Archive for Writing systems

Washington and Beijing; Trump and Xi

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Speak Darja (Algerian colloquial), not Fusha (Arabic)

This little clip, of sociolinguistic as well as non-linguistic interest, has gone viral in the Algerian online world (via Twitter):

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The actuality of emerging digraphia

Every time someone (usually a Chinese person) raises the issue of writing Sinographic languages in a phonetic script, people (usually non-Chinese) will jump on him / her and say that it can't be done or that it will destroy the culture.

When it is pointed out that it already has been done repeatedly for the last millennium and more ("Writing Sinitic languages with phonetic scripts" [5/20/16]) and that the Vietnamese and Koreans have done it successfully (passim), the ultimate response of the anti-phonetists is that we need to take a survey to find out if the Chinese people really want a phonetic script (most recently in the comments here:  "Sinitic languages without the Sinographic script" [3/5/19]).

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Scripts in Google International Women's Day doodle

For International Women's Day, Google made one of its doodles — this one with quotations from various women from around the world. Each is given its own distinctive typography. Several languages and scripts appear.

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Tong Wang ran into this picture today in Beijing:


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Sinitic languages without the Sinographic script

[This is a guest post from a frustrated Chinese father in the PRC, written in response to the discussion in the comments that followed this post:  "The Sinophone" (2/28/19).  He doesn't mince words, but this is how he feels — passionately — about his fatherland.]

As usual, the more I learn the more am I convinced it's an idiotic script that has convoluted the natural evolution of the language.

I think about how, without pinyin and modern technology, the authorities would have accomplished changing the pronunciation nationwide.

Moreover, I've noticed the seemingly arbitrary, multiple pronunciations of many characters throughout these years.

I also believe that it is due to the limitations of the script that the troublesome issue of the multiple pronunciations developed.  Can you imagine if they had to come up with different characters back in the day for each different sound / word?  We're already drowning in a flood of characters as it is.

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Robotic copying

Since so much of learning to read and write Chinese characters depends upon mindless repetition, writing them countless times, some bright people in the age of AI have finally seized upon a way to escape from the drudgery:  training a robot to write the characters endlessly for them.

"Chinese schoolgirl shamed for using robot to write homework. Now everybody wants one"

Teen bought device online and was caught out by her mother when she completed her Lunar New Year assignments in record time

Media report alerts a wider audience to the robots, which can copy text and mimic your handwriting

Phoebe Zhang, SCMP (2/19/19)

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The unpredictability of Chinese character formation and pronunciation, pt. 2

Emma Knightley asks:

My background is that I grew up in Taiwan learning Traditional Chinese and now most of what I use in my professional life is in Simplified Chinese. How exactly should the character of hē, "to drink," be written?

I grew up learning that the character inside the bottom-right enclosure is 人. Now I see that it is mostly written as 匕. I don't know when this changed, and I don't think it's a matter of Traditional vs Simplified, either, as I see both versions in Traditional writing as well. This Wiktionary entry illustrates the confusion nicely. No one I know has noticed this change, which leads me to think that I'm either losing my mind or experiencing the Mandela Effect.

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English New Year's couplet

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Left to right or right to left?

Sign in Beihai Municipality, Guangxi Province that is circulating on WeChat:

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Oops! That's "seven rings", not "hibachi"

We haven't written about tattoo fiascos for awhile.  Here's a humdinger on Ariana Grande's left palm, in Japanese:

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Sinographs by the numbers

John asked:

Does the Unicode process restrict the language people use? For example, I haven't seen any requests to add any new English characters – I can write whatever I like without having to amend the base character set.

Good question and observation!

Our Roman alphabet has 26 X 2 = 52 letters, and you are right.  With them we can write any word that we can say.

It's quite a different matter with Chinese characters.  There are tens of thousands of them, only about 3,000 of which are in fairly common use (covering 99.18% of all occurrences), and about 6,000 of which are in infrequent use (covering about 99.98% of all occurrences).

Most great works of Chinese literature, both modern and premodern, are written within a range of around 3,000 characters or less.

I've never met a single person, no matter how learned, who could actively produce more than 8,000 characters by handwriting, without the aid of any electronic device (I think that there must be an upper limit to the number of different characters the human brain can keep distinct in their brain for active production, which requires intricate neuro-muscular coordination. .

10,000 characters would cover 99.9999999% of all occurrences.

[VHM:  The coverage figures in the previous paragraphs are taken from "Modern Chinese Character Frequency List" by Jun Da.]

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A new, complex polysyllabic kanji

We've seen many a polysyllabic Sinograph on Language Log (check the Readings below).  The one presented here is perhaps more creative and intriguing than any previously encountered:

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