Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2011 August 13

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August 13[edit]

Why don't the Chinese just use pinyin for writing?[edit]

Wouldn't just using pinyin make alphabetization a lot easier for children and the language much more accessible for foreigners? Do the Chinese characters have some kind of important advantage? --Belchman (talk) 01:44, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

I don't know any language (except Esperanto) that chooses its writing system to encourage ease of learning by children or foreigners. Sometimes I think quite the contrary is true or English, for example, would have cleaned up its spelling and grammar long ago. Bielle (talk) 02:04, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
(Edit Conflict) To us, the Latin characters are easy to use and make sense (well, in theory) because that's what we are used to. That doesn't mean that the Chinese necessarily would find it to be an easier system, and there are many reasons why I can think they wouldn't make the switch. It's their culture, all of their literature, texts, documents, etc is recorded with those symbols. Do you have people rewrite everything? Once people know a system, they don't want to change it. Would you want to learn a new way to write English? So while you think it would make it easier for children, it would make it much, much harder for the adults. Also, my understanding (and I have never studied the Chinese languages hardly at all, so I could be wrong), is that the symbols are independent of the spoken language, so that people who speak many different languages in China can use the same writing system. If you think about this, that would be a huge advantage, akin to everybody from England to the Soviet block being able to read and write the same stuff, while speaking their own languages. Now I could be massively overgeneralizing, as I said, I don't know hardly anything about the languages of China. As for making it accessible to the foreigners, the question would be whether that's important to the Chinese people. We certainly don't make an effort to make English easily accessible - just look at the crazy spelling standards that we use. Falconusp t c 02:09, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Mao killed some 60+ million of his people, yet he still failed at the Romanization of Mandarin Chinese. That should tell you something. μηδείς (talk) 03:31, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Because Mandarin has a lot of homophones, pinyin often leaves stuff ambiguous (although those ambiguities also exist in speech, and context usually disambiguates things). Chinese characters are also quite ingrained culturally (and some are more ingrained than others: there is a debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters, meaning that there is not even agreement on using simplified characters, much less using pinyin). If you browse I bet you'll find lots of materials about this issue; Robert Ramsey's book The Languages of China also talks about it. rʨanaɢ (talk) 03:41, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Ramsey's Languages of China is a beautiful, five-star book, by the way. μηδείς (talk) 17:08, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
During Ataturk's rule, Script for Turkish changed from Arabic to Latin in less than 2 years. Though Chinese script is different, I dont think it would take more than a decade to switch scripts if someone in power really wants to effect such a change. --nids(♂) 20:38, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Arabic and Latin are both basically alphabetic, though (or, to be more specific, neither is logographic). One of the main hangups with Chinese script is not that it's different from pinyin, but that it's logographic.
Plus, in the case of Turkey, Arabic was already a borrowed script anyway. I think many Chinese speakers feel a stronger cultural connection with Chinese characters, as it's "their own" script. rʨanaɢ (talk) 20:45, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
There was not the ballast of a large literate Turkish populace and a storied national literature to overcome. There was the impetus of European proximity and a lost empire. μηδείς (talk) 20:54, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

Once you read the poem Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den, you'll understand that Chinese just doesn't work without characters. (Some compromises might work: I'd like to see how pinyin + a radical (or -- more pretty -- bopomofo plus a radical) would play out). —Kusma (t·c) 21:02, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

