WEST’S DRAGON BUSINESS
Had Siegfried of Beowulf not slain a European dragon but a Chinese long, those heroes would have committed an extraordinary crime. That’s because the Chinese long is essentially a force of the good.
The long of China has a history (and etymology) of several thousand years and there are, according to linguist Michael Carr, more than 100 classical ones. Linguistically, it’s a tragedy that many Chinese people, I mean the well-educated, English-speaking ones, are so readily prepared to call the long “dragons” –that’s like voluntarily abandoning one’s culture.
It is predicted that China will overtake the mighty United States in terms of the economy in a decade. Yet an ordinary Westerner has never heard about Lu Xun, doesn't know who Sun Wukong (the Monkey King) is, cannot tell a shengren from a junzi, has no inkling of Xi You Ji (The Journey to the West) or Hong Lou Meng (The Dream of Red Mansion), or any idea about the correct name for that mysterious creature that’s lavishly showcased throughout the international media these days: the Chinese long.
A long is a long, maybe even a tianlong, but please, please do not use “dragon”. That kind of linguistic imperialism happened to your unique Sichuan xiongmao once, remember? Now it’s a Western “panda”.
Image credit: Anna Omelchenko/Shutterstock.com
Thorsten Pattberg (D.Litt.) is the author of The East-West Dichotomy (China's Foreign Language Press, 2013) and the forthcoming Knowledge is a Polyglot - The Future of Global Language (Hanban/Foreign Language Press, 2014). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.