The pain of pronouncing Mandarin "guóqí" ("national flag") for a Mongolian child

09/12/2020 Look ‼️ How Chinese teacher is torturing our Mongolian kids in Bayangol Mongolian autonomous state in Xinjiang. China bans the Mongolian language in Xinjiang from 2017. The teacher is visibly frustrated trying to make a Mongolian child pronounce a Chinese expression and make him recognize Chinese nationalistic emblems. Southern Mongolia is under Chinese occupation just like Tibet and Uyghur.

Posted by Unimunkh Uriankhai on Sunday, September 13, 2020

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Mandarin tongue twister

Trending on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website:

[So as not to give anything away, all syllables are separated and not divided into words.]

Nǐ de huò lā lā lā bù lā lā bù lā duō? Huò lā lā lā bù lā lā bù lā duō yào kàn nǐ de huò lā dé duō bù duō. Rú guǒ lā dé bù duō jiù lā nǐ de lā bù lā duō, rú guǒ lā dé duō jiù bù lā nǐ de lā bù lā duō.


Google Translate:

"Your cargo pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls, pulls more? If you pull too much, it won’t pull you.

Before turning the page, if you know Mandarin, try to parse and translate the above sentences.

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Purchase wine, buy beer

30 years ago, Don Hindle explored the idea of calculating semantic similarity on the basis of predicate-argument relations in text corpora, and in the context of that work, I remember him noting that we tend to purchase wine but buy beer. He didn't have a lot of evidence for that insight, since he was working with a mere six-million-word corpus of Associated Press news stories, in which the available counts were small:

wine beer
purchase 1 0
buy 0 3

So for today's lecture on semantics for ling001, I thought I'd check the counts in one of the larger collections available today, as an example of the weaker types of connotational meaning.

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Jipangu = Japan Country?

This was supposedly Marco Polo's word for Japan.  It has recently come back in vogue for films, games, etc.  It would seem that "Jipangu" (also spelled "Zipangu") is cognate with Jap. Nihonkoku / Nipponkoku, Ch. Rìběnguó 日本國, Kor. Ilbon-guk, Viet. Nhật Bản Quốc , but in none of the Chinese topolects I'm aware of does it sound quite like that.  Certainly it would not work for the southern or other topolects that have an entering tone final -k (or some -t) for the last of the three syllables.  Ditto for Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Even the Sinitic topolects without an entering tone final don't have the right vowel shape / quality at the end to match the -u of Jipangu.

Maybe Marco Polo got it from Persian, the lingua franca of international diplomacy in his time.  Could it be that the phonotactics of Persian could not tolerate / represent any of the Sinitic topolectal forms of 國 directly but transformed one of them into something that sounded to Marco Polo like -gu?

Did Marco Polo get "Jipangu" from the Mongols?  If so, from whom did the Mongols get it?

Wiktionary entry for 日本國.

Wiktionary entry for .

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Image search results

Yesterday my wife challenged me to identify the person in a photo she sent. I decided to cheat, by using Google Image Search — and the results were very strange.

We've posted often about weird AI behavior in Speech-to-Text and Machine Translation and other NLP applications. Image processing has its own litany of weirdness, which is not often a topic here for obvious reasons. But this case does have a linguistic aspect, namely the cited links…

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Alphabetical storage, ordering, and retrieval

We just had a good discussion about a Sinitic language written with an alphabet:

"The look, feel, and sound of Dungan language" (10/15/20)

Under "Selected readings" below, there are listed additional earlier posts about writing Sinitic languages with Romanization.

One of the major advantages of the alphabet over a morphosyllabic / logographic ideopicto-phonetic writing system like the Sinographic script is that it is very easy to order and find / retrieve the entire lexicon with the former, whereas carrying out these tasks with the latter is toilsome at best and torturesome at worst.  See:

Victor H. Mair, "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects", Sino-Platonic Papers, 1 (February, 1986), 1-31 pp.

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World's worst superhero

From John pitchford's Twitter feed (@Johnnypapa64):

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"As best as we could have hoped for"

Scott Bixby & Asawin Suebsaeng, "The Biden and Trump Shows: It’s Mr. Rogers Vs. ‘Someone’s Crazy Uncle’", The Daily Beast 10/15/2020:

“He didn’t spend the whole time yelling, he didn’t piss himself… so this was as best as we could have hoped for,” said one Trump campaign adviser.

Someone asked me about the "as best as" construction, and I was able to refer them to a 15-year-old post, "Asbestos she can", 12/29/2005.

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The look, feel, and sound of Dungan language

Here are a couple of YouTube videos by way of example:

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Dialectology in 2020

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Trefoils across Eurasia: the importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 4

Hour-long video:  "A Sacred Emblem: Trefoil in Early Korean Metalwork and Beyond":

October 8, 2020 – Trefoil or “three-leaved plant” is a stylized form found in artifacts and architecture across culture and time. Dr. Minjee Kim begins the story with her first encounter with a gold headdress ornament of the Balhae kingdom (698-926) and traces the migration of its trefoil form throughout the 4th-6th century across Asia. Then, she travels to France, where “fleur-de-lis” adorned French crowns, clothing, textiles, and furniture as a symbol of royalty, leading to its wide contemporary appropriation by many Western institutions. The journey ends with the long and rich tradition in Kyrgyzstan where the motif is still strongly embedded in various realms of material culture of the people. While offering a view on Korean artifacts within a wider context of material resonance in human history, Dr. Kim highlights the way these artifacts adorned the body and how the craftsmanship was employed to articulate the social hierarchy.

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Why "deep learning" (sort of) works

A recent SMBC implicitly calls Aristotelian taxonomies into question:

Mouseover title: "Like look at these leaves. 14 oakitudes, minimum."

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Deformed blocks

From Graeme Orr:

I found this children’s toy at a local newsagency.  The manufacturer has the class to ape Lego and Minions, but not to hire an English translator.

I wonder what went awry.  ‘Deformed’ might connote blocks that can take any form?

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