Archive for Orthography

Om, sumo, and the universality of sound

From Zihan Guo:

A Japanese expression I came upon in a reading from Takami sensei's class reminded me of the "om" you mentioned weeks ago in our class.

阿吽の呼吸(aun'nokokyū あうんのこきゅう)
 
It refers to the synchronization of breathing of sumo opponents before a match. I read about this in an article about an interview with a sumo wrestler. But the "aun あうん" part lingered in my mind. Then I realized that it was the Japanese transliteration of the "om" that you were telling the class that encompassed all sounds:  "a" and "un" signify the beginning and end of the cosmos respectively, or so wikipedia explains. The Japanese phrase means a harmonious, non-verbal communication.

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Borcester shots

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Simplified characters defeat traditional characters in Ireland

Article by Colm Keena in The Irish Times (8/2/21):

"Decision on Mandarin Leaving Cert exam ‘outrages’ Chinese communities:
Exam subject that students can sit from 2022 will only allow for simplified Chinese script"

Here are the first four paragraphs of the article:

Chinese communities in Ireland are “outraged” by the decision of the Department of Education to use only a simplified script in the new Leaving Certificate exam in Mandarin Chinese, according to a group set up to campaign on the issue.

The new exam subject, which students can sit from 2022, will not allow for the use of the traditional or heritage Chinese script, which is used by most people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other, mostly non-mainland-China locations.

The decision by the department is a “discrimination against the heritage Chinese learners in Ireland,” according to Isabella Jackson, an assistant professor of Chinese history in Trinity College, Dublin, who is a member of the Leaving Cert Mandarin Chinese Group.

“It is wrong for our Irish Government to deny children of a Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau background the right to sit an examination using the Chinese script that is part of their heritage.”

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Excepted for publication

I wrote to a colleague who helped me edit a paper that it had been accepted for publication.  She wrote back, "I’m glad it is excepted".

Some may look upon such a typo as "garden variety", but I believe that it tells us something profoundly significant about the primacy of sound over shape, an issue that we have often debated on Language Log, including how to regard typographical errors in general, but also how to read old Chinese texts (e.g., copyists' mistakes, deterioration of texts over centuries of editorial transmission, etc.).

Often, when you read a Chinese text and parts of it just don't make any sense, if you ignore the superficial semantic signification of the characters with which it is written, but focus more on the sound, suddenly the meaning of the text will become crystal clear.  In point of fact, much of the commentarial tradition throughout Chinese history consists of this kind of detective work — sorting out which morphemes were really intended by a given string of characters.

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Cantonese chatting

[This is a guest post by Tom Mazanec]

I recently became curious about the origins of the Cantonese word king1 gai2 傾偈 ("to chat"). Though I've never formally studied Cantonese, I'm picking up bits of it from my wife and in-laws, who moved to the U.S. from Guangzhou about 30 years ago and use Cantonese to speak to each other and to my children. I like to think I know it slightly better than my 1-year-old and almost as well as my 3-year-old. My in-laws use the term king1 gai2 often, especially in light-hearted tone to describe the kids' pre-verbal babbling when they were under 1.
 
The equivalent phrase in Mandarin is liáo tiān(r) 聊天(兒), which appears to have no relation to king1 gai2. So this got me wondering about where king1 gai2 came from. On its surface, the characters appear to mean "pouring out gāthās" (gāthā: "song" in Sanskrit; "Buddhist verse" in Chinese). This makes little sense (though it would've been nice to put it into my T'oung Pao article on gāthās a few years ago), so I suspected the characters 傾偈 were used in a purely phonetic manner. Sure enough, the word is also sometimes written as 傾計 (king1 gai2). 

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Signs and wonders

From a Reliable Source:

I thought you might enjoy this as yet officially unreported dispute about a sign being posted in Phil.  The sign originally said, "Boxer's Trail," because Joe Frazier famously ran along it to train, and later Ali ran on it once to psyche out Joe (Ali worked out in Overbrook, apparently).  Someone or other complained that more than one boxer had used the trail, and so they had to move the apostrophe.  Meanwhile, people are arguing about whether the trail should be dedicated to Frazier, or to all boxers. And then someone of course had to throw in a question about whether any of the boxers had boxers (dogs) and if then it should say boxers' boxers trail or boxer's boxers trail, and so on.

