Archive for May, 2019

Insect name

How would you respond in your native language if someone walked up to you and asked (in your native language or in English or some other language which both of you know), "What's the word for 'the insect that eats wood and destroys walls'?".

A friend of mine in China did that with eight of his colleagues, and not a single one of them could remember the Chinese name for "the insect that eats wood and destroys walls".

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The life cycle of unicorns

Maybe the tide is turning against "Gene for X" thinking — Ed Yong, "A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers", 5/17/2019:

Decades of early research on the genetics of depression were built on nonexistent foundations. How did that happen?

In 1996, a group of European researchers found that a certain gene, called SLC6A4, might influence a person’s risk of depression.

[…]

But a new study—the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind yet—shows that this seemingly sturdy mountain of research is actually a house of cards, built on nonexistent foundations.

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Dysfluency considered harmful

… as a technical term, that is. Disfluency is no better, although the prefix is less judgmental. There are two problems:

  1. These terms pathologize normal behavior, creating confusion between pathological symptoms and common phenomena in normal speech, which may be different not only in their causes and their frequency but also in behavioral detail;
  2. Applied to normal speech, these terms often treat intrinsic aspects of the content and performance of spoken messages as if they were disruptions or failures.

My suggestion: we should use the term interpolation for silent pauses, filled pauses, filler words or phrases, repetitions and corrections, etc. This leaves open the question of whether such interpolations are normal or pathological, and whether or not they're an intrinsic part of the content and performance of the message.

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The "riddle of the rock"

Hugh Schofield, "France asks: Can you solve the riddle of the rock?", BBC News 5/10/2019:

A village in western France is offering a €2,000 (£1,726) prize for help in deciphering a 230-year-old inscription found on a rock on a remote beach.

Until now no-one has been able to make out the meaning of the 20 lines of writing, discovered a few years ago.

The metre-high slab is in a cove accessible only at low tide near the Brittany village of Plougastel.


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(Linear) A/B testing

To understand today's xkcd, you need to know what A/B Testing is, what Linear A and Linear B are, what Aksara Kawi is, what JavaScript and some of its subtypes are, …

Mouseover title: "We wrote our site in Linear A rather than Aksara Kawi because browser testing showed that Crete script rendered faster than Java script."

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Their's

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Cold shoe, hot boot

From Stephen Hart (the object pictured is a camera attachment for microphones, lights, and the like):

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"Demoralised" = "without morals"?

Marilynne Robinson, "Is poverty necessary?", Harpers 5/16/2019:

Margaret Thatcher said that the redundant—those on the dole—were “demoralized.” In her dialect group this word doesn’t mean disheartened. It means without morals. An American might put the matter differently, but the attitude is familiar enough.

An American might wonder whether that sense was actually dominant — or even prevalent — in Margaret Thatcher's "dialect group".

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Voynich code cracked?

Since high school, the Voynich manuscript is something that I have puzzled over from time to time.  What language and script is it written in?  What's it about?  Although no one has been able to read the manuscript since Wilfrid Voynich, the PolishSamogitian bibliophile and book dealer first brought it to light more than a century ago, the evocative illustrations and mysteries swirling around it have led to many fruitless attempts at decipherment.

Now a British academic (in Journal of Romance Studies) declares that it was a manual for nuns written in unencrypted proto-Romance:

"Bristol academic cracks Voynich code, solving century-old mystery of medieval text", University of Bristol (May 15, 2019).

A University of Bristol academic has succeeded where countless cryptographers, linguistics scholars and computer programs have failed—by cracking the code of the 'world's most mysterious text', the Voynich manuscript.

Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Research Associate Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document.

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Illegal dog names

This odd headline caught my eye:

"Man in China detained after giving dogs 'illegal' names," by Travis Fedschun | Fox News (5/15/19)

And what were the offending names?  Not what you might have thought:

Chéngguǎn 城管 ("Urban Management")

Xiéguǎn 协管 ("Assistant Management")

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Odevity or parity

[This is a guest post by Jeffrey Shallit]

A Chinese student here at Waterloo used the term "odevity" for what English-speaking computer scientists typically call "parity" — the property of an integer being odd or even.

I had never heard this term before, so I used Google Scholar to look at where it is being used.  It is used almost exclusively by Chinese engineers, mathematicians, and computer scientists.  The first usage I was able to find with Google Book Search was in 1972, obtained with this search.

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 5

Subtitle:  Phoneticization on an order from a Macanese restaurant in Vancouver.

Bruce Rusk sent in this prime example of extreme Sinographic shorthand, adding, "The geographic origin of the cuisine is a big hint to the document’s meaning…".

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Prakritic "Kroraina" and Old Sinitic reconstructions of "Loulan"

Inquiry from Doug Adams:

As you know I’m working on a review for JIES [Journal of Indo-European Studies] on KT Schmidt’s Nachlass [VHM:  see here].  I need to say something about the name Loulan itself and, not unusually, I’m sinking uncontrollably into the quicksand of reconstructed Chinese. The question arises concerning the first syllable, represented by Karlgren’s character 123b. The modern pronunciation is lóu. Because it is assumed to be the Chinese transcription of the first syllable of the native word Kroraina, one finds, in discussions of Loulan, reconstructions like *gləu or *γləu, with the (unstated) assumption that the *l stands for a yet earlier *r. But, when the name Loulan is not part of the discussion, i.e., in general reconstruction, the initial is just *l– or, earlier, *r– (Schuessler gives OCM * or roʔ [and Late Han (about the turn of the millennium) *lo or lioB]) The Khotanese word referring to Loulan/Kroraina is raurana– and is obviously the same word as the Chinese and, indeed, very probably a borrowing therefrom.         So where does the *gl-/*γl– come from? Or is the Chinese Loulan not a transcription of Kroraina but merely an accidental (partial) look alike?

Any elucidation you can give would be appreciated.

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