Copp & Cobb

I have a colleague at Penn who teaches medieval Arabic cultural history; his name is Paul Cobb.  He used to teach at the University of Chicago.

I have a friend at the University of Chicago who teaches medieval Chinese cultural history; his name is Paul Copp.  He received his PhD from nearby Princeton, which starts with a "P".

Boy, do I ever get them confused!

I mentioned this to Diana Shuheng Zhang, and she replied as follows:

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The actuality of emerging digraphia

Every time someone (usually a Chinese person) raises the issue of writing Sinographic languages in a phonetic script, people (usually non-Chinese) will jump on him / her and say that it can't be done or that it will destroy the culture.

When it is pointed out that it already has been done repeatedly for the last millennium and more ("Writing Sinitic languages with phonetic scripts" [5/20/16]) and that the Vietnamese and Koreans have done it successfully (passim), the ultimate response of the anti-phonetists is that we need to take a survey to find out if the Chinese people really want a phonetic script (most recently in the comments here:  "Sinitic languages without the Sinographic script" [3/5/19]).

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Scripts in Google International Women's Day doodle

For International Women's Day, Google made one of its doodles — this one with quotations from various women from around the world. Each is given its own distinctive typography. Several languages and scripts appear.

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Tong Wang ran into this picture today in Beijing:


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Hol don

This morning while shaving, as I was listening to the radio around 7:30 a.m., I heard a medley of songs by three artists, all with the same title:  "Hold on".  But a funny thing happened in all three of these renditions:  whenever the singer pronounced the title phrase, it always came out as "hol don", at least to my ear.  But I don't think it was just my ear, since several times they prolonged the "hol" syllable and emphasized the "d" at the beginning of the "don" syllable.

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The Very Model for Historical Comparison

Below is a guest post by Nancy Dray, following up on Brian Joseph's obituary for Eric Hamp (3/4/2019).

Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Eric P. Hamp, I thought I would repost something—my parody lyrics for “The Very Model for Historical Comparison”—that I wrote more than 25 years ago, in large part as a tribute to him (mocking his exact opposite). These lyrics were not just written to celebrate Eric and his work: writing them was a path through which I came to know him, not just as a kind and interesting professor but as the extraordinary observer, thinker, poet, conversationalist, and human being that he was.

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Sleepless in Samsung?

I'm spending a couple of days at the DARPA AI Colloquium — about which more later —  and during yesterday's afternoon session, I experienced an amusing conjunction of events. Pedro Szekeley gave a nice presentation on "Advances in Natural Language Understanding", after which one of the questions from the audience was "Hasn't Google solved all these problems?" Meanwhile, during the session, I got a quasi-spam cell-phone call trying to recruit me for a medical study, and since my (Google Fi) phone was turned off, it went to voicemail, and Google helpfully offered me a text as well as audio version of the call.

The result illustrates one of the key ways that modern technology, including Google's, fails to solve all the problems of natural language understanding.

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Electromagnet inhales passwords

From frequent commenter bratschegirl:

Seen backstage on a locked storage cabinet.

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Sinitic languages without the Sinographic script

[This is a guest post from a frustrated Chinese father in the PRC, written in response to the discussion in the comments that followed this post:  "The Sinophone" (2/28/19).  He doesn't mince words, but this is how he feels — passionately — about his fatherland.]

As usual, the more I learn the more am I convinced it's an idiotic script that has convoluted the natural evolution of the language.

I think about how, without pinyin and modern technology, the authorities would have accomplished changing the pronunciation nationwide.

Moreover, I've noticed the seemingly arbitrary, multiple pronunciations of many characters throughout these years.

I also believe that it is due to the limitations of the script that the troublesome issue of the multiple pronunciations developed.  Can you imagine if they had to come up with different characters back in the day for each different sound / word?  We're already drowning in a flood of characters as it is.

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Eric Pratt Hamp (11/16/1920 – 2/17/2019)

This obituary is a guest post by Brian Joseph.

The linguistics world suffered a huge loss on February 17 when Eric Pratt Hamp, a giant on the American and global linguistic scene, passed away at the age of 98. Eric was one-of-a-kind, an amazing scholar and polymath, a specialist in historical linguistics and in the history of a number of individual languages, but a contributor to theoretical issues as well, especially in structural linguistics. He understood the ins and outs of language change, arguing for a balance between system-internal factors and system-external factors, i.e. language contact, as the source of innovations, and applied his knowledge judiciously and carefully, working out the details of both language-internal and contact-induced changes for numerous languages, perhaps most tellingly those of the Balkan peninsula.

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Unexpected "English Word of the Day"

On February 19, I received this notice from Oxford Dictionaries:

English Word of the Day from
Oxford Dictionaries

Your word for today is:


a Chinese unit of distance, equal to about 0.5 km (0.3 mile)

Click on the word to see its full entry, including example sentences and audio pronunciation.

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Deadly homicide

As opposed to the salubrious kind, presumably….

FOX 5 DC News (3/3/19) headline:

"Fairfax County police identify victims of deadly triple homicide in Springfield"

Fairfax County police have identified the three people found shot dead at a home in Springfield overnight.

As Bob Dylan and Paula Cole might have sung, "Where have all the editors gone …"

[h.t. Don Keyser]

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"Shot himself in a genital"?

Sent in by Joe Boyd:

I read this schadenfreude-inducing story and was stuck by the singular use of "a genital" as a noun describing the scrotum ("A 46-year-old man accidentally shot himself in a genital Thursday after a gun slipped from his waistband, police said").

Two things struck me as weird about this: first, a "genital"'? Not the "genitals" or "genitalia"? And second, "a" genital? Not "one of his" genitals (if not the most natural "the genitals")?

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