Archive for Transcription


Language Log has been fortunate to have had several guest posts and numerous comments by Douglas Adams, doyen of Tocharian studies in America (see "Selected readings" for a sampling).  Now, stimulated by the recent post on Chinese chariotry, he has written the following ruminations in response.

I read with interest the material on early Chinese chariotry.  It was far outside my competence to judge.  As you knew, I was most interested in the comment that was looking to the possibility of Tocharian > Chinese lexical borrowings.  As you also know, it has long been my suspicion that there was more west > east influence on Chinese language and culture than is generally realized.  And the "westerners" involved were most likely to have been Tocharians of one sort or another ("Tocharian D"?).  It's probably not only PIE pigs and honey that, via Tocharian, show up in Chinese.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Perso-Arabic script for Mandarin, Pe̍h-ōe-jī for Taiwanese: sad cripples?

We have been intrigued by Iskander Ding since encountering him on X/Twitter a while back, several posts from his account having made it onto Language Log (see "Selected readings").

With a handle like his, where Iskandar is the Persian form of the name of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (256–323 BC) and Ding has an unmistakable Sinitic / Hannic ring to it, we suspected from the start that he is a Hui (Chinese Muslim).  So far, though, we have not been able to track down the sinographs for his full Hannic name, which is a bit unusual, where even Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other non-Sinitic people are compelled to take Sinographic names.

Iskandar Ding is currently writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Yaghnobi linguistics and culture at SOAS in London (see this page for basic information about him).

Yaghnobi is an Eastern Iranian language spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people. It is considered to be a direct descendant of Sogdian and has sometimes been called Neo-Sogdian in academic literature.


Here is a 53 second video of ID announcing a talk on Perso-Arabic-script Hannic.

Here is the 43.44 talk ("Xiao’erjing – Writing Chinese with Perso-Arabic Letters" – Iskandar Ding | PG 2022) as it actually happened.  IA comment:  "What he said throughout the talk was pleasing now and then — saying 'Eastern Turkistan' in Uighur for example…".

Here is a 1 hour 22 minute interview with ID. If you click the link it will open at the 18:11 mark, where he speaks of Perso-Arabic-script Hannic . That part ends at 22:40.

The above is based largely on information provided by IA, and the following quotes IA directly:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 5

Serious questions about "religion" in Sinitic

Below the fold is for advanced specialists in Chinese philology, theology, and lexicography.  Even for them, it is recommended that readers prepare themselves by reviewing "Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 4" (7/4/16).

[This is a guest post by IA]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Sound over symbol (and meaning)

Zach Hershey called to my attention a phenomenon about the relationship between speech and writing (and meaning) that I long suspected might well be true, and I even collected plentiful evidence in support of it, but I was never absolutely certain that it was true, namely, that in many cases speakers of Sinitic languages have in mind sounds over characters.  Now, with information provided by Zach, we have proof that Sinitic speakers in some cases are indeed thinking of sounds separately (apart from) hanzi.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

Pinyin resurgent


Some exciting news.

A member of the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (the yearly meeting of which is taking place in Beijing right now) is urging schools to increase the time spent teaching Pinyin (currently 4-6 weeks) to a semester or even longer to help ensure more students have a solid foundation in this skill. Intriguingly, there's also a mention of using more "texts."

Here's an account of what's happening:

"Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician", Pinyin News (3/7/24)

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Spontaneous SCOTUS

Years ago, Jerry Goldman (then at Northwestern) created the website as

 a multimedia archive devoted to making the Supreme Court of the United States accessible to everyone. It is the most complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955. Oyez offers transcript-synchronized and searchable audio, plain-English case summaries, illustrated decision information, and full-text Supreme Court opinions

He rescued decades of tapes and transcripts from the National Archives, digitized and improved them, and arranged the website's interactive presentations of the available recordings. Jiahong Yuan and I played a role, by devising and validating a program to identify which justice was speaking when (See "Speaker Identification on the Scotus Corpus", 2008).

More recently, Jerry has inspired an effort to recreate oral arguments from famous cases that took place before the recording system was installed, starting with Brown v. Board of Education. Rejecting the idea of producing "deep fakes" using the existing transcripts and extant recordings of the justices involved, he and his colleagues decided to create what we might call "shallow fakes", where actors will perform (selections from) the transcripts, and a voice morphing system will then be used to make their recordings sound like the target speakers. The recreated clips will be embedded in explanatory material.

All the scripts have been written, and in a few months, you'll be able to hear the results — which I expect will be terrific.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)

Jumbled pinyin

I spotted this not-too-old post on Stephen Jones: a blog, "Interpreting pinyin" (10/9/17).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Handsome court — translation / transcription hybrid

Schematic map of bus stops in the vicinity of Lingnan University, Tuen Mun (below Castle Peak), Hong Kong.  Note the tenth stop outbound, which is "Handsome Court" (to be explained below):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Quadriscriptal "You Are My Sunshine"

From Emma Knightley:

Sent by my boomer parents – according to the caption how a Taiwanese village is teaching seniors how to sing "You Are My Sunshine" in English, which requires them to know a combination of Mandarin, Taiwanese ("阿粿"), English ("B"), and Japanese ("の")! (I think the calligraphy is wonderful, to boot.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Ask Language Log: The Dry / Solitary Tree

From Adrienne Mayor:

I am writing about The Dry Tree or Solitary Tree, associated with Alexander the Great in medieval Alexander Romance and in Marco Polo, who located it in Khorasan.

Later, the Bavarian explorer Johannes Schiltberger trekked across Khorasan in about 1405-25 and reported that the Muslims called the tree “Kurrutherek” or “Sirpe,” meanings unknown.

Do the words ring any bells for you?

Could they be transliterated from Persian, Arabic, Turkic, perhaps phonetically?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Middle Sinitic in Indological Transcription

A fascinating, valuable new proposal from Nathan Hill:

"An Indological transcription of Middle Chinese"

Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale, 52 (2023), 40-50.


Because most Sino-Tibetan languages with a literary tradition use Indic derived scripts and those that do not are each sui generis, there are advantages to transcribing these languages also along Indic lines. In particular, this article proposes an Indological transcription for Middle Chinese.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Inverted writing in video subtitles: traditional cotton processing

In an off-topic comment (4/27/08), DDeden requested an English translation of the subtitles of a video about "Cotton: from fluff to dyed cloth the traditional Chinese way" (the video is embedded in this tweet).  It seemed a worthwhile endeavor, since the film itself was visually quite informative, though the subtitles looked rather sketchy.

I asked Zhang He, who is familiar with this kind of traditional technology, if she could transcribe the subtitles and give us an idea of what they say. She kindly obliged us by writing the following, extended comment, which I give in full with transcription and translation, both because of its innate value and because of the extraordinary circumstances under which she did it (described at the bottom).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

The car hit cheese bacon mushroom face, part 2

Todd Wilbur shared this menu item on Facebook:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)