Archive for Phonetics and phonology

Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

Comments (3)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

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")


(Zhengzhang): /*ɡuːmʔ  l'oːmʔ/


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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Pineapple suicide

Sign at a fruit stand:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

No more plosive consonants: flay your fart!

A video by Peter Prowse has been making the rounds:

You might recall a similar French-language video last spring, which Mark Liberman shared in his May 1 post, "Rire la Rémumligne!" In fact, there were several versions of this floating around, all based on a text originally shared on Facebook by the physicist François Pla under the pseudonym Sam Anchman. (More information here and here.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)


Akito commented on "Affidavid", 12/12/2020:

"Congrajulate" rather than "congrachulate" now seems to be the more common AmE pronunciation for "congratulate". As an EFL learner, I accept it as fact, but wonder if this is an isolated case or part of a tendency.

I responded:

There's a general tendency in American English (and some other varieties) for lenition of intervocalic consonants when the second vowel is unstressed. When the consonant is /t/, this regularly produces (flapping and) voicing, perhaps for the reasons discussed in "Hysteresis" (12/4/2020). So it's not a surprise to see a similar effect with a palatal consonant — but this version of "congratulate" indeed seems to have been lexicalized.

That last statement is obviously in need of support, wherefore this post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (69)

The "whole mess" of Old Sinitic reconstruction

In the comments to "The Altaic Hypothesis revisited" (12/10/20), Peter Golden, a Turkologist, mentioned that, as a non-Sinologist, he uses the reconstructions of the following scholars — Karlgren, Pulleyblank, Schuessler, Baxter/Sagart, Kroll and Coblin — "to get some sense" of the Old Sinitic, Late Han, Middle Sinitic (Early Middle Sinitic and Late Middle Sinitic) sounds that are "masked" by the Sinographic renderings of foreign names.  Alexander Vovin raised the problem of the inadequacies of the reconstructions of Christopher Beckwith, saying that it "is not a reconstruction at all, at least not in the sense of Karlgren, Pulleyblank, Baxter/Sagart, Zhengzhang Shangfang, Li Fang-Kuei, Coblin, etc."  Vovin continues:

I think that Beckwith is a very interesting historian (as far as I can judge, not being one myself — some of his books are very interesting reading, imho), but when he starts to talk about historical linguistics, whether it is Chinese, Japanese, Turkic, Mongolic, etc., it is methodologically simply not acceptable and it is further aggravated by the corruption of data.

The question of Beckwith's reconstructions being ad hoc in nature was also raised.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 4

[This is a guest post by W. South Coblin in response to these questions which I asked him about the distinction between qing 清 ("clear") and zhuo 濁 ("muddy; turbid") in Chinese language studies:

1. when and how it arose

2. how it functions within traditional Chinese phonology

3. how it correlates with concepts in modern linguistics]

What you’re asking for would require a treatise, or maybe even a monograph on these things, and I must pass on that assignment right now. But I can help you out a little. First of all, these points are dealt with in two handy sources. The first is Jerry [Norman]’s book Chinese, Chapter 2. The index to the book will lead you to the relevant parts of the chapter. The other source is a full exposition of traditional medieval Chinese phonology by Guillaume Jacques. You will find it here.  Start reading on p. 6 and then read as much as you find useful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)


From Barbara Philips Long:

It is my impression that this lawmaker is pronouncing affidavit with a terminal -d instead of -t, regardless of the phonemes in the following words.

Listening to the audio, I agree with the judgment:

Mr. Braynard, I
did have a chance
to read through your affidavit
and look at
the exhibits that you attached
to the affidavit

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

"Radical Liberal Raphael Warnock"

Kelly Loeffler has gotten some ribbing, even on Fox News, for repeatedly referring to her opponent as "radical liberal Raphael Warnock" in their 12/6/2020 debate:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (40)

"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 3

[Guest post by San Duanmu.  Please note that San's remarks were written before Sara de Rose's post ("part 2") on the same subject earlier this evening.]

In response to Victor’s request, I am offering some comments on qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy), two commonly used terms in traditional Chinese phonology. I shall follow the outlines suggested by Victor as well.

  1. When and how did the terms arise?

According to Tang (2016: 32), the terms were used linguistically in a ten-volume book 《聲類》 (Sound Categories) by 李登 (LI Deng) during 三國時期 (Three Kingdoms period, 220-280). The book was later lost, but references to it can be found in other books that survived.

According to YU Min 俞敏, in Li Ji《禮記》 (the Book of Rites), compiled by followers of Confucius (孔子 551-479 BC), the terms were also used to discuss music, as in “长者浊也……短者清也” (long ones give a muddy sound… short ones give a clear sound). If long and short refer to the shape of an instrument, then ‘muddy’ ought to mean a lower tone and ‘clear’ a higher tone. The exact relation between the terms used in music and those in sound classification is open to interpretation.

  1. How do the terms function within traditional Chinese phonology?

In traditional Chinese phonology, qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy) are used to classify consonants. In addition, each is further divided into two sub-categories. Therefore, there are four categories of consonants, shown in the table below, with samples in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)


Kai Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst, "What a magnetized iron screwdriver can teach us about the post-COVID economy", NPR Marketplace 12/2/2020:

There’s a scientific demonstration you may have seen in grade school, in which an iron nail or screwdriver is transformed into a temporary magnet by striking it repeatedly with an actual magnet. It demonstrates “hysteresis,” a term meaning “delayed” or “lagging behind” in both physics and economics. We won’t delve deeply into the science of why that works here, but the concept itself is important to understanding the economic damage caused by COVID-19.

“If you’re holding a piece of iron, the piece of iron itself is not likely to be magnetized,” said Elizabeth Green, a condensed-matter physicist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. “But when we do start applying an external parameter, in this case, an external magnetic field, we can start magnetizing this piece of iron, and if we remove that external field, the iron will still remain magnetized.”

It shows how once a piece of iron has been magnetized by something external, it will remain magnetized even when the thing that caused the change is gone. “Nature is lazy,” Green said. “It likes to stay in a particular state, it does not like change. So when we change the direction of this external field, what happens is everything lags behind.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 2

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose]

I am currently writing a paper outlining the similarities between the Mesopotamian and ancient Chinese tonal systems, which will be published in Sino-Platonic Papers.

I have a question for those of you knowledgeable in ancient Chinese music. It concerns the terms "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy (zhuó 濁), which were discussed a few days ago on Language Log:  "'Clear' and 'turbid' in Chinese phonology" (11/29/20). Before I pose my question, here’s a quick synopsis of what is known about the Mesopotamian tonal system:

Cuneiform tablets translated since the early 1960s show that, for over a millennium, from at least 1800 BC onward, the Mesopotamians used seven diatonic modes – scales that are closely related to the Western, seven-note major scale.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)