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Nordic amorous room

@JDMayger May 4:

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Orthographic variation in a pair of poems by a Japanese Zen monk and his mistress

From Bryan Van Norden:

I found interesting these paired poems by the 15th-century Japanese Zen monk Ikkyū (1394-1481) and by his mistress, the blind singer Mori. He writes his poem in Classical Chinese, because he is a man, but her poem is in hiragana, because she is a woman.   Below are photos of the original scroll, showing paintings of Ikkyū and Mori, from Arntzen's translation, and a more recent translation by Messer and Smith.   I am researching Ikkyū for what will ultimately be a five-minute segment in my class lecture on Zen this week.  I find that students have trouble appreciating what is at stake in the debate over metaphysical monism vs dualism. Ikkyū, a monk who frequented bars and brothels, shows one way of rejecting dualisms (like sacred vs profane, mind vs. body, monk vs. layperson).

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Headless men with face on chest

The hapless condition of headlessness may be a physical phenomenon, but it may also be a grammatical or orthographic category in linguistics, and we have dealt with both kinds on Language Log, e.g.:

Now, what shall we make of the following?

Xingtian as drawn by Jiang Yinghao, 17th century; there are many different versions of this figure, but all basically with the same features and pose.

One of the Blemmyes, from a map of 1566 by Guillaume Le Testu. Among the scores of Blemmye representations I've seen, they're all roughly of this nature.

Both figures are pictured on a flat space amidst mountainous terrain.  Both have a weapon in their right hand and a shield / pail in their left hand.  Both have their right leg raised / advanced.  Both have their face on their chest and lack a head.  Etc.  I doubt very much that they could have arisen completely independently.

The Blemmye is associated with the word Scythe, an Iranian people who traversed the vast lands between Crimea and Korea.  More than any other group in the first millennium BC, which was so crucial for transeurasian exchange during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, the Scythians were responsible for the transmission of cultural products across Eurasia.  This was due to their mastery of horse riding, advanced weaponry, and organizational and mental prowess.

This fits with the paradigm of long distance transmission of culture and language that I've been developing for decades in scores of posts, articles, and books.

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A hybridized, disyllabic Sinograph from Hong Kong

Sok3 Kei1
索K
‘to inhale, ingest, take Ketamine, which is an illegal drug in Hong Kong’

["Ketamine is a medication mainly used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. It induces a trance-like state while providing pain relief, sedation, and memory loss. Other uses include sedation in intensive care and treatment of pain and depression." Source]

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Phonetic and orthographic confusion of Chinese characters

A protester holds a placard that reads "Do not forget 831 terror attack, truth needs to be seen on CCTV" during a demonstration at a Hong Kong mall on Aug. 30 on the eve of the first anniversary of the Prince Edward MTR station incident when police stormed the station to make arrests during massive anti-government protests. (Photo: AFP)


(Source)

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"Between the Eyes and the Ears": SPP turns 300

There is a phenomenon in Japanese publishing called "san-gō zasshi  三号雑誌", which refers to a short-lived magazine that puts out three issues and then folds.  Sino-Platonic Papers, a scholarly journal I started in 1986, just put out its 300th issue, and we're still going strong, with about ten more issues in the pipeline, and others lined up to come after that.

The latest issue is "Between the Eyes and the Ears: Ethnic Perspective on the Development of Philological Traditions, First Millennium AD", by Shuheng Zhang and Victor H. Mair, which appeared yesterday (July 19, 2020).

Abstract

The present inquiry stands as a foray into what may be thought of as a “Summa Philologica Sinica.” To be more precise, this paper is about the study and developmental trajectory of philology rather than philology per se. The approach here, drawing on the prefaces and comments of primary historical resources, conceives of philology as subject to the transitions of philosophy, an amalgam within which variegated traditions and schools contend and consent with each other, rather than as a static, ahistorical antithesis between the study of script and that of sound. The bifocal panoply behind philological texts and the s 勢 (“immanent configuration”) that oscillates between indigenous systems of thought and foreign philosophy, defense of nationality and openness to foreign voices, reflected in the realm of language studies, presents itself as focused on characters (eyes) versus sounds (ears).

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Färm: rise of the eco-umlaut?

From Alex Baumans:

Recently a supermarket of this ecofriendly chain opened in my neighborhood. As the initiative seems to be francophone, I suppose the name is a superposition of the French 'ferme' and English 'farm' by way of German spelling. What struck me most was their unbounded enthusiasm for putting little dots on vowels. I can't imagine how most of them are supposed to pronounced, so the dots clearly only serve a decorative purpose. Is the eco-umlaut the successor of the hard rock-umlaut, I wonder. 

The (French) header of their web site:

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