Archive for Language and computers

CCP approved image macros

Two powerful agencies of the PRC central government, Zhōnggòng zhōngyāng jìlǜ jiǎnchá wěiyuánhuì 中共中央纪律检查委员会 ("Central Commission for Discipline Inspection") and Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó jiānchá bù 中华人民共和国监察部 ("People's Republic of China Ministry of Supervision"), have issued "bā xiàng guīdìng biǎoqíng bāo 八项规定表情包" ("emoticons for the eight provisions / stipulations / rules"); see also here.  The biǎoqíng bāo 表情包 (lit., expression packages") were announced on December 4, 2017, five years to the day after the rules themselves were promulgated.

English translations of the so-called "Eight-point austerity rules" or "Eight-point regulations" may be found here and here.  The rules were designed to instill greater discipline among Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, to bring the Party "closer to the masses", and to reduce bureaucracy, extravagance, and undesirable work habits among Party members.

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Ask Language Log: Looking up hanzi for ignoramuses

From Mark Meckes:

I'm a regular Language Log reader, completely ignorant of Chinese languages.  I was just wondering whether there exist worthwhile online tools to help someone like me figure out the meaning of something written only in hanzi.  (The question is occasioned by my looking at a package of tea given to me by a Chinese student; the writing on the package is mostly hanzi, with a little English and no pinyin.)  I'm perfectly competent to use Google Translate and similar tools (and know how much skepticism to approach the results with) for the last stage of the process.  But starting from written hanzi on a physical object, I first need some way to translate that image into either pinyin, Unicode, English, or something equivalent to one of the above — and something that relies on no knowledge of the meaning or pronunciation of the characters, or knowledge of the structure of Chinese characters in general.  Do you have any suggestions?

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Duolingo Mandarin: a critique

A friend sent this lifehacker article to me:

"Mandarin Chinese Is Now Available on the Language Learning App Duolingo", by Patrick Allan (11/16/17)

Duolingo claims that it "is the world's most popular way to learn a language. It's 100% free, fun and science-based. Practice online on duolingo.com or on the apps!"

After reading Allan's article, I sent the following note to my students and colleagues:

Judging from the description in this article, I'm dubious about the efficacy of their method.  Never mind about misleading statements emanating from the author of the article (e.g., there are 1.2 billion native speakers of "Chinese"), they seem to overemphasize individual characters, downplay words, don't talk about sentence structure, grammar, and syntax, and don't give any indication of how or whether pinyin is used.

Has anyone checked this app out?

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Just press Pay

This is a screen shot I snapped during a recent attempt to purchase something (can't remember what) on the web:

Notice that in order to continue, it tells me (twice) that I have to press "Pay". Can you see any button labeled "Pay" on the screen?

If you are itching to tell me what I should have done, you are missing my point.

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Is there a practical limit to how much can fit in Unicode?

A lengthy, important article by Michael Erard recently appeared in the New York Times Magazine:

"How the Appetite for Emojis Complicates the Effort to Standardize the World’s Alphabets:  Do the volunteers behind Unicode, whose mission is to bring all human languages into the digital sphere, have enough bandwidth to deal with emojis too?" (10/18/17)

The article brought back many vivid memories.  It reminded me of my old friend, Joe Becker, who was the seminal designer of the phenomenal Xerox Star's multilingual capabilities in the mid-80s and instrumental in the organization and foundation of the Unicode Consortium in the late 80s and early 90s.  Indeed, it was Becker who coined the word "Unicode" to designate the project.

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Voice recognition for inputting

When I'm with my sister Heidi, whether it be in Seattle or northeast Ohio or anywhere else in the world, she's often talking to Siri.  She asks Siri to look up information about trees, about food, about traditional medicines, about Yoga, about genealogy, and anything else she wants to investigate.  Above all, when we're driving around, she asks Siri for directions about how to get where we're going.

