Archive for May, 2022

Isaac Newton on spectrums

In "Spectrums", 2/24/2022, I described a struggle with magazine editors, long ago, over whether the plural of spectrum should be "spectrums" (which they wanted) or "spectra" (which was then the norm in technical discussions of acoustics, and remains so). In a comment, rpsms noted that

Newton arguably "revived" the word spectrum (at least in scientific work) in "Optiks" and I note that he uses "spectrums." "Spectra" does not seem to appear at all in the printed work.

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Japanese periodic table versus Chinese periodic table

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce.]

As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words." Here are two pictures, copy/pasted from Google Images: First, the Japanese periodic table, then the Chinese periodic table. I apologize for the tiny font, but notice how, in the Japanese periodic table, the symbol 'S' has the word for sulfur (硫黄) under it. That pair of kanji, Romanized as iō, is simply an annotation of the international symbol, S, not meant to 'compete with' S. (Glance also at the very long katakana items that appear elsewhere, e.g., for the element Sc or Mt. The nuance that I'm driving at will become clear after you compare the Chinese periodic table further down, and see how S, Sc, and Mt are handled there. No need to know any Chinese or Japanese at all to see what's afoot here.)


(source)

[click to embiggen]

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Spectrums

Reading the comments on Sunday's post about verb agreement with data ("Scientist spotting",5/22/2022), I was reminded of a long-ago tussle about a different aspect of Latin morphology in English borrowings. What's the plural of spectrum? Is is "spectra" or "spectrums"?

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Scientist spotting

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Further mystification of the Japanese writing system

"Baby Pikachu? Japan panel weighs accepting unconventional readings of kanji for names"

KYODO, STAFF REPORT
The Japan Times (May 19, 2022)

What’s in a name? In Japanese, that’s complicated.  [VHM:  You can say that again!  One of the hardest tasks in my graduate training as a Sinologist was learning how to pronounce Japanese proper nouns correctly.  This is one of the reasons I wrote the dictionary described in this post.]

An advisory body to the justice minister has compiled a draft proposal on whether and how to accept — and record on the family register — unconventional kanji readings of names for newborns and naturalized citizens. In one cited example of so-called kirakira (sparkly) names, it would be acceptable for the kanji characters 光宙 read as pikachū, which could be a hit for fans of the Pokemon universe.

The proposal is part of the ministry’s push for digitalization of the family register, an effort that would be better facilitated by adding hiragana and katakana readings to kanji names.

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Tarim harps; pitch, tones, scales, modes, instruments, and their names

[This is a guest post by Sara de Rose, responding to requests for more information on the subject prompted by her previous post.]

This post discusses a possible connection between the Mesopotamian tonal system, documented on cuneiform tablets that span over 1000 years (from 1800 BC to 500 BC), and the musical system of ancient China. For a more detailed discussion, see the paper "A Proposed Mesopotamian Origin for the Ancient Musical and Musico-Cosmological Systems of the West and China", Sino-Platonic Papers, 320 (December, 2021) written by myself, Sara de Rose.

Since 1996, twenty-three harps (Chinese: “konghou”) that resemble the angular harp that was invented in Mesopotamia circa 2000 BC have been found in the graves of the Tarim mummies, in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, an area of modern-day, western China. These harps date from 1000 BC to 200 BC (see photo).

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Chief Executive to be

"John Lee: What do you call the prospective Hong Kong leader who has everything?", by Tim Hamlett, Hong Kong Free Press (5/7/22)

The current status of John Lee Ka-chiu has presented one of those linguistic problems which delight retired sub editors: how do you describe a man who is clearly going to win a predetermined election?

My regular free newspaper tried “chief executive hopeful”, realised that wasn’t really capturing the reality of the situation – “chief executive certainty” would have been more accurate – and retreated the next day to “sole chief executive candidate”

A local columnist offered “chief executive-in-waiting” which captures the “not yet but definitely soon” aspect of the situation, at the risk of making Lee sound like a minor palace official, as in “lady-in-waiting”.

