Fish-in-fish matryoshka sinoglyph

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Victor Hugo, hélas

Focus is perhaps the single most perniciously ambiguous word in the field of linguistics. In Beth Ann Hockey's 1998 dissertation, "The interpretation and realization of focus: an experimental investigation of focus in English and Hungarian", she wrote:

Linguists have associated the word “focus” with a wide variety of phenomena. In addition a wealth of other terms including “new,” “emphasis,” “stress,” “rheme,” “comment,” “accented,” “prominent,” “informative” and “contrast” have been attached singly or in combination to phenomena that seem to be the same as, similar to or overlapping with those that have been called focus.

Beth Ann quotes a few relevant passages from Lewis Carroll, including

‘That's a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’

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Two brushes in one hand — virtuoso calligraphy

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A very noisy channel

From Breffni O'Rourke:

I thought you might appreciate this effort by Dall.E. The prompt was "Create a diagram of Shannon and Weaver's model of communication."

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Digital Humanities for the study of traditional Asian medicines

A guest post for The Digital Orientalist (4/10/24), under The Magic of Philology and Indexing, Polyglot Asian Medicines (Foundational Resources and Digital Tools), by Michael Stanley-Baker, Christopher S.G. Khoo and Faizah Zakariah (all three are based at academic institutions in Singapore), "Tracking Drug Names Across Language, Time, Space and Knowledge Domains to Produce New Visions of Traditional Medicine".

This is a richly detailed article with many links and citations.  I will not attempt to cover, much less extensively quote, lengthy portions.  Instead, I will begin with the authors' general introduction, note the main sections of the article, refer to the graphs, and quote one typical section to show what the authors' approach can accomplish.

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Feeling wet

Yesterday in one of my classes, a female student from China said that she didn't like to exercise in the morning because she felt "wet".  At first, I couldn't believe my ears, so I asked her, "Did you say 'wet'?"  "Yes," she said, "wet".  I couldn't understand in what way she would feel "wet" in the morning and how that would prevent her from doing exercises.

We wouldn't use the English word "wet" to describe a morning condition that would discourage us from doing exercises, so I tried to think of other related words (synonyms or near-synonyms for "wet") that would work better.  "Logy"? "sodden"? "heavy"?  But I couldn't come up with any equivalent words that would fit the bill.  I specifically was disinclined to choose the word "shī 濕", which literally does mean "wet", but didn't believe that's what she meant because it would signify something like "drenched", "dripping", "soaked", not a systemic condition of the body, unless it means something in traditional Chinese medicine that I'm not aware of.

I puzzled over this conundrum for a while without making any significant progress, so today I sent her an e-mail asking the following question:  "What Chinese word / concept did you have in mind when you said you felt 'wet' in the morning"?

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Polysyllabic sinoglyphs

From Markus Samuel Haselbeck, responding to Egas Moniz-Bandeira on Twitter/X:

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Chinese (il)logic from inside

[Prefatory note:  The Chinese author of this guest post, TCI (encrypted acronym to protect her identity) holds a humanities M.A. from a top tier American research university which she attended from 2016 to 2018.  She has been employed for several years as an adviser to  students in China who desire to study abroad (especially the USA) in high school, college, or university.  Her statement will be followed by the remarks of a long experienced, well established practitioner of that profession (application counselor) in China who explains its aims and modus operandi.

The author (TCI) emphasizes what she considers to be a lack of logic in Chinese thought.  It is ironic that her focus is very much on the gender of personal pronouns at a time when many people in America are trying to do away with or downplay that aspect of personal pronouns.  Before dismissing what she says out of hand, bear in mind that for TCI it is a cri de coeur.  She grew up in China learning one system of thought, came to America and struggled to learn another, and now she has gone back to China and is trying to teach the next generation of students who want to come to America and think like Americans how to be less fraught in learning this new way of thinking.

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The E-V22 haplogroup and its East Asian congeners, ancient and modern

[This is a guest post by Matthew Marcucci]

Population genetics is proving to be astonishingly useful in aiding the study of history, linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, and other disciplines.  One means of studying ancient human migrations is analysis of the so-called yDNA haplogroup.  In reviewing the modern-day distribution of my own yDNA haplogroup, I have come upon a fascinating contemporary Chinese lineage that may ultimately derive from an ancient or medieval Iranian or Caucasian source population.

Briefly, yDNA haplogroups result from the following basic process:  All men inherit Y-chromosomal DNA from their own fathers.  Random mutations in this yDNA are then passed on to the sons of those in whom they first occurred, and the process repeats ad infinitum.  (An analogous process occurs in women's mitochondrial DNA, which is transmitted to both sons and daughters.)  Through the approximate dating of these mutations, men can be differentiated into groups一so-called “haplogroups”一demarcated by their most-recent shared paternal-line ancestor.  Here, for example, is a recent paper published in the Journal of Human Genetics that analyzes the yDNA haplogroup frequencies among modern Japanese men.  A handy way to represent this pattern of genetic inheritance that ultimately links all men back to a “Y-chromosomal Adam” is by means of a phylogenetic “family” tree.

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Fast talking

The topic of this post is one that deeply fascinates me personally, but also has a bearing on many of the main concerns of the denizens of Language Log:  information, efficiency, density, complexity, meaning, pronunciation, prosody, speed, gender….

It was prompted by this new article:

What’s the Fastest Language in the World?
Theansweriscomplicated. [sic]
by Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura (April 2, 2024)

The article is based upon the work of François Pellegrino a senior researcher in linguistics and cognitive science at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris and Université Lumière Lyon II, France.

Francois Pellegrino is mostly a quantitative linguist, meaning his work often includes measuring differences among languages and hunting for explanations behind those differences. He’s worked on language speed a few times, including on one study that compared 17 different languages in a variety of metrics.

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Romeyka rescue

Ioanna Sitaridou's "Crowdsourcing Romeyka" project has been getting some coverage in niche media, and in at least one widely-read publication: Esther Addley, "Endangered Greek dialect is ‘living bridge’ to ancient world, researchers say", The Guardian 4/3/2024.

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Still more Mongolic

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Another "variant" character

If we come upon a glyph that we don't recognize and can't find in any dictionary, especially if we have half an idea what it might mean or what it might sound like, we are apt to call it a "variant character" (yìtǐzì 異體字) or calligraphic form of some standard glyph.  It happens all the time, e.g., here — in the comments.

Nick Kaldis sent in this character:


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