Archive for Orality

The stupendous powers of memorization in the Indian tradition

Two days ago, I was going through past issues of Sino-Platonic Papers, all the way back to the first one in 1986.  I was pleasantly surprised to come across this one by my late, lamented colleague, Ludo Rocher:

"Orality and Textuality in the Indian Context," Sino-Platonic Papers, 49 (October, 1994), 1-3 of 1-28.  (free pdf)

As soon as I started reading it, I had a strong sensation that Ludo's paper speaks powerfully to the enigma of the overwhelming dominance of Indians in spelling bee competitions, about which we have so many times puzzled here on Language Log (see "Selected readings" below).

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When intonation overrides tone, part 4

Some folks think that intonation never overrides tones, but I'm convinced on the basis of empirical evidence that it does.

For example:

Nǐ xiǎng gàn hā 你想干哈 –> Nǐ xiǎng gàn há 你想干哈 ("what do you want to do?") — especially in the Northeast.

Here are some other examples — all of them provided by native speakers of MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin):

A.
 
1. 不( bù ["no"]):Sometimes, I would say  不 ( bú) even though there is no falling tone character after  不 to invoke tone sandhi, such as "我不  ( bú)". This happens when somebody asks me to do something I don't like, I will say 不 ( bú) to express my rejection. 
 
2.中间 (zhōngjiān ["in; among; between; amidst"]): Sometimes, I would say 中间 (zhōngjiàn)to emphasize the place.  I think most people will commonly pronounce this phrase as  中间 (zhōngjiàn), but it is "wrong". 
 
3. 都 (dōu ["all"]):   I will pronounce this character as dóu when I want to emphasize the meaning "all." For example, 我都  (dóu) 写完了 I finish them all, 他都 (dóu) 吃完了,he ate them all. But here, I am thinking about whether I am influenced by 东北 Northeastern / dongbei topolect because I think dongbei people will commonly use the pronunciation dóu .

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You April fools!

Many Language Log readers have been complaining about the absence of any recognition of April Fool's Day at this site. I can only lament your lack of perceptiveness. There have been pranks all over the place and you simply didn't see them because you are too gullible.

The primary linguistic one was Victor Mair's amusing spoof post "Sinological suffering", cunningly posted on March 31st to be there when you read Language Log on Saturday morning, April 1st, about an imaginary Chinese character that couldn't be found in dictionaries no matter what lookup method you tried.

Do you really think a writing system could survive if it were so brain-wrenchingly complex, arcane, and impossible to document that there would be written characters that Victor Mair, one of the greatest experts on Asian languages on this planet, could not track down or translate?

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Pell-mell

When, about 40 years ago, I first read the "Basic Annals of Xiang Yu (232-202 BC)" ( Xiàngyǔ běnjì 項羽本紀) in the The Scribe's Records (Shǐjì 史記, ca. 94), the foundation for the 24 official dynastic histories that followed it, I was struck by this sentence:   `Yúshì Xiàng wáng dà hū chí xià, Hàn jūn jiē pīmí, suì zhǎn Hàn yī jiāng.'「於是項王大呼馳下,漢軍皆披靡,遂斬漢一將。」("Then King Xiang shouted loudly and galloped down, causing all of the Han army [to flee] pell-mell, whereupon he cut down one of the Han generals".)

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I am much encouraged

At last, an animal communication story involving healthy skepticism rather than vacant-eyed credulity, and human sagacity rather than wondrous communicative brilliance by our furry, finned, or feathered friends. Read on to be reassured about the intelligence of your species.

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The love organ of many names

British comedian Richard Herring is the author of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.

In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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Sayable but not writable

The distinguished Chinese linguist, Y. R. Chao, developed the concept of "sayable Chinese" and wrote a series of books illustrating what he meant by it. Basically, what Chao intended by "sayable Chinese" were texts that could be understood when read aloud.  This may sound like a somewhat ludicrous proposition for most languages where what is written on the page may be easily understood when read aloud slowly and clearly.  For Chinese, this is not the case, especially when texts are riddled with Classical terms, sentences, and whole passages that are divorced from spoken language.  But even parts of supposedly pure Mandarin texts may not be intelligible to someone who hears them read aloud, since the semantic carrying capacity of the morphosyllabic characters is greater than their sounds alone.  That is why, when people tell others their names or when someone is giving a lecture or reading a text, auditors will frequently ask the speaker to write down the intended characters for terms that cannot be understood merely by hearing.  Thus, there are many instances where things are writable in Chinese but not sayable.

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