Archive for Writing systems

Northernmost runic finds in the world

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Kanji or not?

Stone artifact from around the beginning of the first century AD, excavated at the Tawayama remains in Matsue, capital of Shimane Prefecture:

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IP — a new and much used word in Chinese

Message from Stoyan Gegovski:

I am editing parts of the "Xi'an Investment Guide" (every major city in China issues one of these every year) and I came upon an interesting use of the abbreviation "IP" which might interest you:

"Xīn shídài xīn Xī'ān xīn IP 新时代 新西安 新IP"

It is placed on the third page of the handbook, right after a short introduction of the city and a map of the ancient Silk Road.

I have never encountered such a use of "IP" and I find it quite interesting. The Graduate students tasked with the translation rendered it as "New Era, New Xi'an, New IP", which obviously does not truly represent its meaning. Apparently, even the Chinese are not too sure what it means, as they were also unable to define it.

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Scripts at risk

Andrea Valentino has an intriguing article in BBC Future (1/21/20):  "The alphabets at risk of extinction:   It isn't just languages that are endangered: dozens of alphabets around the world are at risk. And they could have even more to tell us."

Usually, when we worry about languages going extinct, we are thinking about their spoken forms, but we are less often concerned about their written manifestations.  As Valentino puts it,

This might have something to do with the artificiality of alphabets. Language is innate to all humans, but scripts have to be invented and actively learned. This has happened rarely. Even by the middle of the 19th Century, only 10% of adults knew how to write, and there are only about 140 scripts in use today.

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"Q" as a Sinogram and a Sinitic morpheme

Jules Quartly (appropriate surname!) has an informative article on this subject in Taiwan Business TOPICS, "The True Story of Q" (1/21/20) — a takeoff from the most famous Chinese short story of the 20th century, "The True Story of Ah Q" (Ā Q Zhèngzhuàn 阿Q正傳 /  阿Q正传; serialized 12/4/21-2/12/22, published 1923).  Toward the end of his article, Quartly quotes extensively from this post of mine:  "Is Q a Chinese Character?" (4/15/10).  In the rest of the article, however, he offers a panoply of his own and others' insights about just what "Q" signifies as a mouthfeel in Taiwan.

Here follow some delicious, selected passages from Quartly's article:

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A museum for the languages of Taiwan

Language Log readers will be aware that "Chinese", i.e., "Mandarin" (Guóyǔ 國語), is not the only language on the island.  Indeed, it is a Johnny-come-lately, having become the official language of the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1945, and was strongly enforced as such after 1949 when the retreating mainland KMT armies of Chiang Kai-shek occupied the island.

The earliest indigenous languages of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesian.  And we should not forget that there was a period of partial Dutch rule (1624-1662), especially in the south, and Spanish Formosa (Formosa Española) was a small colony of the Spanish Empire established in the northern part of the island from 1626 to 1642.  Consequently, both Dutch and Spanish had an impact on the linguistic development of Taiwan during the 17th century.  The first Europeans to take notice of Taiwan, however, were the Portuguese who, passing Taiwan in 1544, recorded in a ship's log the name of the island as Ilha Formosa ("Beautiful Island").

Taiwan was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945, during which period Japanese was the official language.  As such, it was important for the development of language on the island, and its significance lasts till today.

The influence of English in Taiwan has been enormous during the last two centuries.

See "Languages of Taiwan".

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Robot calligraphy

People's Daily video posted on illegal Twitter:

 

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Pinyin to Hanzi Two Way Conversions

Apollo Wu, who was a long-term translator at United Nations headquarters, sent me the following note:

Dear Victor,

I wish to acquire a language tool for two way conversions between Pinyin and Hanzi texts. Do you know if any do exist?  I sometimes write Pinyin texts and want to convert them to characters for some Chinese readers who are not familiar with Pinyin.

Best!

Apollo

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The impact of phonetic inputting on Chinese languages

The vast majority of people, both inside and outside of China, input characters on cell phones, computers, and other electronic devices via Hanyu Pinyin or other phonetic script.  Naturally, this has had a huge impact on the relationship between users of the Chinese script and their command of the characters, since they are no longer directly writing the characters through neuro-muscular coordination and effort.  Instead, their electronic devices do the writing of the characters for them by converting the Pinyin or other phonetic inputting to the desired characters, resulting in the widely lamented phenomenon of "character amnesia", which we have touched upon in dozens of LL posts.

There has in recent years been a lot of stuff and nonsense bandied about concerning how Chinese character inputting led to the development of predictive typing, whereas the actuality is that the extreme cumbersomeness of the Chinese writing system necessitated the development of one kind of predictive typing (other predictive algorithms were already in use long before) to rescue the characters from hasty extinction.

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HouseHold GarBage

Dick Margulis saw this in a hospital waiting room in the University of Hong Kong Shenzhen Hospital:

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"Collapsed" calligraphy

Responding to this recent post about machine analysis of grammar, "Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese dependency parsing" (11/27/19), Nicholas Morrow Williams writes:

That reminds me tangentially of something I just heard about, an effort to transcribe Japanese "kuzushiji" (cursive-like) script using AI.  This article, which contains some striking illustrations, is about a huge international competition to devise a better method, won apparently by a Chinese team.

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Multiscriptal face writing

We've mentioned "kaomoji " before (see "Readings"), but only gave a few examples.

"Kaomoji 顔文字 ("face character / writing") is a Japanese term for more or less elaborate "drawings" composed of kana, characters, punctuation marks, and now letters and other symbols drawn from a wide range of writing systems.  They can be quite fanciful, even florid.  Some of them are exquisite, breathtakingly beautiful.

I hadn't seen many of them in the past, but in the last few days, Diana Shuheng Zhang started sending a bunch of them to me, and I found them utterly captivating, so I've decided to share some delightful kaomoji with Language Log readers.

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English incorporated in a Sinograph

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