To me, who doesn't even own a cell phone, this is all quite miraculous.  A few days ago, at the conclusion of my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class, however, a new (for me) dimension of voice recognition was demonstrated by one of the students.

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Easy versus exact

Ever since people started inputting Chinese characters in computers, I've had an intense interest in how they do it, which systems are more efficient, and why they choose the particular ones they adopt.  For the first few decades, because all inputting systems presented significant obstacles and challenges, I remained pretty much of an onlooker because I didn't want to waste my time struggling with cumbersome methods.  It's only after I discovered how simple and fast it is to use Google Translate as my chief inputting method that I became very active in entering Chinese character texts.

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Awesome / sugoi すごい!

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Twitter length restrictions in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

Josh Horwitz has a provocative article in Quartz (9/27/17):  "SAY MORE WITH LESS:  In Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, 140 characters for Twitter is plenty, thank you"

The thinking here is muddled and the analysis is misplaced.  There's a huge difference between "characters" in English and in Chinese.  We also have to keep in mind the difference between "word" and "character", both in English and in Chinese.  A more appropriate measure for comparing the two types of script would be their relative "density", the amount of memory / code space required to store and transmit comparable information in the two scripts.

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Learning languages is so much easier now

If you use the right tools, that is, as explained in this Twitter thread from Taylor ("Language") Jones.

Rule number 1:  Use all the electronic tools at your disposal.

Rule number 2:  Do not use paper dictionaries.

Jones' Tweetstorm started when he was trying to figure out the meaning of shāngchǎng 商场 in Chinese.  He remembered from his early learning that it was something like "mall; store; market; bazaar".  That led him to gòuwù zhòngxīn 购物中心 ("shopping center").  With his electronic resources, he could hear these terms pronounced, could find them used in example sentences, and could locate actual places on the map designated with these terms.

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Neglected email

Some charmingly reflective and sincere writing in the latest xkcd comic as Cueball types a reply to a long-neglected email correspondent:

Dear Kevin,
I'm sorry it's taken me two years to reply to your email. I've built up so much stress and anxiety around my email inbox; it's an unhealthy dynamic which is more psychological than technical. I've tried one magical solution after another, and as each one has failed, deep down I've grown more certain that the problem isn't email – it's me.

Regardless, these are my issues, not yours; you're my friend, and I owe you the basic courtesy of a response. I apologize for my neglect, and I hope you haven't been too hurt by my failure to reply.

Anyway, I appreciate your invitation to join your professional network on LinkedIn, but I'm afraid I must decline…

The mouseover alt text says: "I would be honored, but I know I don't belong in your network. The person you invited was someone who had not yet inflicted this two-year ordeal upon you. I'm no longer that person."

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Banned by Beijing

Just saw this great post by the editors of supchina:

"Here are all the words Chinese state media has banned:  A full translation of the style guide update from Xinhua, and why it matters." (8/1/17)

We can be grateful to the editors for their reliable translations, complete with Chinese characters and Hanyu Pinyin romanizations, with word spacing and tonal diacritics.

The list is divided into sections on "Politics and society" (including politically incorrect and vulgar terms), "Law", "Religion and society", "Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, territory, and sovereignty", and "International relations".  Specialists in all of these areas will have a field day examining these sensitive terms and analyzing their political, social, and cultural implications.  I encourage everyone who has an interest in contemporary China to avail themselves of this extraordinary opportunity to get inside the most fundamental level of the censorial apparatus of the Communist Chinese state.

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Attribution of the WannaCry ransomware to Chinese speakers

The notorious WannaCry malware infestation began on Friday, May 12, 2017 and spread rapidly throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and causing major damage.  Speculation concerning the identity of the perpetrators focused on North Korea, but the supposed connection was never convincingly demonstrated, and there were no other serious suspects.

Yesterday, Jon Condra, John Costello, and Sherman Chu published a stunning report which suggests that the authors of WannaCry — or someone they hired — spoke fluent Chinese:

"Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors" (Flashpoint [5/25/17])

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