Archive for Writing systems

Devilishly difficult "dialect"

Are some languages innately more difficult than others?  In "Difficult languages" (1/2/10), Bill Poser addressed this question from various angles.  I've heard it said that Georgian is incredibly difficult because it possesses an "impossible" verbal system, has ergativity and other features that make for "interesting" learning, and so forth.  Yet, in comparison with some of the North Caucasian languages (whose relationship to K'art'velian [or South Caucasian], the language family to which Georgian belongs — along with Svan, Chan/Megrelian/Mingrelian/Laz, is perhaps more an areal phenomenon than a genetic relationship), it is relatively simple. The North Caucasian languages have an abundance of phonemes and an even more complex grammatical system.  John Colarusso has written an excellent grammar of Kabardinian, which gives a good idea of the complexity of this Northwest Caucasian language.

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More on "mother" (focus on India)

A little over a year ago, I wrote about "The concept of 'mother' in linguistics " (6/25/14).  In that post, we looked at the use of the notion of "mother" for language studies in Ugaritic, Moabite, South Arabian, Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, and Chinese.

Although I had a nagging recollection to the contrary, I stated:  "So far as I am aware, the notion of 'mother' does not have a similar function in Sanskrit phonology."  Although I wrote that, it bothered me ever since, inasmuch as I did remember from my Sanskrit studies of nearly half a century ago that "mother" did figure in Indian theories of language, but I just couldn't remember exactly what it was.

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Lei Feng: model soldier-citizen

If you don't know who Lei Feng is, you should.  He's China's equivalent of the Good Samaritan and Alfred E. Neuman ("What, me worry?") all wrapped up in one (for those of you who are not familiar with Alfred E. Neuman, one of my high school heroes, here's the real McCoy).

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Roman letter shapes in Japanese

[A guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Recently, I encountered two examples of the intriguing use of roman letters in Japanese to describe various shapes and parts of the nether regions of human anatomy.

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Miswritten character on a Tokyo Metro sign

From Matthew Duggan:

As a Tokyo resident, I take an interest in the failing ability of those in China and Japan to write and distinguish characters due to computer use. [VHM:  See, inter alia, here, here, here, here, and here.]

I could write 1,000 characters at my peak, but with constant computer use I’m down to my address and a few other common ones.

 In that spirit, I thought you might like this news story.

The story Matthew linked to is in Japanese, but it features these two (perhaps not so) revealing photographs:

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Sino-Nipponica

Back in mid-December, 2013, I started assembling materials for a post about the differences between Chinese and Japanese writing.  I think that someone (I forget who) sent me a couple of links that stimulated me to think about this topic, and then I added some things of my own.  That was about as far as I got, though, so the would-be post was filed away in my drafts folder until I stumbled upon it today.

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Pinyin with Chinese characters

Matt Keefe came across this sign on a San Francisco streetcar in April:

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Pinyin without Chinese characters

Occasionally one encounters pinyin with no hanzi (Chinese characters); see at the bottom of this photograph taken by Randy Alexander at a small mall right across from the main entrance to Xiamen (Amoy) University:

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Using Sinitic characters in Korea

S. Robert Ramsey is professor of East Asian linguistics at the University of Maryland and author of the excellent book titled The Languages of China.  I often consult with Bob on matters pertaining to Korean and Japanese; he is a reliable source of information on these languages as well as on Chinese in its many varieties — both in their current circumstances and with regard to their historical evolution.

In a recent communication, Bob described a ceremony he attended in Seoul.  Since it touches on a subject that we have often discussed on Language Log — digraphia — I thought that I'd share it with colleagues here.

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Multiscriptal graffiti in Berlin

Gábor Ugray took this photo last week outside a Turkish-run Italian restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, a diverse mix between run-down and hip:

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A Dartmouth grad's contribution to the development of Hangul

The current issue of the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine includes an article by Karl Schutz and Jun Bum Sun that made me sit bolt upright:

"The Chosŏn One:  The influence of Homer Hulbert, class of 1884, lives on in a country far from his home" (Jul-Aug, 2015).

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Polysyllabic characters revisited

In "'Double Happiness': symbol of Confucianism as a religion"  (6/8/15), we had a vigorous discussion over how to pronounce this character:  囍 ("double happiness").  Some participants and sources said that it should be pronounced the same as 喜 ("happy; joyful"), i.e., xǐ, while others held that it is pronounced with two syllables as shuāngxǐ.

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Digraphia and bilingualism in a Nissan ad

Photograph of a Chinese ad spotted in a Beijing elevator by David Moser, who also provided much of the analysis that follows:

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