Archive for Spelling

Spelling bee 2021 – Indian streak broken!

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Delete / elite button

I've written several posts about unpredictable typing mistakes that are not the result of auto-correct or sloppiness, but are produced through phonological confusion in my own neuro-muscular hardware and software (see "Selected readings").  This morning I experienced another funny occurrence of such a mistake.

I had lost over 7,000 of the recent e-mails in my inbox, so I wrote to the excellent IT guys in Williams Hall:

Crisis

I'm making good progress moving things from inbox to archives, but I just had a disaster.  Everything in my inbox between these two e-mails is missing:

Margaret ********   today (6/18/21) 11:53 a.m.

MISSING

Jing ***  (11/18/20)  11:06 p.m.

There are thousands of important e-mails to me with all sorts of information, attachments, and so forth that I need to take care of, some of them very soon.

Can you somehow restore the missing items?

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Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

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Charaelerislie

Francois Lang sent in this menu from YU Noodles Cafe in Rockville, MD:

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Tel Lachish and the origin of the alphabet

I've often heard of important discoveries at Tel Lachish, and I have a special interest in the origins of the alphabet, which I consider one of the most important inventions in the history of humankind.  So when I saw the title of this article, I perked up instantaneously.

"Archaeologists Think They’ve Found Missing Link in Origin of the Alphabet

A three and a half millennia old milk jar fragment unearthed at Tel Lachish in Israel has caused quite a bit of excitement."

By Candida Moss, The Daily Beast, Updated Apr. 25, 2021 8:18AM ET / Published Apr. 25, 2021 8:17AM ET

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Dissension over the role of the alphabet in literacy acquisition in the PRC

A graduate student from the PRC told me that the situation regarding instruction in Hanyu Pinyin has become quite chaotic in recent years in China.  Hànyǔ Pīnyīn 汉语拼音 ("Sinitic Spelling"), or Pīnyīn 拼音 ("Spelling") for short, is the official PRC Romanization of Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), i.e., Pǔtōnghuà 普通话.

For many decades, it used to be that all students — beginning in first grade of elementary school — learned to read and write via Pinyin.  Indeed, under the program known as "Zhùyīn shìzì, tíqián dú xiě 注音识字,提前读写" ("Phonetically Annotated Character Recognition Speeds Up Reading and Writing"), or "Z.T." for short, which actively encouraged children to use Pinyin Romanization for characters they were unable to write, the promotion of Pinyin continued well into upper grades. See "How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08).  In the last few years, however, it seems that instruction in Pinyin — at least in some schools — has become "optional".  Some teachers are simply not teaching the basics of pinyin.  As a result, many students are no longer competent in it, so that when they get to the dreaded gaokao (National College Entrance Examination [NCEE]), where mastery of pinyin is required, they're not prepared for that part of the exams.  Parents are complaining.

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Toward a Linguistically Valid Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

[This is a guest post by Frank Southworth]

Most subscribers to Language Log will be familiar with the NATO alphabet, and other alphabets such as the U.S. military version, which are used for spelling names and other words over the telephone and radio. I personally had experience with the military version when I served in the U.S. Army. It worked reasonably well, because Army people were accustomed to it, but–for a number of reasons–I do not find it useful now for occasions when I have to spell words over the phone.

However, there seems to be a need for such an alphabet, and I would like to invite any linguists interested in developing one which would meet some key linguistic criteria (see next paragraph) to join me in creating it. The version presented below is my first attempt, which I offer as a model to be discussed and modified as needed.

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What happened to the spelling bee this year?

Like so many other good things in this annus horribilis, COVID killed it.

For quite a few years now, I have reported on the national spelling bee (usually in May).  This has been such a dismal year that I didn't make an effort to inquire about what happened with it this spring.  Now, however, as I am preparing a post on Indian feats of memorization, I could not help but wonder about the fate of the 2020 national spelling bee.  Here's what I found out.

"Tough words, little drama, familiar champ in virtual bee"May 29, 2020)

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Freeest or freest

I wrote this sentence:  "Hong Kong was one of the freeest cities on earth".  My automated spell checker flagged "freeest", so I changed it to "freest", and the spell checker let that stand.  But in my mind I was still saying "freeest", with two syllables, whereas when I see "freest", it's very hard for me to think of that as having two syllables.  So how are we to pronounce the superlative degree of the adjective "free"?

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Pinyin for ABCs

If you didn't know it already, "ABC" means "American-born Chinese".  There's no reason why ABCs should necessarily speak Chinese, no more than why ABGs (American-born Germans) should speak German or why ABVs (American-born Vietnamese) should speak Vietnamese, etc.  In this video, ABCs explain for themselves why they can't speak Chinese.  This is a long (23:14) podcast.  Feel free to watch all of it if you are so inclined, but for efficiency's sake I will guide you through it in instructions below the page break.

"10 REASONS WHY CHINESE AMERICANS CAN'T SPEAK CHINESE! | Fung Bros"

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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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