Archive for Language and literature

Open / close sesame

Marvelous post in Pinyin News by Mark Swofford:

Pinyin, US trademark law, and myths about Chinese characters

    芝麻 vs. ZHIMA

Posted on Sunday, February 5, 2023

The entire post, and the legal ruling that it reports, are of such importance in clarifying the interrelationships among language, transcription, and translation, especially for those who have an interest in the combination of legalistic and linguistic reasoning, that I will quote the better portion of it, starting from the beginning:

The Mandarin word for “sesame” is zhīma (written “芝麻” in Chinese characters). That’s all the Mandarin anyone will need to know for this post. But if any of you non-Mandarin speakers are curious, an approximate pronunciation would be the je in jerk + ma (with the a as in father).

OK, let’s get into it now.

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Japanese proverbial wisdom of the ages

Article by Richard Medhurst:

"Dust into Mountains: Patience and Perseverance in Japanese Proverbs", Nippon.com (1/27/23)

Eleven items in three categories

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Strive Another Day

七転び八起きNana korobi ya oki. To “fall seven times and get up eight” means to remain unbowed despite repeated failure, and keep striving to achieve something. The phrase is often associated with the round red-and-white figures of Daruma (Bodhidarma), the Buddhist monk whose steadfast meditation led to the withering of his arms and legs.

石の上にも三年Ishi no ue ni mo san nen. Sit “on a stone for three years” and finally one can warm it up, in this saying encouraging endurance.

塵も積もれば山となるChiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru. “If dust piles up, it will become a mountain.” In other words, many small actions continued over time can lead to unexpectedly large and significant results.

待てば海路の日和ありMateba kairo no hiyori ari. “Wait and fine weather will come on the sea routes.” If the outlook is stormy now, it is better to wait for the right conditions than take immediate action.

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ChatGPT writes Haiku

[This is a guest post by Bill Benzon]

I’ve been spending a LOT of time with ChatGPT. So naturally, I decided to have it create some haiku.  [VHM:  See the link to Bill's blogpost after the page break.]  This post is about that, but also about a most remarkable woman, Margaret Masterman (1910-1986). She’d studied with Wittgenstein in the 1930s and then went on to create the Cambridge Research Unit in Linguistics in the 1950s. There she became one of the founders of computational linguistics and had a computer generate haiku in 1969. As far as I know, it’s the first time that’s been done.
 
Take at look at the very end. I’ve taken to closing my dialogs by thanking ChatGPT. I know it’s not conscious, nor sentient, but why not? It’s fun. This time I decided to thank it in Japanese. Except that I neither speak nor read Japanese. But I can use Google Translate. I thought ChatGPT would have no trouble, but I do think its reply was rather clever.
 
Best of the season to you, and the rest of the Log.

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Jichang Lulu

That's the name of a treasured Language Log reader and contributor (see under "Selected Readings").  When I asked him how to write that in Sinoglyphs, he told me that it is this:

飢腸轆轆 / simpl. 饥肠辘辘

Wanting to get the tones, I typed "jichanglulu" into Google Translate (GT), but forgot to click the space bar to make the conversion to characters with Hanyu Pinyin transcription complete with tones.  When I pressed the speaker button to hear how that sounded, what came out was something like Mandarin with an English accent, but still perfectly intelligible:  "jichanglulu".  It resembled the Mandarin produced by the strangers on the street who read off the Pinyin texts handed to them by my wife, Li-ching Chang.  She was always delighted when she heard them pronouncing Mandarin without ever having studied it.  "Jichanglulu" — see, you can say it too!

Adding the tones, we get jīcháng lùlù.  What does this somewhat odd assortment of sounds signify?

GT says "hungry", more literally, "hungry intestines are rumbling".

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Information Management and Library Science

Just out today, this is one of the longest book reviews I have ever written:

Jack W. Chen, Anatoly Detwyler, Xiao Liu, Christopher M. B. Nugent, and Bruce Rusk, eds., Literary Information in China:  A History (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2021).

Reviewed by Victor H. Mair

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2022)

I am calling it to your attention because the book under review, which I will refer to here as LIIC, signals a sea change in:

1. Sinology
2. Information technology
3. Academic attitudes toward the study of language and literature

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Narts, Ossetians, and other peoples of the Caucasus

For many reasons, here at Language Log we have had a longstanding interest in the Narts, their language, literature, and lore:

The Nart sagas (Abkhaz: Нарҭаа ражәабжьқәа; Nartaa raƶuabƶkua; Adyghe: Нарт тхыдэжъхэр, romanized: Nart txıdəĵxər; Ossetian: Нарты кадджытæ; Narty kaddžytæ; Nartı kadjıtæ) are a series of tales originating from the North Caucasus. They form much of the basic mythology of the ethnic groups in the area, including Abazin, Abkhaz, Circassian, Ossetian, KarachayBalkar, and to some extent ChechenIngush folklore.

