Archive for Writing systems

How many characters does it take to say "staff only"?

In sending along the photograph below, Geoff Dawson writes:

I find it hard to believe it takes nine characters. Curious as to what they really say.

From a furniture shop in South Melbourne Australia.

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Troublesome Chinese surname

This is a story about the frustration of a mom in China over the fact that the character for her child's surname, cuàn 爨, has 30 strokes (some sources say 29).

Aside from its use as a surname, this monstrosity of a glyph can also mean "to cook" and "oven; cooker; cookstove".  Although cuàn 爨 certainly should have been a candidate for simplification, so far as I know, no simplified character for it exists, at least none that is official.

There are a dozen or so alternate forms, e.g., 熶, but most of them are very obscure and cannot be found in electronic fonts.  See here for a few.

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"Collapsed" calligraphy, part 2

New article by Nyri Bakkalian in Unseen Japan (9/17/22):

"New App Promises Greater Convenience in Reading Old Japanese Cursive:

Kuzushiji, the 'crushed letters' found in historical Japanese documents, have long been the bane of scholars. A new app may change all that."

The author bemoans:

During my graduate education in Japanese history, interpreting handwritten primary source material from the 19th century and earlier was one of my greatest challenges. Typeset historic documents exist, especially in my period of focus during the Bakumatsu-Meiji transition. But the further back in time one’s research focus is situated, the rarer these documents become. There is a plethora of handwritten documents, written in historic cursive, but learning how to read them is a significant investment of time and resources beyond the means of most people who might otherwise have the inclination to learn.

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Food-related and other types of slang in Japanese

New article in The Japan Times (9/9/22) by Jennifer O'Donnell: 

"The study of Japanese slang is challenging and never stops. Luckily, it’s also a lot of fun."

Inspired by Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, it deals with terms like "Ore shafu da ne wwww おれ社不だねwwww”.

The four w’s you might be able to recognize as the Japanese equivalent to “LOL.” おれ (Ore) means “I,” だね (da ne) is looking for agreement … but what’s 社不 (shafu)?

Well, if you follow Wes Robertson’s slang-focused “Scripting Japan” blog, you’ll know that 社不 is a relatively recent term — more comically self-depreciating than insulting — that refers to someone who is 不適合 (futekigō, incompatible) with 社会 (shakai, society).

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The mystery of sóng (U+2AA0A) ("semen")

Matt Jenkins writes:

I am hoping you'll indulge a question that's been bugging me. I have been trying to improve my fluency by watching as many Chinese online dramas as possible, and sóng (U+2AA0A) comes up in show after show. But the character is always quite obviously "cut-and-pasted" into the subtitles. I'm (generally) familiar with the character as a simplified form of 㞞, and that people usually write 怂 instead. But why is the character practically completely absent from character sets and dictionaries? It's no more offensive than its progenitor 㞞, but 㞞 is far easier to find in character sets.

Jichang Lulu wrote about 㞞 on the Language Log back in March [see "Selected readings" below], but that post didn't include any reference to    (U+2AA0A).

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Decipherment of Linear Elamite

Important breakthrough:

Breaking the Code: Ancient Iran’s Linear Elamite Script Deciphered

By François Desset, Kambiz Tabibzadeh, Matthieu Kervran, Gian Pietro Basello, and Gianni Marchesi

Friends of ASOR 10.8 (August, 2022

With numerous fine illustrations, here omitted, though the captions (in italics) have been retained.

Research in the humanities achieves definitive results in very few cases. The decipherment of an ancient writing system is probably one of them. Successful decipherment efforts in the 20th century include Mycenaean Linear B (by Alice Kober, Michael Ventris, and John Chadwick), Mayan glyphs (by Yuri Knorozov and Tatiana Proskouriakoff), and Luwian/Anatolian hieroglyphs (started by Helmuth Theodor Bossert, Emil Forrer, Ignace J. Gelb, Bedřich Hrozný, and Piero Meriggi; continued by Emmanuel Laroche; and completed by David Hawkins and Anna Morpurgo-Davies). To this list can now be added an important writing system used in southern Iran between 2300 and 1880 BCE, the Linear Elamite script.

Detail of the Marv Dasht vessel, with an example of Linear Elamite writing (21st century BCE; courtesy of the National Museum of Iran).

Aerial view of Susa (courtesy of the Cultural Heritage Base of Susa).

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Hanmoji

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Choose your font carefully

(Source)

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Shimao, graphic arts, and long distance connections

Introduction to the site:

"The importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 2" (5/11/20)

I have written about Shimao informally before, but the more we keep finding out about it, the more I come to believe that it is the most important archeological site in China from before the beginning of our era.

Li Jaang, Zhouyong Sun, Jing Shao, and Min Li, "When peripheries were centres: a preliminary study of the Shimao-centred polity in the loess highland, China", Antiquity, 92.364 (August 22, 2018), 1008-1022.

Chinese archeologists continue to do work at Shimao, although with restrictions because of the sensitive nature of the site.  We can expect additional publications about the site and its artifacts, including, for example, 20,000 bone needles (reported by Min Li who is writing a paper on the textile industry found at Shimao).

New article:

"King Carved In Stone Found at 4,200-Year-Old Chinese Pyramid Palace", by Sahir Pandey, Ancient Origins (8/11/22)

With copious illustrations from the site, including clear photographs of relief carvings and inscriptions.  Astonishingly, in some respects they resemble figures from the mysterious Bronze Age site of Sanxingdui in Sichuan (southwestern China)

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Character-shape wordplay

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

I happened to notice the following bit of character-shape play on a YouTube site called "Wen Zhao tangu lunjin" 《文昭谈古论今》。 He's talking about the tourists on Hainan island who were stuck there after a sudden Covid breakout.  In expressing the observation that these sudden incidents occur time and time again, he used a four-character phrase that is evidently a new Internet slang, 又双叒叕 yòu shuāng ruò zhuó, in which each subsequent character adds another 又 component, a visual representation of the concept "over and over again".

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Close enough: glossing Sinographic Mandarin with Pinyin Mandarin

Intriguing t-shirt that is making the rounds these days:


(source)

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Latin letters as phonophores

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Characterless Northeasternisms

From a native Northeasterner:

Many people think that Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) = Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin). Nononono! Although phonologically Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) sounds like Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin), it is not Mandarin at all because of its distinctive lexical inventory. Yesterday we talked about hermaphrodites, or intersex persons, which are called “èryǐzi” (sounds like 二椅子 (lit., "two chairs"), though I don’t know which are the Chinese characters at all); and also breasts as zhāzhā — e.g., a small kid would say to his/her mom “Wǒ yào chī / mō 我要吃/摸 zhāzhā” ("I want to nibble / touch zhāzhā") when he/she looks for the mama’s breasts; and also xuán了 for “a lot” — e.g. "Lǎoshī liú de zuòyè xuánle 老师留的作业xuán了" ("the teacher gave a lot of homework"),"Dàjiē shàng yǒu xuánle rénle 大街上有xuán了人了" ("the street is crowded with so many people"),or "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了" ("he has a lot of toys"). Note that we don’t say "Tā yǒu xuánle wánjù 他有xuán了玩具",but rather "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了"。Funny grammar :) Again, I don't know how to write these words in characters.

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