Looking at the Teochow dialect version of the poem it is clear there would be no problem with ambiguity if tones were fully marked (ignoring the tone markers makes the words appear more similar to each other to an English speaker than they are to a Sinophone who sees them as distinct) and historical spellings were used which reflected etymology. This would be more complicated than pinyin, but would be possible if it is really merited.
  • sees, seas, sea's, seas' cees, cee's, cees', sis, si's, sis', seize, not to mention the nickname from Caesar: Caes, Caes' and other proper names
  • wails, wales, whales, Wales, wale's, wales' whale's whales', Wales'
μηδείς (talk) 21:43, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
I agree. The way I see it, there's not a strong linguistic region pinyin wouldn't work for writing Chinese (indeed, it is sometimes used, for instance when people are stuck at a computer that doesn't have a Chinese input method; not to mention that, as I said above, there isn't really much more ambiguity in pinyin than there is in speech). To someone who knows how to read Chinese, trying to read a lot of text in pinyin is offputting, but that's just because most of us aren't used to it. The reasons for continuing to use characters are more sociocultural than linguistic. rʨanaɢ (talk) 23:30, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
So, the Chinese are basically being idiotic for sticking to a system that requires many years of tedious work in order to memorize thousands of complex characters instead of using one - which they already know - that can be learned in a few hours. --Belchman (talk) 13:27, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
Only in the same way that we are being idiotic for sticking to a our system, and having to memorize many different pronunciations of the same characters (prove, love as one of countless examples). Their system works well for them; I doubt they want to use Pinyin for everything anymore than we want to use a logographic system for our stuff. When a society determines (and not necessarily a conscious decision) that their language no longer is effective for the way that they are using it, then the language changes, be it the writing system, grammar, or vocabulary. I am not certain, but I believe that the simplification of Chinese characters may reflect this (or it may have been for other reasons). So in short, they are not being idiotic, we are not being idiotic. Their writing system works for their language. Our writing system works for our language. English has many things I consider flaws, and I'm sure Chinese does too, but the point is that they both work, and work extremely well. Falconusp t c 13:45, 14 August 2011 (UTC)

There is some precedent for the suggestion made by the OP, however. Vietnamese was once logographic, using a variety of a Chinese scrpit, but was changed to alphabetic, using a modified Latin alphabet. — Michael J 23:58, 14 August 2011 (UTC)

Idiotic is highly unwarranted. There are plenty of valid reasons to maintain the current system, overcoming inertia is costful, the current system allows written communication between languages which are at least as different in the spoken form as French and Spanish. China will be increasingly in the position of have others accommodate to it than the reverse. And, other than making learning the IPA standard for 12 year olds, I am opposed to government imposed English spelling reforms, which would strip our language of its universality across dialects and its etymological links to its Germanic, French, Greek and Latin roots. I think simply teaching and accommodating Pinyin, which would take a year's worth of lessons at most, and allowing the culture to evolve from there makes sense. μηδείς (talk) 03:57, 15 August 2011 (UTC)

Thanks to all for your replies. --Belchman (talk) 22:53, 15 August 2011 (UTC)

Re: many years of tedious work. The fact is that constant exposure means everything. Every native reader/writer of Japanese I know has told me that it was substantially easier for them to learn to read and write kanji than to learn to spell in English. On the other hand, it's exceedingly rare for native English speakers to achieve near-native ability in reading and writing Japanese. Exploding Boy (talk) 16:09, 17 August 2011 (UTC)

Denisova hominin[edit]

The article Denisova hominin about a newly discovered human variety based on specimens found in Denisova Cave (Денисова пещера) in Siberia gives a plausible English approximation of the Russian pronunciation. Can any native speaker or person with a reliable source confirm that the stress is on the second syllable? μηδείς (talk) 03:59, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

DoesДенисова/ help?
Wavelength (talk) 05:59, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Yes, thanks. Now the hard part is saying how that should be transcribed in the relevant English language articles. μηδείς (talk) 14:45, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
See Romanization of Russian.
Wavelength (talk) 17:36, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
I meant as regards pronunciation, not spelling. The various romanization schemes all really depend on the reader knowing Russian if they are meant to be guides toward pronunciation. The big question for me would be, should we tell the reader /di'nisɘvɘ/ or /dɨ'nisɵvɘ/. Neither is proper pomoskovski, but the first is closer to the russian, the second more natural english. μηδείς (talk) 03:07, 16 August 2011 (UTC)
For answers to questions about IPA, see User talk:Kwamikagami.
Wavelength (talk) 16:38, 16 August 2011 (UTC)

John Wells posted an article on his blog about the pronunciation of Denisova, both in English and in Russian: --Schuetzm (talk) 19:50, 17 August 2011 (UTC)

That comports with our current pronunciation, just with a higher mid vowel than the schwa. Good find. μηδείς (talk) 00:21, 18 August 2011 (UTC)

Hydro fields[edit]

Is there an American word or equivalent for a hydrofield? -- 17:01, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

