Archive for Orthography

Stroke order

A notoriously complex Sinograph:

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Pinyin for phonetic annotation

One more reason for me to love Wikipedia.

I just noticed in this article on Chinese honorifics that some example sentences are phonetically annotated with Pinyin.  Not only that, it observes properly spaced word division, which must be technically difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, the Pinyin annotations are appropriately small, yet clear.

I don't know how widespread this usage has become in Wikipedia or elsewhere, but I can tell you that learning about it this morning brought me great joy.

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The inevitability (or not) of diacritical marks

Recent talk at the University of Pennsylvania:

"Printers’ Devices, or, How French Got Its Accents"
Katie Chenoweth, Princeton University
Monday, 22 October 2018 – 5:15 PM
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania
Sponsored by: Penn Libraries

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Vietnamese nail shop

Charles Below writes:

As a follow-up to "Diacriticless Vietnamese on a sign in San Francisco" (9/30/18), I saw this sign about a block or two away on a closed nail salon. I note the stray dot over the I in NAILS.  The surname I've redacted is, I believe, Irish.

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Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics

From Alex Baumans:

Miss Cayley's Adventures, a delightful novel by Grant Allen from 1899, is about Lois Cayley, who is left penniless after her stepfather dies (actually, she gets tuppence) and sets out to make her way in the world trusting to her wits and luck. She meets an American inventor-entrepeneur who wants her to demonstrate his bicycle in the German military trials.

Why I am sending you this, is the treatment of American English. Grant Allen takes care to give his characters a recognisable voice, with lots of local colour (stereotyping them at the same time, but this is a popular nineteenth-century novel). I am no native speaker nor a specialist in historical dialects of the US, but I can't for the life of me imagine what this is supposed to have sounded like. The hyphens and italics would seem to point towards some peculiar intonation or word-stress. There are 'phonetic' spellings such as 'ketch' or 'jest', and probably some Americanisms, that I no longer recognise as such. It doesn't sound like any variety of American English I'm familiar with. 

So, I thought it might interest you to see what an American sounded like to the British a hundred years ago. Perhaps you have a better idea what this is all about.

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Capitalization

Alan Levinovitz, "Trump’s bizarre understanding of Capitalization is surprisingly Strategic", Washington Post 5/23/2018:

On Monday, President Trump let loose a string of triumphant tweets about China that featured one of his strangest linguistic quirks:

“On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time.”

“China must continue to be strong & tight on the Border of North Korea until a deal is made.”

“Under our potential deal with China they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce.”

Rule-bound English speakers only capitalize titles, proper nouns, and a few other exceptional words. But for Trump, Farmers, Barriers and Borders are standard fare. In fact, when it comes to abusing letter case, the China tweets look positively restrained compared to this classic from April: “Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL”

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English spelling reform

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[. ] or [. ]?

You may have thought that idea of rhinoceroses peeving about semicolons (when they're not snorting and snuffing) was silly. But the comments on Mark's post Peeving and breeding have devolved to a level of even greater silliness: the pressing question of whether to type one space after a period or two.

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Pinyin in 1961 propaganda poster art

From Geoff Dawson:

On display in a current exhibition at the National Library of Australia.

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Ask Language Log: "Strange Writing"

TJJ from Napa CA writes:

Dr. Dan Jurafsky at Stanford suggested I contact you.  I have a statue I purchased years ago from a Humane Society fundraiser sale.  It is made of some sort of stone and has a rabbit on one side and some strange writing on the bottom.  It looks like it might be Bengali or Gujarati.  I'm curious to know what language it is and what it says but have no idea how to find out.

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Information content of text in English and Chinese

Terms and concepts related to "letters" and "characters" were used at spectacularly crossed purposes in many of the comments on Victor Mair's recent post "Twitter length restrictions in English, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean". I'm not going to intervene in the tangled substance of that discussion, except to reference some long-ago LLOG posts on the relative information content of different languages/writing systems. The point of those posts was to abstract away from the varied, complex, and (here) irrelevant details of character sets, orthographic conventions, and digital encoding systems, and to look instead at the size ratios of parallel (translated) texts in compressed form. The idea is that compression schemes try precisely to get rid of those irrelevant details, leaving a better estimate of the actual information content.

My conclusions from those exercises are two:

  1. The differences among languages in information-theoretic efficiency appear to be quite small.
  2. The direction of the differences is unclear — it depends on the texts chosen, the direction of translation, and the method of compression used.

See "One world, how many bytes?", 8/5/2005; "Comparing communication efficiency across languages", 4/4/2008; "Mailbag: comparative communication efficiency", 4/5/2008; "Is English more efficient than Chinese after all?", 4/28/2008.

 

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You April fools!

Many Language Log readers have been complaining about the absence of any recognition of April Fool's Day at this site. I can only lament your lack of perceptiveness. There have been pranks all over the place and you simply didn't see them because you are too gullible.

The primary linguistic one was Victor Mair's amusing spoof post "Sinological suffering", cunningly posted on March 31st to be there when you read Language Log on Saturday morning, April 1st, about an imaginary Chinese character that couldn't be found in dictionaries no matter what lookup method you tried.

Do you really think a writing system could survive if it were so brain-wrenchingly complex, arcane, and impossible to document that there would be written characters that Victor Mair, one of the greatest experts on Asian languages on this planet, could not track down or translate?

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Sinological suffering

Since I became a Sinologist in 1972, hardly a day has passed when I didn't spend an hour or two vainly searching for a character or expression in my vast arsenal of Chinese reference works.  The frustration of not being able to find what I'm looking for is so agonizing that I sometimes simply have to scream at the writing system for being so complicated and refractory.

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