How many more Chinese characters are needed?

I was stunned when I read this op-ed piece in the NYT yesterday (10/24/16):  "China's Digital Soft Power Play".  In it, the author, Jing Tsu (a professor of Chinese literature and culture at Yale), writes:

This month, the Chinese government plans to introduce codes for some 3,000 Chinese characters as part of a grand project, known as the China Font Bank, to digitize 500,000 characters previously unavailable in electronic form. Until now, only 80,388 characters have been encoded in the international computing standard, Unicode.

The project highlights 100,000 characters from the country’s 56 ethnic minorities, and another 100,000 rare and ancient characters from China’s written corpus. Deploying almost 30 companies, institutions and universities, it’s the largest state-funded digitization project ever undertaken.

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I am much encouraged

At last, an animal communication story involving healthy skepticism rather than vacant-eyed credulity, and human sagacity rather than wondrous communicative brilliance by our furry, finned, or feathered friends. Read on to be reassured about the intelligence of your species.

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Russian-accented Mandarin

This Mandarin news program was broadcast on July 13, 2016 by Èluósī bīnhǎi xīnwén 俄罗斯滨海新闻 ("Russian Coastal News").

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Phono-semantic rebranding

There's a new article on linguistic borrowing by Jane C. Hu in Quartz (10/23/16):  "The genius and stupidity of corporate America are on display when companies rebrand for new countries".  The article originally had a better title:  "Phono-semantic matching is corporate America's best option when trying to rebrand for new countries".

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Multilingual beach ball warning

I spotted this very impressive warning at Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, Florida yesterday morning:

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New spamference joke

Ethan Weston & Carter Woodiel, "Paper Fully Written By iOS Autocomplete Accepted By Physics Conference", Newsy 10/23/2016:

A nonsensical academic paper on nuclear physics written only by iOS autocomplete has been accepted for a scientific conference.  

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email inviting him to submit a paper to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics in the US in November. 

“Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics I resorted to iOS autocomplete function to help me writing the paper,” he wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

“I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions.  “The text really does not make any sense.”

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Erotic phonemes

An unusually large number of people have suggested that I should post about the latest SMBC comic. Since I'm on the other side of the world, with slow and erratic internet, I'll just post the link, and note that (implied pornography aside) it would be good phonetics assignment to replace Zach's letter strings with IPA symbols.


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The history of Trumpian "big league" (now even bigger league!)

Donald Trump, as we have discussed a few times now, is fond of using big league as a post-verbal adjunct, though it's often misheard as bigly. (See: "Bigly," 2/26/16; "The world wants 'bigly'," 5/5/16; "Don't let 'bigly' catch on," 10/18/16.) On the night of Wednesday's presidential debate, UC Berkeley's Susan Lin helpfully shared a spectrogram of the relevant utterance from Trump, demonstrating the "velar pinch" associated with the final /g/ of big league. The spectrogram first appeared in the Facebook group Friends of Berkeley Linguists and then was tweeted by Jennifer Nycz and Tara McAllister Byun.

After it circulated on Twitter, Lin's spectrogram then got incorporated into news stories from Mashable, Thrillist, Mic, and Washington Post's The Fix, presented as the authoritative word on a subject that has clearly been on a lot of people's minds. (Philip Bump, in his piece for The Fix, noted that on the night of the debate, "bigly donald trump" came in third among all Trump-related Google searches, after "donald trump iraq" and "donald trump iraq war.")

Now that the phoneticians have spoken, this is a good time to look at the history of Trump's peculiar usage, which shows no sign of abating. Just yesterday, at a rally at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Trump ratcheted up big league by pairing it with even bigger league — though of course many people heard it as even biggerly.

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Some visualizations of prosody

This post presents some stuff I did last March — I thought I had blogged about it but apparently I only put it into these lecture notes. It came up in some discussions today in Shanghai, because I thought that maybe similar visualizations might help explore prosodic differences between the speech of English native speakers and Chinese learners of English. This is going to get a little wonkish, so let's start with a picture:

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The making of a cinematic linguist's office

Ever since the first trailer for the upcoming science-fiction movie "Arrival" came out back in August, we here at Language Log Plaza have been anxiously awaiting more glimpses of Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called upon to communicate with aliens after they arrive on Earth. The final trailer of the film has been released, in advance of the theatrical release on Nov. 11. And while many people may marvel at the CGI rendering of the alien ships, I'd imagine that the first reaction of most linguists is, "Hey, check out her office! And what books are on those shelves?"

When the first trailer was released, Gretchen McCulloch let the word slip on her All Things Linguistic blog that some linguists at McGill University (near the film's shooting location in Montreal) were consulted, and that "the books in Adams's office were borrowed from the offices of a couple linguists at McGill." I followed up with the McGill faculty who served as consultants to learn more about how the filmmakers recreated the office of a linguist. It's fair to say that it's the most meticulous rendering of a linguist's scholarly abode since the phonetician Peter Ladefoged helped design the lab of Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady."

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Ultimate language threat

The news these days, I find, seldom merits a smile. But at one news story I heard at lunchtime today I actually laughed out loud, alone in my kitchen. Michel Barnier, charged with heading the EU side in the complex forthcoming negotiations that will set the terms for the UK's exit from the European Union, has found a way to hurt the British more deeply, and put them more at a disadvantage, than I ever would have thought possible. It is so fiendish it ought to be illegal, yet it violates no law or basic principle of human rights. It is simply wonderful in its passive-aggressive hostility. I take my hat off to him. He has announced that he wants all the negotiations with the British team to be conducted in French.

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He's still waiting

From Francois Lang:

Attached is a photo of a sign in the washroom at Heckman's Deli in Bethesda, MD

I kept waiting for all the employees to wash my hands. I even asked. But nothing. Maybe it was something I said?

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More old names for Singapore

We have already studied an old name for Singapore on the back of an envelope dating to 1901:

Now, Ruben de Jong, relying on the works of Dutch scholars, has discovered several others.

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