Archive for Phonetics and phonology

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Following on the hoofs of "Sumomomomomomomomo" (11/17/21), here's another good one, from rit majors:


(source)

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Morphemes without Sinographs

Commenting on "Educated (and not so educated) guesses about how to read Sinographs" (11/16/21), Chris Button asked:

I’m curious what you mean by “pseudo explanation”? The expected reflex from Middle Chinese times is xù, but yǔ has become the accepted pronunciation based on people guessing at the pronunciation in more recent times. Isn’t that a reasonable explanation?

To which I replied:

It's such a gigantic can of worms that I'm prompted to write a separate post on this mentality. I'll probably do so within a few days, and it will be called something like "Morphemes without characters".

Stay tuned.

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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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Backhill, Pekin, Peking, Beijing

Yesterday, while doing research for a paper on medieval Dunhuang popular narratives (biànwén 變文 ["transformation texts"]), I did a Google search for the Peking Library, where some of the bianwen manuscripts are kept.  Instead of the national library of China in Peking / Beijing in the PRC, I was led to the Pekin Public Library in Illinois.  That prompted me to ponder the fact that this Illinois city followed the French pronunciation, Pékin, of the Chinese capital when it took its name, rather than the English Peking.

Following the official Hanyu Pinyin Romanization of the PRC, English now transcribes 北京 ("Northern Capital") as Beijing (Běijīng [pèi.tɕíŋ]).  But until recently this was not always the case for English, much less for dozens of other languages around the world.  Thirty-one years ago, in "Backhill / Peking / Beijing" (see "Selected readings" below), Bosat Man wrote (p. 6):

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Green needle vs. brainstorm

Remember "Yanny vs. Laurel", the viral acoustic sensation (28.2M views) of mid-May, 2018?  It was covered extensively on Language Log (see the items under "Selected readings" below).  Now we have another supposedly ambiguous recording that has gone viral (5.3M views [posted 7/3/21]):

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"Kong Girl Phonetics"

New issue of Sino-Platonic Papers (no. 317 [August, 2021]):

“'Kong Girl Phonetics': Loose Cantonese Romanization in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement,” by Ruth Wetters (free pdf)

Abstract

Cantonese in Hong Kong occupies a specific cultural and political niche, informed by the unique context of the Hong Kong identity. During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, protesters used modified Cantonese online to evade detection and cement their identity as Hong Kongers. One way in which this was achieved is through a new online vernacular, dubbed “Kong girl phonetics” Kong nui ping jam. This vernacular borrows from grassroots romanization, English phonetics, number substitutions, and bilingualism in English and Cantonese to exclude all readers except young Hong Kong people, who show high bilingualism and high tech literacy and share the vocabulary of protesters. This essay explores aspects of this protest vernacular through non-comprehensive analysis of a thread on LIHKG (Lineage: Hong Kong Golden) lin dang 連黨 that is the first recorded example of “Kong girl speech.”

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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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Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

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Japanese giggle words

Japanese giggle words

Daniel Morales has a fun article in Japan Times (7/2/21):  "‘PPAP,’ ‘golden jewels’ and other words that make the Japanese giggle".  It begins:

Unintentional comedy is actually relatively easy to pull off. All you have to do is trip and fall.

Intentionally getting a laugh, on the other hand, takes practice. Especially in a second language. What’s funny in Japan may be different from what’s funny in other countries, but one common thread is that humor can be found in the way you wield the language — any language — not just ドタバタ喜劇 (dotabata kigeki, slapstick).

Knowing the funny words, so to speak, can give students of Japanese a leg up and, fortunately for us, in 2019 the online comedy site オモコロ (Omocoro) conducted an extremely “scientific” survey of 356 Japanese-speaking individuals on the internet to determine the funniest Japanese words. What it found suggests that there are certain patterns that make some words funnier than others in Japanese.

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Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

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Slaves and clients; Arabic Mamluks and mawlas: a fishy Turkic tail

From my 10th grade high school world history class in 1959, I was intrigued by the evocative, mysterious Mamluks.  I was impressed by their achievements in statecraft, art, architecture, and many other fields.  Thus Mamluk is a word that is very well known in English, even to a rural highschooler in Osnaburg Township of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, but I never imagined that their name meant "slave".  Rather, I thought of the mighty Mamluks as military forces who were like knights, and in some cases were  even rulers who founded states of their own.  That they were, but I didn't realize they were of slave origin.

Mamluk (Arabic: مملوك mamlūk (singular), مماليك mamālīk (plural), translated literally as "thing possessed", meaning "slave", also transliterated as Mameluke, mamluq, mamluke, mameluk, mameluke, mamaluke, or marmeluke) is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse (mostly Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern and Southeastern European) slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties, serving the ruling Arab dynasties in the Muslim world.

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Recognizing half of a character and half of a word

I have a student whose given name is Zǐhàn 子菡.  The first character means "child; son; offspring; seed; small thing", plus lots of other things, for which see here.  The second character is much more problematic, since it doesn't mean anything by itself, but only in combination, as in the disyllabic word hàndàn 菡萏 (literary term for "lotus flower, especially one that has not blossomed")

Reconstructions

(Zhengzhang): /*ɡuːmʔ  l'oːmʔ/

(source)

As is my habit with my many students from other countries, I asked 子菡 if — following what is indicated in dictionaries — I were pronouncing her name correctly:  Zǐhàn.  She acknowledged that Zǐhàn is indeed the canonical pronunciation as given in lexicographical sources, but that people — including she herself — actually pronounce her name as Zǐhán.  Oh, woe is me!  That sort of blew my mind away.  It's not enough to be scrupulously observant of canonical prescription for pronunciation, I must needs learn another, noncanonical, pronunciation for the 菡 of 子菡's given name.

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Pineapple suicide

Sign at a fruit stand:

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