Archive for Alphabets

A little Sinograph game

For cognoscenti.

Directions

Here's an amazing little game that was played by two of the brightest Sinology PhD candidates I've ever met.  It is a conversation between X and Y.  Y initiated the conversation by typing to X, without telling X the secret of the game.  When X received Y's first message, she immediately got what Y meant.  She understood as soon as she received his e-mail, then replied to him (by typing) in the same manner that he wrote to her.  And so off they went on their merry way in Lexiland!

Here I copy-paste this little hànzì yóuxì 汉字游戏 for Language Log readers who are well-versed in Sinographs and want to give it a try.  Even those who do not know any Chinese characters might still be able to gain a sense of how the game proceeds and what it signifies.

The "answer sheet” is at the bottom of this post. Please scroll down to the very, very end to see the answers. However, don’t look at the dá'àn 答案 ("solution") before trying really hard by yourself!

Warning!

This game is devilishly difficult.

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Hangul: Joseon subservience to Ming China

[This is a guest post by Bob Ramsey]

In Joseon Korea, state agencies enthusiastically accepted their satellite position vis-à-vis Ming China. In fact, when King Sejong (1397-1450) revealed his new, non-Chinese writing system, the bureaucracy issued, in 1444, a blistering denunciation bordering on accusations of blasphemy:

“Our court, since the times of our founders and ancestors, has with utmost sincerity served the Great. We have uniformly honored Chinese institutions. But now, at this time of identical culture and identical standards, we create the Vernacular Script. We observe and attend this with alarm… If these graphs should flow into China, and if people there should adversely criticize them, how could we be without shame, considering our Service to the Great and our emulation of Chinese civilization!

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Character amnesia yet again: game (almost) over

Last week, I witnessed a palpable, powerful, poignant demonstration of tíbǐwàngzì 提筆忘字 ("forgetting how to write sinographs; character amnesia").  This happened in a colloquium where, during the discussion period, someone mentioned the standard eight-volume Historical Atlas of China (1982-1988) edited by the renowned geographer Tan Qixiang (1911-1992).  A member of the gathering requested that the name be written on the whiteboard in sinographs.  A colleague — a tenured professor of medieval Chinese history — popped up and said they could write the name in characters.

Already a little bit wobbly on the semantophore / radical on the left side of the first character (the surname), with a little bit of kibitzing from colleagues, the volunteer managed to produce the requisite semantophore after several false starts and erasures.  After that great achievement (producing the semantophore amid much embarrassment), they turned to the phonophore on the right side but were getting nowhere fast, even with suggestions from colleagues who were looking on.

Finally, someone looked up the name on their phone and presto digito*, the correct writing emerged:  譚其驤 / 谭其骧 (the group — scholars all — collectively preferred the traditional form over the simplified one).

—–

[*VHM:  I remember hearing this expression when I was young, but it barely exists on the internet, and I can't find it in dictionaries either.]

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Hokkien at UCLA, part 2

Referring to the first post in this series, "Hokkien at UCLA" (4/20/22), Chau Wu writes:

I totally agree with you about the Chinese prerequisite.

When I was younger (no, a lot younger) back in Taiwan, I had known a few grandmotherly Christian ladies who were illiterate in Sinitic script but perfectly at home in reading the Taiwanese Bible in Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ), i.e., Church Romanization (see below at * for further discussion). The following pictures appeared in the Taiwanese newspaper 自由時報 (Liberty Times) (Hokkien POJ Chū-iû-sî-pò; Hanyu Pinyin Zìyóu Shíbào) a few years ago about a Mrs. Lin (unrelated to any of the ladies I knew of) reading the Bible (Note the Bible shows signs of having been heavily used):

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New official night market sign with Taiwanese

The Shalu district of Taichung (Taizhong) is opening a new night market:

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The pragmatic and innovative Choe Sejin — 15th-16th c. Korean phonetician, translator, and interpreter

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]


The Statue of King Sejong in Downtown Seoul.

The brilliance of good king Sejong (1397-1450) overshadows another great mind of Joseon Korea, a middle-class man named Choe Sejin (1465-1542).

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Peter Stephen Du Ponceau and Vietnamese dictionaries

From Connected (2/4/22), a publication of the Peabody Essex Museum:

"Phillips Library digitizes dictionaries from Vietnam and unlocks stories of museum founders and their travels", by Kathlene Baldanza

The blog post is accompanied by beautiful images of pages from the dictionaries.  Here are the first three paragraphs:

Two recently digitized manuscript dictionaries in the Phillips Library collection are once again sparking conversation. In 1819, John White, a lieutenant in the US Navy, received dictionaries from an Italian Catholic priest named Joseph Morrone in Saigon and deposited them with the East India Marine Society in Salem. The members of the East India Marine Society were the founders of what is today the Peabody Essex Museum. Published in the US in 1838, the dictionaries fueled a trans-Atlantic debate about the nature of Asian languages. Catholic missionaries, their Vietnamese interlocutors, and Salem mariners made the initial connections that allowed for the scholarly conversation that played out in the pages of journals including The North American Review, The Foreign Quarterly Review, and The Canton Register.

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Pinyin vs. characters

From Dotno Pount:

I received this poster in Chinese and thought you would enjoy it! It captures the Catch-22 of talents and careers very nicely, I think.

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Sally Rooney bucket hat; Hittite, Ugaritic, and the alphabet

Earlier this week, my brother Thomas sent me the following note:

I recently read Beautiful World, Where Are You?, the latest novel by Irish millennial author Sally Rooney. As soon as I finished the book I started finding articles about her, including the famous Sally Rooney bucket hat. If you don't yet know about it, put Sally Rooney bucket hat into Google and you'll feel like you've been shipwrecked on a deserted island since the book came out in September.

I'm not sure if SR will go down in literary history, but I will say I can't stop thinking about the book. It's one of the few books I've read lately in which the characters discuss the big ideas: politics, religion, sex, and the collapse of civilizations.

The last is of great importance because the two main female characters are unmarried single women, and they're wondering why they don't yet feel the need to settle down and start families. Will they ever?

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Concept of turning pinyin into a syllabary

From Agni Gopireddy (the title is as they gave it):

If one likes the idea, one may be able to use it for pinyin advocacy. The reason for this idea is mainly to make pinyin take up less space, which would mitigate one of the disadvantages it has relative to Chinese characters. Here are some mockups of how such an idea would look:

 
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Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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Latinxua / Latinization — it worked in the 30s and 40s

Tweet from Alan DAI:

[Click on the photograph to see the complete Twitter thread, which has additional illustrations of printed Latinxua texts.]

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The missing variant

"WHO — You cannot be Xi-rious! The WHO’s decision to skip the Greek letter Xi in its ludicrous naming system shows exactly who controls it", by David Spencer, Taiwan News, Contributing Writer, 2021/11/28:


(source)

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