Archive for Writing systems

Turkish written with Latin letters half a millennium ago

In "Türkçe'nin 500 Yıl Önce Latin Harfleriyle Yazılışı" (7/26/16), Abdurrahman Onur Çalışır presents a Turkish text written in Latin letters together with a translation into Latin:

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Sino-Roman hybrid characters

Founded in 1858, Keio is the oldest university in Japan and one of the best, also ranking high in world ratings.  Its name is written 慶應 in kanji.  That's a lot of strokes to scribble down every time you want to write the name of your university, so Keio people often write it this way:   广+K 广+O (imagine that the "K" and the "O" are written inside of the 广).  That makes 6 strokes and 4 strokes instead of 15 strokes and 17 strokes respectively, 10 strokes total instead of 32.

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Language is messy, part 2: Arabic script in "Arrival"

A few days ago I posted the trailer for the forthcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival," based on Ted Chiang's linguistically rich tale of alien contact, "Story of Your Life." While most commenters have wondered how well Chiang's xenolinguistics will translate to the big screen, a couple of eagle-eyed observers noted something worrying in the trailer: incredibly sloppy use of Arabic script.

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Pinyin memoirs

Chang Li-ching (my wife) wrote her childhood memoirs in Hanyu Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin):

Pīnyīn Rìjì Duǎnwén (Pinyin Diary Essays).

Li-ching specifically did NOT want her memoirs published in hanzi (Chinese characters).  She was passionately devoted to farmers and workers — like John DeFrancis — and she wrote her memoirs in Pinyin as a testimony of her devotion to them.

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Roman-letter Mandarin pronoun of indeterminate gender

From B JS:

Some interesting uses of the Roman letter third person pronoun “TA” to sidestep genders associated with the characters tā 他 ("he") and tā 她 ("she"); it seems useful enough to perhaps become a permanent fixture in the language, in contrast to more faddish-seeming things like “duang” (see here and here).  I kind of wish you could do this in English.

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English "wine", French "vin", Spanish "vino"

Translators of Chinese poetry are tormented by how to render the term jiǔ 酒.  The nearly universal English rendering of jiǔ 酒 in Chinese belles lettres is "wine".  The problem is that "wine" is fruit based (usually grapes), whereas jiǔ 酒 is grain based.

This is a topic that has come up tangentially on Language Log many times in the past (see below for some references).  I am revisiting it now because, in the fall, I will be participating in an event in New York having to do with tea and wine.  In the minds of those who know Chinese, that will be framed in terms of chá 茶 and jiǔ 酒.

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Erdoğan

Below is a guest post by Bob Ladd:


Recent events in Turkey have meant that President Erdoğan is in headlines around the world – except that in many parts of the world, the headlines are about President “Erdogan”. A few newspapers outside Turkey faithfully reproduce the yumuşak G (the letter G with a short mark or caron, which between vowels is mostly silent in Turkish), but mostly they just use an unadorned G. So is this a matter of technology or ethnocentricity? That is, do newspapers ignore the diacritic on the G because inserting the correct character would be a time-consuming and potentially error-prone process? Or do they ignore it because it’s a weird letter in a weird language and nobody really cares anyway? There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that both factors play a role.

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Political vocabulary and Brother Cream

BBC News has a nice article by Tzu-Wei Liu on "The politics of a martial arts book fair in Hong Kong" (7/26/16).  The article is accompanied by six photographs; I will focus on the two that interest me most (because they are both language related), the third and the sixth.

Here's the third photograph:

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Japan: crazy over portmanteaux

No matter where I go these days, I hear young people shouting to their friends, "I'm playing Pokémon Go", which they pronounce "pokey-mon go".  It would be an understatement to say that, for the past few weeks, Pokémon Go has been a veritable craze.  Yet most people who play the game probably do not realize that the name "Pokémon" is a Japanese portmanteau based on two English words:  poketto ポケット ("pocket") + monsutā モンスター ("monster"). 

"What's in a name — Pikachu, Beikaciu, Pikaqiu?" (5/31/16)

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Stylized characters

Dean Barrett sent in these two photographs of signs from, respectively, the Taiwan Literary Museum and a sex shop in Tainan that is well known for its wide selection of condoms:

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Learning to read and write Chinese

Responding to "How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08), Alex Wang writes:

Thanks for the great blog.  I have also enjoyed the articles of David Moser.  My path toward your blog started when I decided to teach my younger son, 4, to start to read Chinese and English.  It also was heavily influenced by watching my elder son, 7, struggle with learning how to write characters.  He is attending public school here in Shenzhen.  Both were born in HK and raised in Shenzhen.  Moreover, my wife's side is from the mainland.  After analysing the issue at length I have come to many of the same conclusions as your colleagues and you have.

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A confusion of languages and names

Xinjiang  新疆 (lit., "New Frontiers / Borders / Boundaries") is the northwesternmost and largest (one sixth of the whole country) among all of China's 34 provincial-level administrative units.  It got its present official name in the 1880s under the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but it has also been called, among other names, "Western Regions", Eastern Turkestan, and Uyghurstan.  When suitable, I prefer to refer to this region as Eastern Central Asia (ECA), since the latter designation is purely geographical in nature and has no political implications.

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Character conversion blues

Mike Miller writes:

I recently stayed in a hotel in a smaller city in Shandong and was surprised to see what they are calling a hair dryer these days.

Here's a photograph that Mike sent along:

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