Archive for Contests

Japanese buzzwords

The buzzwords of the year (Shingo/Ryūkōgo Taishō 新語・流行語大賞) have been announced.  As Nathan Hopson, who called the results to my attention, puts it:

With the caveat that this is a contest run by a private company that publishes an annual collection of new and important words, and that there's a lot of peripheral annoyance around the biases this seems to create, there are always a few interesting terms.

This year's winner was "sodane〜 そだね〜" ("that's right〜" ), the kawaii (the culture of cuteness) shortened form of sōdesune そうですね ("I agree; that's right; that's so, isn't it; hmm"), one of my favorite Japanese expressions, popularized during the Pyeongchang Olympics broadcasts of the Japanese women's curling team.

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The worldly sport of spelling

Following on the victory of Karthik Nemmani in the Scripps National Spelling Bee — the 11th straight Indian-American to win the competition — the New York Times has an interview with Sam Rega, whose new documentary Breaking the Bee explores how kids of South Asian ancestry have come to dominate the Bee in recent years. I wrote about Breaking the Bee for The Atlantic last month — as I said there, it's a compelling film, and I hope it gets a distribution deal soon. (Currently it's on the film-festival circuit.) In the Times interview, Sam makes a point about the spellers' multilingual backgrounds that I didn't have room to discuss in my Atlantic piece.

Is there something about South Asian values or families that explains success in spelling?

To me, the key is how much these families believe in the idea of family. And how much spelling is a family sport. They believe in working together as a family unit. They want to create a bond between parent and child. Spellers look to their parents as role models and coaches. Their siblings often play assistant coach. Parents like to instill values like dedication, hard work, and how to handle yourself in defeat or success.

These families also tend to be multilingual, sometimes with moms and dads who speak different languages. Exposure to multiple languages can also play a role in spellers’ facility with spelling. Spelling is a worldly sport, it connects you to languages and places far away from you.

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Yet again on the mystery of the national spelling bee

This year's champion, Ananya Vinay, is a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Fresno, California.  The runner-up, Rohan Rajeev, is a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Edmond, Oklahoma.  One of the co-champions from last year, Nihar Janga of Austin, Texas, was 11 and the other, Jairam Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., was 13.

Speaking of youthfulness, this year home-schooled Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Oklahoma was the youngest contestant ever to make it to the finals.

"At 5, Girl Becomes Youngest To Qualify For National Spelling Bee" (NPR, 3/8/17)

That was in March.  By the time of the national spelling bee, she had turned 6.  It's ironic that little Edith was knocked out on a technicality that was introduced to the national spelling bee for the first time this year.

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Harambe McHarambeface

Strange happenings in the Jinhua zoo, Zhejiang, China:

"Has a Chinese zoo called a gorilla Harambe McHarambeface? Claim that poll decided animal’s name sweeps the web" (Daily Mail, 9/13/16)

  • Confusion over the naming of a gorilla at a zoo after a 'huge public vote'
  • Newborn 'christened' at Jinhua zoo in China's central Zhejiang province
  • Total of 73,345 votes were cast for Harambe McHarambeface 
  • Name is reference to gorilla killed in US after boy fell into its enclosure

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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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Pinyin literature contest

I wish to call your attention to the Li-ching Chang Memorial Pinyin Literature Contest.  The purpose of the contest is to commemorate the life and work of Li-ching Chang (October 5, 1936-June 20, 2010), who was an outstanding teacher of Mandarin at the University of Washington, the Oberlin center in Taiwan, Middlebury College Summer School, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College.

The contest will offer more than US$13,000 in prizes for works in the following categories:

  • novella
  • short story
  • essay
  • poem

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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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LipsyncHK

Near the Star Ferry terminal on the Hong Kong Island side, Bea Lam noticed a number of fantastic, huge, colorful posters plastered on the walls as part of a “LipsyncHK” project that showcases Cantonese phrases and encourages visitors to try them out.  Bea was (very happily) surprised to see this large and open demonstration of Cantonese pride in a government-sponsored project, given the political environment.

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Chinese phrases of the year 2015

We've already had a look at the candidates for Chinese Word of the Year 2015, but apparently that is too tame and lame, so now we also have to think about the top Chinese phrases of the year.  This photograph illustrates (or perhaps I should say "spawned") one:

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Chinese characters and words of the year for 2015

China Daily has published "Top 10 shortlist of Chinese character of the year announced" (12/17/15).

Since this is only the short list, I will not describe it in detail, but will wait till December 21 (tomorrow) for the the winner to be announced.  For the moment, however, I'll just note that — after some years of confusion about the difference between a word and a character — China now seems to have settled on a clear division between Character of the Year and Word of the Year, so that they are running two contests simultaneously.

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Jugendwörter

In the online newspaper, Politico, Jules Johnston has an article about new German words coined by youth:

"In the words of young Germans, just ‘merkeln’ " (8/3/15)

The German dictionary manufacturer Langenscheidt came up with the idea seven years ago to create a list of new words and expressions invented by teens by selecting the “Jugendwort” (Youth Word of the Year). And since then, young Germans have been invited to submit terms to an online board.

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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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