Archive for Writing systems

Annals of inventive pinyin: rua

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

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Chinese characters and the messiness of Chinese culture

Is it really so?

Uncannily and independently, Apollo Wu* sent me the following note before I made this post:

Hànzì bǐ bù shàng zìmǔ wénzì de guānjiàn lǐngyù zàiyú páixù jiǎnsuǒ hé réngōng zhìnéng děng fāngmiàn. Fùzá fánsuǒ nán xué nán yòng shì dāngqián miàn duì de kùnnán. Hànzì wú xù gěi Zhōngguó wénhuà dǎshàng língluàn de làoyìn!

汉字 比不上 字母文字 的 关键 领域 在于 排序 检索 和 人工智能 等 方面。复杂 繁琐 难学难用 是 当前 面对的 困难。汉字 无序 给 中国 文化 打上 凌乱 的 烙印!

Google Translate:

The key areas where Chinese characters are not as good as alphabetic characters are sorting, retrieval and artificial intelligence. Complicated, cumbersome, difficult to learn and difficult to use are the difficulties we are currently facing. The disorder of Chinese characters marks Chinese culture as messy!

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Learning sinitic and sinoglyphic "zero"

Plus Indic, plus Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, Hokkien (Taiwanese), Hakka, and Fuzhou (Eastern Min).

For an exciting read / ride, be sure to follow the whole thread, travelling through time and space.

Courtesy of Egas Moniz-Bandeira ᠡᡤᠠᠰ ᠮᠣᠨᠢᠰ ᠪᠠᠨᡩ᠋ᠠᠶᠢᠷᠠ

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"Romanisation 'gives clarity'"

As we have pointed out countless times on Language Log, if one wishes to learn a Sinitic language, one can concentrate on the characters (writing system), one can rely exclusively on romanization or other phoneticization, or one can devise various means for combining the two approaches.  Here is a clever, fun method for learning Cantonese that tackles the problem head on.

Hongkonger creates colourful Cantonese font to foster language learning

Jon Chui’s new font shows coloured, context-sensitive jyutping for Chinese text. He created it as his partner “had a hard time with the tones” when learning Cantonese.

Mandy Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press (5/16/23)

Jon Chui "has created a new Cantonese font, which combines over 8,000 characters with colourful, Romanised pronunciation guides in order to foster language learning and teaching."

Cantonese Font. Photo: Jon Chiu.

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A new kanji for tapioca

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Some recent news and posts from

OMG, it’s nougat (4/15/23) — "OMG" borrowed into Mandarin

A long post on puns, multiscriptal writing, and the difficulties of Hanzi.

Puns piled upon puns.

Microsoft Translator and Pinyin (4/15/23)

Microsoft's not very good character-to-Pinyin conversion.

They have the resources and could surely do better.

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Hanmoji, part 2

"Hanmoji" is a portmanteau consisting of the first syllable of hanzi ("Chinese character") and the second part of emoji.

From Bob Bauer:

Have you heard of or seen the book entitled The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language through Emoji, MITeen Press, published August 30, 2022?

The day before yesterday (Thursday, 2 March 2023) I read a review of this book by Richard James Havis on page B9 in the South China Morning Post. Here is a quotation from the review: “Its authors An Xiao Mina, Jennifer 8 Lee and Jason Li – based in North America – show readers how Chinese characters form their meanings by relating them to the emjois we use every day.” (The number “8” does occur in Jennifer 8 Lee’s name just as written).

I have heard of emoji but know little about them and haven’t paid much attention to them. Does each emoji have a specific pronunciation associated with it like a Chinese character typically does? I’m thinking emojis differ from Chinese characters in this particular area (and probably other areas as well). For example, when I see “”, I don’t pronounce it, but I just think ‘smiley face’. However, when I see the Chinese character 木, I associate two pronunciations with it: Cantonese “muk6” and Putonghua “mù” and its English meaning “tree”.

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ChatGPT writes VHM

[This is a guest post by ChatGPT]

Write a Language Log blog post by Victor H. Mair

Title: "The Wonders of the Chinese Language"

As one of the world's oldest and most complex languages, Chinese has captivated linguists and language enthusiasts for centuries. From its unique writing system to its vast vocabulary and intricate grammar, Chinese is a fascinating and challenging language that continues to surprise and delight those who study it.

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Chinese is its writing system. Chinese characters are visual symbols that convey meaning, and they are used in both written and spoken language. Unlike the phonetic alphabets used in many other languages, Chinese characters do not correspond to specific sounds, but rather to concepts or ideas. This makes the learning process much more complex, as students must memorize thousands of characters and learn their meanings and pronunciations.

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Multi-modal writing among Hong Kong teens

From Jenny Chu:

Knowing your interest in multi-modal writing systems, I thought you might be amused by the attached screencap. It is from a WhatsApp group chat of S6 (final year) students in Hong Kong; one of them is asking the others what they would like to do on the afternoon of their last day of classes:

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Canaanite in the news again

The 4,000-year-old tablets reveal translations for 'lost' language, including a love song.
(Image credit: Left: Rudolph Mayr/Courtesy Rosen Collection. Right: Courtesy David I. Owen)


Cryptic lost Canaanite language decoded on 'Rosetta Stone'-like tablets

Two ancient clay tablets from Iraq contain details of a "lost" Canaanite language.

By Tom Metcalfe, Live Science, Jan. 30, 2023

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Old Chinese onsets and the calendrical signs

[This is a guest post by Chris Button]

Below are my reconstructed Old Chinese onsets lined up with the 22 "tiangan dizhi"* calendrical signs ("ganzhi"). To be absolutely clear, the reconstructions are based on evidence unrelated to the ganzhi. It's just a very interesting coincidence that they happen to line up so well. Pulleyblank was clearly onto something! I'm not including the Middle Chinese reflexes here, but I have worked them out in detail and can send that over if there is interest. Two things not noted in the list are that an s- prefix caused aspiration (e.g., st- > tʰ) and that the voiced stops alternated with prenasalized forms (e.g. b ~ b).

[*VHM:  "ten heavenly stems and twelve earthly branches"]

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Mirabile scriptu: fake kanji created by AI

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The invention, development, and decipherment of writing

Long article by Josephine Quinn:

Alphabet Politics:
What prompted the development of systems of writing?

The New York Review (1/19/23 [online 12/19/22])

This is a detailed review of these two books:

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

by Silvia Ferrara, translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 289 pp., $29.00

Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present

by Johanna Drucker
University of Chicago Press, 380 pp., $40.00

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