Archive for Phonetics and phonology

Sinographs for "tea"

It is common for Chinese to claim that their ancestors have been drinking tea for five thousand years, as with so many other aspects of their culture.  I always had my doubts about that supposed hoary antiquity, and after many years of research, Erling Hoh and I wrote a book on the subject titled The True History of Tea (Thames & Hudson, 2009) in which we showed that tea-drinking did not become common in the East Asian Heartland until after the mid-8th century AD, when Lu Yu (733-804) wrote his groundbreaking Classic of Tea (ca. 760-762) describing and legitimizing the infusion.

Since people in the Chinese heartland were not regularly drinking Camellia sinensis qua tea before the mid-8th century, I long suspected that they did not have a Sinograph for tea (MSM chá) either.  Rather, based on my reading of texts and inscriptions dating from the 7th c. AD and earlier, I hypothesized that the character now used for "tea", namely chá 茶, was a sort of rebranding (by removing one tiny horizontal stroke) of another character, tú 荼 ("bitter vegetable").

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Was it "getting" or "gay"?

Patrick Redford, "There's Nothing To Say About What Andrew Wiggins Said That's Not Conditional", Deadspin 1/9/2018:

Andrew Wiggins went off for 40 points on the Thunder last night in a lively game that featured 32-year-old interim coach Ryan Saunders getting his first win and Thunder guard Dennis Schröder getting ejected for shoving. Wiggins was asked about Schröder’s ejection after the game, and he either said, “He was getting—he was acting crazy,” or, “He was gay. He was acting crazy.” Those are obviously two very different quotes, and as much as I think he’s mumbling “getting,” the tape is ultimately inconclusive.

"Andrew Wiggins: Would never disrespect LGBTQIA community", ESPN 1/9/2018:

Hours after he called Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder "gay," Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins sought to clarify his remark, saying early Wednesday morning that he wouldn't use "any term to disrespect" the LGBT community.

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Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This is a piece that I've been meaning to write for a long time, but never found the opportunity.  Now, inspired by the season and about to embark on extended holiday travel, I'm determined not to put it off for yet another year.

The genesis of my ruminations on this topic are buried in decades-old tentative efforts to identify the fabulous creature known in Chinese myth as the qilin (Hanyu Pinyin), also spelled as ch'i2-lin2 (Wade-Giles Romanization) and kirin in Japanese, which the whole world knows as the name of a famous beer (fanciful, stylized depictions of the kirin are to be found on bottles and cans of the beer).

The qilin is usually referred to in English as a kind of unicorn, but I knew that couldn't be right, since no account of the qilin from antiquity describes it as having only one horn.  The Chinese xièzhì 獬豸 ("goat of justice") does have a single, long, pointed horn, but that is another matter, for which see "Lamb of Goodness, Goat of Justice" (pp. 86-93) in Victor H. Mair, "Religious Formations and Intercultural Contacts in Early China," in Volkhard Krech and Marion Steinicke, ed., Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe:  Encounters, Notions, and Comparative Perspectives (Dynamics in the History of Religion, 1 [Ruhr-Universität Bochum]) (Leiden:  Brill, 2011), pp. 85-110 (available on Google Books).  Since customs pertaining to the goat of justice, as with the reindeer, existed in cultures spread across northern Eurasia, I suspect that an extra-Sinitic loanword may also be lurking behind xièzhì 獬豸.

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Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions

[The first page of this post is a guest contribution by Chris Button.]

I've been thinking a little about the word represented by chái 豺* which I would normally reconstruct as *dzrəɣ (Zhengzhang *zrɯ) ignoring any type a/b distinctions. However, it occurred to me that a reconstruction of *dzrəl (for which Zhengzhang would presumably have *zrɯl) would give the same Middle Chinese reflex (I'm not citing Baxter/Sagart since they don't support lateral codas presumably for reasons of symmetry). I'm not sure if outside of its phonetic speller cái 才 there is any reason to go with -ɣ rather than -l in coda position for 豺. However, if we go with a lateral coda as *dzrəl, it looks suspiciously similar to Old Iranian šagāl from Sanskrit śṛgāla (perhaps even more so if we fricativize the Old Iranian /g/ to /ɣ/ intervocalically as in modern Persian).

