Archive for Orthography


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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Celibacy syndrome

As birth rates decline in many modernized countries around the world, it's interesting to think about what's driving that in each place, since the factors are never exactly the same.

In Japan, which is famous for having one of the lowest birthrates in the world (Germany has the lowest rate), a large part of it may be attributed to what is known as the "celibacy syndrome":

sekkusu shinai shōkōgun セックスしない症候群 (literally, "syndrome of not doing sex"; 39,100 ghits)

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Handy Nasty

From Perry Link, who recently delivered a lecture entitled "How Important is Internet Satire in China?" (October 29, 2013 [see below for abstract]) at Penn:

A note for the true-story joke section of your language log: My son and daughter-in-law were invited to my after-talk dinner at the Han Dynasty restaurant there on Market St.  They googled the place for directions, not using spaces, and then thought: "Hey, wait a minute!  Why are we going to a restaurant named the Handy Nasty?

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Za stall in Newtown

Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").

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Freedom for Q

Yasmine Seale discusses the (legendary and real) history of the Turkish alphabet: "Q v. K", LRB Blog, 10/16/2013. I was interested to learn that this version of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's signature, actually designed by the Armenian calligrapher Hagop Çerçiyan, is "one of the most popular tattoos in Turkey":

There are some famous American signatures, but I've never seen any of them used as a tattoo.

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Variant pronunciations of the word for "brothers" in Mandarin

Yesterday morning in class, I had all the students from China pronounce a word I wrote on the board — gē'ermen 哥儿们 ("pals; buddies; brothers") — and everybody was astonished to hear with their own ears the enormous differences in the way the word was pronounced, even though each student thought they were speaking standard Mandarin.  This was not due to dialectal variation — because when I asked a few of the students to pronounce the word according to their home topolect, then it would come out in a quite different manner — but simply to individual differences in the realization of gē'ermen 哥儿们 in Mandarin.

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Toxic grammar advice on Australian radio

Toxic grammar alert for Australians: Rodney Huddleston informs me that the ABC Radio breakfast show celebrated International Apostrophe Day on 16 August 2013 with disastrous results. Huddleston reports:

The presenter had brought in someone he called a grammar nerd/specialist and asked her about the use of the apostrophe. She managed to deal with dog's bowl and dogs' bowls, but when he asked her about children she said this was a collective noun, not a strictly plural and that in children's playgrounds and children's dreams the apostrophe should come AFTER the s.

I will not expose the grammar specialist's family to humiliation by naming her; I do have a heart. But this is really staggering misinformation. The apostrophe should never come after the s in cases of irregular pluralization. The genitive suffix is ’s unless the regular plural s immediately precedes it (in which case the genitive marker is simply the apostrophe alone). In irregular plurals like children, oxen, cacti, foci, phenomena, etc., there is no immediately preceding plural s, so the default holds: it's the children’s playgrounds, and likewise the cacti’s watering schedule, and these phenomena’s importance.

Beware of nonlinguists who appear on radio programs as grammar experts; they sometimes simply make stuff up.

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