Archive for Writing

Abbreviated and nonstandard kanji

From Nathan Hopson:

I have been reading some handwritten documents from the 1960s and 1970s, and have been reminded that even beyond abbreviations, there were still "nonstandard" kanji in use. I guess this took me off guard mostly because these are school publications.

On the abbreviated side, the most obvious example is:

第 → 㐧

The "nonstandard" kanji that interested me most were these two:
1. 管 → 官 part written as 友+、


2. 食缶 as a single character, but paired with 食 to be 食[食缶]


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Rectilinear rectitude

An alternative name for M Hànzì / J Kanji / K Hanja / C hon3 zi6 漢字 ("sinoglyph; Chinese character") is fāngkuàizì 方塊字 ("square shaped character").  I learned that the very first year of my Chinese language studies more than half a century ago.  From kindergarten and elementary school on up, Chinese children learn to practice writing characters with the concept of fāngkuài 方塊 ("square shaped") firmly in mind.  To assist them in that endeavor, they use a zìtiè / zìtiě 字帖 ("copy book") with the squares clearly marked.

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Sanaaq, the first novel written in Inuktitut syllabics in Canada

Long, richly illustrated, highly biographical article in CBC (10/8/23):

Writing the story of a changing North

In the 1950s, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk began Sanaaq, which would end up becoming the first novel written in Inuktitut. Her words continue to inform our understanding of Inuit life.

Shortly after receiving notice that the Norwegian author, Jon Fosse, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his writings in Nynorsk, I read the above article and learned the following:

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk was 22 years old in 1953 when Catholic missionaries in Nunavik, the Inuit homeland in what is now northern Quebec, came to her asking for help in learning her native language.

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Sweden's renewed emphasis on books and handwriting

Sweden brings more books and handwriting practice back to its tech-heavy schools

Charlene Pele, AP (9/10/23)

Accompanied by 10 photographs showing young children (3rd grade?) practicing handwriting.

As young children went back to school across Sweden last month, many of their teachers were putting a new emphasis on printed books, quiet reading time and handwriting practice and devoting less time to tablets, independent online research and keyboarding skills.

The return to more traditional ways of learning is a response to politicians and experts questioning whether the country's hyper-digitalized approach to education, including the introduction of tablets in nursery schools, had led to a decline in basic skills.

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A new draft…

This is not at all the experience that I've had with multiple-authored papers — but it's funny:

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Overall, why do Mandarin enrollments continue to decline?

This is a problem that has been troubling colleagues across the country.

"Why fewer university students are studying Mandarin"

Learning the difficult language does not seem as worthwhile as it once did

Economist (Aug 24th 2023)

China | How do you say “not interested”?

Ten years ago Mandarin, the mother tongue of most Chinese, was being hyped as the language of the future. In 2015 the administration of Barack Obama called for 1m primary- and secondary-school students in America to learn it by 2020. In 2016 Britain followed suit, encouraging kids to study “one of the most important languages for the UK’s future prosperity”. Elsewhere, too, there seemed to be a growing interest in Mandarin, as China’s influence and economic heft increased. So why, a decade later, does Mandarin-learning appear to have declined in many places?

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Core socialist values

"Chinese slogans on London wall hold mirror to society: artist"

Zhejiang-born Yique tries to find his place in UK after Brick Lane work

TAY HAN NEE, Nikkei Asia

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Calligraphic license

Shaing tai asked whether I recognized these characters:

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AI encroachments

It's already happening.

Of course, we don't want our students to use AI software to help them write their papers, but the fact of the matter is that some of them, especially among those who have poor English writing skills, are already routinely doing so.  Their attitude seems to be that they will do the basic research and sketching out of the argument, and then they have AI tools make it sound nice.  In some cases, they even ask AI bots to assist them with the data search that goes into their paper.

Some may argue that this is completely unacceptable, that such students should be expelled right away, but where do you draw the line on computer assisted research and writing?  Moreover, this is clearly not the same thing as plagiarism, because the individual who is relying on a chatbot to help him or her is not appropriating the intellectual property of another person.  He/she is utilizing material that he/she specifically requested a machine to create / produce on his / her behalf and at his / her direction.  In other words, the electronic tools are acting as extensions of his / her brain.

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Ptahhatp's proverbs

From the Wall Street Journal:

‘The Oldest Book in the World’ Review: Also Sprach Ptahhatp

A set of maxims attributed to an adviser of an Egyptian pharaoh may be the world’s earliest surviving work of philosophy.

By Dominic Green

July 6, 2023 6:20 pm ET

What have we?  Philosophy in the Age of the Pyramids?  Philosophy before there were Greek philosophers?

Green launches his review:

In 1847 the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris acquired a 16-page scroll from the antiquarian Émile Prisse d’Avennes (1807-1879). He had bought it from one of the local men then excavating a cemetery near a pharaonic temple complex at Thebes in Egypt. The Papyrus Prisse, as it is known, contains the only complete version of a set of philosophical epigrams called “The Teaching of Ptahhatp.” Recognized upon its publication in 1858 as “the oldest book in the world,” the “Teaching” is attributed to a vizier to Izezi, the eighth and penultimate pharaoh of the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, who ruled Egypt in the late 25th and early 24th centuries B.C.

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Flash sale

Ben Zimmer spotted this interesting street sign in the New York Times photo essay, "DMs from New York City" (June 26, 2023).

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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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