Archive for November, 2018

Dialect vs. accent (vs. language)

Yesterday, I posted on "'How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent'" (11/29/18).  Last night, before I went to bed, I wanted to add a comment about my views on the difference between "dialect" and "accent", but didn't have the energy to type it out.  So I was pleased to find when I woke up this morning that others share the same view.

Namely, in my idiolect, and in the speech of my family and people from my neck of the woods (Osnaburg township, northeast Ohio), "accent" refers to distinctive pronunciation, whereas "dialect" gets into differences of vocabulary, grammatical constructions, and so on — but still implies mutual intelligibility (which is why I've always, even before becoming a Sinologist, considered it strange to call Cantonese, Taiwanese, etc. "dialects" of "Chinese").  Thus, for me and my circle back home, we say things like "He / She has a special / odd / unique / funny / peculiar accent" and are only talking about differences in pronunciation, such that we surmise they're from somewhere else, and often we can form a judgement about where they're from, or at least have some idea about it, even though we might be wrong.  However, when we say that somebody has a "thick" accent, such that it makes intelligibility difficult, and when they use many words that are unknown to us and employ grammatical constructions that are unfamiliar to us, then it's getting over toward the dialect end of the accent-dialect scale.  There's another scale between dialect and language, the dialect-language scale, but that's a separate matter, one which we have debated endlessly on Language Log.

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"How Millennials are Destroying the Philly Accent"

Episode 35 of "The Vocal Fries" podcast:

"This linguistics podcast breaks down Philly's great, and changing, dialect:  The hosts thankfully get way past 'jawn' and 'wooder ice'", by Adam Hermann, PhillyVoice (11/27/18)

Philadelphia's accent is unmistakable, and it's often a source of pride among residents….

The podcast chatted with Betsy Sneller, who did her Ph.D. research at Penn, about what she calls Philadelphia English.

"Philly has such a great dialect," Sneller said. "It's got a lot of features that differentiate it from other dialects, and some of those are salient, so speakers from Philly will be able to say, 'We say this.' And some of those features are not salient, so it's basically only linguists who notice it and care about it."

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Mee Tu flavor

A tasty visual pun found on Facebook:

(originally posted by Wayne Hudson)

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Chinese translation app with built-in censorship

What good is a translation app that automatically censors politically sensitive terms?  Well, a leading Chinese translation app is now doing exactly that.

"A Chinese translation app is censoring politically sensitive terms, report says", Zoey Chong, CNET (11/27/18)

iFlytek, a voice recognition technology provider in China, has begun censoring politically sensitive terms from its translation app, South China Morning Post reported citing a tweet by Jane Manchun Wong. Wong is a software engineer who tweets frequently about hidden features she uncovers by performing app reverse-engineering.

In the tweet, Wong shows that when she tried to translate certain phrases such as "Taiwan independence," "Tiananmen square" and "Tiananmen square massacre" from English to Chinese, the system failed to churn out results for sensitive terms or names. The same happened when she tried to translate "Taiwan independence" from Chinese to English — results showed up as an asterisk.

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The wrong way to write Chinese characters

This is one of the best, general, brief introductions to the challenges of the Chinese writing system I know of:

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Annals of singular "they"

"Pilot misses destination by 29 miles after dozing off", Sky News 11/27/2018:

A pilot in Australia is being investigated after they fell asleep in the cockpit and missed their destination by 29 miles.

The pilot, who was the only person on board at the time, overshot the remote Tasmanian island where they were due to land after dozing off.

The Piper PA-31 was travelling from Devonport to King Island on a routine flight by Vortex Air, a high-end private jet tourism operator.

A statement from the company said the flight was the pilot's first after a period of leave.

They had declared themselves fit to fly, were deemed adequately experienced, and had "previously flown the route a number of times without incident", the operator said.

Use of they for a specific singular human referent of unspecified gender is becoming routine.

[h/t Tim Frost]

 

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Receptive multilingualism

In the latest The Atlantic, Michael Erard describes a fascinating linguistic phenomenon:  "The Small Island Where 500 People Speak Nine Different Languages:  Its inhabitants can understand each other thanks to a peculiar linguistic phenomenon".

The article begins:

On South Goulburn Island, a small, forested isle off Australia's northern coast, a settlement called Warruwi Community consists of some 500 people who speak among themselves around nine different languages. This is one of the last places in Australia—and probably the world—where so many indigenous languages exist together. There's the Mawng language, but also one called Bininj Kunwok and another called Yolngu-Matha, and Burarra, Ndjébbana and Na-kara, Kunbarlang, Iwaidja, Torres Strait Creole, and English.

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A better way to calculate pitch range

Today's topic is a simple solution to a complicated problem. The complicated problem is how to estimate "pitch range" in recordings of human speakers. As for the simple solution — wait and see.

You might think that the many differences between the perceptual variable of pitch and the physical variable of fundamental frequency ("f0") arise because perception is complicated and physics is simple. But if so, you'd be mostly wrong. The biggest problem is that physical f0 is a complex and often fundamentally incoherent concept. And even in the areas where f0 is well defined, f0 estimation (usually called "pitch tracking") is prone to errors.

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Xina

Lately, since Xi Jinping made himself President for Life of the People's Republic of China, wags and wits have taken to calling the country over which he rules "Xina".

It turns out that this is the Catalan word for "China".  Curious to know how Xina is pronounced in Catalan, I looked it up on Wiktionary:

  • Balearic, Central /ˈʃi.nə/
  • Valencian /ˈt͡ʃi.na/

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Creeping Romanization in Chinese, part 3

A highly educated Chinese colleague sent me the following note:

More Chinese phrases with Latin alphabet, such as C位, diss, etc. have become quite popular. Even one of my friends who is so intoxicated by the beauty of the Chinese classic language used "diss" in her WeChat post. She could have used any of the Chinese words such as wǔrǔ 侮辱 or dǐhuǐ 诋毁 to express her idea, but she chose "diss" instead. It was quite a surprise. I feel reluctant to use this kind of word, especially in writing.

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Spring mud

Sign in a restroom at the Taipei Public Library:

biàn hòu suíshǒu chōng
chūnní liǎo wú hén

便後隨手沖
春泥了無痕

After relieving yourself, don't forget to flush,
So there will be nary a trace of "spring mud".

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"Major political error"

What was it?

Instead of writing "Xí Jìnpíng xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想" ("Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era"), two Shaanxi Daily editors wrote "Xí Jìnpíng zǒng shūjì xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平总书记新时代中国特色社会主义思想 ("General Secretary Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era").

For this "major political error", the editors were respectively fined 10,000 and 5,000 yuan (US1,440 and US720).  Luckily, the proofreading team caught this gross miswording the next morning before publication.

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Idiosyncratic stroke order

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