Archive for Writing systems

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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Writing English with Sinographs and Chinese with numbers

All in one sign!  Here it is:


(Source: Pinyin News)

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Variations on a colloquial Sinitic expression

When I walked into my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the students were energetically discussing a colloquial expression.  Those from south China didn't know the expression, but the ones from northeast China knew it, although they weren't entirely sure how to write it in characters, and there was some difference of opinion over how to pronounce it.

Finally, they agreed that we could write the sounds this way:  yīdīlə.

Then we moved on to a consideration of the meaning of this expression.  The consensus was that it meant "carry / pick up a group of things (such as a six pack)".

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Remarkable Name of a Hong Kong Restaurant

From Bob Bauer:

Bob explains:

The photograph shows the front of a Hong Kong restaurant which has not only chosen as its name the colloquial indigenous Cantonese word, 冚棒唥 ham6 baang6 laang6 'all; in all' (Sidney Lau 1977:324), but has also displayed this name in BOTH Chinese characters AND Jyut Ping. We should especially note that the Cantonese romanization is correct AND complete with tone numbers!

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Ask Language Log: The alphabet in China

Jeff DeMarco writes:

I have just come across some mixed language abbreviations on Chinese social media. For example, 川A市 refers to Chengdu. 皖J市 is Huangshan in Anhui, and 皖A市 is Chaohu.

I am curious as to how the letters are assigned.

The incorporation of the Roman alphabet into the Chinese writing system is a topic that we have often addressed on Language Log, for which see the "Readings" (and the bibliographies they include) below.

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Acronyms in China

Recently, one of my students found an interesting post from the Communist Youth League about the use of Hanyu Pinyin acronyms on the Internet. When people type on Weibo, WeChat, and other social media, they frequently use Pinyin acronyms. For examples:

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