Archive for Phonetics and phonology

MLK day: Pitch range

In honor of MLK day, I've replicated something that Corey Miller did for a term paper in an introductory phonetics course in the early 1990s. The point of the exercise is that any given speaker can exhibit a wide variety of different pitch ranges. 25 years ago this was a somewhat complicated business, involving digitization of tape recordings, use of expensive high-end computer workstations and so on. Today the whole process from start to end took me less than half an hour, leaving out the time required to write this post. I've put links to the relevant scripts at the end of the post — six lines of shell commands and a dozen lines of R.

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Transcription, lenition and allophonic variation

I doubt that many native speakers of American English will recognize this word:

But with a little more context, more people will get the message:

And if we play the whole pause group, it becomes obvious:

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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A Chinese primer for English (1860)

During the last few days, there has been a flurry of excitement over the circulation of photographs and information concerning an old Chinese textbook for learning English.  Here are a couple of pages from the book (click to embiggen):

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"Ni hao" for foreigners

A video titled "The Chinese tourists accused of bad behaviour in Thailand | Channel 4 News" was posted to YouTube on 2/22/15, but it has been recirculated in this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow about Chinese travel abroad during the recent National Day holiday:  "With Its Tourists Behaving Badly, China Embarks on Some Soul-Searching" (NYT, 10/10/16).

I do not wish to analyze the behavior of Chinese tourists at home and overseas.  What struck me powerfully about this video is the peculiar pronunciation of what is arguably the most widely known Mandarin expression in the world, viz., Nǐ hǎo 你好 ("hello; hi!").  You can hear it at 0:23 and 0:37 of this 4:04 video.

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Dialectal interference in Shanghai

Here's a photo of a warehouse on Chongming Island, at the northern edge of Shanghai, which deals in various agricultural products, as listed on the two signs:


(Source)

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Rhotic fricatives on the hoof

For a linguist, at least if the linguist is me, it is a thrill to cross for the first time the northern border that separates Austria from Czechia. Immediately after crossing the border last Sunday, my train stopped at Břeclav, and I was able to hear over the beautifully clear announcement PA system my first real-context occurrence of one of the rarest sounds in the languages of the world.

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Eurasian eureka

After reading the the latest series of Language Log posts on long range connections (see below for a listing), Geoff Wade suggested that I title the next post in this series as I have this one.  If there ever was an occasion to do so, now is as good a moment as any, with the announcement of the publication of Chau Wu's extraordinary "Patterns of Sound Correspondence between Taiwanese and Germanic/Latin/Greek/Romance Lexicons, Part I", Sino-Platonic Papers, 262 (Aug., 2016), 239 pp. (free pdf).

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Sino-Roman hybrid characters

Founded in 1858, Keio is the oldest university in Japan and one of the best, also ranking high in world ratings.  Its name is written 慶應 in kanji.  That's a lot of strokes to scribble down every time you want to write the name of your university, so Keio people often write it this way:   广+K 广+O (imagine that the "K" and the "O" are written inside of the 广).  That makes 6 strokes and 4 strokes instead of 15 strokes and 17 strokes respectively, 10 strokes total instead of 32.

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Political /t/ lenition

PolitiFact recently took up the case of a Donald Trump campaign video that shows Hillary Clinton apparently announcing her intention to raise middle class taxes (Linda Qiu, "Donald Trump wrongly says Hillary Clinton wants to raise taxes on the middle class", PolitiFact 8/5/2016). The crux of the matter is this passage.

I’m telling you right now,
we’re going to write fairer rules for the middle class,
and we aren't going to raise taxes on the middle class.

The Trump video subtitled it this way:

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English "wine", French "vin", Spanish "vino"

Translators of Chinese poetry are tormented by how to render the term jiǔ 酒.  The nearly universal English rendering of jiǔ 酒 in Chinese belles lettres is "wine".  The problem is that "wine" is fruit based (usually grapes), whereas jiǔ 酒 is grain based.

This is a topic that has come up tangentially on Language Log many times in the past (see below for some references).  I am revisiting it now because, in the fall, I will be participating in an event in New York having to do with tea and wine.  In the minds of those who know Chinese, that will be framed in terms of chá 茶 and jiǔ 酒.

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A Stew with a Consonant Shift

[This is a guest post by Lukhnos Liu]

Oden (おでん) is a popular Japanese dish. Common ingredients include fishcakes, konjac cakes (or konjac noodles), daikon, and boiled eggs, all stewed in a lightly soy- or mirin-flavored dashi broth. It is also popular in Taiwan, usually called o-lián and written as 黑輪 ("black wheel"), but I don't think I've heard anyone say the word in Mandarin (hei-lún). It is an example of how Taiwanese words are often written: the 黑 in 黑輪 does not represent the sound o͘ – the character 烏 (black, dark) does, and the character 黑 (black) is pronounced hek.

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Ask Language Log: Trend in the pronunciation of Clinton?

From David Russinoff:

I wonder if you've done, or are aware of, any research relevant to the following observation. In the articulation of a "d" or "t" followed by a schwa, the tongue may or may not leave the alveolar ridge.  (I just did some cursory research on parts of the mouth and hope I got that right.)  My (highly unscientific) observation over recent years is that, at least in the pronunciation of certain words, such as "student", removal of the tongue is increasingly common.  In fact, this trend is so apparent to me that I find it remarkable that most people don't seem to have noticed it.  I also have an impression that the trend is especially pronounced (unfortunate choice of words) among younger speakers, but my attempt to support this observation by listening to various pronunciations of "Clinton" over the past four nights failed miserably.

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