Archive for Spelling

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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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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