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A Thousand Miles of Moonlight.

Bathrobe sent me his CJVlang post “A thousand miles of moonlight” explicating the Tang poet Li He’s “On the Frontier”; here’s part of it: The term ? sài refers to the northern borders beyond which the nomadic peoples (traditionally known as ? hú) lived. In the poem Graham translates ? hú as ‘Tartar’, which is […]

Congee: the Dravidian roots of the name for a Chinese dish

I love congee and I love the word "congee": "Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 2" (11/30/16) "Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 3" (2/25/17) Lisa Lim has written an edifying article on the subject in the South China Morning Post Magazine (11/10/17): "Where the word congee comes from – the answer may surprise you:  The dish is frequently […]

Generative linguistics and neural networks at 60

An interesting new paper by Joe Pater: "Generative linguistics and neural networks at 60: foundation, friction, and fusion": Abstract. The birthdate of both generative linguistics and neural networks can be taken as 1957, the year of the publication of seminal work by both Noam Chomsky and Frank Rosenblatt. This paper traces the development of these […]

What are the Most Spoken Languages in the World?

What are the most spoken languages in the world? This question isn't as simple as it may seem. There are a few complications that make it hard to give a precise answer: First of all, what do you mean by spoken? Do you want to rank languages...Show More Summary

All fixed for some pie

Q: I just read your “All the fixings” article about using the verb “fix” to mean “get ready” or “be ready.” It reminded me of a phrase my father used when he didn’t get a treat he was hoping to have: “I had my mouth all fixed for some pie.” A: Your father was using... ? Read More: All fixed for some pie

Who put the ‘dis-’ in ‘dissent’?

Q: I’ve told my students that “dis-” is a prefix in “dissenter.” But now I’m being told in grad school that a prefix isn’t a prefix if the rest of the word doesn’t exist. So can I still refer to “dis-” as a prefix in “dissenter”? A: The “dis-” in “dissent” and “dissenter” is indeed... ? Read More: Who put the ‘dis-’ in ‘dissent’?

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Linguistic Science and Technology in China

I just spent a few days in China, mainly to attend an "International Workshop on Language Resource Construction: Theory, Methodology and Applications". This was the second event in a three-year program funded by a small grant from the "Penn China Research & Engagement Fund". That program's goals include "To develop new, or strengthen existing, institutional […]


Once again I am rewarded for my stubbornness in pursuing my chronological crawl through Russian literature. The other day I finished Tolstoy’s ?????? [The Cossacks], and in my post about it I complained about its length and repetitiveness and concluded “at this point in their careers, I would have to say that Dostoevsky is way […]

The Tongs.

A hilarious series of tweets by Nili? @sharknoises; since it’s short, I’ll just copy the whole thing, conveniently compiled by Alon, who sent it to me: My entire life is a lie I was just eating dinner with my parents and my mom asks in Farsi for me to pass her the remote control. I […]

Record-high operatic pitch?

Zachary Woolfe, "Hyper-High Notes", NYT 11/10/2017: I wrote this week about the highest note in the history of the Metropolitan Opera, an A above high C currently being sung by Audrey Luna in Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel.” In my brief rundown of high-note history, I referred to the French soprano Mado Robin “shrilling” up […]

Ask paanwalla for direction: be Indian

From (Twitter images): Found this delightful definition of "paanwala" on BRF Dictionary: This may also be spelled as "paanwallah". Literally taken, this means "betel leaf seller". It is composed of two Hindi words, "Paan", which means "betel leaf" and "wala" (or "wallah") which means "person associated with". Betel leaf and areca nut is a […]


I was reading a review in the TLS when I came across the assertion that “In 1869 — an annus mirabilis for sexology, the ‘scientific’ study of sex — the German-born Hungarian nationalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny (born Benkert) coined the term ‘homosexual.’” I had two questions about this: what’s the deal with “Kertbeny (born Benkert),” and […]

German for Kids: 12 Helpful Online Resources to Teach Your Children German

Kids absorb new languages like a sponge. But how easy is it to teach your child German? And what are some good German resources to help? Here’s something good to know: An early start with languages can bring with it many benefits and...Show More Summary

Resistance to Changes in Grammar Is Futile!

Nicola Davis writes in the Guardian about “Detecting evolutionary forces in language change,” by Mitchell G. Newberry, Christopher A. Ahern, Robin Clark & Joshua B. Plotkin (Nature 551: 223–226): The authors of the study say that the work adds to our understanding of how language changes over centuries. “Whether it is by random chance or […]

Arabella Kushner, young ambassador of good will

New China TV, published on Nov 8, 2017: Exclusive: Donald Trump's granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing in Mandarin and reciting a part of the Three-Character Classic and ancient Chinese poems. Trump is on a three-day state visit to China. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan welcomed their U.S. counterparts with an afternoon tea […]

Tolstoy’s Cossacks.

I just finished Tolstoy’s ?????? [The Cossacks]; as with Dostoevsky’s ???????? ??????? [A Nasty Story] (see this post), the plot is easy to summarize: the spoiled, self-absorbed young aristocrat Dmitry Olenin goes to the Caucasus as an officer and falls in love with the Cossack girl Maryana, who has been promised to the Cossack Lukashka, […]

Stress, emphasis, pause, and meaning in Mandarin

In "Mandarin Janus sentences" (11/4/17), there arose the question of whether du?sh?o ?? ("how many") and du? sh?o ?? ("how few") are spoken differently.  I'm very glad that, in the comments, Chris Button recognizes that Sinitic languages can have stress.  (The same is doubtless true of other tonal languages). This is an aspect of Mandarin […]

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