Archive for May, 2019

Spelling Bee 2019

I'll let this incredible ESPN (it's a sport, after all) video speak for itself:

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Not just any old Putonghua

No siree!  These Hong Kong students are being taught to emulate Beijing government models:

In the 13rd [sic] Hong Kong Cup Diplomatic Knowledge Contest held on May 12, Hong Kong high school students militantly spoke perfect Putonghua. Their Beijing accent, tone, gestures, facial expressions all reminded one of China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, or even Chairman Mao's wife Jiang Qing. E.g, a schoolgirl indignantly yelled, "Not a single country has fallen into a debt crisis as a result of joining the One Belt One Road!" (The fact, however, remains that due to their inability to repay debts to China, Zambia has lost to China its Kenneth Kaunda Airport and the ZESCO Power Plant; Sri Lanka has handed over its Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease; and Kenya is giving up its Mombasa Port to China.) Xie Feng, Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry of PRC in HKSAR, called upon the students to love the State of China and take up positions in international organizations like the UN. Critics suspect that quite a few HK kids are already thoroughly brainwashed by their pro-CCP education and may be used to infiltrate into American & other Western organizations.

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Whistled Turkish

Malin Fezehai, "In Turkey, Keeping a Language of Whistles Alive", NYT 5/30/2019:

Muazzez Kocek, 46, is considered one of the best whistlers in Kuşköy, a village tucked away in the picturesque Pontic Mountains in Turkey’s northern Giresun province. Her whistle can be heard over the area’s vast tea fields and hazelnut orchards, several miles farther than a person’s voice. When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey visited Kuşköy in 2012, she greeted him and proudly whistled, “Welcome to our village!”

She uses kuş dili, or “bird language,” which transforms the full Turkish vocabulary into varied-pitch frequencies and melodic lines. For hundreds of years, this whistled form of communication has been a critical for the farming community in the region, allowing complex conversations over long distances and facilitating animal herding.

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Accidental art

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All clear in kindergarten

The "sǎo hēi chú è 扫黑除恶" ("sweeping away blackness and eliminating evil") campaign in China not only has not waned, but rather is going in a hysterical direction. The local authorities in Wuxi are marching into the kindergartens; below is their conclusion after investigating one of them:

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A tangled web

Daniel Deutsch sent in this quotation

“The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination — one way or the other — about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements," a joint statement from DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec and Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said.

with this comment

I understand that Language Log is not a political site, but this calls for a language expert:

Affirmed that—was not saying—that, but for—would have found. No conflict.

I had to read it 20 times to understand it.

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Why Literary Sinitic is so darn hard

Two days ago, in "Difficult languages and easy languages, part 2" (5/28/19), we listed scores of languages from easiest to hardest to learn.  Spanish came out overall as the easiest widely spoken language for many people to learn, while Arabic and Turkish struck many people as quite difficult to master.

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Restaurant logo with a dingus

Klaus Nuber writes: "Sometime ago I saw the sign of this 'Asia Palast' with the logo consisting of the two chairs and the round dingus between. Is this logo just cute or has it a hanzi background?"

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Is Mandarin easy to learn after all?

Betteridge's law of headlines states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."  The title of this post ends in a question mark, but, as its author, I mean for it to be answered by the word yes.

Early yesterday morning, I posted "Fluent bilingualism in Singapore " (5/28/19).  Less than six hours later, around noon, I posted "Difficult languages and easy languages, part 2 " (5/28/19).  Both posts fortuitously touched upon the real or imagined difficulty of Mandarin, the former allegedly attested in the poor record of getting Singaporean students of Chinese ancestry to attain fluency in the language and the latter in the results of a large scale survey on the perceived difficulty of languages carried out two years ago on Language Log.  In both cases, Mandarin came out looking as though it were a very hard language to learn.

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Sign of the Times

Amy Harmon, "Which Box Do You Check? Some States Are Offering a Nonbinary Option", NYT 5/29/2019:

This is the first time that (I noticed that) the NYT used singular they as a reflection of  a specific person's pronoun choice — even if it is in an article about non-binary gender options.


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Difficult languages and easy languages, part 2

On March 4, 2017, I posted on "Difficult languages and easy languages".  The response was overwhelming — there were 151 comments.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who participated in this survey.  The large number of respondents who contributed their thoughtful appraisals means that the results do carry a certain degree of significance.

Considering the fact that tabulating the results was a rather daunting, time-consuming task, I was not able to post them as quickly as I had hoped.  The main reason that I was able to finish the work at all is simple:  although Cathay Pacific has wonderful service, they do not have Wi-Fi, at least not on the planes I flew to and from Hong Kong in late April of 2017.  Consequently, during the nearly 30 hours of my flights back and forth across the Pacific to review the Translation Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I was able to concentrate on recording the figures on the pages of the survey I had printed out and brought with me.  Further delays since then were the result of the press of teaching and mentoring, writing blogs and newsletters and articles and books….  Finally, on Memorial Day, May 27, 2019, I was at last able to type up the results (the tabulations were almost lost when my backpack got soaked in a rainstorm two years ago; fortunately, the pages on which they were written were buried deep inside, so they were not destroyed — that would have been the obliteration of weeks of work).

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Syllable-scale wheelbarrow spectrogram

Following up on Saturday's post "Towards automated babble metrics", I thought I'd try the same technique on some adult speech, specifically William Carlos Williams reading his poem "The Red Wheelbarrow".

Why might some approach like this be useful? It's a way of visualizing syllable-scale frequency patterns (roughly 1 to 8 Hz or so) without having to do any phonetic segmentation or classification. And for early infant vocalizations, where speech-like sounds gradually mix in with coos and laughs and grunts and growls and fussing, it might be the basis for some summary statistics that would be useful in tracing a child's developmental trajectory.

Is it actually good for anything? I don't know . The basic idea was presented in a 1947 book as a way to visualize the performance of metered verse. Those experiments didn't really work, and the idea seems to have been abandoned afterwards — though the authors' premise was that verse "beats" should be exactly periodic in time, which was (and is) false.  In contrast, my idea is that the method might let us characterize variously-inexact periodicities.

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Fluent bilingualism in Singapore

[This is a guest post by an anonymous correspondent in East Asia.]

I thought you might be interested in taking on the ignorance of remarks earlier today by Singapore's minister of education. He's headed toward "like, wow" territory.

Basically, he was speaking about Singapore expanding a program aimed at reinvigorating the learning of what it calls "mother-tongue languages," which are the main languages of Singapore other than English — even though English is increasingly the mother tongue of citizens there.

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