Archive for December, 2021

New Year's acoustics

Poujol, Mathis, Régis Wunenburger, François Ollivier, Arnaud Antkowiak, and Juliette Pierre. "Sound of effervescence.Physical Review Fluids 6, no. 1 (2021): 013604:

Capillary bubbles burst at a free surface following a rapid sequence of events occurring at different length scales and timescales: hole nucleation, fast retraction of the micron-thick liquid film in a few microseconds preluding the much slower overall collapse of the millimeter-sized bubble in a matter of milliseconds. Each of these steps is associated with unsteady fluid forces and accelerations, and therefore with sound radiation. In this experimental study we focus on the airborne sound generated during bubble bursting. Investigating the physical mechanism at the root of sound emission with the help of synchronized fast imaging and sound recordings, we quantitatively link the film retraction dynamics with the frequency content of the acoustic signal. We demonstrate that, contrary to a Minnaert resonance scenario, the frequency here drifts and increases, consistent with a Helmholtz-type resonance of the cavity being more and more opened as the thin film retracts. We propose as an extension a simple model based on a collection of drifting Helmholtz resonators capturing the main features of the fizzing sound of an effervescing beverage.

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Today I learned that yeet means (among other things) "To discard an item at a high velocity". I didn't learn this from the not-very-reliable Urban Dictionary, but from Umar Shakir, "Tom Brady says the next sideline Surface he yeets will cost him: Microsoft’s star tablet may finally be safe on the sideline", The Verge 12/29/2021:

On the Sunday Night Football stage, December 19th, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were swept for the second consecutive regular season against the Saints — a frustrating shut-out loss that had Brady spiking a poor Microsoft Surface tablet on the sideline.

Now, per Brady on his Let’s Go podcast that aired Monday, the NFL is not going to let the Surface abuse continue. Should the seven-time Super Bowl champion throw the tablet again, he will be fined. “I did get warned from the NFL about that so… I won’t throw another Surface.” Brady said.

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Language meets literature; rationality vs. experience; fiction vis-à-vis nonfiction

New article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), "The rise and fall of rationality in language", Marten Scheffer, Ingrid van de Leemput, Els Weinans, and Johan Bollen (12/21/21)

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"…attacking members of the public found dead"

A striking example of the post-modifier attachment ambiguity: "Police officer jailed for attacking members of the public found dead", The Guardian 12/29/2021.

Bob Ladd, who sent in the link, spent "quite a few hundred milliseconds" puzzling about why the police officer had attacked dead people.

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Uncommon prosperity

Even those who are not China watchers will remember the savage satire directed against the pathetic River Crab (= Harmonious Society) and the Grass-Mud Horse (= *uck your mother"). 

There's always something the censors have to block on the Chinese internet.  It wouldn't be the Chinese internet if a large part of it were not being blocked.  If I were to list all the Language Log posts that document the expressions that have been censored by the PRC authorities, it would soon swell to over a hundred items.

For the year 2021, here are some of the favorite targets of the internet police:


February 8, 2021

Social audio app Clubhouse was blocked around 7 p.m. on February 8 in response to a spirited discussion about Xinjiang that had happened the previous weekend. (See Darren Byler’s column about the offending chat room). In addition, Clubhouse had hosted discussions about Tibet and Taiwan. Some Chinese users noted that their mainland China phone numbers could not receive verification messages to register for new accounts.

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Best invented folk etymology of 2021?

Wondermark for 11/25/2021 — deriving "rappers", from "wrappers" and their "candy shanties" on the Hersey Chocolate assembly line:

Mouseover title: "People will claim lots of things to impress some random moron."

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Parenthetical, alphabetical, ironical commentary in Sinographic texts

Occasionally I see pinyin (spelling) interspersed with Sinographs (usually for phonetic annotation), but this one threw me for a loop:

Yěxǔ (jué duì) shì, gāi lǐngyù zuì qiángdà de jiǎngzhě zhènróng.

也许(jué duì)是,该领域最强大的讲者阵容。

"Perhaps (definitely) it's the case that this is the strongest lineup of speakers in this field.

It occurs about two thirds of the way down in this Chinese article.

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A recent Shanghainese movie

[This is a guest post by Zihan Guo, who was a student in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class this past semester.]

A movie titled "Àiqíng shénhuà 愛情神話" ("Myth of Love / B for Busy") just came out on the 24th in China, which soon became warmly received by the public. It narrates the story of three distinctive Shanghainese women who come to know each other through one man. Here is a trailer

The most attractive aspect is the usage of the Shanghainese topolect throughout the movie. The main actor, Xu Zheng 徐崢, himself is a Shanghainese director who always appreciates films with regional characteristics. The three actresses are also Shanghainese, so they speak in a perfect tone, which appeals to locals very much. But of course there are subtitles to cater for a broader audience. People with no knowledge of the topolect like it as well, maybe because the accent itself is amusing. Most of them are not bothered by the unfamiliar language, since it has long become habitual for people to read subtitles even if they can understand the language, as we have also discussed in our class.

