Archive for Phonetics and phonology

I [heart] you in Sino-English

Taken by Yuanfei Wang at a restaurant in Hangzhou:

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Diglossia in action

Neil Kubler spotted this restaurant sign last week in Xi'an in northwest China:

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Uyghurstan or Uyghuristan?

Many countries in Central Asia are named with words that end in -stan, which is a Persian term (ـستان [-stān]) meaning "land" or "place of", thence "country"; it is synonymous and cognate with the Sanskrit word sthāna स्थान (from Indo-Iranian *stanam "place," literally "where one stands," from PIE *sta-no-, suffixed form of root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm." Source).   Consequently, we refer to these countries as "the stans":

Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan

Note, however, that five of these names have an -i- before the -stan, while two — Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — lack the -i-.

Since the Uyghurs may one day have a country of their own with a name ending in -stan, I wondered whether there is a rule governing whether it should be "Uyghurstan" or "Uyghuristan".

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Pinyin as a guide to English pronunciation

Benjamin Hull shared a unique application of Hanyu Pinyin that he noticed on a Pizza Hut (Bìshèng Kè) menu in Ānhūi Shěng Wúhú Shì (where he is currently studying Pǔtōnghùa) — see photos below.  Ben notes:

…the use of Pīnyīn as a guide to English pronunciation is new for me. For a moment I thought it was Yīngyǔ yīnbiāo ("English phonetic symbols") as taught in schools, but I have never seen [ou] used to transcribe the relevant vowel in Chinese pedagogical usage (/əʊ/ is listed as the appropriate transcription in the Bǎidù entry for yīnbiāo). It must be Pīnyīn, which leads to a few interesting notes.

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Cumulative syllable-scale power spectra

Babies start making speech-like vocalizations long before they start to produce recognizable words — various stages of these sounds are variously described as cries, grunts, coos, goos, yells, growls, squeals, and "reduplicated" or "variegated" babbling. Developmental progress is marked by variable mixtures of variable versions of these noises, and their analysis may provide early evidence of later problems. But acoustic-phonetic analysis of infant vocalizations is hindered by the fact that many sounds  (and sound-sequences) straddle category boundaries. And even for clear instances of "canonical babbling", annotators often disagree on syllable counts, making rate estimation difficult.

In "Towards automated babble metrics" (5/26/2019), I toyed with the idea that an antique work on instrumental phonetics — Potter, Koop and Green's 1947 book Visible Speech — might have suggested a partial solution:

By recording speech in such a way that its energy envelope only is reproduced, it is possible to learn something about the effects of recurrences such as occur in the recital of rimes or poetry. In one form of portrayal, the rectified speech envelope wave is speeded up one hundred times and translated to sound pattern form as if it were an audible note.

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Whistled Turkish

Malin Fezehai, "In Turkey, Keeping a Language of Whistles Alive", NYT 5/30/2019:

Muazzez Kocek, 46, is considered one of the best whistlers in Kuşköy, a village tucked away in the picturesque Pontic Mountains in Turkey's northern Giresun province. Her whistle can be heard over the area's vast tea fields and hazelnut orchards, several miles farther than a person's voice. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Kuşköy in 2012, she greeted him and proudly whistled, "Welcome to our village!"

She uses kuş dili, or "bird language," which transforms the full Turkish vocabulary into varied-pitch frequencies and melodic lines. For hundreds of years, this whistled form of communication has been a critical for the farming community in the region, allowing complex conversations over long distances and facilitating animal herding.

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Syllable-scale wheelbarrow spectrogram

Following up on Saturday's post "Towards automated babble metrics", I thought I'd try the same technique on some adult speech, specifically William Carlos Williams reading his poem "The Red Wheelbarrow".

Why might some approach like this be useful? It's a way of visualizing syllable-scale frequency patterns (roughly 1 to 8 Hz or so) without having to do any phonetic segmentation or classification. And for early infant vocalizations, where speech-like sounds gradually mix in with coos and laughs and grunts and growls and fussing, it might be the basis for some summary statistics that would be useful in tracing a child's developmental trajectory.

Is it actually good for anything? I don't know . The basic idea was presented in a 1947 book as a way to visualize the performance of metered verse. Those experiments didn't really work, and the idea seems to have been abandoned afterwards — though the authors' premise was that verse "beats" should be exactly periodic in time, which was (and is) false.  In contrast, my idea is that the method might let us characterize variously-inexact periodicities.

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Mandarin morphosyllabic annotation of a Taiwanese sign

Public notice in a ward in Tainan, Taiwan:


(Source)

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Ruby phonetic annotation for Cantonese

Jenny Chu sent in this photograph of an ad on a Hong Kong subway car:

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Phonetic annotations as a welcome aid for learning how to read and write Sinographs

In several recent posts, we've been discussing the most efficient, least painful way to acquire facility with hanzi / kanji / hanja 漢字 ("Sinographs; Chinese characters").  Lord knows there are endless numbers of them and they are so intricately constructed that it is an arduous task to master the two thousand or so that are necessary for basic literacy.

It would be so much easier to learn the Sinographs if language pedagogues would provide phonetic annotations for each character.  Better yet, the phonetic annotations should be divided into words with spaces between them according to the official orthographic rules.

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Of horse riding and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This post was prompted by the following comment to "The emergence of Germanic" (2/27/19):

…while riding horses _in battle_ is post-Bronze Age (and perhaps of questionable worth at any time), I think riding in general is older, and probably (assuming the usual dating of PIE) common Indo-European.

The domesticated horse, the chariot, and the wheel came to East Asia from the west, and so did horse riding:

Mair, Victor H.  "The Horse in Late Prehistoric China:  Wresting Culture and Control from the 'Barbarians.'"  In Marsha Levine, Colin Renfrew, and Katie Boyle, ed.  Prehistoric steppe adaptation and the horse,  McDonald Institute Monographs.  Cambridge:  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2003, pp. 163-187.

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First grade science card: Pinyin degraded

Science card given out to first grade students in Shenzhen, China:

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H-b expressions

Yesterday, I was thinking of words to express "commotion", "(noisy) disturbance", etc.  "Hustle bustle" and "hurly burly" quickly came to mind.  Thinking analogically, "hubbub" also presented itself for consideration.  Tangentially, "hullabaloo", "hoopla", "hoo-ha", and, through a process of inversion, "ballyhoo" and "brouhaha" also tagged along, but were less convincing as support for a thesis that was swiftly emerging.  Namely, "h-b" words seem to be naturally configured for expressing an energetic state of affairs full of movement and din.

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