Archive for Language and art

Shoebox skull: an old neologism

"Bones from German cave rewrite early history of Homo sapiens in Europe", by Will Dunham, Reuters (1/31/24)

Bone fragments unearthed in a cave in central Germany show that our species ventured into Europe's cold higher latitudes more than 45,000 years ago – much earlier than previously known – in a finding that rewrites the early history of Homo sapiens on a continent still inhabited then by our cousins the Neanderthals.

Scientists said on Wednesday they identified through ancient DNA 13 Homo sapiens skeletal remains in Ilsenhöhle cave, situated below a medieval hilltop castle in the German town of Ranis. The bones were determined to be up to 47,500 years old. Until now, the oldest Homo sapiens remains from northern central and northwestern Europe were about 40,000 years old.

"These fragments are directly dated by radiocarbon and yielded well preserved DNA of Homo sapiens," said paleoanthropologist and research leader Jean-Jacques Hublin of Collège de France in Paris.

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AI writes sinoglyphs

From Jeff DeMarco:

A Chinese friend has been experimenting with AI, the result being guǐzi 鬼子 ("ghost characters"). We’ve seen something similar, but the hànzì 汉字 ("sinoglyph") manipulation is almost artistic. Have you encountered this before?

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Stochastic popinjay and Perso-Arabic art / adab

‘Stochastic Parrot’: A Name for AI That Sounds a Bit Less Intelligent

An ancient Greek word for guesswork fuels a term that suggests supersmart computer programs are just mimicking whatever they see

Ben Zimmer, WSJ, Word on the Street (January 18, 2024)

In his capacity as chair of the American Dialect Society's 2023 Word of the Year competition new words committee, our Language Log colleague Ben Zimmer oversaw the selection of candidates from the "special ad-hoc category related to one of the most buzzed-about stories of 2023: artificial intelligence."

Our new category included an array of AI heavy hitters. There was “ChatGPT,” the name for OpenAI’s chatbot, which is so successful it often gets used generically for any generative AI system. There was “LLM,” short for “large language model,” the machine-learning algorithm trained on mountains of text that powers AI programs. And there was “hallucination,” for AI-generated responses that are untethered from reality.

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St. Victor (the Abbey): the language of plans, elevations, sections, and perspectives

Before reading the following article, I didn't even know there was a St. Victor, let alone an Abbey of St. Victor that was established in 1108 near Notre-Dame Cathedral, at the beginning of the "Twelfth-Century Renaissance", in Paris.

The surprising history of architectural drawing in the West

The subtle art of elevation.
Architectural drawing speaks of mathematical precision, but its roots lie in the theological exegesis of a prophetic book

Karl Kinsella, Aeon (12/21/23)

Here's a quick tutorial from the National Design Academy on the architectural language alluded to in the title of this post:

What’s the Difference Between a Plan, Elevation and a Section?

This brief guide uses an ingenious way of looking at an orange from four viewpoints to explain these four main terms of architectural language.  Armed with this fundamental knowledge, let us now join Karl Kinsella in learning about the architectural drawings of the Abbey of St. Victor and other Western religious edifices.  I should preface my overview of Kinsella's article by pointing out the it is accompanied by seven extraordinary period illustrations.

Kinsella begins with Vitruvius' De architectura in the 1st c. BC and moves quickly to the 15th c. when "the artist and architect Leon Battista Alberti, in his brief mention of architectural drawings, assumes that they are done only by architects."  Then comes the real story:

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Korean words for "bottle gourd"

I spent much of the summer in Vermont ensconced in a hermit's cottage reading, writing, and, of course, running through the Green Mountains and verdant woods.  When I left last week to come back for the fall semester at Penn, I brought with me about fifty bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) that had been abandoned by the side of the road.

My purpose in bringing so many bottle gourds back to Philadelphia is that I wanted to give them to the new graduate students in my department.  It has been my habit for many years to present something exotic / esoteric and regionally meaningful to the students in Asian studies.  Usually it's edible, such as camel's milk cheese from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, but sometimes it's more on the edifying side.  Such is the case with this year's bottle gourds. 

How so?

