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

something close?

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

historical English?

Please respond directly to me at the email or regular mail address below.

I thank you for your time and trouble.

Yours sincerely,

David Prager Branner, Yuen Ren Society

Asian L&L, DO-21, University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98195 charmii[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]