Archive for October, 2023

Speak Mandarin, not Cantonese, even in Macau

Eason Chan rebukes Chinese fans demanding he speak Mandarin at Macau concert

'I love speaking whatever way and language I want,' says Chan

By Keoni Everington, Taiwan News (2023/10/20)

Well, it looks as though we are having a clash of languages — Mandarin vs. Cantonese — right in the heartland of Cantonese.

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Hong Kong singer Eason Chan (陳奕迅) rebuffed demands by Chinese fans to speak Mandarin instead of Cantonese at a concert in Macau.

On Oct. 13, Chan kicked off his "Fear and Dreams" concert tour in Macau. As is often the case with his concerts, Chan began to casually chat in Cantonese with the audience between songs.

During the show, several Chinese audience members started to shout and boo. They repeatedly interrupted him demanding that he "Speak Mandarin!"

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"Tomato sauce" in Cantonese, with a trigger warning

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Flash mob / drive

Placed on the countertop of the coffee corner in the dining hall at Lingnan University in Hong Kong:

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Complementary water

François Lang saw this sign at the local farmers market:

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AI and slang

As someone who is particularly fond of and sensitive to vernacular (I didn't say "vulgar"), I knew it was only a matter of time before this came up.  Below is a stimulating article about the seeming inability of ChatGPT and LLMs to grasp slang as well as they do commonl language.  Every paragraph, indeed every sentence, is thought-provoking.  I encourage readers to turn to the original publication if they want more of what I have excerpted below.

Why AI Doesn’t Get Slang
And why that’s a good thing

By Caleb Madison
The Atlantic (October 28, 2023


Slang is born in the margins. In its early form, the word itself, slang, referred to a narrow strip of land between larger properties. During England’s transition from the rigid castes of feudalism to the competitive free market of capitalism, across the 14th to 17th centuries, the privatization of open farmland displaced countless people without inherited connection to the landed elite. This shift pushed people into small corridors between the recently bounded properties.

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Middle Sinitic in Indological Transcription

A fascinating, valuable new proposal from Nathan Hill:

"An Indological transcription of Middle Chinese"

Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale, 52 (2023), 40-50.


Because most Sino-Tibetan languages with a literary tradition use Indic derived scripts and those that do not are each sui generis, there are advantages to transcribing these languages also along Indic lines. In particular, this article proposes an Indological transcription for Middle Chinese.

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Sanaaq, the first novel written in Inuktitut syllabics in Canada

Long, richly illustrated, highly biographical article in CBC (10/8/23):

Writing the story of a changing North

In the 1950s, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk began Sanaaq, which would end up becoming the first novel written in Inuktitut. Her words continue to inform our understanding of Inuit life.

Shortly after receiving notice that the Norwegian author, Jon Fosse, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his writings in Nynorsk, I read the above article and learned the following:

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk was 22 years old in 1953 when Catholic missionaries in Nunavik, the Inuit homeland in what is now northern Quebec, came to her asking for help in learning her native language.

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Michael Watts just wrote this comment on another post, and I thought it was interesting enough to deserve a post of its own:

I've been wondering about a claim that appears on wiktionary. The entry for the Japanese word "midori", spelled 緑 or in older form 綠, states that the word is from Old Japanese, originally referred to buds and shoots, and experienced semantic shift into its modern meaning of the color green.

What bothers me is that the character 綠 is already defined in the shuowen jiezi, which is significantly older than Old Japanese, as referring to a color and not to a plant. So for the Japanese word to be spelled 綠, it seems to me that it must already have lacked reference to plants by the time it was being written down at all.

So… how do we know that it originally referred to buds and shoots? What kind of evidence might we have for that? If it's true, why wasn't the word spelled 芽?

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The sound of ancient Iranian languages

From Hiroshi Kumamoto:

Old Iranian Languages


Old Persian


Middle Persian







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Swedish dictionary: 140 years in the making

Patience pays off:

Official Swedish dictionary completed after 140 years

One hundred and thirty-seven full-time employees have worked on Swedish Academy Dictionary over the years since 1883

Agence France-Presse in Stockholm
Wed 25 Oct 2023


The definitive record of the Swedish language has been completed after 140 years, with the dictionary’s final volume sent to the printer’s last week, its editor said on Wednesday.

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The Sound of Ancient Languages, parts 1 and 2

0:00 Etruscan 

0:39 Sumerian 

1:25 Ancient Greek 

2:24 Urartian

3:24 Avestan 

3:50 Egyptian 

4:41 Akkadian 

5:34 Sanskrit

6:33 Hittite 

7:31 Latin 

8:28 Phoenician 

9:14 End

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Frater studiorum: Tsu-Lin Mei (1933-2023)

It is with deep sadness that I report the passing on October 14, 2023 of Tsu-Lin Mei, professor of Chinese historical linguistics at Cornell University.  Tsu-Lin was born on February 14, 1933 at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing. He received his B.A. from Oberlin College in 1954, his M.A. (in Mathematics) from Harvard in 1955, and his Ph.D. (in Philosophy) from Yale in 1962. He joined Cornell in 1971 as Associate Professor of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, chaired the Department of Asian Studies, directed the China-Japan Program (the East Asia Program), and was the Hu Shih Professor from 1994 to his retirement in 2001.  After retiring from Cornell, he served as a visiting professor at Stanford University, Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, National Taiwan University, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, among others.

He was elected to Academia Sinica in Taiwan in 1994.

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"Calling all linguists"

Kevin Drum, "Calling all linguists", 10/20/2023:

You know what I'd like? I'd like a qualified linguist with a good ear to listen to a Joe Biden speech and report back.

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time doing this, and Biden's problem is that his speech really does sound a little slurred at times. My amateur conclusion was that he had problems enunciating his unvoiced fricatives, which suggests not a cognitive problem but only that his vocal cords have loosened with age.

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