Archive for March, 2024

Sound over symbol (and meaning)

Zach Hershey called to my attention a phenomenon about the relationship between speech and writing (and meaning) that I long suspected might well be true, and I even collected plentiful evidence in support of it, but I was never absolutely certain that it was true, namely, that in many cases speakers of Sinitic languages have in mind sounds over characters.  Now, with information provided by Zach, we have proof that Sinitic speakers in some cases are indeed thinking of sounds separately (apart from) hanzi.

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When "irrelevant" is not "not relevant"

Evan Boehs, "Everything I Know About the Xz Backdoor", 3/29/2024:

In April 2022, Jia Tan submits a patch via a mailing list. The patch is irrelevant, but the events that follow are.

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Cucurbits and junk characters

Christopher Rea came to Penn a few weeks ago and delivered this lecture:

"From Zhuangzi’s Gourd to Cinderella’s Pumpkin:  Gua 瓜 as a Vehicle for the Imagination"


The Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi tells us that one remedy for a lack of imagination is to take your gourd for a ride. Confucius makes a point about usefulness by comparing himself to a calabash. Gua —which include gourds, melons, pumpkins, squash, and bitter melon—abound in Chinese philosophy, art, poetry, historiography, and storytelling, notably in late imperial novels such as Jin Ping MeiJourney to the West, and Story of the Stone. Why? Christopher Rea argues that gua have several qualities that account for their enduring popularity in the figurative imagination, including their sound, shape, seasonality, variety, and abundance.

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Bronze, writing, and communication in the ancient Caucasus

The Archaeology of Ancient Southwest Asia: Investigating the Human Past in the Vedi River Valley of Armenia

Professor Peter Cobb
School of Humanities
The University of Hong Kong

Date and Time: April 9, 2024 | 12:30-1:30 pm (HKT) / April 8, 2024 | 9:30-10:30 pm (PDT)
Venue: Lecture Hall at May Hall, HKU

Join us in person at May Hall or via Zoom using the following link:

(Light refreshments will be served for those attending the seminar in person)

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PP attachment ambiguity of the day

Chrisma Madarang, "Man Accusing CPAC Chair Matt Schlapp of Sexual Assault Was Paid $480,000: Report", Rolling Stone 3/27/2024:

Huffman claimed Mrs. Schlapp attempted to “impugn” his character in her response to the allegations against her husband, calling him a “troubled individual,” and alleged he had been dismissed from the campaign after lying on his resume in a group chat with neighbors.

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Cetacean needed

From Philip Taylor:

A nice pun on Wikipedia’s ubiquitous "citation needed"

Wikipedia's list of cetaceans, which reads (in part):

Tamanend's bottlenose dolphin Tursiops erebennus
Cope, 1865
NE Unknown     [cetacean needed]

Lovely pun indeed!

Tamanend's bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops erebennus) is a species of bottlenose dolphin that inhabits coastal waters in the eastern United States. This species was previously considered a nearshore variant of the common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus.


Tamanend's bottlenose dolphin does indeed belong to the Infraorder Cetacea.

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Codices of Tetepilco

From Tlacuilolli*, the blog about Mesoamerican writing systems, by Alonso Zamora, on March 21, 2024:

*At the top left of the home page of this blog, there is a tiny seated figure (click to embiggen) with a sharp instrument held vertically in his right hand carving a glyph on a square block held in his left hand.  Emitting from his mouth is a blue, cloud-like puff.  Does that signify recognition the basis of what he is writing is speech?

"New Aztec Codices Discovered: The Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco"

They are beautiful:

Figure 1. Codices of San Andrés Tetepilco: a) Map of the Founding of San Andrés Tetepilco;
b) Inventory of the Church of San Andrés Tetepilco; c) Tira of San Andrés Tetepilco

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Kabbalistic phonetics

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China Babel

My basement is full of unpublished manuscripts.  I call it the "Dungeon", because it is dark, dank, and crowded with books and papers — much worse than my office, which has achieved a fabled reputation for its crampedness — and very cold in the winter, though it does have a wonderful bay window on the eastern side where I can look out at the flora, fauna, and foliage to rest my eyes and mind from time to time.

Three of the most significant manuscripts in the Dungeon that remained unpublished for decades are:

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"Gentle onsets" are everywhere

President Joe Biden is known for having overcome a serious stuttering problem as a child — see e.g. "Biden’s Stutter: How a Childhood Battle Shaped His Approach to Life & Politics", or "Joe Biden's history of stuttering sheds light on the condition". It also seems clear that the techniques that he developed to overcome the problem are still present in his speech today, as I discussed in "Calling all linguists", 10/21/2023. My conclusion in that article, agreeing with others more knowledgeable than I am, was that the main effect is selective lenition, probably related to what are called "gentle onset" techniques.

But what's less clear is whether this effect is different in kind from things that happen in (almost?) everyone's speech.

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Scythians between Russia and Ukraine

To situate the Scythians linguistically, before delving into their history and culture, let us begin by noting:

The Scythian languages (/ˈsɪθiən/ or /ˈsɪðiən/ or /ˈskɪθiən/) are a group of Eastern Iranic languages of the classical and late antique period (the Middle Iranic period), spoken in a vast region of Eurasia by the populations belonging to the Scythian cultures and their descendants. The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythian-speakers were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic–Caspian steppe. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was an Indo-European language, more specifically from the Iranic group of Indo-Iranic languages.


Everyone will recognize the current avatar of this ancestress of the Scythian nation:

Source:  The Mixoparthenos (half-maiden), a hybrid creature from the Black Sea, limestone sculpture, 1st-2nd century AD, from Panticapaeum, Taurica (Crimea)

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"The Three Body Problem" as rendered by Netflix: vinegar and dumplings

Basic background, from Wikipedia:

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; lit. 'Three-Body') is a story by Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin which became the first novel in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy—though the series as a whole is often referred to as The Three-Body Problem, or simply as Three-Body. The series portrays a fictional past, present and future wherein Earth encounters an alien civilization from a nearby system of three sun-like stars orbiting one another, a representative example of the three-body problem in orbital mechanics.

Nectar Gan, "Netflix blockbuster ‘3 Body Problem’ divides opinion and sparks nationalist anger in China", CNN 3/22/2024:

A Netflix adaptation of wildly popular Chinese sci-fi novel “The Three-Body Problem has split opinions in China and sparked online nationalist anger over scenes depicting a violent and tumultuous period in the country’s modern history.

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