Archive for Alphabets

Alphabetical storage, ordering, and retrieval

We just had a good discussion about a Sinitic language written with an alphabet:

"The look, feel, and sound of Dungan language" (10/15/20)

Under "Selected readings" below, there are listed additional earlier posts about writing Sinitic languages with Romanization.

One of the major advantages of the alphabet over a morphosyllabic / logographic ideopicto-phonetic writing system like the Sinographic script is that it is very easy to order and find / retrieve the entire lexicon with the former, whereas carrying out these tasks with the latter is toilsome at best and torturesome at worst.  See:

Victor H. Mair, "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects", Sino-Platonic Papers, 1 (February, 1986), 1-31 pp.

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The look, feel, and sound of Dungan language

Here are a couple of YouTube videos by way of example:

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Writing Taiwanese with Romanization

Persuasive 14:09 YouTube video of Aiong Taigi explaining why he doesn't use Chinese characters (Hàn-jī 漢字) on his channel, but instead sticks to Romanization (Lomaji) as much as possible:  A'ióng, lí sī án-chóaⁿ bô teh ēng Hàn-jī? 【阿勇,汝是安盞無塊用漢字?】:

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Sinitic "ha ha ha" in Hangul letters

Screenshot of a comment on a funny video on Weibo:

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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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Northernmost runic finds in the world

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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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D for Dog, L for Love

When confirming reservations on the phone with clerical folks in certain southeast Asian countries, Paul Midler noticed they often used variations of the NATO phonetic alphabet. “D for Dog” and “L for Love” seemed to be a couple consistent additions. Passing through a travel agency in Thailand, he saw this:

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Exotic letter in Taipei

Paul M. sent in this photograph of the front of a fashion shop on Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan:

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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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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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The indecipherability of the Voynich manuscript

Less than half a year ago, we were treated to yet another among countless claims for the decipherment of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (henceforth "Vm"):  "Voynich code cracked?" (5/16/19).  I was skeptical then and am even more skeptical now after having read this article:

Peter Bakker, "The Voynich manuscript: the decipherment of ms. 408", Lingoblog (9/10/19)

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