Archive for Writing

Mirabile scriptu: fake kanji created by AI

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The invention of an alphabet for the transcription of Chinese characters half a millennium ago

The Latinization of Chinese characters will ultimately prove to be one of the most important developments in the history of writing.  We usually attribute this epochal achievement to the Italian Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), but he was assisted in that monumental endeavor by several individuals.  One of the most important of these was the Jesuit Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628), whose Xīrú ěrmù zī 西儒耳目資 (An Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Literati) helped to establish the alphabetization of Sinitic on a solid footing.

In "Printed Editions of the Xiru Ermuzi", Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, no. 79 (2021), 1-32, TAKATA Tokio has carried out a detailed codicological study of all editions and copies of Trigault's text.  In the process, he has brought to light two hitherto unknown editions of Xiru Ermuzi, greatly enhancing our understanding of the development of this vital work.  Takata's study is extremely detailed and heavily footnoted.  Here I present his Introduction and Concluding Remarks.

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Unknown language #14

Here is the first page of a letter sent from China (Tongzhou, Beijing) to the US (Trenton, NJ) by a missionary in 1888. The missionary’s name is James Ingram (1858-1934).  My colleagues in China are very interested in what the letter says, but they cannot read the script.


(credit:  Yale Divinity Library)

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Speech to speech translation of unwritten languages: Hokkien

Everybody's talking about it.

"Meta has developed an AI translator for a primarily-spoken language

It only translates between Hokkien and English for now, but offers potential for thousands of languages without official written systems."

By Amanda Yeo, Mashable (October 20, 2022)

If true, this technology could be an enormous boon for illiterates everywhere.  It also has important theoretical and linguistic implications.

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The difficulties of “cursive script” are “old news”

[This is a guest post by J. Marshall Unger]

Responding to "Reading kanji in cursive script is devilishly difficult" (10/18/22), Jim Unger writes:

My only comment, which is just a reminiscence, is that one of the first books I bought when I started studying Japanese seriously at 18 was a guide to “grass-script” characters.  I still have it.  It had been produced in the early 1940s (cheap paper, thin binding) in the U.K. for military use in reading Japanese intercepts; to be useful, it includes forms that are calligraphically incorrect but common.  I recall that “airman” Edwin McClellan, by then the chair of East Asian at Chicago, which I entered that year, was among those acknowledged for their help by the compiler (Otome Daniels, about whom see "How the UK found Japanese speakers in a hurry in WW2", BBC News (8/12/15).

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Reading kanji in cursive script is devilishly difficult

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Troublesome Chinese surname

This is a story about the frustration of a mom in China over the fact that the character for her child's surname, cuàn 爨, has 30 strokes (some sources say 29).

Aside from its use as a surname, this monstrosity of a glyph can also mean "to cook" and "oven; cooker; cookstove".  Although cuàn 爨 certainly should have been a candidate for simplification, so far as I know, no simplified character for it exists, at least none that is official.

There are a dozen or so alternate forms, e.g., 熶, but most of them are very obscure and cannot be found in electronic fonts.  See here for a few.

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Calligraphy as a "first level discipline" in the PRC

I am making this post because I think it is something that we should be aware of and try to understand in terms of the motivations of the Chinese government in enacting and carrying out these policies.

"First-level discipline a new starting line of calligraphy", China Daily (9/28/22)

The Chinese term for "first level discipline" is "yī jí xuékē 一级学科".  Here's a recent list of the first level disciplines in the Chinese educational system.  You will note that the disciplines are arranged from sciences at the top (with math at the very top), then moving down through history, engineering, agriculture, medicine, military science, management, philosophy, economics, law, educational science, literature, and art.  Calligraphy (shūfǎ 書法) was not included on this list of first level disciplines, which accords with the great commotion its addition to the list is currently causing.

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"Collapsed" calligraphy, part 2

New article by Nyri Bakkalian in Unseen Japan (9/17/22):

"New App Promises Greater Convenience in Reading Old Japanese Cursive:

Kuzushiji, the 'crushed letters' found in historical Japanese documents, have long been the bane of scholars. A new app may change all that."

The author bemoans:

During my graduate education in Japanese history, interpreting handwritten primary source material from the 19th century and earlier was one of my greatest challenges. Typeset historic documents exist, especially in my period of focus during the Bakumatsu-Meiji transition. But the further back in time one’s research focus is situated, the rarer these documents become. There is a plethora of handwritten documents, written in historic cursive, but learning how to read them is a significant investment of time and resources beyond the means of most people who might otherwise have the inclination to learn.

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Hanmoji

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Choose your font carefully

(Source)

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Character-shape wordplay

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

I happened to notice the following bit of character-shape play on a YouTube site called "Wen Zhao tangu lunjin" 《文昭谈古论今》。 He's talking about the tourists on Hainan island who were stuck there after a sudden Covid breakout.  In expressing the observation that these sudden incidents occur time and time again, he used a four-character phrase that is evidently a new Internet slang, 又双叒叕 yòu shuāng ruò zhuó, in which each subsequent character adds another 又 component, a visual representation of the concept "over and over again".

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Right to left

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