Date: Fri, 20 Jan 1995 11:14:51 -0800
From: David Prager Branner charmii[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Subject: The English for some Chinese terms
I am a Chinese dialectologist, and am writing to you to ask for
help finding some suitable English words to translate certain Chinese
terms. These are things having to do with farm life. I am hoping someone
can suggest English words for these things - native English words from an
earlier stage of the language, perhaps, or words used in English early in
the period of contact with East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures (such
as "carabao" for "water buffalo", which is a good, distinctive translation
for Chinese _niou_).
If not, can anyone refer me to some glossary or lexicon of early
English farming lexicon that is short enough to be browsed (shorter than
the Oxford Dictionary of Middle English, e.g.).
There are three words I am having trouble with. The first is a
resilient pole that is put over the shoulder to carry heavy loads on both
ends - two buckets, perhaps, or two large bundles of kindling brush. I
have been using "shoulder pole" and "burden pole" and "carrying pole" for
this, but people say they don't know what I am talking about. Yet I have
seen objects like this in movies about medieval life in England, and I
can't believe the directors have simply borrowed them from China.
The next is a word having to do with the rice paddy, the Chinese
wet field: Chinese build raised footpaths out of mud through their
fields, in part to serve as footpaths and in part to demarcate field
boundaries. There are many Chinese words for these footpaths - can you
suggest an English word that really and truly means the same thing, or
The last is also related to the rice paddy, but to the "terraced"
rice paddy used in mountainous areas, called a "stepped field" in Chinese.
Paddies themselves are horizontal, but at the back (the mountain side) of
each paddy is a nearly vertical wall of earth. This bank of earth has a
special term in Chinese, and the building, mowing, and maintenance of it
is an important part of field labor. Viewed in silhouette, the stepped
fields look like this:
The "_" symbols represent the little tracts of wet field and the slashes
represent the thing I am talking about, the bank or wall at the back of
each tract of field. Can you think of a name for this, from somewhere in
Please respond directly to me at the email or regular mail address below.
I thank you for your time and trouble.
David Prager Branner, Yuen Ren Society
Asian L&L, DO-21, University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195 charmii[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]u.washington.edu