Archive for Classification

Aristotle on trolling

Rachel Barney, "[Aristotle], On Trolling", Journal of the American Philosophical Association 5/3/2016:

That trolling is a shameful thing, and that no one of sense would accept to be called ‘troll’, all are agreed; but what trolling is, and how many its species are, and whether there is an excellence of the troll, is unclear. And indeed trolling is said in many ways; for some call ‘troll’ anyone who is abusive on the internet, but this is only the disagreeable person, or in newspaper comments the angry old man. And the one who disagrees loudly on the blog on each occasion is a lover of controversy, or an attention-seeker. And none of these is the troll, or perhaps some are of a mixed type; for there is no art in what they do. (Whether it is possible to troll one's own blog is unclear; for the one who poses divisive questions seems only to seek controversy, and to do so openly; and this is not trolling but rather a kind of clickbait.)

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Old Sinitic reconstructions and Tibeto-Burman cognates

[The following is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei.]

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The Old Chinese reconstruction of Gong Hwang-cherng and James Matisoff is not only internally consistent, but can be shown to have a Tibeto-Burman counterpart through Sino-Tibetan comparative studies.  Gong Hwang-cherng's Collected Papers on Sino-Tibetan Linguistics 龚煌城, Hàn-Zàngyǔ yánjiū lùnwén jí《汉藏语研究论文集》(2002) has about 300 cognate sets — involving Old Chinese, Written Tibetan, Written Burmese, and reconstructed Tangut. I am writing a paper whose purpose is to unite Gong's work with Zàng-Miǎn yǔzú yǔyán cíhuì《藏缅语族语言词汇》(Lexicon of Tibeto-Burman languages), edited by Huang Bufan 黄布凡 (1992). So far I have 142 cognate sets and can testify that Gong's cognate sets on the whole hold water.

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Cantonese "here"

The first comment to my post on "Multilingual voting signs" (11/9/12) was by Alinear, who stated that cǐ chù 此處 ("this place") sounds like Cantonese to him.  As a matter of fact, as reader ahkow pointed out in the second comment, cǐ chù 此處 ("this place") is simply the literary / classical Chinese way of writing "here".  Both cǐ 此 ("this") and chù 處 ("place") occur on the oracle bones, so this means that they have been a part of Sinitic vocabulary since around 1200 BC.  Where they might have come from before that time remains to be determined.

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Extravagant claims for the number of "Chinese" speakers

Journalists keep repeating the same bunkum about "Chinese" having 1.197 or even 1.39 billion or some other ridiculously large number of speakers.  Countering a Washington Post article, I debunked this notion in "Maps and charts of the world's languages" (5/1/15).

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Maps and charts of the world's languages

A week ago on Thursday (4/23/15), the following article appeared in the Washington Post:  "The world’s languages, in 7 maps and charts".

These maps in the WP are thought-provoking and informative, but it is unfortunate that, like many other misguided sources, they lump all the Chinese languages (which they incorrectly call "dialects") into one. That's terribly misleading.  This would be similar to grouping all the Indo-European languages of Europe as "European" or all the Indo-European languages of India as "Indian".

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Is Korean diverging into two languages?

Fearful that the languages of their countries are becoming mutually unintelligible, linguists from North Korea and South Korea are joining forces to create a common dictionary, as described in this article from the South China Morning Post:  "Academics try to get North and South Korea to speak same language" (11/3/14)

In a comment on a recent Language Log post concerning another subject, ThomasH opined that he'd like to see a discussion concerning the prescriptiveness/descriptiveness of the article just cited:  "Personally it seems both futile — without more actual language transactions between the two countries — and pointless, with bonus points for the complaint about English loan words being part of the 'problem'."

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Intelligibility and the language / dialect problem

From Anschel Schaffer-Cohen:

I'm an avid Language Log reader, and as an amateur student of language politics I'm always fascinated by your discussions of language vs. dialect vs. topolect, and the role played by mutual intelligibility. As such, I was fascinated to see this quote show up in my Facebook newsfeed:


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Introducing the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group

For those who enjoy botanizing in realms of material culture:

This site contains several years of research in the classification of occlupanids. These small objects are everywhere, dotting supermarket aisles and sidewalks with an impressive array of form and color. The Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group has taken on the mantle of classifying this most common, yet most puzzling, member of phylum Plasticae.

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Mutual intelligibility

POP QUIZ!

Assuming no prior, formal study of or contact with the opposite language in a given pair (i.e., one is coming at these languages completely cold), roughly what degree (percentage) of intelligibility would exist between the spoken forms of the languages in the list below?  Naturally, you are not expected to comment on all of these pairs, but knowledgeable assessment of any of the pairs would be both valuable and appreciated.  Feel free to add any other pairs not listed, or to combine a language from any of the given pairs with a language from any other pair.  Unless otherwise noted, the languages listed are the national standards.  If the name of a city or region is given, the reference is to the language spoken in that area.

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Devil-language

For May 21, China Real Time Report, the China blog of the Wall Street Journal, featured an article entitled "Do You Dare Try the Devil-Language? China’s 10 Hardest Dialects" by Isabella Steger.

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Linguistic diversity in Greater Tibet

Arif Dirlik called my attention to a wonderful article entitled "'Speak Tibetan, Stupid': Concepts of Pure Tibetan & the Politics of Belonging" in the Lhakar Diaries.

At the heart of the article is this powerful 16-minute video entitled "Linguistic Diversity on the Tibetan Plateau":

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More Metadata Muddles on Google Books

Mark's discovery of a mistitled Google Books entry—a book on experimental theater filed as a 2009 book on management—is entertaining but not that unusual. Like the other metadata mixups at Google books (involving authorship, genre classification and publication date, among other things) that I enumerated in a 2009 post "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck," there are probably thousands of cases in which the metadata for one book is associated with an entirely different work. Or at least that's what induction suggests; Paul Duguid and I have happened on quite a number of these, some as inadvertantly comical as Mark's example. Clicking on the entry for a book called Tudor Historical Thought turns up the text of a book on tattoo culture, the entry for an 1832 work on the question of whether the clergy of the Church of England can receive tithes turns up a work by Trotzky, the entry for Last Year at Marienbad turns up the text of Sam Pickering's Letters to a Teacher, and so on (see more examples below the fold). What's particularly interesting about Mark's example, though, is that the work is similarly misidentified on Amazon and Abe Books, which indicates that for many modern titles, at least, the error is likely due not to "some (perhaps algorithmic) drudge on the Google assembly line," as Mark suggests, but to one of the third-party offshore cataloguers on which Google and others rely for their metadata.

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Is Cantonese a language, or a personification of the devil?

Whether Cantonese is a language or a dialect is a subject that we have touched upon many times on Language Log, e.g., "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" (see especially the remarks in the second half of the original post) and "English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage ."

But now it has become a hot-button issue in China, especially in Hong Kong, where the government's Education Bureau recently made a monumental gaffe by declaring that Cantonese was not an official language of the Special Administrative Region:  "Education Bureau rapped over Cantonese 'not an official language' gaffe:  Claim Cantonese 'not an official language' leaves public lost for words."

Here's an article in Chinese on the uproar that followed the announcement of the Education Bureau that Cantonese is not an official language of Hong Kong.

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