Archive for Spelling

Weaponized Tibetan Pinyin

Jichang Lulu has just posted a very interesting article titled  “the clash of romanisations” (5/12/17).  It begins:

Last month the Ministry of Civil Affairs (民政部) published a list of six ‘standardised’ place names in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a large part of which the PRC claims as part of South Tibet (藏南). This generated the predictable Indian protests, media brouhaha and mandatory Globule sovereignty-reaffirming blather. Analysis of what’s being called a “renaming” of Arunachal “districts” sees it as retaliation for the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the region. All these hit-back-at-the-DL-to-“re”affirm-sovereignty readings are surely plausible, but I don’t think it’s very clear in which sense these ministerial coinages are ‘renaming’ or ‘standardising’ anything.

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Pinyin as subversive subtext

B JS sent in this interesting example of using Pinyin (“spelling”) as a subtext for notional meaning rendered in characters from Baidu tieba [Post Bar] (though sometimes when I look for this post it seems to get scrubbed by the censors):

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Hyphenation with words containing capital letters

A truly startling (and surely unintended) hyphenation in the print edition of The Economist (March 11th) suggests that some updating of word-breaking algorithms is in order in the light of the fairly recent practice of inventing product and brand names that have word-internal upper-case letters. An article about juvenile delinquency, reporting that kids are less involved in crime in part because they’re indoors playing video games, ends with this paragraph (I reproduce the line breaks and hyphens of the UK print edition exactly, though not the microspacing that justifies the right-hand margin; the only thing I’m interested in is the end of the penultimate line):

    The decline in crime among the young
bodes well for the future. A Home Office
study in 2013 found that those who com-
mitted their first crime aged between ten
and 17 were nearly four times more likely to
become chronic offenders than those who
were aged 18-24, and 11 times more likely
than those who were over 25. More PlayS-
tation, less police station.

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VX in Chinese

By now practically the whole world knows that Kim Jong-nam, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother, was killed by the extremely toxic nerve agent called VX.  VX is much more potent than sarin, which was used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to kill 12 people and injure thousands of others in the Tokyo subway in 1995.  Apparently, it’s not clear why this series of nerve agents is called “V” ( “Victory”, “Venomous”, or “Viscous” are some of the possibilities).  Since research on these agents is restricted primarily to the military, not much is known about them in civilian circles.  Whatever the “V” stands for, and besides VX, other agents in the series include VE, VG, VM, and VR.

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Venn diagram with first grade spelling

Drawn by a seven year old in Los Angeles:

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“Spelling” errors in Chinese

A smart and generally careful graduate student from China recently handed in an English –> Chinese translation.  In checking over his work, I noticed several mistakes, from which I select here a couple of examples.  Except in two cases, I won’t point out the problems with inappropriate word choice and grammar, but will focus on a particular category of error associated with contemporary Chinese writing.

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Clueless Microsoft language processing

A rather poetic and imaginative abstract I received in my email this morning (it’s about a talk on computational aids for composers), contains the following sentence:

We will metaphorically drop in on Wolfgang composing at home in the morning, at an orchestra rehearsal in the afternoon, and find him unwinding in the evening playing a spot of the new game Piano Hero which is (in my fictional narrative) all the rage in the Viennese coffee shops.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentence. What makes me bring it to your notice is the extraordinary modification that my Microsoft mail system performed on it. I wonder if you can see the part of the message that it felt it should mess with, in a vain and unwanted effort at helping me do my job more efficiently?

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Spelling bees in the 1940s

[This is a guest post by Frank Southworth.  Since Frank is a linguist who specializes on South Asia, it has particular resonance with our long running series of posts on Indian dominance in more recent spelling bees.]

In the spring of 1941, when I was in sixth grade, I was the spelling champion of Public School #30 in Buffalo, NY (which only went up to 6th grade), and I competed in the citywide Buffalo Spelling Bee. In those years the Buffalo contest was regularly won by girls from the Annunciation School, a parochial school built in 1928 and operated by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. It was closed in 1988. (I just learned these facts from Wikipedia.) The school was famous for its rote learning which, if nothing else, did produce good spellers.

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 4

The last installment of this series, “Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 3” (6/30/16), contains links to many other Language Log posts relevant to this subject.

It is often difficult to fathom which English word is intended when it is transcribed in Chinese characters.  John Kieschnick called my attention to an especially challenging one:  ěrlílìjǐng 爾釐利景.  Before going on to the next page and before googling it, try to figure out what it is meant to “spell”.  Scout’s honor!  No peeking!

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 3

Hangzhou is handing out “crash course” manuals for residents to chat with international visitors at the G20 Summit in September, complete with Chinese character transcriptions of such beginner’s phrases as “Hangzhou, a paradise on Earth” and “orioles singing in the willows”:


Source

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 2

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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Once more on the mystery of the national spelling bee

Looks like this year’s winners are again co-champions and of Indian (South Asian) origin. Guessing from their names, one of them has a Karnataka heritage and the other an Andhra background.

Quoting from “National spelling bee ends in a tie for third consecutive year” (USA Today, 5/27/16):

For the third year in a row, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has ended with two champions.

Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., were declared co-champions Thursday night after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition.

“It was just insane,” Jairam* said as he and Nihar triumphantly hoisted the golden winner’s cup into the air.

“I’m just speechless,” Nihar said. “I’m only in the fifth grade.”

—-

*The younger brother of 2014 co-champion, Sriram Hathwar.

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Pinyin for Singlish

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

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