Archive for Uncategorized

Annals of inventive pinyin: rua

This exercise video shows a woman repeating the syllable "rua" to describe a move that she makes:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

"Failure to Launch"?

Along with half a million other people, I logged onto Twitter at the designated hour to hear Elon Musk help Ron DeSantis announce his run for U.S. President. After about half an hour of  noises, silences, and puzzling graphics, I gave up — too early to catch the restart on a different account.

This event was generally covered as an embarrassing failure, with Twitter tags like #DeSaster and #FailureToLaunch. A few hours later, I checked again, and was able to find the Twitter Spaces recording of the rebooted event — which I found less entertaining than the initial parade of glitches, alas. But I also found this:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Iowa town names

I'm in Ames, home of Iowa State University.  The next town down the road is Nevada.  What?  Yes, but it's /nəˈvdə/ nə-VAY-də, not /nɪˈvædə/ nih-VAD; Spanish: [neˈβaða], and the locals I've met know the difference.  The same thing holds for Madrid, which is on the other side of Ames; it is /ˈmædrɪd/, not /məˈdrɪd/ mə-DRID, Spanish: [maˈðɾið].

From what they told me, Iowans do the same thing with many other exonyms.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (42)

Japanese book formats

Two days ago, a Penn freshman from China gifted me with a small format edition of the Guǐgǔzi 鬼谷子 (Master of Ghost Valley), a text that has long intrigued me.

Guiguzi (鬼谷子) is a collection of ancient Chinese texts compiled between the late Warring States period and the end of the Han Dynasty. The work, between 6,000–7,000 Chinese characters, discusses techniques of rhetoric. Although originally associated with the School of Diplomacy, the Guiguzi was later integrated into the Daoist canon.


Not only was I pleased by the content of the book, I was also charmed by its appearance.  Over the long decades of my career as a Sinologist, I have purchased thousands of Chinese books, but I had never seen one quite like this.  It has fine printing on good quality paper with a classy cover.  Its dimensions are small, 6 7/8ths inches (174.625 mm) by 4 1/4 inches (107.95 mm).  Published in 2015 (reissued 2019) (ISBN 978-7-101-10697-8) by the famous Chinese publishing house Zhōnghuá Shūjú 中华书局 (Chung Hwa Book Co.), it is part of a relatively new series called Zhōnghuá jīngdiǎn zhǐzhǎng wénkù 中华经典指掌文库 (Chung Hwa Classics Series for the Palm).  All the several dozen volumes in this series are premodern classics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Syllable rhythm in English and Mandarin

I've always been skeptical of the distinction between "stress-timed" and "syllable-timed" languages, at least as a claim about the phonetic facts of speech timing as opposed to the psychological dimensions of speech production and perception. Syllable durations in all languages vary widely, due to differences in the intrinsic durations of different vowels and consonants, the effects of phrasal position and emphasis, and many other factors. As a result, inter-stress intervals in languages like English or German are not actually "isochronous", and neither are inter-syllable intervals in languages like French or Spanish. And it's not even true that speakers generally make such intervals closer to isochronous than the relevant timing factors would otherwise predict.

But in "Speech rhythms and brain rhythms", 12/2/2013, I showed a plot of the average syllable-scale power spectrum in the 6300 American-English sentences in the TIMIT dataset, which indicated a key periodicity at 2.4 Hz. I noted that "2.4 Hz corresponds to a period of 417 msec, which is too long for syllables in this material. In fact, the TIMIT dataset as a whole has 80363 syllables in 16918.1 seconds, for an average of 210.5 msec per syllable, so that 417 msec is within 1% of the average duration of two syllables. […] One hypothesis might be that this somehow reflects the organization of English speech rhythm into 'feet' or 'stress groups', typically consisting of a stressed syllable followed by one or more unstressed syllables."

I added that "Unfortunately there aren't any datasets comparable to TIMIT in other languages; but I'll see what I can come up with as a more-or-less parallel test in languages that are said to be 'syllable timed' rather than 'stress timed." Almost ten years later, I've never delivered on that promise, though it would have been easy to do so. So for today's Breakfast Experiment™ I'll show the same analysis for the 6300 sentences in the recently-published Global TIMIT Mandarin Chinese dataset.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)

Have a good / great (rest of [your / the]) day

In the "old days", when you were departing from a store or other premises, people would say to you, "have a good day".  In some cases, they might replace "good" with "great".  Within the last year or two, however, I've been hearing people who work in shops more and more say "Have a good rest of the day" or "Have a good rest of your day".  When I first heard such goodbyes, especially the latter variant, I thought they were unnatural.  I am still somewhat taken aback when I hear this sort of adieu, but since so many shopworkers and other people are saying it to me nowadays, I am gradually beginning to take it for granted, and am almost tempted to say it to others instead of "goodbye" once in a while, but it will take some time, maybe years, before I grow accustomed to saying it myself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Kůlp Månifesto

Recently, a package from Canada arrived at the Penn Linguistics Department — though it was addressed to

Dept. Di Linggwistika
U. Di Pensilvania
Fiiladelfia, Pa
19,104, U.S.Å

It contained multiple copies, on variously-colored paper, of an odd 11-page document.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (39)

Haunted funeral?

It took me three readings the other day to decipher the intended meaning of this headline in an advice column question: SHOULD I REVEAL HOW MY SISTER-IN-LAW HURT ME AT HER FUNERAL? Amy, in her Washington Post column Ask Amy (5/25/22), advised the question-poser to resist the urge to denounce the deceased when mourners were invited during the funeral to share reminiscences about the dear departed.

Comments (2)

Chief Executive to be

"John Lee: What do you call the prospective Hong Kong leader who has everything?", by Tim Hamlett, Hong Kong Free Press (5/7/22)

The current status of John Lee Ka-chiu has presented one of those linguistic problems which delight retired sub editors: how do you describe a man who is clearly going to win a predetermined election?

My regular free newspaper tried “chief executive hopeful”, realised that wasn’t really capturing the reality of the situation – “chief executive certainty” would have been more accurate – and retreated the next day to “sole chief executive candidate”

A local columnist offered “chief executive-in-waiting” which captures the “not yet but definitely soon” aspect of the situation, at the risk of making Lee sound like a minor palace official, as in “lady-in-waiting”.

Foreign publications were less inhibited about the manipulations behind the scenes: one offered “the central government’s selection”, but this will hardly do for Hong Kong purposes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Malapropism of the month

You've probably seen this, but just in case not:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

VDV recruiting video

A 15-year-old recruiting video for the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV), updated with amusing fake English subtitles:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)


In honor of Valentine's day, here's a word that may be new to some of you: situationship, defined by Wiktionary as

(neologism, informal) A romantic or sexual relationship in which the parties involved do not clearly define their relationship as such, but for example consider it "complicated" or a friends with benefits-type situation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Better colormaps?

In the comments on "Painbows" (11/6/2021), bks advanced the opinion that "Grayscale is superior to color in almost all situations."

And ~flow noted that "There are in fact proposals to leave painbows behind and rather use bichromatic scales like Cividis", citing this github repository.

There were other suggestions as well, and of course there are many named colormaps, old and new, as well as the facility for generating innumerable others. (OK, technically numerable given quantized floating-point numbers mapped to quantized RGB values, but …)

So I thought I'd follow up with a modest sample of alternative ways of coloring the same type of 2-D density plots of rates of F0 change and amplitude change that I used in the Painbows post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)