Archive for Spelling

Brain Brian

Alan Kennedy, a dealer of Oriental art based in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, who was a student of the polymath Schuyler Van Rensselaer Cammann (1912-1991; "Ki" to his friends and acquaintances) at Penn half a century ago, and who is a regular reader of Language Log, sent me this message:

I see a comment from Brian Spooner, and had no idea that he was still at Penn.  Decades ago, one of his students told me that he was sometimes called Brain in Afghanistan.  Apparently someone there had transposed the 'a' and the 'i' in writing his name.

My reply to Alan:

Hah, that's an appropriate transposition!

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be;eza

Sign on the front of a fashion store (shoes and handbags) in Taipei:

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-ant, -ent, whatever

This Washington Post item confused me for a few seconds:

I first interpreted the headline as "Donald Trump is confident that Roger Stone is guilty on all counts, and" (whoops) "he (=Trump) faces up to 50 years in prison"?

I was sent down this particular garden path by the recent flurry of news stories about the president throwing various supporters under the metaphorical bus. But the whole -ant v. -ent mess didn't help.

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Spelling Bee 2019

I'll let this incredible ESPN (it's a sport, after all) video speak for itself:

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Sememic spelling

During the last century and a half or so, there have been thousands of schemes for the reform of the Sinitic writing system.  Most of these schemes were devised by Chinese, though a relatively small number of them were created by foreigners.  They run the gamut from kana-like syllabaries to radical simplification of the strokes, to endless varieties of Romanization.  Among the more linguistically sophisticated (but also difficult to learn) are tonal spelling schemes, such as Gwoyeu Romatzyh (National Romanization), which spell out the Mandarin tones with letters.  There have even been efforts to produce Romanizations that could be read out by speakers from different areas according to the pronunciation of their own topolects, e.g., the Romanisation Interdialectique of Henri Lamasse (c. 1869-1952) and Ernest Jasmin (fl. 1920-1950) and Y. R. Chao's (1892-1982) diaphonemic orthography called General Chinese.

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Copp & Cobb

I have a colleague at Penn who teaches medieval Arabic cultural history; his name is Paul Cobb.  He used to teach at the University of Chicago.

I have a friend at the University of Chicago who teaches medieval Chinese cultural history; his name is Paul Copp.  He received his PhD from nearby Princeton, which starts with a "P".

Boy, do I ever get them confused!

I mentioned this to Diana Shuheng Zhang, and she replied as follows:

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Penn motto

Is there a mistake here?

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Japanese readings of Sinographic names

Eoin Cullen wrote in:

I recently learnt that although Taipei  たいぺい is generally used as the Japanese reading for Taipei 台北, NHK still uses the colonial form Taihoku たいほく.  Is this still true in 2018? Why would the national broadcaster persist in using an archaic term? To me, it seems it would be comparable to the BBC insisting on using the name Ceylon to refer to Sri Lanka.

I asked several colleagues who are specialists on Japanese what the significance of this usage might be.

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No dictation

The boy in the photos below is Alexander Aurelius Wang.  He is one of our youngest fans in Shenzhen.  He doesn't like writing characters from dictation (tīngxiě 听写 / 聽寫):

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The worldly sport of spelling

Following on the victory of Karthik Nemmani in the Scripps National Spelling Bee — the 11th straight Indian-American to win the competition — the New York Times has an interview with Sam Rega, whose new documentary Breaking the Bee explores how kids of South Asian ancestry have come to dominate the Bee in recent years. I wrote about Breaking the Bee for The Atlantic last month — as I said there, it's a compelling film, and I hope it gets a distribution deal soon. (Currently it's on the film-festival circuit.) In the Times interview, Sam makes a point about the spellers' multilingual backgrounds that I didn't have room to discuss in my Atlantic piece.

Is there something about South Asian values or families that explains success in spelling?

To me, the key is how much these families believe in the idea of family. And how much spelling is a family sport. They believe in working together as a family unit. They want to create a bond between parent and child. Spellers look to their parents as role models and coaches. Their siblings often play assistant coach. Parents like to instill values like dedication, hard work, and how to handle yourself in defeat or success.

These families also tend to be multilingual, sometimes with moms and dads who speak different languages. Exposure to multiple languages can also play a role in spellers' facility with spelling. Spelling is a worldly sport, it connects you to languages and places far away from you.

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Irish "maidhc"

For years I've noticed a regular Language Log commenter whose moniker is "maidhc".  Since  LL commenters often have the weirdest, most sui generis nicknames, I usually don't pay too much attention to them (not even when it's "Bathrobe" or "siweiluozi" or whatever).  But this "maidhc" bugged me because I couldn't figure out how to pronounce it, though I guessed that it might.

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Mixed-script letter written by an adult

The two notes below, as described in this article (in Chinese) were written around the same time and under similar circumstances.

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Yet again on the mystery of the national spelling bee

This year's champion, Ananya Vinay, is a 12-year-old sixth-grader from Fresno, California.  The runner-up, Rohan Rajeev, is a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Edmond, Oklahoma.  One of the co-champions from last year, Nihar Janga of Austin, Texas, was 11 and the other, Jairam Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., was 13.

Speaking of youthfulness, this year home-schooled Edith Fuller of Tulsa, Oklahoma was the youngest contestant ever to make it to the finals.

"At 5, Girl Becomes Youngest To Qualify For National Spelling Bee" (NPR, 3/8/17)

That was in March.  By the time of the national spelling bee, she had turned 6.  It's ironic that little Edith was knocked out on a technicality that was introduced to the national spelling bee for the first time this year.

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