Canadian English is a form of American English. μηδείς (talk) 17:04, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
What makes you say that? Canadians certainly did not copy and adapt their language from America. I'm British, and nothing springs to mind. Grandiose (me, talk, contribs) 17:10, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
Your pedantry is unhelpful. It's obvious that I mean United States English, and people from the United States don't use the word "hydro" to refer to electricity. I've already asked two people I know from the United States (since we apparently can't say "American" without ambiguity despite everyone knowing what it means) and neither of them have any clue what a hydro field is or what it might be called there. Next time, either answer the question or do the right thing and shut up. -- 17:17, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
So much for your vaunted Canadian politeness! Unfortunately for your ire, Canadian English dialects are most definitely American, rather than insular. See Accents of English: Beyond the British Isles by John Christopher Wells. And we real Americans (if that's how you see us) do indeed speak of such things as hydro stations, especially in regions where they are common. Your assertion that we do not is unfounded. μηδείς (talk) 17:37, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
a) Oh boy, an attack on my national character. That'll sure cut me down to size. b) I don't care whether Canadian English is related to or derived from American English. The point is that there are obvious differences and this is one of them. c) Did you even bother to look at the Wiktionary page? In Canada, "hydro" refers to all electricity, not just that provided by hydroelectric dams, and a hydro field is not a hydro station and in fact has nothing to do with them. Despite your frantic attempts to be more correct than everyone else, you still haven't come remotely close to answering or even understanding my original question. -- 17:42, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
You are the one beginning with and continuing the insults. Yes, I have read it, and the wiktionary page you refer to is unsupported by any references, and is certainly not a reliable source in itself. Starting with that page as a given and the assumption that this phrase marks out Canadian English as special seems to be the source of the problem. A quick check of google finds terms like hydro field and hydro station attested in California, Washington, North Carolina and Vermont and even the UK. Anything else? μηδείς (talk) 17:57, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
"Hydro station" is a term used to refer to something specific to hydroelectric power, and therefore is not a localized term. "Hydro" referring to all types of power is localized, and so is "hydro field". If you had bothered to look at those Google results (as best I can gather from searching "hydro field" with the states you listed, since you didn't bother to link), you would see that none of them refer to "hydro field" as in an area of undeveloped land reserved for the purpose of electric transmission towers; in fact, most of them seem to refer to seafaring contests of some kind. Even if, like some Canadianisms, it is used in isolated regions in the United States (which I strongly doubt, having had countless American friends express bafflement at the generic use of "hydro" for electricity) that does not make it the dominant American term, which is what I'm seeking. Three of your replies later, I still have no idea whether there are commonly fields of electronic transmission towers in the US, and if so what they are called. But at least your ignorant attempts to educate me have ... oh wait, they haven't done anything useful at all. Can you please just go home and let someone else try to answer the question? -- 18:12, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
I agree that this is not a commonly used term in American English nor do I know any single term with this meaning. And my googling is apparently less skillful than Medeis because outside Canada I only seem to see it being used with a different meaning in Australia. (talk) 18:11, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
The assertion at the wiktionary page is that hydro field with the meaning hydroelectric field is only used in Canada. That is manifestly false, it is so used in the US as well. What the fact that the term can be found under a different sense in Australia has to do with the falseness of claiming the same phrase is not used in the same sense in the US has to do with anything escapes me. μηδείς (talk) 18:21, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
I'm a mature Australian who has had a fair bit of contact with the electricity industry over the years. I've never heard of the term before. What do you think it means in Australia? HiLo48 (talk) 21:46, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
But is it a common term in the US? I was under the impression that they are normally simply called "power lines" in the US. I also use that phrase in Canada - or "hydro lines", or maybe even just "towers"; actually I don't think I've ever heard "hydrofield" even though I knew what Lesath meant in the question. Adam Bishop (talk) 18:30, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
The Washington blogger complaining about the hydrofield seems only to have been quoting the barenaked ladies song without refering to actual electric lines--so I have to withdraw that as an example. But the fact remains that the claim is unsourced. μηδείς (talk) 18:31, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
back to the original topic, I don't think it's commonly used in American English at all, but I have heard the term "Utility access land" or "Utility footprint" used for the area UNDER high-power transmission lines and the strip of cleared land around them. HominidMachinae (talk) 18:35, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
I have to withdraw the Vermont examples too, one search returned words in two separate articles on the same page, the other referred to Vermont but the blogger was Canadian. All the obviously relevant examples of the overbroad sense I have been able to find are used in blogs comments by people in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. If we are specifically looking for an American example where a specific name is used too broadly (like Kleenex for tissue) I doubt such a phenomenon specifically for electric towers exists. μηδείς (talk) 18:52, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
The term would not be understood in the UK. I think Wiktionary is correct in labelling the word as (chiefly) Canadian. Dbfirs 08:44, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
A related technical term is "transmission corridor", as in National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor. I assume it would be understood by the general American (and elsewhere) public, but I doubt it is used in colloquial speech. No such user (talk) 09:26, 15 August 2011 (UTC)