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Core socialist values

"Chinese slogans on London wall hold mirror to society: artist"

Zhejiang-born Yique tries to find his place in UK after Brick Lane work

TAY HAN NEE, Nikkei Asia

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Calligraphic license

Shaing tai asked whether I recognized these characters:

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Central Asian Kharosthi script on an ancient knife hilt found in Austria

Astonishing demonstration of East-West interaction during Roman times (with an equally mind-boggling demonstration of the occasional, yet horrendous [defying common sense], ineptitude of AI translation):

"Geheimnis um Messergriff aus dem römerzeitlichen Wels gelüftet"

Ein vor über 100 Jahren entdeckter Elfenbeingriff mit rätselhafter Inschrift aus dem antiken Ovilava gehörte wohl einst einem Besucher aus dem fernen Asien

"The mystery of the Roman period Wels knife handle revealed"

An ivory handle with a mysterious inscription from ancient Ovilava discovered more than 100 years ago probably once belonged to a visitor from distant Asia

Thomas Bergmayr, Der Standard (7/28/23)

Before presenting the remarkable findings reported in this important article, just a short prefatory note about the AI translation of the title.  Three of the main online multilingual neural machine translation services (Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, and DeepL) mistranslated "Wels" (the eighth largest city in Austria [ancient Ovilava]) as "catfish" (only Bing Translator got it right).  Given the object that we're dealing with, that is a genuinely bizarre rendering of the word, especially since the material of the handle is identified as ivory and the artifact as coming from Ovilaval in the subtitle.  (It is all the more perplexing that three of the four services are consistent in making the same strange mistake [well, not so strange after all, since "wels" really does mean catfish in German].)  Fortunately, the machine translators do a better job in the body of the article, where there is more context.

For the purposes of the rough translation of the German article, I have relied mainly on GT, with occasional assistance from the other translation services, and some good old human input from my own brain.  Please bear in mind that the translations proffered below do not pretend to be polished, flawless English renderings of parts of the German article, but only to give a functionally useful idea of its content.

N.B.:  Two photographs of the knife handle are provided near the bottom of this post.

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A medieval Dunhuang man

Bilingual label for a wall painting at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu, China:

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Cooperative creation with Generative AI

A couple of weeks ago, John Hansen tried "an experiment to see if I could successfully combine random and seemingly unconnected topics into one poem", and reported the results on Medium. This experiment was quickly reproduced by Adrian CDTPPW, Block Wife, and Robert G. Longpré.

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Saturn < Cronus (Κρόνος) ≠ Chronos (Χρόνος)

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu, with some minor modifications and additions by VHM]

You might have seen this — the PRC embassy in Poland has given Badiucao's forthcoming exhibition in Warsaw (coorganised by Sinopsis) some very welcome, completely unexpected publicity by trying to have it shut down. Lots of international reporting:

The GuardianSydney Morning Herald&c.&c.

The ‘cannibalistic’ theme (picture below [with Badiucao standing next to the poster featuring his art] via the Sydney Morning Herald):

of course alludes to Cronus eating his sons, as in Hesiod:

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The verbal and visual in traditional prosimetric literature

In my trilogy of books and dozens of articles about medieval picture storytelling in South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia, I stressed the alternation of sung and spoken passages as performed by the narrator:

Tun-huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Painting and Performance:  Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (University of Hawai'i Press, 1989)

T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China (Harvard University Asia Center, 1989)

Because of the close association with illustrative pictures to complement the narrative (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the pictorial narratives were being explicated by the accompanying texts), I stressed the alternation between spoken and sung portions, where the former told the story and the latter highlighted certain aspects of the tale.  This type of narrative has been well studied in various literatures around the world.  See Joseph Harris and Karl Reichl, eds., Prosimetrum:  Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse (Martlesham, Suffolk, England:  Boydell & Brewer, 1997).

In the quintessential Chinese genre of this type of picture storytelling, biànwén 變文 ("transformation texts"), there is a distinctive pre-verse formula which marks the transition from prose to verse.  The typical form of this formula is "qiě kàn XX chù ruòwèi chénshuō 且看XX處若為陳說" ("just look at the place [where XX occurs], how shall I present it?").

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Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory, part 2

From Phillip Remaker:

The one that claimed authorship clipped the edge of the unicorn tail.

The only version I have found that doesn't clip the edge of the unicorn tail is this one from farhan
I don't know if that means I found the original or if the author touched it up. The page is not archived on the Internet Archive.
It seems consistent with his other art.

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