Archive for April, 2023

"The age of Socratic AI"?

Or should we call it "Delphic AI"?

Alexy Khrabrov suggested both possibilities a few days ago, in "Reasonable AI — the Golden Age of AI Programming":

The emerging techniques are all around the way you construct the prompts and also chain them. Effectively, we’re plotting dialogues.

I call it the Age of Socratic AI, or Reasonable AI. We are engaging in conversations with AI that elicit meaning. We make the most basic assumption that it has the information we need and can provide it in the form we need, e.g. as an explanation or a how-to plan of action. We consider it an imperfect oracle that has to be assuaged, and asked questions in very specific ways to get the reply we need.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

The interplay between Cantonese and Mandarin as an index of sociopolitical tensions in Hong Kong

First it was the British from afar, and now it is the Chinese from the north who are imposing themselves on the people of Hong Kong.  In both cases, the imposition has been not merely political and economic, but has had important cultural and linguistic implications.  Language-wise, under which master have the Hongkongers (also known demonymically as Hong Kongers, Hongkongian, Hong Kongese, Hongkongese, Hong Kong citizens, and Hong Kong people) fared better?

This is a topic that has come up numerous times and in numerous ways on Language Log (see "Selected readings" below for a sampling of some relevant posts).  Now we have a new research article from Modern China (ISSN:  0097-7004; online ISSN: 1552-6836) that speaks to the problem from the vantage of recent data:

"The Ongoing Business of Chinese-Language Reform: A View from the Periphery of Hong Kong in the Past Half Century", by John D. Wong and Andrew D. Wong (first published online April 28, 2023)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Calling Benjamin Lee Whorf

What do a baker, a shepherd, and a drummer have in common?

You can add an orchestra conductor, Harry Potter, and a drill sergeant.

Hint: this is in French.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Diabolo: devil / yo-yo

The diabolo, sometimes called a Chinese yo-yo, is a two-headed top controlled by a string manipulated by two sticks, one attached to each end.  It is popular among jugglers.

Diabolo, commonly misspelled as diablo, was formerly also known as "the devil on two sticks" (Juggling Wiki).

In this post, I am concerned primarily with language issues and will not attempt to disentangle (if you've ever played much with a yo-yo, you'll be sensitive to this term in the present context) the evolution, relationship, and nature of the diabolo and the yo-yo.

I will begin by providing a few more or less random historical and cultural notes (the history of the diabolo / yo-yo is vastly complex), then move on to etymological observations.

"Earliest Record of Diabolo in the Chinese Classic – 帝京景物略"

International Jugglers Association (4/26/23)

Dìjīng jǐngwù lüè. Juǎn èr. Chūn chǎng”/ Liú Dòng, Yú Yìzhèng hézhù (1635 nián):  Yángliǔer huó, chōu tuóluó. Yángliǔer qīng, fàngkōng zhong. Yángliǔér sǐ, tī jiànzi

《帝京景物略.卷二.春場》/ 劉侗、於奕正合著 (1635年


“Whipping the top in the time willows revive; Playing the diabolo in the time willows green; Kicking the shuttlecock in the time willows wither.” – Imperial Capital Guidebook (1635 A.D.), Volume 2/ (translated by Mark Tsai)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Laowai (the Old Furriner) trolls the CCP

Comments (8)

Fake F*ck

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

Comparative dialectology and romanizations for North and South Korea

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

Your Language Log coverage of the North Korean news item was chilling, but pretty much what we've come to expect of that outrageous regime. If ever there was a clearer contrast between the two worlds in conflict, I've never heard of it. South Korea is now such a star on the world stage and rising so fast, it must be a bitter pill for the regime in Pyongyang to swallow! 

Just a couple of things that occurred to me, though: (1) What authorities in Pyongyang do not recognize, or concede, is that though they point to the Pyongyang dialect as the basis of their standard, that very standard itself is based upon the earlier, traditional dialect of Seoul that represented the cultural and linguistic capital of the Joseon Period (–or "Choson" period, as DPRK spelling of the word would have it). 

