Linguists' "inscrutable grudge"?

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Linguists, settling some inscrutable grudge, have been steadily sneaking more backdated synonyms for 'sharing borders' into the dictionary. They've added 'contiguous,' 'coterminous,' 'conterminous,' and next year they're adding 'conterguous.'"

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 3

[Guest post by San Duanmu.  Please note that San's remarks were written before Sara de Rose's post ("part 2") on the same subject earlier this evening.]

In response to Victor’s request, I am offering some comments on qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy), two commonly used terms in traditional Chinese phonology. I shall follow the outlines suggested by Victor as well.

  1. When and how did the terms arise?

According to Tang (2016: 32), the terms were used linguistically in a ten-volume book 《聲類》 (Sound Categories) by 李登 (LI Deng) during 三國時期 (Three Kingdoms period, 220-280). The book was later lost, but references to it can be found in other books that survived.

According to YU Min 俞敏, in Li Ji《禮記》 (the Book of Rites), compiled by followers of Confucius (孔子 551-479 BC), the terms were also used to discuss music, as in “长者浊也……短者清也” (long ones give a muddy sound… short ones give a clear sound). If long and short refer to the shape of an instrument, then ‘muddy’ ought to mean a lower tone and ‘clear’ a higher tone. The exact relation between the terms used in music and those in sound classification is open to interpretation.

  1. How do the terms function within traditional Chinese phonology?

In traditional Chinese phonology, qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy) are used to classify consonants. In addition, each is further divided into two sub-categories. Therefore, there are four categories of consonants, shown in the table below, with samples in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

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Hysteresis

Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst, "What a magnetized iron screwdriver can teach us about the post-COVID economy", NPR Marketplace 12/2/2020:

There’s a scientific demonstration you may have seen in grade school, in which an iron nail or screwdriver is transformed into a temporary magnet by striking it repeatedly with an actual magnet. It demonstrates “hysteresis,” a term meaning “delayed” or “lagging behind” in both physics and economics. We won’t delve deeply into the science of why that works here, but the concept itself is important to understanding the economic damage caused by COVID-19.

“If you’re holding a piece of iron, the piece of iron itself is not likely to be magnetized,” said Elizabeth Green, a condensed-matter physicist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. “But when we do start applying an external parameter, in this case, an external magnetic field, we can start magnetizing this piece of iron, and if we remove that external field, the iron will still remain magnetized.”

It shows how once a piece of iron has been magnetized by something external, it will remain magnetized even when the thing that caused the change is gone. “Nature is lazy,” Green said. “It likes to stay in a particular state, it does not like change. So when we change the direction of this external field, what happens is everything lags behind.”

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 2

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose]

I am currently writing a paper outlining the similarities between the Mesopotamian and ancient Chinese tonal systems, which will be published in Sino-Platonic Papers.

I have a question for those of you knowledgeable in ancient Chinese music. It concerns the terms "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy (zhuó 濁), which were discussed a few days ago on Language Log:  "'Clear' and 'turbid' in Chinese phonology" (11/29/20). Before I pose my question, here’s a quick synopsis of what is known about the Mesopotamian tonal system:

Cuneiform tablets translated since the early 1960s show that, for over a millennium, from at least 1800 BC onward, the Mesopotamians used seven diatonic modes – scales that are closely related to the Western, seven-note major scale.

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Sour waist

When I first began to have extensive interactions with Chinese friends more than sixty years ago, I was puzzled upon hearing them say, "My waist is sore / hurts / aches / pains".  I thought my puzzlement would disappear when I started to learn Mandarin around five years later, but I actually became more confused because what I heard them articulating in Mandarin, "yāo suān", sounded like they were saying "waist is sour".  In those years I didn't pay much attention to the characters, but focused primarily on the spoken language.

"Yāo" was not a problem because I knew that if you had a body part that was troubling you and it was pronounced "yāo", then it must be your waist.  But in English we don't usually talk about problems with your waist unless you're complaining that it's too wide.  We wouldn't normally think of a waist as being "sour".

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"What?!"

D.D. writes:

You know the way people in comic surprise say “What?!” on a high-pitched note? Do you know where that comes from?

This seems to be a natural communicative consequence of the word's meaning. At least it's been around in English for a while, and similar uses of comparable words seem to exist in other languages as well.

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Save l'Institut de Phonétique

A change.org petition, in French, is here. An English translation follows (which was sent to me by the ISSP2020 mailing list) — please consider signing the petition and forwarding it to others who may be interested.

On the 11th of August 1927, the ‘Speech Archives’ (which were created in 1911 by Ferdinand Brunot, based on the work of Abbé Rousselot and with the financial and technical help of Emile Pathé) were integrated under the direction of Hubert Pernot into a foundation of the City of Paris and the University of Paris: 'le Musée de la Parole et du Geste' (the Museum of Speech and Gesture). In July 1928, the Institute of Phonetics / Museum of Speech and Gesture were relocated from the Sorbonne to 19, rue des Bernardins, in the heart of the 5th arrondissement of Paris.

