Archive for Writing

Study hegemon

Here's another example of Chinese writing frustration:

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Writing frustration

Somebody posted this in a WeChat group:

The character they were struggling to write is this:

xiāo 宵 ("night; evening; dark")

Here it combines with yuán 元 ("first; primary; chief; principal") to form the word yuánxiāo 元宵 ("Lantern Festival", but in this sentence it means a super delicious kind of sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice flour that people eat on the Lantern Festival).

The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the night of the 15th of the first month of the lunisolar Chinese calendar and marks the last day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.  This year it falls on February 11.

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The origins of graphic communication, pt. 2

Annalee Newitz has a fascinating article on abstract Paleolithic notations in Ars Technica (

"38,000-year-old carving includes enigmatic 'punctuation' pattern:  New finding suggests that paleolithic Europeans shared a common set of symbols."

reporting on this paper:

R. Bourrillon, R. White, E. Tartar, L. Chiotti, R. Mensan, A. Clark, J.-C. Castel, C. Cretin, T. Higham, A. Morala, S. Ranlett, M. Sisk, T. Devièse, D.J. Comeskey, "A new Aurignacian engraving from Abri Blanchard, France: Implications for understanding Aurignacian graphic expression in Western and Central Europe", Quaternary International (1/24/17).

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2016.09.063

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Chicken is down

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Birth Happy Day!

I found this piece of framed calligraphy in a small arts and crafts shop named Noa Omanuyot in the Dan Panorama Hotel on Mt. Carmel in Haifa:

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 2

On Saturday the 26th, Yixue Yang and I went to the Ting Wong Restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown. I took one look at the menu and knew right away that the first thing I wanted was the second item on the menu, the Congee with Chopped Beef.

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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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…"such matters as Opinion, not real worth, gives a value to"

Recently, a series of serendipitous connections led me to read Mary Astell's work, A serious proposal to the ladies, for the advancement of their true and greatest interest, first published in 1694.  And this experience led me to two questions, the first of which is, Why in the world are Mary Astell's works not available in a readable plain text form, from sources like Project Gutenberg and Wikisource?

Astell's Wikipedia entry explains that she "was one of the first English women to advocate the idea that women were just as rational as men, and just as deserving of education." And she is important enough to merit an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which describes at length her contributions to metaphysics and epistemology.

I know that the first-order reason for this lacuna is that OCR is still pathetically incapable of dealing with 17th-century printing, and that no volunteers have stepped forward to transcribe her writings from the available paper or image sources. But this doesn't really answer the question, it just moves it back a step.

Anyhow, my second question is one that I've wondered about before, without ever trying to find an answer: Why did authors from Astell's time distribute initial capital letters in the apparently erratic way that they did?

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Bob Dylan's poetry and the Nobel Prize

A. E. STALLINGS says: "At the news that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, poets, at least judging from my Facebook feed, were either very much pro- or very much con- (often along generational lines), delighted or outraged…"

I found I fell into neither camp. At first, I was pleased to hear the news, and judged the Nobel committee's view of Dylan to be exactly right: although his early recordings suggest he could hardly win prizes as a singer, guitarist, or harmonica player (don't confuse being strikingly different and new with being highly skilled), he did deserve to be considered seriously as a significant 20th-century poet. So I started with no negative feelings at all about the decision.

And then I looked at some of his lyrics in written form to see if I could find good evidence to cite for this, and found that even my favorite songs looked truly feeble on the page. I responded to some of them when they were originally sung; but looking at them now, I couldn't find anything of high poetic quality at all. And mentally putting them back in their musical context didn't help.

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A child's substitution of Pinyin (Romanization) for characters, part 2

This is a photograph of a page from an essay written by a third grade student at an elementary school in Suining, Sichuan Province, China:

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Venn diagram with first grade spelling

Drawn by a seven year old in Los Angeles:

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Secret appearances

The Economist, in a leader last April about the Panama Papers revelation, which I really should have brought to your attention sooner (it fell through the cracks of my life), told us that "The daughters of Azerbaijan's president appear secretly to control gold mines."

They appear secretly? Where are these secret appearances? Are they scheduled in advance, or do they occur randomly? And how would a secret appearance help to control a gold mine?

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Chinese restaurant shorthand

Yixue Yang went to the Ting Wong Restaurant 天旺大饭店 in Philadelphia's Chinatown the other day. Here's the order the waiter took down:

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