And (2): While on the subject of spellings, it might be worthwhile to point out that the romanization the DPRK uses is based upon the McCune-Reischauer system still used by many Western academics. But the North Korean version is actually more pragmatic than Western academic usage in that the North Koreans eliminate the annoying diacritics of McR that have long exasperated so many Western romanizers–and which Seoul academics used as one of the justifications for the new Revised system they introduced in 2000–and which they so dogmatically insist on now.  

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

Japanese book formats

Two days ago, a Penn freshman from China gifted me with a small format edition of the Guǐgǔzi 鬼谷子 (Master of Ghost Valley), a text that has long intrigued me.

Guiguzi (鬼谷子) is a collection of ancient Chinese texts compiled between the late Warring States period and the end of the Han Dynasty. The work, between 6,000–7,000 Chinese characters, discusses techniques of rhetoric. Although originally associated with the School of Diplomacy, the Guiguzi was later integrated into the Daoist canon.


Not only was I pleased by the content of the book, I was also charmed by its appearance.  Over the long decades of my career as a Sinologist, I have purchased thousands of Chinese books, but I had never seen one quite like this.  It has fine printing on good quality paper with a classy cover.  Its dimensions are small, 6 7/8ths inches (174.625 mm) by 4 1/4 inches (107.95 mm).  Published in 2015 (reissued 2019) (ISBN 978-7-101-10697-8) by the famous Chinese publishing house Zhōnghuá Shūjú 中华书局 (Chung Hwa Book Co.), it is part of a relatively new series called Zhōnghuá jīngdiǎn zhǐzhǎng wénkù 中华经典指掌文库 (Chung Hwa Classics Series for the Palm).  All the several dozen volumes in this series are premodern classics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

A new kanji for tapioca

Comments (18)


Although Google now has "about 27,700 results" for seacuterie, this word doesn't seem to have made it into any of the standard dictionaries yet. But already in 2017, Fine Dining Lovers announced ("Seacuterie, When Salami Rhymes with 'Sea-lami'") that "today’s latest craze is 'seacuterie'", and went on to survey the gastronomical metaphors involved at greater length, e.g.

Markus Glocker's octupus [sic] pastrami at Bâtard in TriBeCa (New York) is unanimously decreed to be a masterpiece which, at first sight, looks like a soppressata, but in actual fact is much more involved. This leads us into deeper waters, where fish, shellfish and mollusc-based dishes are united under the banner of seacuterie which, more often than not, draws inspiration from cold cuts, such as ham, mortadella, sausages, soppressata, n’duja [sic], and cured fatback.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

In North Korea, it's a dire crime to speak like a South Korean

But almost everybody does it.  You can barely avoid it.  Especially if you're an athlete.

"North Korea sentences 20 young athletes for ‘speaking like South Koreans’"

Skaters and skiers were caught on video using banned words while playing a game during training.

Jieun Kim, RFA (4/13/23)

The first two paragraphs of the article:

About 20 aspiring North Korean winter athletes were abruptly sentenced to three to five years of hard labor in prison camps after they were found to have used South Korean vocabulary and slang while playing a word game, sources in the country say.

It’s the latest example of authorities imposing draconian punishments to try to stamp out use of the “puppet language” and “capitalist” influences in daily life – despite the flood of illegal South Korean dramas and songs that many North Koreans secretly watch after obtaining them on thumb drives smuggled into the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Shanghainese under attack

Headline in a Hong Kong Chinese newspaper, Bastille Post 巴士的報 (4/15/23):

Shànghǎi Xújiāhuì shūyuàn yìmíng zhī zhēng shìfǒu gǎi yòng Hànyǔ Pīnyīn zhuānjiā hándié

上海徐家匯書院譯名之爭 是否改用漢語拼音專家咁䏲

"Controversy over the transcription of the name of the Xujiahui Library in Shanghai:  should it be changed to Hanyu Pinyin? Expert opinions"

Currently the name of this library at the entrance to its impressive building is "Zikawei".  What does this name signify, and why is it a matter of contention?  Put simply, "Zikawei" is the Shanghainese pronunciation of Mandarin "Xujiahui", and some nationalistic partisans are opposed to the use of Shanghainese on a public building in Shanghai.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Speech error of the week

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)