For 92 years, thousands of teachers, researchers and students have visited this historical place. Today, the Institute of Phonetics hosts two research teams (including the CNRS Laboratory of Phonetics and Phonology), a department of Language Sciences, nearly 500 students, about fifty doctoral students, a sound proof room and recording studio, etc.

Numerous scientific projects are in progress, in various domains:

– Medical: https://lpp.in2p3.fr/la-recherche/projets-contrats/CSC/

– Pedagogical: https://lpp.in2p3.fr/la-recherche/projets-contrats/gepeto/

– Forensic: https://lpp.in2p3.fr/la-recherche/projets-contrats/voxcrim/

– Preservation of languages: https://lpp.in2p3.fr/la-recherche/projets-contrats/almas/

We recently learned that the City of Paris will be going to resume possession of the building at 19, rue des Bernardins, for a new real estate project, sweeping away nearly a century of French linguistic history.

We, researchers and former researchers, teachers and former teachers, students and former students, partners, associations and supporters of research and teaching, ask the Mayor of Paris to reconsider her decision to close this symbolic place.

Please forward this message to anyone who may be interested.

Sign the petition here if you want to help us: http://chng.it/754JyBttKZ

Les amis de l'Institut de Phonétique (ILPGA)
amis.ilpga@gmail.com
19 rue des Bernardins
75005 Paris

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The precursors of the Scalia/Garner canons

Previously: Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner

All three canons that are in play in Facebook v. Duguid (the Last Antecedent, Series Qualifier, and Nearest Reasonable Referent Canons) have precursors in U.S. and English caselaw. That’s no surprise, given that all 57 canons in Reading Law are presented as being  well established in the law. But as my last post noted, each canon departs from the previous caselaw in one respect or another. And in the case of the Series Qualifier Canon, the departure is quite substantial.

To lay the groundwork necessary in order to describe those departures, this post will summarize the prior law from which the three canons deviate.

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"zero evidence" ascendent?

S.H. writes:

Maybe I'm suffering from a recency illusion, but I feel that "zero" has begun to replace "no".

I see this often in Washington Post political columns, and here's an example from Robert Reich:

Of course, these claims haven’t held up in court because there’s zero evidence.

Checking Google Books ngrams suggests that "zero evidence" is indeed increasing relative to "no evidence", but was still about 1000 times less common a decade ago, and is now about 500 times less common in the surveyed sources:

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Inscription decipherment with digital image enhancement

John Bellezza, an archeologist and cultural historian whose work focuses on the pre-Buddhist heritage of Tibet and the Western Himalaya, and who has lived in high Asia for three decades, sent me the following two photographs of inscriptions that he took at Lake Gnam-mtsho, Tibet (TAR):


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A Real Character, and a Philosophical Language

A couple of decades ago, in response to a long-forgotten taxonomic proposal, I copied into antique html Jorge Luis Borges' essay "El Idioma Analítico de John Wilkins", along with an English translation. This afternoon, a reading-group discussion about algorithms for topic classification brought up the idea of a single universal tree-structured taxonomy of topics, and this reminded me again of what Borges had to say about Wilkins' 1668 treatise "An Essay Towards a Real Character, And a Philosophical Language". You should read the whole of Borges' essay, but the relevant passage for computational taxonomists is this:

[N]otoriamente no hay clasificación del universo que no sea arbitraria y conjetural. La razón es muy simple: no sabemos qué cosa es el universo. "El mundo – escribe David Hume – es tal vez el bosquejo rudimentario de algún dios infantil, que lo abandonó a medio hacer, avergonzado de su ejecución deficiente; es obra de un dios subalterno, de quien los dioses superiores se burlan; es la confusa producción de una divinidad decrépita y jubilada, que ya se ha muerto" (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, V. 1779). Cabe ir más lejos; cabe sospechar que no hay universo en el sentido orgánico, unificador, que tiene esa ambiciosa palabra. Si lo hay, falta conjeturar su propósito; falta conjeturar las palabras, las definiciones, las etimologías, las sinonimias, del secreto diccionario de Dios.

[I]t is clear that there is no classification of the Universe that is not arbitrary and full of conjectures. The reason for this is very simple: we do not know what thing the universe is. "The world – David Hume writes – is perhaps the rudimentary sketch of a childish god, who left it half done, ashamed by his deficient work; it is created by a subordinate god, at whom the superior gods laugh; it is the confused production of a decrepit and retiring divinity, who has already died" ('Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion', V. 1779). We are allowed to go further; we can suspect that there is no universe in the organic, unifying sense, that this ambitious term has. If there is a universe, its aim is not conjectured yet; we have not yet conjectured the words, the definitions, the etymologies, the synonyms, from the secret dictionary of God.

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Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner (the first in a series)

A few weeks ago, Mark’s post “Lawyers as linguists” alerted me to Facebook v. Duguid, a case now pending before the Supreme Court, which grabbed my attention for several reasons. First, the case presents an interesting linguistic issue. Second, the parties on both sides have framed their linguistic arguments in terms of three of the canons of interpretation in Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (2012) the book coauthored Bryan Garner and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and I’ve previously criticized the canons at issue (e.g., here). Finally, Garner himself is on the legal team representing the plaintiff, Noah Duguid.

An unusual confluence of circumstances.

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The language of Genghis Khan

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

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