Archive for Writing

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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TMD and LPM: a tale of five 'mothers'

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

A tale of five mothers, two of whom got rich, one of whom became infamous, 

and two of whom were to meet each other later in the bilingual alphabet soup shown below.

(Suitable for playing "This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy…"?)

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Archeology and the recovery of ancient writing: bamboo strip manuscripts of seminal classics

My entire career as a Sinologist has been based on the study of archeologically recovered materials.  I'm talking particularly about the medieval Dunhuang manuscripts, but also the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Tarim mummies and their associated artifacts.  It's no wonder, therefore, that I have featured the importance of archeology for the study of language and linguistics so often in my posts (see "Selected readings" below for a small sample).

Now comes news of the recovery of a spectacular cache of bamboo strip manuscripts from a Chu culture site kindly provided by Keith Knapp (with some Romanizations, links, and annotations by me):

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Tarim harps; pitch, tones, scales, modes, instruments, and their names

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose, responding to requests for more information on the subject prompted by her previous post.]

This post discusses a possible connection between the Mesopotamian tonal system, documented on cuneiform tablets that span over 1000 years (from 1800 BC to 500 BC), and the musical system of ancient China. For a more detailed discussion, see the paper "A Proposed Mesopotamian Origin for the Ancient Musical and Musico-Cosmological Systems of the West and China", Sino-Platonic Papers, 320 (December, 2021) written by myself, Sara de Rose.

Since 1996, twenty-three harps (Chinese: “konghou”) that resemble the angular harp that was invented in Mesopotamia circa 2000 BC have been found in the graves of the Tarim mummies, in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area of modern-day, western China. These harps date from 1000 BC to 200 BC (see photo).

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Robot philosopher-calligrapher

I was aware of this article more than four years ago when it first appeared, but didn't post on it then because I didn't think many people would be interested in it:

"Forget Marx and Mao. Chinese City Honors Once-Banned Confucian", Ian Johnson, NYT (10/18/17)


(Credit: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times)

Now that we're on a Chinese calligraphy and philosophy roll and have a number of robot calligraphy posts under our belt (see "Selected readings" below), writing a post about a robotic philosopher-calligrapher is not so outlandish after all.

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Calligraphic tie: "Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol"

On April 29, 2022, Bryan Van Norden (Vassar) gave students from the Penn Chinese Language Program a talk on the subject “What is happiness? Chinese and Western Conceptions,” in which he discussed several leading Chinese and Western views of what sort of life we should aim at.  During the talk, Bryan was sporting a striking red tie (the slide on the screen shows Socrates taking the cup of hemlock, with which the lecture began):

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Morphemes without Sinographs

Commenting on "Educated (and not so educated) guesses about how to read Sinographs" (11/16/21), Chris Button asked:

I’m curious what you mean by “pseudo explanation”? The expected reflex from Middle Chinese times is xù, but yǔ has become the accepted pronunciation based on people guessing at the pronunciation in more recent times. Isn’t that a reasonable explanation?

To which I replied:

It's such a gigantic can of worms that I'm prompted to write a separate post on this mentality. I'll probably do so within a few days, and it will be called something like "Morphemes without characters".

Stay tuned.

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