[*VHM:  This is always a challenging word for translators.  "jackal" and "dhole" are two possibilities.]

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Really weird sinographs, part 4

A video introducing 70 obscure Chinese characters (shēngpì zì 生僻字):

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A new Sinograph

On being ugly and poor, with an added note on consumerism.

Every so often, for one reason or another, somebody creates a completely new Chinese character.  Here's the latest:

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A better way to calculate pitch range

Today's topic is a simple solution to a complicated problem. The complicated problem is how to estimate "pitch range" in recordings of human speakers. As for the simple solution — wait and see.

You might think that the many differences between the perceptual variable of pitch and the physical variable of fundamental frequency ("f0") arise because perception is complicated and physics is simple. But if so, you'd be mostly wrong. The biggest problem is that physical f0 is a complex and often fundamentally incoherent concept. And even in the areas where f0 is well defined, f0 estimation (usually called "pitch tracking") is prone to errors.

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Of knots, pimples, and Sinitic reconstructions

A couple of months ago, we talked about gēda 疙瘩, which is one of those very cool, two syllable Sinitic words, neither of whose syllables means anything by itself (i.e., not only is it a disyllabic lexeme, it is also a disyllabic morpheme).  Furthermore, gēda 疙瘩 is highly polysemous, with the following meanings:  "pimple; knot; swelling on the skin; lump; nodule; blotch; a knot in one's body or heart (–> hangup; problem; preoccupation)".

See "Too hard to translate soup" (9/2/18).

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The holy day of [??]

From Elijah Granet:

In Trump’s recent remarks on the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting, he (at ~1:12 in the linked video) refers to the shooting taking place “on the holy day of Sabbath”, pronouncing “Sabbath” in a bizarre way, with the vowels completely off. My best guess—and a few people on Twitter seem to agree— is that the teleprompter actually said “Shabbat”, but Trump was unsure how to pronounce it, and ended up saying “Sabbath”. Still, it seems a bit strange since Shabbat is not a particularly hard word to read phonetically, and given that Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are shomer shabbos, one would think he had heard the word before. It’s equally possible that Trump didn’t know the word “Sabbath” and was trying to give it a “Jewish” pronunciation, and thus over-corrected.

The audio for the phrase "on the holy day of Sabbath":

And just the pronunciation of "Sabbath":

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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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Word, syllable, morpheme, phoneme

What is the basic unit of discursive, communicative language — word, syllable, morpheme, or phoneme?

This topic came up in the comments to the following posts:

"The concept of word in Sinitic" (10/3/18)

"Words in Vietnamese" (10/2/18)

"Diacriticless Vietnamese on a sign in San Francisco" (9/30/18)

"Words in Mandarin: twin kle twin kle lit tle star" (8/14/12)

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Too hard to translate soup

From a menu in a restaurant in Oxford, Ohio:

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LRNLP 2018

On Monday, I'm pursuing the quixotic enterprise of talking to an NLP workshop about phonetics.

LRNLP ("Language Resources for NLP") 2018 is a workshop associated with COLING 2018 in Santa Fe NM.  My abstract:

Semi-automatic analysis of digital speech collections is transforming the science of phonetics, and offers interesting opportunities to researchers in other fields. Convenient search and analysis of large published bodies of recordings, transcripts, metadata, and annotations – as much as three or four orders of magnitude larger than a few decades ago – has created a trend towards “corpus phonetics,” whose benefits include greatly increased researcher productivity, better coverage of variation in speech patterns, and essential support for reproducibility.

The results of this work include insight into theoretical questions at all levels of linguistic analysis, as well as applications in fields as diverse as psychology, sociology, medicine, and poetics, as well as within phonetics itself. Crucially, analytic inputs include annotation or categorization of speech recordings along many dimensions, from words and phrase structures to discourse structures, speaker attitudes, speaker demographics, and speech styles. Among the many near-term opportunities in this area we can single out the possibility of improving parsing algorithms by incorporating features from speech as well as text.

Due to semester-initial commitments at Penn, I won't be able to stay for COLING, but I'm looking forward to an interesting day of presentations at the workshop.

 

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