Foreign publications were less inhibited about the manipulations behind the scenes: one offered “the central government’s selection”, but this will hardly do for Hong Kong purposes.

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Memoirs of a Woman of Long Sentences

In the question period after my virtual talk yesterday at SHEL 12, an alert audience member asked about the outlier in a graph that I showed of average sentence length over the centuries. The outlier is marked with an arrow in the plot below, though no such arrow singled it out in the presentation:

I had been struck by the same point when I made the graph, and identified the work and author as John Cleland's 1748 epistolary novel, "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure", commonly known as Fanny Hill.

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"Please resume to your normal activities"

I'm staying for a couple of days in a hotel in NYC, in an incredibly expensive tiny room.

Last night, a few minutes past midnight, alarms went off in the hallway outside the room: very loud blats and whoops, in somewhat irregular sequences and intervals. It wasn't exactly what I expect for a fire alarm, but it was clearly meant to be alarming, so I got dressed to evacuate.

Just as I finished, a loud loudspeaker-y voice came on: "Your attention please. Your attention please."

Then more blats and whoops.

Since I didn't smell smoke, I decided to take a minute to pack up my computer and medicines, while the blats and whoops continued. But as I finished, the voice came back: "Your attention please. Your attention please. This is your safety director. We have determined that this situation is not an emergency — please resume to your normal activities."

So I got undressed again. But the (apparently recorded) voice repeated the message, interspersed with more bouts of blats and whoops, for another hour or so. It finally ended at some point between 1:30 and 2:00am, and I finally was able to go back to sleep.

But this is Language Log, not Incompetent Alarm Silencing Log, so my focus is on the unexpected (to me) preposition to in the phrase "resume to your normal activities".

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Malapropism of the month

You've probably seen this, but just in case not:

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Dynamic zero

We've been hearing about "zero Covid" since early in the year 2020.  Even though such an approach never seemed feasible to me, it was always fairly clear what the Chinese authorities meant by it:  through "public health measures such as contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantine, lockdowns, and mitigation software in order to stop community transmission of COVID-19 as soon as it is detected." (source)  In other words, "Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support" (FTTIS).

The Chinese term for such a policy is "qīng líng zhèngcè 清零政策", where "qīng 清" means "clear; clean; thoroughly; completely", "líng 零" means "zero", and "zhèngcè 政策" means "policy".  Fair enough, though, as I indicated above, I never thought that, in dealing with a communicable virus, it was a practicable approach.  Apparently, in due course, the PRC authorities — though they strove, through the most stringent application of FTTIS measures — came to the same conclusion.  Eventually, they started to refer to their modified "qīng líng 清零" ("zero [COVID]") policy as one of "dynamic zero", the Chinese for which is "dòngtài qīng líng 動態清零", where "dòngtài 動態" signifies "dynamic".  Here they lost me, because, for the life of me, I simply could not comprehend how "zero" could be "dynamic".

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Languages and cultures of Central Asia

Herewith, I wish to announce the publication of a stupendous Festschrift in honor of András Róna-Tas’s 90th birthday. 

András Róna-Tas, distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Szeged, Hungary, winner of several international prestigious prizes, has devoted his long academic career to the study of Chuvash, Turkic elements in Hungarian, Mongolic-Tibetan linguistic contacts, the Para-Mongolic language Khitan and other Central Asian languages and cultures.

This book, presented to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday, contains a collection of papers in Turkic and Mongolic Studies, with a focus on the literacy, culture, and languages of the steppe civilizations. It is organized in three sections: Turkic Studies, Mongolic Studies, and Linguistic and cultural contacts of Altaic languages. It contains papers by some of the most renowned experts in Central Asia Studies.

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xkcd on statistical language

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Donate now to help us find a cure for causality. No one should have to suffer through events because of other events."

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