Archive for Language and technology

Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (46)

The origins of the Turkic word for "stirrup"

Ulf Jäger has just published this impressive article:

"A Unique Alxon-Hunnic Horse-and-Rider Statuette (Late Fifth Century CE) from Ancient Bactria / Modern Afghanistan in the Pritzker Family Collection, Chicago", Sino-Platonic Papers, 290 (August, 2019), 72 pages (free pdf).

In this study the author offers a first attempt to describe, discuss, and interpret the bronze statuette of a noble horse-and-rider of the so-called Alkhon/Alxon wave of the "Iranian Huns," dated to the end of the fifth century CE, from Northern Afghanistan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Japanese varia

First, as a slightly belated Valentine's present, onomatopoetic / mimetic chocolates:

"Chocolates That Represent Japanese Onomatopoeic Words To Describe Texture", by Johnny, Spoon & Tamago (1/16/15)

Here are the names of eight of the nine chocolates designed by Oki Sato of the Tokyo and Milan-based design studio Nendo:

ツブツブ (tsubu tsubu): a word for small bits or drops
スベスベ (sube sube): smooth edges and corners
トゲトゲ (toge toge): sharp pointed tips
ザラザラ (zara zara): granular like a file
ゴロゴロ (goro goro): cubic, with many edges
フワフワ (fuwa fuwa): soft and airy with many tiny holes
ポキポキ (poki poki): a delicate frame or structure
ザクザク (zaku zaku): makes a crunching sounds, like when you step on ice

You can see exceptionally clear photographs of the ingeniously designed 26x26x26mm chocolates in the article linked above.

[h.t. Becki Kanou]

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

The Bureau of Linguistical Reality

No, The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is not something dreamed up by Borges, or the Firesign Theatre. It actually exists, or at least it exists in the same state of electronic virtual actuality as Language Log, YouTube, and the Wayback Machine.

The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene.

Our species (Homo Sapien) is experiencing a collective "loss of words" as our lexicon fails to represent the emotions and experiences we are undergoing as our habitat (earth) rapidly changes due to climate change and other unprecedented events. To this end the The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is solemnly tasked generating linguistic tools to express these changes at the personal and collective level.

Cartographers are redrawing maps to accommodate rising seas, psychologists are beginning to council people on climate change related stress, scientists are defining this as a new age or epoch. The Bureau was thus established, as an interactive conceptual artwork to help to fill the linguistical void in our rapidly changing world.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

Overheard just now…

…in Alta, Utah, where I'm conducting field research into how many words skiers have for snow, evidence of the polysemousness of Twitter:

Do you want to know what her Twitter is? [Apparently meaning 'her Twitter handle']

I have a Twitter. [By the same guy, apparently meaning 'a Twitter account']

Extra added bonus: I'm writing this on my iPad, and the autocorrect suggestion for polysemousness was polysemous nests, which for some reason I kinda like.

Comments (17)

An experiment with echoing Echos

Henry Cooke (aka "prehensile" on GitHub) has hatched a fascinating techno-artistic experiment. He set up two Amazon Echos to talk back and forth, each repeating a text to the other, with every iteration introducing new errors. His initial inspiration was "I Am Sitting in a Room," a 1969 work of acoustic art by Alvin Lucier, in which a text is recorded and re-recorded until all that is left is the hum of resonant frequencies in the room. (You can watch a 2014 performance with Lucier here.) Rather than replicate Lucier's text, Cooke created new ones for the two Echos to vocalize, with an added wrinkle: iterations of the texts follow the Oulipo S+7 constraint, in which each noun is replaced by another noun appearing seven steps away in the dictionary. You can see the first ten iterations (using Amazon Polly to synthesize different voices) in this video.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Neglected email

Some charmingly reflective and sincere writing in the latest xkcd comic as Cueball types a reply to a long-neglected email correspondent:

Dear Kevin,
I'm sorry it's taken me two years to reply to your email. I've built up so much stress and anxiety around my email inbox; it's an unhealthy dynamic which is more psychological than technical. I've tried one magical solution after another, and as each one has failed, deep down I've grown more certain that the problem isn't email – it's me.

Regardless, these are my issues, not yours; you're my friend, and I owe you the basic courtesy of a response. I apologize for my neglect, and I hope you haven't been too hurt by my failure to reply.

Anyway, I appreciate your invitation to join your professional network on LinkedIn, but I'm afraid I must decline…

The mouseover alt text says: "I would be honored, but I know I don't belong in your network. The person you invited was someone who had not yet inflicted this two-year ordeal upon you. I'm no longer that person."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Annals of incompetent spam: the weeding ceremony

A spam email I received this morning (addressed to me and three other addresses, no subject; the sender was "david mark" at davidmark0066@gmail.com) had the following text:

Hello this is david i will like to know if you can handle my weeding ceremony  and do you own the service ??

I actually never realized people had weeding ceremonies. I thought you just got out there with a trowel and a pair of kneepads and dug out those unwanted plants without benefit of any rituals of any sort. But some may have different traditions. We must be open to cultural diversity.

Comments off

Siri and flatulence

An acquaintance of mine has a new iPhone, which he carries in a pocket that is (relevantly) below waist level. He has discovered something that dramatically illustrates the difference between (i) responding to speech and (ii) responding to speech as humans do, on the basis of knowing that it is speech.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Tracing lexical trends in Google searches

Google has released a fun data visualization tool that shows changes in search interest over time for a variety of trending words, particularly new slang terms. In "The Year in Language 2016," you can see how frequently people searched for the definitions of words, in queries such as "selfie definition" or "define selfie." By this metric, the top 10 words for 2016 are: triggered, shook, juju, broccoli, woke, holosexual, shill, gaslighting, bigly, and SJW. You can also plot the search interest for more than 50 words from 2013 to 2016.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Portable air filter for North China smog

Ad in the Beijing subway:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Hugh Jackilometresan

On Twitter, John Lewis shared a prime example of the perils of global search-and-replace: what happens when "km" gets expanded to "kilometres" in an edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (51)

Mystery modal window error message

Almost every day, when looking through the headlines on Google News, I see one or two stories where what's meant to be a snippet from the first paragraph of the story contains not a single word from the story but instead says this:

This is a modal window. This modal can be closed by pressing the Escape key or activating the close button. Close Modal Dialog. This is a modal window.

modalwin

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (31)