Archive for Writing systems

Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, Emojis and coded communication in Shanghai

Look everyone! it's a post about language in China by not-Victor! :)

I just had to drop everything and write this post while I was listening to the latest Reply-All podcast, this week consisting of a series of phone interviews with people around the world about the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic in their area. The first interview was with Justine from Shanghai, and she was talking about ways people were working around censorship in talking about…

…uh oh I suddenly realize I may be doing a disservice to the Chinese public by posting about this, so I won't go into all the detail I intended. Anyway, the basic idea is that folks were using homophonic transliteration with emojis to get around censorship of certain stories about the epidemic there. You can listen to the podcast here; the relevant bit is between minutes 4:40 and 6:15.

If you can imagine it, this would be like trying to parse "Little Red Riding Hood" from emojis  like💡💯🐀✍️👱‍♂️. Leaving comments open to see if anyone can figure out what homophonic transliteration words I intend for that sequence. First prize is a disinfected plastic cup with logo from the Language Log water cooler stash delivered by drone sometime in 2022.

It's probably worth noting that this idea of communicating via pictures of sound-alikes is basically the actual honest to god origin of phonetically based writing systems. Also worth noting that this way of repurposing symbols to represent sounds of another expression has a long history particularly in Chinese and related languages, whose linguistic features mean that you often have lots of homophones and near-homophones, and whose logographic writing systems probably lend themselves to that kind of graphemic/phonemic cross-indexing during lexical lookup. (Someone must be studying that, right? ) So you get a lot of punning and double-entendres in Chinese writing, if I understand rightly.

If the idea of homophonic transliteration is new to you,  you could get in the wayback machine and check out this archival LL post from simpler times, here.

Wishing all my fellow humans the very best from a living room in Arizona!

 

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Take stalk of: thoughts on philology and Sinology

In a note I was composing to some friends, I just wrote "let's take stalk of…", was surprised and smiled, corrected myself, and continued writing.

But then I paused to reflect….

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The many varieties of Japanese regional speech

Anyone who learns Standard Japanese and then travels around outside of the Tokyo area will quickly come to realize how distinctive and numerous are the local forms of language once one leaves the metropolitan region of the capital.

Some interesting aspects of this phenomenon are presented in a new article in nippon.com, "Linguistic Treasures: The Value of Dialects", by Kobayashi Takashi, professor at the Center for the Study of Dialectology, Tōhoku University, who specializes in dialects and the history of Japanese.

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Sia suay (or xia suay): a Hokkien expression in Singapore English

Here at Language Log, we are quite familiar with Singapore English, which comes in two registers:  Singapore Standard English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish).  The term we are discussing today can be used in either register.

This multipurpose expression is featured in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in two recent articles in The Independent:

I

"'Sia suay should be the word of the year…' Netizens take a dig at Chan Chun Sing now that panic buying is happening in many countries

Many netizens went online to say that those words had become a kind of catch phrase. It implies something that is a disgrace or an embarrassment", by Anna Maria Romero (3/5/20)

II

"'Let's not xia suay again, Singaporeans.' Netizens respond to Chan Chun Sing's assurance that the country has enough food supplies

Many people commented thanking him for issuing the reassuring update in such a quick manner and called for Singaporeans to stand united at this time", by Anna Maria Romero (3/17/20)

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"Onion" in Persian, Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu, Dungan (northwest Mandarin), and Indic

By chance, I came across this interesting Uyghur word for "onion" that derives from Persian:

Uyghur پىياز‎ (piyaz), from Persian پیاز

(source)

It's piyoz (пиёз) in Uzbek also, which is closely related to Uyghur.

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Vietnamese without diacritics

From Reddit:

[Click to embiggen]

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"Grapholinguistics"

According to Yannis Haralambous, "Grapholinguistics, TEX, and a June 2020 conference in Paris", TUGboat 2020:

Grapholinguistics is the discipline dealing with the study of the written modality of language.

At this point, the reader may ask some very pertinent questions:"Why have I never heard of grapholinguistics?" "If this is a subfield of linguistics, like psycholinguistics or sociolinguistics, why isn't it taught in Universities?" "And why libraries do not abound of books about it?"

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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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