i (short e) versus ə (schwa) pronunciation[edit]

I am in southeastern United States. I mention this so that you can see what answer I want.

The question: I have heard the same person say the word elastic as \i-las-tik\ and also \ə-las-tik\. The same with the word essential, etc. What is the rule here?

Also, I always seem to hear people say electron as \i-lek-tron\ and experiment as \əks-per-ə-mənt\.-- (talk) 22:36, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

See Vowel reduction. Let us know if you still have questions after reading it. --Tango (talk) 23:13, 13 August 2011 (UTC)
And, more specifically, Vowel reduction in English. --Tango (talk) 23:14, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

Do you differentiate between the vowels of pin and pen in your dialect? (Yes.-- (talk) 23:53, 13 August 2011 (UTC)) In my dialect, which differentiates between /pɪn/ and /pɛn/, words such as economy and elastic are in free variation between initial /ɛ/ and initial /i/ for citation forms while initial /ə/ can be found in connected speech. You might hear [ænɘlæstɪkweistbænd] (really a syllabic /l/) for an elastic waistband but the answer to what kind of waistband it is would only be either /ɛ'læstɪk/ > /ɨ'læstɪk/, or--from my dad especially--/'i:læstik/. Basically, in a stressed lone utterance, /'əlæstɪk/ would sound odd. μηδείς (talk) 23:36, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

I always seem to hear people say experiment as \əks-per-ə-mənt\ or \eks-per-ə-mənt\ in lieu of \iks-per-ə-mənt\. Following your rule, it should be \iks-per-ə-mənt\ in a stressed lone utterance just like elastic is \i-las-tik\, electron is \i-lek-tron\, and the word essential is \i-sen-chəl\.-- (talk) 23:52, 13 August 2011 (UTC)

Well, actually, the first syllable of experiment always rhymes with sex in a stressed situation. (It might be weakened to /ɨ/ in rapid speech.) It is not in free variation, and it differs from the above examples because it has a closed (vowel consonant [!] final) first syllable. It would never be with said an initial /i/ (ee) or /e/ (ay) or /ʌ/ (uh) which would be like eek-speriment, ache-speriment or uck-speriment. (Make sure you are not confusing the vowel symbols I am using with their English pronunciations. The symbols between slashes should be interpreted according to the IPA.) μηδείς (talk) 00:06, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
Bastards use an arbitrary ever-changing in house phonetic spelling rather than the IPA which is standard worlwide and among linguists. μηδείς (talk) 00:28, 14 August 2011 (UTC)

There is one thing I don't get: What do you mean by experiment "has a closed (vowel final) first syllable"?-- (talk) 00:15, 14 August 2011 (UTC)

I now understand what closed syllables are after reading Thank you. -- (talk) 00:20, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
Oops! I meant consonant final--big mistake. We say ee-lekshun, not eel-ekshun, but we say eks-periment, not eh-ksperiment.μηδείς (talk) 00:25, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
I am extremely grateful. By the way, the 1st syllable of extreme is a closed syllable. I will disregard \ik-ˈstrēm\ because that pronunciation doesn't match up with what I personally hear people say.-- (talk) 00:29, 14 August 2011 (UTC)
I have to assume that by the initial vowel in "\ik-ˈstrēm\" they mean the reduced /ɨ/ sound I mentioned above which is found in English an unstressed variant of similar to a /ə/ but closer to the /ɪ/ sound of pin. μηδείς (talk) 00:43, 14 August 2011 (UTC)