Archive for Orthography

"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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If you think about it, "home made" is pronounced the same way as "homade" would be if it was a word:

And maybe "homade" *is* a word?

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Colloquial contractions in Mandarin

I've mentioned my old friend Liu Yongquan in various posts and comments — see, inter alia, here, here, and here, where I wrote:

A colleague, Liu Yongquan 刘永泉, who spent most of his life working in Beijing as an applied linguist (especially concerned with machine translation and computer applications), spoke quite good MSM, referred to people who speak "like that" (as I have described colloquial Pekingese in the above paragraph) as méi xiūyǎng 没修养 ("lacking cultivation"). I'm not sure where Liu originally came from, though I think it was from somewhere in the northeast. He had a curious speech mannerism: whenever he said zhè'er / zhèr 这儿 ("here") and nà'er / nàr ("there"), they always came out as zhèher and nàher. For the first few months when I heard him talk like that, I thought that it was an affectation, but later I heard the same pronunciation from a few other people, so I suppose it has some basis in a regional variety of Mandarin.

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Ask Language Log: -er vs. -or

From Matthew Yglesias:

A few of us at work were talking about why it's adviser and protester but professor and and auditor and after bullshitting around for 10 minutes I thought "maybe I should ask a linguist." Have you ever blogged on this?

I don't think that we have, though you can find well-informed discussions elsewhere, e.g. here or here/here. The executive summary is that -er is (originally) Germanic while -or is (basically) Latin, often via French.

But this doesn't help much with the particular examples you cite, since all four words are from Latin via French. Like most things about English morphology and spelling, the full answer is complicated, and also more geological than logical. But the OED seems to have the whole story — lifted from the depths of the discussion, the key point is that

Many derivatives [formed with -er as an agentive suffix] existed already in Old English, and many more have been added in the later periods of the language. In modern English they may be formed on all vbs., excepting some of those which have [Latin- or French-derived] agent nouns ending in -or, and some others for which this function is served by ns. of different formation (e.g. correspond, correspondent). The distinction between -er and -or as the ending of agent nouns is purely historical and orthographical.

For a (much) longer treatment — you have been warned — press onward.

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Ask Language Log: Iowa mystery image

David Donnell:

A friend in Ames, Iowa, sent me this photo of a small framed picture she purchased at a garage sale in her town. She is curious what the language is, and what it says…in English.

She added, “I got the impression from the other items at this woman's sale that she had done some traveling and picked up souvenirs from all over the world. (I could be wrong, though!)”

Myself, I am clueless about what language it is, and clueless how to even google it! (I tried a Google image search and got nothing useful, and googling the word “Capamoba” also didn’t help.)

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Ask Language Log: bingeing, *cringeing

Heath Mayhew writes:

The other day, one of my friends asked how to spell bingeing. Quickly,  we all chimed in that it clearly couldn't be "binging". I didn't believe their conviction, so we looked it up in American Heritage 3rd and I lost. Below is a list of words we discovered to retain the "e" (which for me, looks so odd) and a list of words that lose it. Is there any unusual law that governs this? Any arcane rule that dictates whether or not one keeps or drops the "e"? We tried looking it up in Garner's American Modern Usage, but to no avail. It is a simply that words keep the 'e' in order to avoid confusing it with other words? I.e. singeing vs. singing.

binge – binging or bingeing
singe – singeing
cringe – cringing
tinge – tinging or tingeing
hinge – hinging
impinge – impinging
whinge – whingeing
(used The New Oxford American, 2nd)

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Brian Hutchinson, "UBC student writes 52,438 word architecture dissertation with no punctuation — not everyone loved it", National Post 5/8/2015:

There was Patrick Stewart, PhD candidate, defending his final dissertation before a handful of hard-nosed examiners at the University of British Columbia late last month. The public was invited to watch; two dozen curious onlookers saw Stewart attempt to persuade five panelists that his 149-page thesis has merit, that it is neither outlandishly “deficient,” as some had insisted it was, nor an intellectual affront.

Unusual? It is definitely that. Stewart’s dissertation, titled Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge, eschews almost all punctuation. There are no periods, no commas, no semi-colons in the 52,438-word piece. Stewart concedes the odd question mark, and resorts to common English spelling, but he ignores most other conventions, including the dreaded upper case. His paper has no standard paragraphs. Its formatting seems all over the map.

The National Post story suggests that the document is a translation from Nisga'a:

He wrote his first draft in the Nisga’a language. That failed to impress at least one senior UBC professor, a powerful figure who would eventually have to sign off on the work, or all would be lost. Stewart was called on the professor’s carpet and told his work was not acceptable. He was asked to translate “every word” of his dissertation into English. “So I did that,” he recalls. “There was still no guarantee it would be approved.”

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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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Fake account spotting on Facebook

One language-related story in the British press over the weekend was that Gavin McGowan was threatened by Facebook with having his account shut down… because they said his name was fake.

About ten years ago Gavin learned some Scottish Gaelic and started using the Gaelic spelling of his name: Gabhan Mac A Ghobhainn. Facebook is apparently running software designed to spot bogus accounts on the basis of the letter-strings used to name them. Gabhan's name evidently failed the test.

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[Pp]esh ?[Mm]erga

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Opium rice

Karen Serago sent in the following photograph taken by her husband, Ben Yu, of a restaurant in Taiwan that specializes in duck dishes:

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A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway

Mark Swofford took these photographs of an advertisement for a very well-known brand of instant noodles in the Taipei MRT (subway system). It makes use of three scripts (Chinese characters [including some rare, non-standard forms], bopomofo / zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號 [Mandarin "Phonetic Symbols" of the Republic of China, and Roman letters) and possibly as many languages (Taiwanese, Japanese, English) — with Mandarin apparently *not* being among them.

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Good good study; day day up

Somebody gave a friend of Rose Hill this coin purse as a gift:

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