## Trends in book titles

I've been interested for some time in the way that (written) English sentence lengths have evolved over time — see "Trends", 3/27/2022, or the slides from my 5/20/2022 talk at SHEL12, "Historical trends in English sentence length and syntactic complexity". It's well known that the titles of published books have undergone an analogous process, but I don't think I've written about it. (Nor do I know of any scholarship on the topic — perhaps some commenters will be able to suggest some.)

A couple of days ago, while looking for the origins of an idiom, I stumbled across a contender for the title-length championship in in an interesting work from 1740 (image here):

THE ART of READING: OR, THE ENGLISH TONGUE MADE Familiar and easy to the meanest Capacity. CONTAINING, I. All the common words, ranged into distinct tables and classes; as well in regard to the number of letters in each word, as to the easiness of pronunciation, and the bearing of the accent. With useful notes and remarks upon the various sounds of the letters occasionally inserted in the margin. II. A large number of lessons, regularly suited to each table. III. An explanation of several words; particularly such as are of the same, or nearly alike in sound: designed to correct and prevent some orthographical errors and mistakes. IV. Some observations, rules, and directions, relating to the reading and writing English properly and correctly. The whole done after a new and easy Method. Approved of, and recommended, as the best book for the use of children, and all others, who would speedily attain to the knowledge of the English tongue. By P. SPROSON, S. M.

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## Capitals and upper case letters

I am a fan of capital letters.  They let us know when a noun is a proper noun — the name of a person, a place.  But I also have to admit that they are something of a bane at times.  For example, I grew up learning that one should capitalize all terms in a title except for prepositions, words of three letters or less, definite and indefinite articles, and so forth.  For many publications, however, including here at Language Log, it seems to be house style not to capitalize all the terms of a title over three words in length, unless they are proper nouns.

This indefiniteness about whether or not to use capitals in titles gives me lots of headaches.  Because I'm a stickler for bibliographical exactitude, when I'm preparing my list of references and footnotes, it causes me much grief to decide whether to include capitals or not when different sources threat them dissimilarly.

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## Commas matter, Oxford and otherwise

Mark Swofford took this photo yesterday in a Taipei supermarket:

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## Mandarin tongue twister

Trending on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website:

[So as not to give anything away, all syllables are separated and not divided into words.]

Nǐ de huò lā lā lā bù lā lā bù lā duō? Huò lā lā lā bù lā lā bù lā duō yào kàn nǐ de huò lā dé duō bù duō. Rú guǒ lā dé bù duō jiù lā nǐ de lā bù lā duō, rú guǒ lā dé duō jiù bù lā nǐ de lā bù lā duō.

"你的货拉拉拉不拉拉不拉多？货拉拉拉不拉拉不拉多要看你的货拉得多不多。如果拉得不多就拉你的拉不拉多，如果拉得多就不拉你的拉不拉多。"

"Your cargo pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls more? If you pull too much, it won’t pull you.

Before turning the page, if you know Mandarin, try to parse and translate the above sentences.

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## Are you in the book today?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson, who sent along the two screen shots with which it begins.]

Another splendid example of why punctuation matters and why machine translation is dumb…

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## Hashtag of note

From Molly Des Jardin:

In the midst of our stressful times, I'm writing to share a distraction that is somehow still relevant. Given the kind of things you have noted on Language Log historically, I wondered if you observed this hashtag:

 #COVIDー19

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## Portentous periods

Further developments in the indexicality (intexticality?) of punctuation:

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## Diacriticless Vietnamese, part 2

This comment by Quyet on a recent post ("Dungan-English dictionary" [10/26/18]) is of such significance that I feel it merits separate, special recognition of its own:

The [Vietnamese] government often sends out mass text messages with announcements to every number in the country with no diacritics at all. Furthermore, teenagers have grown up to text toneless and abbreviated with no issues, and now it's common to see things like "Hn 2 vc mun dj choj oh cv thog nhat vs cac p dog nghiep hem?"

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## Ampersand in Chinese

From Caitlin Schultz:

I was eating at a place called Yaso Tangbao in Midtown Manhattan recently and snapped these photos of Chinese characters and ampersands. I thought it was unusual!

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## The importance of proper parsing and punctuation

Currently circulating on Facebook and on Chinese social media are seemingly impenetrable sentences with the same character repeated numerous times.  When you first look at them, your eyes glaze over and you can't make any sense of them.  But if you slow down and think about such sentences, you usually can figure them out without too much effort.  In fact,  I could read some of the following right off upon first encounter.  Others required more effort before I was able to crack them.

Although it looks formidable, of the six sample sentences treated in this post, this one was easiest for me.  I could understand it at one go.  [N.B.:  In my treatment of these sentences, I first give the Pinyin with spaces between each syllable, then repeat the Pinyin with requisite parsing and punctuation.]

1.

míng míng míng míng míng bái bái bái xǐ huān tā dàn tā jiù shì bù shuō

Míngmíng míngmíng míngbái Báibái xǐhuān tā, dàn tā jiùshì bù shuō.

"Mingming clearly knew that Baibai liked her, but he just wouldn't say it."

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