Archive for Writing

This is the 4th time I've gotten Jack and his beanstalk

Bill Benzon shares the response he got from ChatGPT to the prompt, "Tell me a story."

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The impenetrability of cursive for students from the PRC

Today I had a revelation about my handwriting on the blackboard.

By far the majority of students in all of my classes come from mainland China.  They are by nature reticent to speak up, but when it comes to engaging in discussion about material that I have written on the board, they are essentially deadly silent.

I know they're smart and should be able to respond to at least some of my questions, but often they just stare intensely at the writing on the board, almost as though they are in pain.

My handwriting is famously poor, as I have confessed and documented in numerous previous Language Log posts, so I do try to slow down a bit and write clearly when at the board, but often my impatience gets the better of me, and when I speed up, all bets are off that others will comprehend.

Today, I intentionally wrote as clearly as possible (for me).  Still no reactions from the class.  I became frustrated and asked them why they did not answer.

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Spaceless pinyin

From the importer's label, carefully placed to obscure the safety instructions (the "do"s and "do not"s) of an electronic gas igniter:

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Multi-modal writing among Hong Kong teens

From Jenny Chu:

Knowing your interest in multi-modal writing systems, I thought you might be amused by the attached screencap. It is from a WhatsApp group chat of S6 (final year) students in Hong Kong; one of them is asking the others what they would like to do on the afternoon of their last day of classes:

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Cursive and memory

Anne Thomas, a retired primary school teacher, writes from NH:

While it may not be required coursework across the board, cursive is making a comeback. Research shows that handwriting notes activates multiple brain regions associated with optimal memory, much more so than note-taking with digital devices. Taking notes by hand or writing a to-do list on paper will preserve that memory a lot longer than typing into a laptop or phone.

As of February 2022, 14 states passed legislation requiring cursive to be taught in schools, with legislation pending elsewhere. Educators argue that such instruction is essential to developing fine motor skills.

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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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