Archive for Spelling

Pinyin for Singlish

A correspondent from Singapore saw the following photograph in his Facebook feed:

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Canversers and draws

A LL reader sent in this picture of a "no hawkers or canversers" sign on a gate in a retirement community in Sawbridgeworth, England:

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Incipient syllabaries

Yesterday afternoon, Liwei Jiao went to a Chinese restaurant in South Philadelphia and ordered three dim sum dishes. Below is a photograph of the order taken down by the waitperson. The restaurant is called Wokano and it is located at 12th St and Washington Ave.


(Click to embiggen.)

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Lexical limits

C. C. Cheng, emeritus professor of computational linguistics at the University of Illinois, estimates that the human lexicon has a de facto storage limit of 8,000 lexical items (referred to in n. 12 on p. 301 of Jerry Packard's The Morphology of Chinese: A Linguistic and Cognitive Approach [Cambridge University Press, 2000]).

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Cartographic cacophony

Zach Hershey sent in photographs of a map on the wall of an Ethiopian restaurant on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Here's one:

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Brain imaging and spelling champions

Spelling bees have been a staple of discussion at Language Log:

"Spelling bees and character amnesia" (8/7/13)

"Spelling bee champs" (6/1/14)

"Of toads, modernization, and simplified characters" (8/16/13)

"Il ne parle pas français" (7/23/15)

One of the major subthemes of our debates on this topic has been the dominance of individuals of South Asian (Indian) descent in the spelling bees.  Many possible explanations for their superior performance were proposed (memorization techniques, tradition, family pressure and support, social and cultural models, etc.), but nothing approaching empirical evidence was adduced.

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Il ne parle pas français

It seems impossible, but the news is being trumpeted all over the world:  the reigning champion of Francophone Scrabble cannot speak French.

"Kiwi Nigel Richards wins French Scrabble contest, doesn't even speak French" (7/21/15)

President of the Christchurch Scrabble club Shirley Hol said the French win was "quite remarkable".

She was told about his victory on Monday and said from what she had heard the French were quite "gobsmacked".

"I think one of the comments was 'Are you extra-terrestrial or something?' Because it was so amazing."

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Autocomplete strikes again

I think I know how an unsuitable but immensely rich desert peninsula got chosen by FIFA (the international governing body for major soccer tournaments) to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.

First, a personal anecdote that triggered my hypothesis about the decision. I recently sent a text message from my smartphone and then carelessly slipped it into my pocket without making sure it had gone to sleep.

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Ups

In his novel Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon seems to be advocating a small, specific piece of English spelling reform, exemplified in these quotations:

“Center of the cop universe for sure,” Doc nodding sympathetically, “but we can’t all be Bigfoot Bjornsen can we— ups I mean who’d want to be him anyway?” hoping this wasn’t pushing things, given Pat’s mental health, frail on the best of days.

“It’s bound to be a Movie for TV, ain’t it, whatever happens. Bigfoot can end up with script and production credits, even play himself, the asshole, but ups, eleventh-commandment issues, ignore that I said that.”

“What? You forgot to put it in something waterproof again?” “Ups.”

“One that didn’t get him hassled into a fatal heart attack.  .  .  . Ups, but there I go, being bitter again.”

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Can you spell "bus"?

I have commented before on the psycholinguistics of signs painted on roads: in the USA it is apparently assumed that drivers will read the words in the order in which their front wheels reach them, so that what appears to be a display with "ONLY" above "LANE" above "BIKE" is supposed to be read as "BIKE LANE ONLY". In the UK, the opposite assumption is made: that drivers will read the whole display as a text that starts at the top. However, in one startling recent case in Bristol, south-west England, the people who painted the sign on the road warning of a bus stop never read it at all, in either order. They just stencilled "BUP STOP" on the roadway and packed up and left. Photographic evidence supplied herewith, just in case you cannot believe anyone capable of holding down a local government job could be unable to spell "BUS".

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The concept of "mother" in linguistics

I began drafting this post around Mother's Day, which we recently observed, but got distracted by other things.  This is an old topic that I've been thinking about for years.  Namely, I've long been intrigued by the use of mǔ 母 ("mother") in linguistic terms, such as zìmǔ 字母 ("letter", lit., "character mother") (e.g., sānshíliù zìmǔ 三十六字母 ["36 initial consonants"]), shēngmǔ 声母 ("initial", lit., "sound mother") and yùnmǔ 韵母 ("final", lit., "rime mother").  The first two go back to the Song period (960-1279), but I don't know how old the latter two are. See here, here, and here for references.

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Spelling bee champs

We have often discussed spelling bees and related phenomena on Language Log, e.g.:

"Spelling bees and character amnesia"

"Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia"

"Of toads, modernization, and simplified characters"

Especially in the first post cited above, we have noticed the amazing domination of students of Indian descent in spelling bees.  Even though we had a very lively, lengthy exchange on this subject, with many different hypotheses being put forward, no consensus was reached for why Indian students are so overwhelmingly successful in spelling bees.

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s

Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of the entrance to the Batefulai Canting in Maolin, Taiwan, near the trail to the purple butterfly valley.

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