Archive for April, 2015

Cantonese intonation

On a recent flight across the Atlantic, I watched a Hong Kong movie called Gangster Payday in English, 大茶飯 ("Big Tea Rice"?) in Chinese, directed by Lee Po-Cheung. One of the things that struck me was a particular pattern of pitch and time at the ends of certain phrases, involving elongation of the final syllable, typically on a mid-level pitch. It seems to come in bunches, and to occur on quite different phrase-final syllable sequences, so I'm guessing that it's an intonational pattern rather than a series of lexical tones.

The movie is available on YouTube, so I've pulled out a few examples of this phenomenon, in the hope that someone who knows Cantonese (and perhaps also the speech patterns of Hong Kong gangsters — or at least older Hong Kongers of lower-SES origin?) can explain it.

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R.I.P. Tex Logan

His Wikipedia entry tells us that "Benjamin Franklin 'Tex' Logan, Jr. (1927) was an American electrical engineer and bluegrass music fiddler. He died April 24, 2015 in the arms of his daughter, Jody."

Here he is playing with Bill Monroe in 1969:

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R.I.P. Jack Ely

Evidence that coherence is overrated — Sam Roberts, "Jack Ely, Who Sang the Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’, Dies at 71", NYT 4/29/2015:

Jack Ely would later insist that as a 19-year-old singing “Louie Louie” in one take in a Portland, Ore., studio in 1963, he had followed the original lyrics faithfully. But, he admitted, the braces on his teeth had just been tightened, and he was howling to be heard over the band, with his head tilted awkwardly at a 45-degree angle at a single microphone dangling from the ceiling to simulate a live concert.

Which may explain why what originated innocently as a lovesick sailor’s calypso lament to a bartender named Louie morphed into the incoherent, three-chord garage-band cult classic by the Kingsmen that sold millions of copies, spawned countless cover versions and variations, was banned in Indiana, prompted the F.B.I. to investigate whether the song was secretly obscene, provoked a legal battle and became what Frank Zappa called “an archetypal American musical icon.”

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"Elsewhere": electronic alibis

American readers may not yet have heard the recent story about the chairman of the Conservative Party in Britain, Grant Shapps MP. He has been accused of sock-puppetry: editing his own Wikipedia page to remove unfavorable references to his business life (and editing the pages about other Conservative MPs to highlight unfavorable aspects of their lives). And his response was to say that he couldn't possibly have done it, because: "A simple look in my diary shows I was elsewhere."

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Bopomofo vs. Pinyin

There has been a considerable amount of discussion concerning the relative merits of bopomofo and Pinyin in Taiwan in recent weeks.  A typical article in this vein is "Fèi zhùyīn fúhào jiàoxué, zǎo xué duōzhǒng pīnyīn xìtǒng 廢注音符號教學,早學多種拼音系統" ("Abandon teaching in Mandarin Phonetic Symbols; learn a variety of alphabetical systems from a young age") in Xiǎngxiǎng 想想 ("Thinking-Taiwan") (4/24/15).

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Foundation and jihad

Did Osama bin Laden name Al Qaeda after Isaac Asimov's Foundation series?

Meeting Dmitri Gusev here at Text By The Bay ("Rising sun", 4/25/2015) reminded me that I'd seen his name before. The context was a 2002 article in the Guardian, "What is the origin of the name al-Qaida?"  (picked up on LLOG in "Copy-editing terrorism", 7/28/2005):

 In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov's 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.  

"This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now," wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article.

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A proliferation of hyphens

In comments to "Suffer the consequences " (4/19/15), Jongseong Park and Bob Ramsey bemoaned what they considered to be the overuse of hyphens in the transliteration of Hangeul.  In a later comment, I explained that the hyphens between virtually all syllables in the transliterations were due to the Hangeul converter we've been using, which automatically inserts them.  In the future, we'll try to remove most of the hyphens.

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In the weeds

J.K. Trotter, "Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti: The Gawker Interview", 4/22/2015 (From Ben Zimmer, who picked it up from Sebastian Stockman on Twitter — emphasis added):

Keenan: They’re running the Pepsi Twitter account?
Ben (to Jonah): Yes. Is that exactly accurate? I’m not in the weeds in this, but they had been—
Jonah: They had been making content for Pepsi.
Ben: Because they were running the account.
Jonah: And it was—I’m not in the weeds on this, either, but I know the creative team was doing real-time marketing with Pepsi and posting stuff—

Sebastian asks "doesn't 'in the weeds' usually mean 'out of depth/in trouble'?"

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Crimes against English

Sign on the front door at the Taitung County District Prosecutors Office in Taiwan (via Kerim Friedman):

This is from an article in Want China Times (4/21/15):

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Rising sun

James Madison, "Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention", Tuesday September 17, 1787:

Whilst the last members [of the Constitutional Convention] were signing [the final document], Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun.

I have, said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.

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An Eighteenth-Century Japanese Language Reformer

In his "Reflections on the Meaning of Our Country:  Kamo no Mabuchi's Kokuikô," Monumenta Nipponica, 63.2 (2008), 211-263, Peter Flueckiger presents "a utopian vision of ancient Japan as a society governed in accordance with nature, which was then corrupted by the introduction of foreign philosophies, especially Confucianism."

Mabuchi (1697-1769) looks at a wide range of social, political, and cultural manifestations, but the aspect of his work that intrigues me most is his sharply critical stance with regard to Chinese characters.

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Political pitch ranges

I don't have time for much this morning, but here's a plot of the f0 quantiles of the first minute or so of each of six speeches from the 2015 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum:

["F0", pronounced "eff zero", is a conventional designation for the fundamental frequency of the voice, which represents the rate of oscillation of the vocal folds in voiced speech, and is a physical proxy for the psychological dimension of "pitch". "Hz" is the standard abbreviation for "Hertz", the international unit of frequency (cycles per second) named after Heinrich Hertz.]

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