Laputan Logic
Friday, November 29, 2002
  The stone balls of Costa Rica
From the FAQ Where are the balls found? They were originally found in the delta of the Térraba River, also known as the Sierpe, Diquís, and General River, near the towns of Palmar Sur and Palmar Norte. Balls are known from as far north as the Estrella Valley and as far south as the mouth of the Coto Colorado River. They have been found near Golfito and on the Isla del Caño. Since the time of their discovery in the 1940s, these objects have been prized as lawn ornaments. They were transported, primarily by rail, all over Costa Rica. They are now found throughout the country. There are two balls on display to the public in the U.S. One is in the museum of the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The other is in a courtyard near the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. How were they made? The balls were most likely made by reducing round boulders to a spherical shape through a combination of controlled fracture, pecking, and grinding. The granodiorite from which they are made has been shown to exfoliate in layers when subjected to rapid changes in temperature. The balls could have been roughed out through the application of heat (hot coals) and cold (chilled water). When they were close to spherical in shape, they were further reduced by pecking and hammering with stones made of the same hard material. Finally, they were ground and polished to a high luster. This process, which was similar to that used for making polished stone axes, elaborate carved metates, and stone statues, was accomplished without the help of metal tools, laser beams, or alien life forms. Who made them? The balls were most likely made by the ancestors of native peoples who lived in the region at the time of the Spanish conquest. These people spoke Chibchan languages, related to those of indigenous peoples from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia. Their modern descendants include the Boruca, Téribe, and Guaymí. These cultures lived in dispersed settlements, few of which were larger than about 2000 people. These people lived off of fishing and hunting, as well as agriculture. They cultivated maize, manioc, beans, squash, pejibaye palm, papaya, pineapple, avocado, chile peppers, cacao, and many other fruits, root crops, and medicinal plants. They lived in houses that were typically round in shape, with foundations made of rounded river cobbles. How old are they? Stone balls are known from archaeological sites and buried strata hat have only pottery characteristic of the Aguas Buenas culture, whose dates range from ca. 200 BC to AD 800. Stone balls have reportedly been found in burials with gold ornaments whose style dates from after about AD 1000. They have also been found in strata containing sherds of Buenos Aires Polychrome, a pottery type of the Chiriquí Period that was made beginning around AD 800. This type of pottery has reportedly been found in association with iron tools of the Colonial period, suggesting it was manufactured up until the 16th century. So, the balls could have been made anytime during an 1800-year period. The first balls that were made probably lasted for several generations, during which time they could have been moved and modified.
More pictures of the stone balls of Costa Rica 
Thursday, November 28, 2002
  Is Korean a language isolate or is it related to neigbouring languages like Japanese, Manchurian or Mongolian. Certainly it has affinities with all of these languages and with a bunch of other languages that spread right across the Central Asian landmass, even as far as Turkey. But whatever it is, it sure as hell isn't Chinese.
The Korean Language Spoken by about 60 million people, Korean ranks among the major languages of the world. Although most speakers of Korean live on the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands, more than three million are scattered throughout the world on every continent. The origin of the Korean language is as obscure as the origin of the Korean people. In the 19th century when Western scholars "discovered" the Korean language, this was the first question they raised. These scholars proposed various theories linking the Korean language with Ural-Altaic, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Dravidian Ainu, Indo-European and other languages. Among these, only the relationship between Korean and Altaic (which groups the Turkic, Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus languages) on the one hand and between Korean and Japanese on the other have continuously attracted the attention of comparative linguists in the 20th century. Altaic, Korean and Japanese exhibit similarities not only in their general structure, but also share common features such as vowel harmony and lack of conjunctions, although the vowel harmony in old Japanese has been the object of dispute among specialists in the field. Moreover, it has been found that these languages have various common elements in their grammar and vocabulary. Although much work remains to be done, research seems to show that Korean is probably related to both Altaic and Japanese.
Like many other nations Koreans imported literacy from China, adapting its ideographic writing clumsily to their own very different language. The results were far from satisfactory but in 1443 in a flash of supreme rationality - a rare thing in the history of these things - the Koreans independently invented an alphabet which could simply and accurately express every word in their language and those of their neighbours as well.
The Korean alphabet Hangul, the modern name of the Korean alphabet, was invented by people who used classical Chinese every day to write. This influenced very much the graphical outlook of the characters. While it is an alphabet, with letters, Korean consonants and vowels are not aligned in a linear fashion as you would expect from an alphabetic writing system, but each syllable is grouped into a square, to match the footprint of sinograms. Here's an example: you can see on the right that the word hangûl has six letters, grouped in two squares-syllables. The vowel in the first syllable, a, is vertical, so h is in the north-west corner, and n is more or less in the center of the bottom part. On the other hand, û is horizontal, so g and l are centered on the top/bottom of the square. This is the basic foundation of the writing system, and once you've understood that, it is just a matter of memorizing the shapes of the letters.