The term nart comes from the Ossetian Nartæ, which is plurale tantum of nar. The derivation of the root nar is of Iranian origin, from Proto-Iranian *nar for 'hero, man', descended from Proto-Indo-European *h₂nḗr. In Chechen, the word nart means 'giant'.

(source)

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Red thread

Over the years, I have come across the expression "red thread" in various and sundry circumstances.  The latest instance was conveyed to me by the French journalist and documentary director, Philippe Grangereau.  As we were working together on an illustrated piece of reportage about the Tarim mummies, he would remind me from time to time that everything that went into the text had to contribute and be related to what he called the "red wire" (speaking in English).  The first several times Philippe used that expression I didn't know what he was talking about.  Finally I asked him how to say it in French.  When he told me "fil rouge", I knew right away that he meant "red thread", and that fit perfectly with my understanding of the need for all the elements in the text to be related to the central narrative thread that ran through it.

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Summer linguistics

From Barbara Phillips Long:

In the last week, I have read several "summer reading" columns. It occurs to me it might be interesting to know if there are books with linguists as major characters. Are there?

Are there works of fiction that revolve around characters who do related work, such as compiling dictionaries or working as translators in ways that make languages and linguistics essential to the plot structure?
 
I ran "fiction" through the LL search, and I did not see any posts on this particular angle.

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Of cream puffs and shoe polish

Martin Delson sent in this interesting puzzler:

I'm participating in an international virtual book-club where all participants are bilingual in German and English. For some reason, the book that the group chose to read is Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.
 
Wikipedia tells me the Japanese title is "Konbini ningen (コンビニ人間)".
 
A pair of sentences, not far into the book, reads as follows in the English translation
 
"The first at the cash register was the same little old lady who had been the first through the door. I stood at the till, mentally running through the manual as she put her basket containing a choux crème, a sandwich, and several rice balls down on the counter."

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"Good Wine Need No Bush"

Received from Nathan Hopson:

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Tarim harps; pitch, tones, scales, modes, instruments, and their names

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose, responding to requests for more information on the subject prompted by her previous post.]

This post discusses a possible connection between the Mesopotamian tonal system, documented on cuneiform tablets that span over 1000 years (from 1800 BC to 500 BC), and the musical system of ancient China. For a more detailed discussion, see the paper "A Proposed Mesopotamian Origin for the Ancient Musical and Musico-Cosmological Systems of the West and China", Sino-Platonic Papers, 320 (December, 2021) written by myself, Sara de Rose.

Since 1996, twenty-three harps (Chinese: “konghou”) that resemble the angular harp that was invented in Mesopotamia circa 2000 BC have been found in the graves of the Tarim mummies, in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area of modern-day, western China. These harps date from 1000 BC to 200 BC (see photo).

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Meter, Feelings, Knowing: An Interview with Nigel Fabb

This guest post by Mark Dow is an excerpt from an interview conducted via email in May/June 2021. The complete interview appears in PN Review #263 (Jan./Feb. 2022).

 Nigel Fabb is Professor of Literary Linguistics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His books include What is Poetry: Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge 2015); with Morris Halle, Meter in Poetry: a New Theory (Cambridge 2008); Language and literary structure: the linguistic analysis of form in verse and narrative (Cambridge 2002); and Linguistics and Literature (Blackwell 1997). In 2022 he will have two new books, Thrills, epiphany, sublime: how literature surprises us. (Anthem) and with Venla Sykäri (eds.) Rhyme and Rhyming in Verbal Art, Song and Language (Studia Fennica Folkloristica).

Mark Dow is author of Plain Talk Rising (poems) and American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons (California).

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Strange tales and labiovelar transcriptions

East Asians have been addicted to strange stories for millennia.  Many of these fall under the rubric of guài 怪 ("strange"), e.g., zhìguài 志怪 ("records of anomalies"), the name of one of the earliest genres of strange stories in China.

One of the strangest aspects about East Asian strange tales is that perhaps the most famous collection of all was written by a Westerner, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904).

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