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World's largest inscribed stele: politics and polemics in Northeast Asia

About ten years ago, I stood next to this gigantic granite stele which is situated in the present-day city of Ji'an (coordinates of city center:  41°07′31″N 126°11′38″E) on the bank of the Yalu River in Jilin Province of Northeast China, directly across from North Korea:

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Language trees and script trees

[The following is a guest post by Jim Unger (J. Marshall Unger), who wrote it in response to my invitation to him to draw up a Stammbaum to show the relationships of the world's scripts.]

The rationale for tree structures in language history is that languages never completely converge. When speakers of two languages come into contact, there are always clues in the resulting language(s) that reveal the identity of the input languages: apart from the effects of contact, languages diverge over time.

In the case of writing, one must first of all distinguish graphic methods per se from writing systems. The adaptation of existing graphic methods that originated in one time and place to a different time, place, and, usually, language, does not, in my opinion, show the spread of a writing system, just the diffusion of a technology.  It only makes sense to speak of a writing system with respect to a particular language at a particular time and place.  This is a corollary of the fact that every practical and learnable writing system co-extensive with the potential output of a natural language necessarily utilizes a certain amount of phonography with respect to that language (unless the system is contrived expressly for cryptographic purposes).  Logography arises because of sound changes that obscure the motivations for some previously phonographic inscriptions, the purposeful suppression of certain phonographic information for the sake of brevity, or, as in the case of Chinese, historical accidents that militated against the adoption of an abjad, abugida, or alphabet.

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Growing up Chinese in Uyghurstan

This post was inspired by Bruce Humes' "Growing up Uyghur in Xinjiang: 'Setting Sail in a Chinese-language World'” (12/22/21):

In China’s Minority Fiction, Sabina Knight notes how China is pushing its ethnic minorities — particularly the Uyghur in Xinjiang — to master Mandarin:

“The question of cultural survival haunts Patigül’s Bloodline《百年血脉》(2015). The novel situates the narrator—who, like the author, is half-Uyghur and half-Hui—within the matrix of the Han majority’s aggressive promotion of Chinese:

As my father, he needed to demonstrate that he knew about Chinese, but . . . his knowledge was [just] bits and pieces he’d picked up from other Uyghurs in the village, and he still spoke Uyghur most of the time; I, on the other hand, went to a Chinese school and was setting sail into a Chinese-language world. (trans. Natascha Bruce)

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Parts of the body — back and waist; slicing up reality

The word for "back" in Mandarin is bèi , the word for "waist" is yāo .  But nearly all of my Chinese students and friends, including the most learned, get the English words mixed up.  They will say "My waist aches" when they mean "My back aches" and "Don't break your waist" when they mean "Don't break your back".

Aside from exchanges in daily conversation, I also noticed this confusion in historical contexts.  One of the most famous early medieval Chinese poets, Tao Qian (Yuanming) (365- 427), when asked to dress up in a fancy, formal way to show his subservience to a visiting inspector, famously declared, “Wú bùnéng wèi wǔdǒu mǐ zhéyāo, quánquán shì xiānglǐ xiǎo rén yé 吾不能為五斗米折腰,拳拳事鄉里小人邪!” ("I cannot bend my back to obsequiously serve a petty person in the village for five pecks of rice."  Many translators of this passage render "zhéyāo 折腰" as "bend [my] waist" rather than "bend [my] back".  The "five pecks of rice" refers to his salary as a local magistrate, which he'd rather give up than lose his dignity and self respect.  Because of his unbending attitude, Tao abandoned government service altogether by the age of forty and returned to his own hometown to live as a farmer.

[Reference for specialists:  from Tao Qian's brief biography in the "Biographies of recluses", scroll 64 of the Book / History of Jin (Jìnshū 晉書) (Zhonghua shuju ed., vol. 8, p. 2461)]

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Missionary Linguistics; the joys of interpreting

Geoff Wade called my attention to this interesting website: The Digital Orientalist (also accessible via Twitter).  The current issue is on "Missionary Linguistics – Latin, Portuguese and Japanese resources online", by Michele Eduarda Brasil de Sá (12/24/21).  The article begins:

In the mid-90s, I was an undergraduate student taking Latin and Japanese classes. People looked at me as if I were doing something silly and had no idea of the meaning of the word “job market,” usually asking my reasons to study languages that were so… different. Well, I would go really fine on answering that I started learning them by curiosity and liked them. In the Humanities, we get used to being asked  “what for?” about the things we love to study.

That’s when I first learned about Jesuit grammar books and dictionaries on the Japanese language. As for grammar books, we must not understand them strictly as the ones we use nowadays, of course. They are called artes and bring information about the language and history, religion, and habits – summing up, relevant information for newcomers who needed to get rapidly acquainted with the people. (For the primary databases with related material, see James Morris’ Beyond “Laures Kirishitan Bunko”: Digital Repositories for Studying 16th and 17th Century Japanese Christianity). By that time, I had no idea of how relevant they were for the history of Japanese Linguistics. One of these books is João Rodrigues Tçuzzu‘s Arte da lingoa de Iapam, where, in its first part, he offers a pattern of cases (nominative, genitive, and so on, following the Latin tradition) for nouns and pronouns with the addition of particles, clarifying that there are neither declensions nor plural or gender inflections in Japanese:

(Free downloadable version here)

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