Archive for January, 2020

Scripts at risk

Andrea Valentino has an intriguing article in BBC Future (1/21/20):  "The alphabets at risk of extinction:   It isn't just languages that are endangered: dozens of alphabets around the world are at risk. And they could have even more to tell us."

Usually, when we worry about languages going extinct, we are thinking about their spoken forms, but we are less often concerned about their written manifestations.  As Valentino puts it,

This might have something to do with the artificiality of alphabets. Language is innate to all humans, but scripts have to be invented and actively learned. This has happened rarely. Even by the middle of the 19th Century, only 10% of adults knew how to write, and there are only about 140 scripts in use today.

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Dogfooding

From Alex Wang:

I have through observation of my wechat via other people's moments and articles seen a noticeable uptick in the use of adding "-ing" to characters.

I was wondering if it's a fad or something inherently clumsy in the construction if one were to use Chinese so  they use the English suffix "-ing" instead.

Recently I had to write a speech to be translated into Chinese and I wanted to use the expression "dogfooding".

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Upcoming Russian Referendum on Changes to the Constitution: Да или Нет

This is an old Soviet joke, recycled and updated, that is making the rounds in Russia now.

Вопрос на всенародное голосование –

Вы не против изменения Конституции РФ, чтобы Владимир Владимирович Путин остался правителем России на всегда?

Варианты ответов:

1. Нет, не против
2. Да, не против

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Don't eat the carpet

Sign in an Indian airport:

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The Tocharian A word for "rug" and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 2

[This is a guest post by Zhang He in response to the original post on this subject, which attracted considerable attention, such that a lot of people will be interested in what she has to say.]

1. About the Tocharian A word "kratsu" and 罽 and kràts

I am not expert in linguistics, but from general observation and understanding, it seems that Tocharian A "kratsu" does look or sound close to Old Sinitic "kràts". I would like to add 氍毹 qūshū or qūyū for consideration as well. Doesn't qūshū sound even closer to "kratsu"?  [VHM:  氍毹  MS /ɡɨo  ʃɨo/; OS  (Zhengzhang): /*ɡʷa  sro/]

In several dictionaries (see below), 罽 is interpreted as the same with 氍毹 qūshū. According to 说文, qūshū is a kind of local or regional dialect. I think it could be easily located to 西域 (Western Regions) or 罽宾 (an ancient kingdom in northwest India). As I concluded in my study on carpet terminology –- "The terms 罽, qūshū 氍毹, and 缂 could come from any one of the following: Sanskrit kocava, kocavaka, and kaukapaka, Pali kojava, Old Persian gaud, Niya Kharoṣṭhi koj̱ava, Khotanese gahāvara, gaihe, etc., and Sogdian gaudana." Now, there could also be the Tocharian A word "kratsu".

Also, I quoted in my same study on terminology:

"For example, Bailey's entries for Khotanese karasta– and kīḍakyä give such references as:

karasta– 'fur garment'; Pašto krasta 'felt, woolen cloth.' Base IE Pok (?). kēr 'to cut' (Bailey 1979, p. 54)

《康熙字典》:《疏》罽者,織毛爲之,若今之毛氍毹也。《註》師古曰:罽,織毛也。氍毹之屬。
《说文解字》(100–121 CE) 毛部:氍:氍毹、毾㲪,皆氊緂之屬,蓋方言也。从毛瞿声。毹:氍毹也。从毛俞聲。

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Portuglish

[This is a guest post by Thomas Lee Mair]

I'm sending an excerpt from a novel I just finished. This might amuse you the way the Chinglish signs do.

The excerpt is from The Grammarians, a novel by Cathleen Schine, which the NYT listed as one of the 10 best novels of 2019. The novel tracks the lives of a set of twins, Laurel and Daphne, who love words and grammar. The other characters mentioned in this excerpt are Arthur (their father) and Don (Arthur's brother and the twins' uncle).

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The source of "cum-ex"?

"It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice." NYT 1/23/2020:

Martin Shields and Paul Mora met in 2004, at the London office of Merrill Lynch. […]

Today, the men stand accused of participating in what Le Monde has called "the robbery of the century," and what one academic declared "the biggest tax theft in the history of Europe." From 2006 to 2011, these two and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors made off with a staggering $60 billion, all of it siphoned from the state coffers of European countries.

The scheme was built around "cum-ex trading" (from the Latin for "with-without"): a monetary maneuver to avoid double taxation of investment profits that plays out like high finance's answer to a David Copperfield stage illusion. Through careful timing, and the coordination of a dozen different transactions, cum-ex trades produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks.

One basket of stocks. Abracadabra. Two refunds.

You can learn more about this from the source at  cumex-files.com. But since this is Language Log rather than Evil Bankers Log, I'm going to focus on the claim that "cum-ex" is from the Latin for "with-without".

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"Q" as a Sinogram and a Sinitic morpheme

Jules Quartly (appropriate surname!) has an informative article on this subject in Taiwan Business TOPICS, "The True Story of Q" (1/21/20) — a takeoff from the most famous Chinese short story of the 20th century, "The True Story of Ah Q" (Ā Q Zhèngzhuàn 阿Q正傳 /  阿Q正传; serialized 12/4/21-2/12/22, published 1923).  Toward the end of his article, Quartly quotes extensively from this post of mine:  "Is Q a Chinese Character?" (4/15/10).  In the rest of the article, however, he offers a panoply of his own and others' insights about just what "Q" signifies as a mouthfeel in Taiwan.

Here follow some delicious, selected passages from Quartly's article:

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"The Two" and other poems

Yesterday Nick Montfort returned to Penn to give a talk under the title "Lean Computer-Generated Poetry as Exploration of Language, Culture, and Computation". The talk was basically a commentary on (some of) the contents of his interactive website https://nickm.com/, so you can explore the same material yourself, minus the commentary.

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America as a multilingual nation

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Brain Brian

Alan Kennedy, a dealer of Oriental art based in Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, who was a student of the polymath Schuyler Van Rensselaer Cammann (1912-1991; "Ki" to his friends and acquaintances) at Penn half a century ago, and who is a regular reader of Language Log, sent me this message:

I see a comment from Brian Spooner, and had no idea that he was still at Penn.  Decades ago, one of his students told me that he was sometimes called Brain in Afghanistan.  Apparently someone there had transposed the 'a' and the 'i' in writing his name.

My reply to Alan:

Hah, that's an appropriate transposition!

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"Lawyer lawsuits"?

If you listened to the U.S. Senate proceedings yesterday, you may have been puzzled — as I was — by Jay Sekulow's discussion of "lawyer lawsuits":

And by the way,
lawyer lawsuits?
lawyer lawsuits?
We're talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States,
duly elected.
And the members,
the managers,
are complaining about
lawyer lawsuits?
The consitution allows
lawyer lawsuits.
It's disrespecting the constitution of the United States
to even say that in this chamber —
lawyer lawsuits!

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"A 97-Year-Old Philosopher Faces His Own Death"

That's the title of this outstanding 18:12 video about Herbert Fingarette (1921-2018).  After the video and a brief explanation of its contents, I will explain what Fingarette has to do with language and Chinese Studies.

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