Archive for April, 2019

Phonetic annotations as a welcome aid for learning how to read and write Sinographs

In several recent posts, we've been discussing the most efficient, least painful way to acquire facility with hanzi / kanji / hanja 漢字 ("Sinographs; Chinese characters").  Lord knows there are endless numbers of them and they are so intricately constructed that it is an arduous task to master the two thousand or so that are necessary for basic literacy.

It would be so much easier to learn the Sinographs if language pedagogues would provide phonetic annotations for each character.  Better yet, the phonetic annotations should be divided into words with spaces between them according to the official orthographic rules.

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How to maintain first and second language skills

In the comments to "Cantonese as a Second Language" (4/22/19), there's an interesting discussion going on about how to maintain and / or acquire competency in more than one language.  This post started out as a comment to that thread, but it soon grew too long, so I've separated it off here.

My son was born in Taiwan and spent the first two years of his life in Taipei in an all-Mandarin household with lots of members (father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and two aunts), and plenty of other relatives in the Taipei area (more uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.) — all mainlanders.  They all spoke Mandarin with him.

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Tocharian, Turkic, and Old Sinitic "ten thousand"

Serious problem here.

Clauson, An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish, p. 507b:

F tümen properly ‘ten thousand’, but often used for ‘an indefinitely large number’; immediately borrowed from Tokharian, where the forms are A tmān; B tmane, tumane, but Prof. Pulleyblank has told me orally that he thinks this word may have been borrowed in its turn fr. a Proto-Chinese form *tman, or the like, of wan ‘ten thousand’ (Giles 12,486).

Source (pdf)

[VHM:  the "F" at the beginning of the entry means "Foreign loanword"]

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Cantonese as a Second Language

That's the title of a new book from Routledge:

John C. Wakefield, ed., Cantonese as a Second Language:  Issues, Experiences and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning

Readers of Language Log know that I'm an ardent advocate of this vibrant language and will understand why I consider the publication of Cantonese as a Second Language a cause for celebration.

Two caveats:

1. It's a full-fledged language, not a mere "dialect".

2. You don't have to worry about the Sinographs when you learn it.

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Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This post was prompted by the following comment to "The emergence of Germanic" (2/27/19):

…while riding horses _in battle_ is post-Bronze Age (and perhaps of questionable worth at any time), I think riding in general is older, and probably (assuming the usual dating of PIE) common Indo-European.

The domesticated horse, the chariot, and the wheel came to East Asia from the west, and so did horse riding:

Mair, Victor H.  “The Horse in Late Prehistoric China:  Wresting Culture and Control from the ‘Barbarians.’”  In Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle, ed.  Prehistoric steppe adaptation and the horse,  McDonald Institute Monographs.  Cambridge:  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003, pp. 163-187.

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Communicating with cats and dogs

On twitter a few days ago:

Today's Liberty Meadows:

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Schadenfreudeful

A moment ago, I had occasion to use the word "schadenfreudeful" in a letter to someone. Wanting to see if anyone else had ever used this word, I did a Google search, and it yielded 149 ghits. I knew exactly how to say it, so didn't need any guidance in that regard, but I was intrigued by the fact that the first listing for the word was this:

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Ouch

Eliza Strickland, "How IBM Watson Overpromised and Underdelivered on AI Health Care", IEEE Spectrum 4/2/2019 (subhead: "After its triumph on Jeopardy!, IBM’s AI seemed poised to revolutionize medicine. Doctors are still waiting"):

In 2014, IBM opened swanky new headquarters for its artificial intelligence division, known as IBM Watson. Inside the glassy tower in lower Manhattan, IBMers can bring prospective clients and visiting journalists into the “immersion room,” which resembles a miniature planetarium. There, in the darkened space, visitors sit on swiveling stools while fancy graphics flash around the curved screens covering the walls. It’s the closest you can get, IBMers sometimes say, to being inside Watson’s electronic brain.

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What the dinosaurs discovered

…despite being annihilated, no less — from "A meteor from another solar system may have hit Earth, and the implications are fascinating", CNN 4/17/2019:

[h/t Bob Shackleton]

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Syntax puzzle of the day

A headline sent in by Yoram Meroz: "Congressman Florida Man hired former Trump staffer fired after hanging around white nationalists", Daily Kos 4/19/2019.

Yoram wrote "Here's a headline I could probably decipher, but I haven't tried."

I tried and failed — I leave it to our clever commenters to solve the mystery.

The references are easy to understand, from the body of the story and extensive other coverage — the "Florida Man" is Matt Gaetz, and the "former Trump staffer" is Darren Beattie.

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Mayor Pete's multilingualism

Sure, you may have heard that Pete Buttigieg, now on the presidential campaign trail, can speak a surprising number of languages. Now the Washington Post compiles the evidence in one video, under the appropriate headline, "Mayor Pete speaks a lot of languages, even when he's not fluent." In the video, Polyglot Pete shows off his varying skills in French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Farsi (aka Iranian Persian), Dari (aka Afghan Persian), and Norwegian. Oddly, there's no footage of him speaking Maltese, which is likely the foreign language in which he has the most fluency, given that his father is from Malta.

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Coherence Quiz answers

As promised, the results of yesterday's little experiment on "Coherence of sentence sequences" are here.

A tabular summary:

 Question Correct Wrong
1 166 (98%) 4 (2%)
2  135 (80%)  33 (20%)
3 167 (99%) 2 (1%)
4 158 (93%) 12 (7%)
5 113 (67%) 56 (33%)
6 152 (90%) 17 (10%)
7 165 (97%) 5 (3%)
8 115 (68%) 55 (32%)
9 169 (99%) 1 (1%)
10 167 (98%) 3 (2%)
11 163 (96%) 7 (4%)
12 137 (81%) 32 (19%)

So the survey respondents (as a whole) guessed the original order of all twelve sentence-pairs correctly — though the margins varied from 2-to-1 to 99-to-1. The overall percent correct was 89%, though of course that percentage will depend on the particular mix of examples.

(The counts don't all sum to the same row-wise value because a couple of participants left some answers blank — there's probably a way to get Qualtrics to prevent that, but I didn't figure it out in time…)

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Coherence of sentence sequences

Here are two successive sentences from The Wizard of Oz, presented in two different orders:

  1. "How strange it all is! But, comrades, what shall we do now?"
  2. "We must journey on until we find the road of yellow brick again," said Dorothy, "and then we can keep on to the Emerald City."
  1. "We must journey on until we find the road of yellow brick again," said Dorothy, "and then we can keep on to the Emerald City."
  2. "How strange it all is! But, comrades, what shall we do now?"

The first order (in blue) is easier to construe as a coherent sequence, because in that order, sentence 2 answers a question posed by sentence 1. The version in red could be rescued by a more complicated set of contextual assumptions or a more complicated theory of the interaction — but in fact it's the blue version that's the original.

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