Archive for Transcription

Transformer Trump

From an anonymous colleague:


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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s

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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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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What's in a name — Pikachu, Beikaciu, Pikaqiu?

Since I began writing blogs for Language Log around ten years ago, I have never received so many tips on what to write about as I have in response to the furor that has arisen over Nintendo's plan to change the Chinese names for some of the characters in their immensely popular Pokémon (ポケモン < Pokettomonsutā ポケットモンスター ["Pocket Monster"]) game series.

For example, much loved Pikachu (Pikachū ピカチュウ) was originally called Bei2kaat1ciu1 比卡超 in Hong Kong, which is very close to its Japanese name, Pikachu.  But now Nintendo wants to get rid of Bei2kaat1ciu1 比卡超 and force the people of Hong Kong to use the Mandarin name Píkǎqiū 皮卡丘.  This same policy extends to more than a hundred Pokemon characters, who will be renamed in accordance with Mandarin transcriptions.  You can imagine how alien that will sound to Cantonese speakers who have grown up with Pokemon characters having Cantonese names now to lose those intimate appellations in favor of names that have a Mandarin ring to them.

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Nothing to fear but… what?

In advance of tonight's Game 7 in the NBA Western Conference finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New York Times recalls a similar Game 7 faced by the Chicago Bulls in 1998:

That spring, the top-seeded Bulls were taken to a seventh game by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Between Games 6 and 7, the Bulls’ coach, Phil Jackson, huddled with his players and told them not to fear failing.

“The fear is not losing,” Jackson told them. “The fear is not producing the effort needed.”

Phil Jackson is notoriously enigmatic (they don't call him the Zen master for nothing), but this pronouncement is particularly tough to unpack.

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Writing Shanghainese

The recent discussion of different ways of writing Chinese reminded Jeff K of two books of Shanghai expressions that he had come across.  See here for scans of a few pages.

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The uses of Hanyu pinyin

Hànyǔ pīnyīn 汉语拼音 ("Sinitic Spelling") is the official romanization of the PRC.  It also comes with an official orthography which provides guidelines for word separation, punctuation, and how to deal with grammatical constructions.  An English translation of the basic orthographical rules by John Rohsenow can be found at the back of the various editions of the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary from the University of Hawai'i Press.

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Too cool!

I suppose it's been around for at least 5-10 years, but I just encountered the expression "tài shuǎng le 太爽了" in the English informal sense of "cool!".  With 409,000 ghits, it seems to be fairly widespread, though not all of those ghits are to the informal sense of the English word (see the numbered items below for a variety of other meanings for this expression).

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 4

Previous posts in the series:

As mentioned before, the following post is not about a sword or other type of weapon per se, but in terms of its ancient Eurasian outlook, it arguably belongs in the series:

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 3

Previous posts in the series:

"Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions " (3/8/16)
"Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 2 " (3/12/16)

The following post is not about a sword or other type of weapon per se, but in terms of its ancient Eurasian outlook, it arguably belongs in the series:

"Of felt hats, feathers, macaroni, and weasels " (3/13/16)

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 2

Part 1 in this series was posted here on 3/8/16 and dealt with a sword called Mòyé 鏌鋣 / 莫邪.  The post was followed by a vigorous discussion that revealed the existence of a large number of words for "sword" in other languages that sound like the reconstructed Old Sinitic form (roughly *mˤak-ja or /makzæ/), stretching westward across Eurasia.  Surprisingly, such words were found prominently in Slavic and Finno-Ugrian languages, but these were determined to be of Germanic origin.  There were also parallels in Caucasian languages.  All of this strongly suggested the possibility that further research along these lines would be rewarding.

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Of precious swords and Old Sinitic reconstructions

In "The hand of god" (3/4/16), I cited a Chinese text in which the term Mòyé 鏌鋣 (the name of a famous sword in antiquity) came up.  The translation I provided rendered that term as "Excalibur", which caught the attention of a couple of commenters who wondered how one could get from Mòyé 鏌鋣 to "Excalibur", when all that Google Translate could offer is "ROBOT 鋣".

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Missing G's

Michael Cannings sent in this photograph of a package of shelf mushrooms aka bracket fungi used in Chinese traditional medicine:

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