Archive for Writing systems

Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 2

Michael Meng, China curator at the Yale University Library, discovered several rare books in Yale's Medical Historical Library that provide important evidence for the development of phoneticization of Chinese characters in the transcription of country names and personal names of foreigners.

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Economy of expression

Flying back from Vienna on Austrian Airlines yesterday, I saw the following notices printed on the back of the seat in front of me:

Gurte während des sitzens geschlossen halten*

Fasten seat belt while seated

*some airlines begin this sentence with a "bitte", which would make the German even longer

Die schwimmweste befindet sich unter ihrem sitz

Life vest under your seat

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Chinese, Japanese, and Russian signs at Klagenfurt Botanical Gardens

Blake Shedd sent along a series of forty pictures of plant identification signs from the botanical garden in the small southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt am Wörthersee. He was rather impressed that the botanical garden staff went to the trouble of including non-Latin / non-German names for the plants.  And I was impressed at the remarkable documentation Blake provided by carefully and clearly photographing so many signs with essentially the same lighting and size.  There's no need for him to apologize ("leaning over roped-off areas to get shots resulted in a few blurry or less than ideal shots"). The green leaves appearing at the edges of some of the photographs, which are otherwise black and white, only serve to enhance the arboreal, herbaceous atmosphere evoked by reading the signs.

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Rapping Karl Marx in China

In Sixth Tone, Fan Yiying has written an article that leaves me reeling:

"Hip Song Gives Karl Marx Good Rap:  Theme music for a Marx-focused television show is a hit with Chinese youth."

The video of the song is posted here (unfortunately, you have to wait 40 seconds to get through the ads). And here is the audio:

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Firestorm over Chinese characters

It began with a one page think piece by Ted Chiang in the New Yorker (5/16/16) that we describe and discuss here:

"Ted Chiang uninvents Chinese characters" (5/13/16)

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Writing Sinitic languages with phonetic scripts

This morning I was awakened by a bird calling outside my window, "m*ll*n*y m*l*rk*y", or maybe it was some squirrel chattering (I was half asleep and couldn't be sure which it was).  Since I was unable to distinguish the vowels clearly, I couldn't tell exactly what the call / chatter was, but the bird / squirrel kept repeating it over and over, so at least I was able to transcribe the general lineaments: "m*ll*n*y m*l*rk*y m*ll*n*y m*l*rk*y m*ll*n*y m*l*rk*y".

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Backward Thinking about Orientalism and Chinese Characters

 This is a guest post by David Moser of Beijing Capital Normal University

For those of us who teach and research the Chinese language, it is often difficult to describe how the Chinese characters function in conveying meaning and sound, and it’s always a particular challenge to explain how the writing system differs from the alphabetic systems we are more familiar with. The issues are complex and multi-layered, and have important implications for basic literacy and the teaching of Chinese to both native speakers and foreign learners. Tom Mullaney, a professor of history at Stanford University, has lately been muddying these pedagogical waters in a series of articles and interviews that seriously misrepresent the merits and relative advantages of the alphabet over the Chinese script.

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Ted Chiang uninvents Chinese characters

Yesterday morning on the commute to Penn, I was intrigued by a series of six articles in the latest New Yorker (5/16/16) that appeared under the rubric "Uninvent this":  Mary Karr on high heels, Charlie Brooker on dancing, Carrie Brownstein on conference calls, Lee Child on fiction, Alexandra Kleeman on mirrors….  When I reached the sixth and last one, I was so stunned that I almost dropped the magazine and nearly fell out of my seat.

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LipsyncHK

Near the Star Ferry terminal on the Hong Kong Island side, Bea Lam noticed a number of fantastic, huge, colorful posters plastered on the walls as part of a “LipsyncHK” project that showcases Cantonese phrases and encourages visitors to try them out.  Bea was (very happily) surprised to see this large and open demonstration of Cantonese pride in a government-sponsored project, given the political environment.

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Cactus Wawa revisited

One of the most intriguing and enthralling Language Log posts is this one:

"cactus wawa: the strange tale of a strange character" (11/1/14)

I spent months doing the research for that post and, although it garnered 80 helpful comments, I still felt that there were some loose ends.  Consequently, I was delighted to receive last week (4/13/16) the following message from Robert Cheng, the brother of the owner of the teashop:

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Character amnesia redux

This is a topic that we have frequently broached on Language Log:

In several recent messages to me, Guy Almog has raised the issue once again.  This is not unexpected for someone whose ongoing research focuses on the changing writing and reading habits of native Chinese and Japanese speakers, and mainly with issues of memory and forgetfulness of hanzi / kanji.

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Manchu illiteracy

Devin Fitzgerald, who works on Qing manuscripts at Harvard, posted an image on Twitter showing some of the difficulties that pre-conquest Qing archivists had with Chinese characters:

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More katakana, fewer kanji

In a comment to "Character amnesia and kanji attachment " (2/24/16), I wrote:

For the last 40 years and more, I have informally tracked kanji usage in Japanese books, newspapers, journals, magazines, signs, notices, labels, directions, messages, reports, business cards (meishi), packaging, etc., etc. and the conclusion I reach is that the proportion of kanji used now is much less than it was four-five decades ago. Conversely, the proportion of katakana, hiragana, rōmaji, and English has increased dramatically.

Has anyone done studies of this phenomenon in a more formal, rigorous way? And I would suggest extending the investigation back a hundred years or more.

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