from Han-gul was created under King Sejong during the Choson Dynasty (1393-1910). in 1446, the first Korean alphabet was proclaimed under the original name Hunmin chong-um, which literally meant "the correct sounds for the instruction of the people." The founding of the Korean alphabet
King Sejong, the creator of Han-gul, is considered to be one of the greatest rulers in the history of Korea. Highly respected for his benevolent disposition and diligence, King Sejong was also a passionate scholar whose knowledge and natural talent in all fields of study astounded even the most learned experts. When he was not performing his official duties, King Sejong enjoyed reading and meditating. He could also be very tenacions at times and would never yield on what he thought was right. Love for the people was the cornerstone of his reign, and he was always ready to listen to the voices of the common folk. His was a rule of virtue, with the welfare of the people dictating all policy formulations. King Sejong also established the Chiphyonjon, an academic research institute, inside the palace walls. Noted to engage in lively discussions and also to publish a variety of quality books. During his reign, King Sejong always deplored the fact that the common people, ignorant of the complicated Chinese characters that were being used by the educated, were not able to read and write. He understood their frustration in not being able to read or to communicate their thoughts and feelings in written words. Read more about how Hangul works
Preface to Hunmin Chongum King Sejong 1446 "The sounds of our language differ from those of Chinese and are not easily communicated by using Chinese graphs. Many among the ignorant, therefore, though they wish to express their sentiments in writing, have been unable to communicate. Considering this situation with compassion, I have newly devised twenty-eight letters. I wish only that the people will learn them easily and use them conveniently in their daily life." Postscript to Hunmin Chongum Just as there are enunciations that are natural to heaven and earth, there must also be writing that is natural to heaven and earth. It is for this reason that the ancients devised letters corresponding to enunciations so as to convey the situations and sentiments of myriad things and to record the ways of heaven, earth, and men so that they cannot be changed by later generations. Yet climates and soils in the four corners of the world are different, and enunciations and material force are likewise diverse. In general, the languages of different countries have their own enunciations but lack their own letters, so they borrowed the Chinese graphs to communicate their needs. This is, however, like trying to fit a square handle into a round hole. How could it possibly achieve its objective satisfactorily? How could there not be difficulties? It is, therefore, important that each region should follow the practices that are convenient to its people and that no one should be compelled to follow one writing system alone. Although our country's rituals, music, and literature are comparable to those of China, our speech and language are not the same as China's. Those who studied books in Chinese were concerned about the difficulty of understanding their meaning and purport; those who administered the penal system were troubled by the difficulty in communicating the complexity of its legal texts. In the old days, Sol Chong (c. 660-730) of Silla first devised the writing system known as idu, which has been used by our government and people to this day. But all the graphs were borrowed from Chinese, and frequently there arise problems and difficulties. Not only is idu vulgar and baseless, but as a means of linguistic communication, it cannot transmit one meaning in ten thousand cases. In the winter of the year kyehae (1443), His Majesty, the king, created twenty-eight letters of the Correct Sounds and provided examples in outline demonstrating their meanings. His Majesty then named these letters Hunmin Chongum. Resembling pictographs, these letters imitate the shapes of the old seal characters. Based on enunciation, their sounds correspond to the Seven Modes in music. These letters embrace the principles of heaven, earth, and men as well as the mysteries of yin and yang, and there is nothing they cannot express. With these twenty-eight letters, infinite turns and changes may be explained; they are simple and yet contain all the essence; they are refined and yet easily communicable. Therefore, a clever man can learn them in one morning while a dull man may take ten days to study them. If we use these letters to explain books, it will be easier to comprehend their meanings. If we use these letters in administering litigations, it will be easier to ascertain the facts of a case. As for rhymes, one can easily distinguish voiced and voiceless consonants; as for music and songs, twelve semitones can be easily blended. They can be used whatever and wherever the occasion may be. Even the sounds of wind, the cries of cranes, the crowing of roosters, and the barking of dogs can all be transcribed in writing.
Opposition to the Korean Alphabet In 1444, Choe Malli, First Counselor in the Hall of Worthies, and his associates offered the following:
We humbly believe that the invention of the Korean script is a work of divine creation unparalleled in history. There are, however, some questionable issues we wish to raise for Your Majesty's consideration.
  1. Ever since the founding of the dynasty, our court has pursued the policy of respecting the senior state with utmost sincerity and has consistently tried to follow the Chinese system of government. As we share with China at present the same writing and the same institutions, we are startled to learn of the invention of the Korean script. Some claim that the Korean script is based on old writings and is not a new alphabet at all. Although the letter shapes are similar to the old seal letters, the use of letters for phonetic value violates ancient practice and has no valid ground. If this becomes known to China and anyone argues against it, it would disgrace our policy of respecting China.
  2. Although winds and soils vary from region to region, there has been no separate writing system for local dialects. Only such peoples as the Mongolians, Tanguts, Jurchens, Japanese, and Tibetans have their own writings. But this is a matter that involves the barbarians and is unworthy of our concern. It has been said that the barbarians are transformed only by means of adopting the Chinese ways; we have never heard of the Chinese ways being transformed by the barbarians. Historically, China has always regarded our country as the state that has maintained the virtuous customs bequeathed by the sage-king Kija and has viewed our literature, rituals, and music as similar to its own. Now, however, our country is devising a Korean script separately in order to discard the Chinese, and thus we are willingly being reduced to the status of barbarians. This is like abandoning the fragrance of storax in favor of the obnoxious odor of mantis. Is this not a great embarrassment to the enlightened civilization?
  3. Although the idu writing devised by Sol Chong of Silla is vulgar and rustic, it uses the graphs widely used in China as auxiliaries to our tongue, and hence the graphs are not different from the Chinese. Therefore, even the clerks and the servants sincerely want to study the Chinese graphs. At first they read several books to acquire a rough understanding of the Chinese graphs; only then are they able to use the idu. Those who use the idu must depend upon the Chinese graphs to communicate their ideas, and a number of people become literate through the use of the idu writing. Therefore, the idu is a useful aid in stimulating learning. If the Korean script is widely used, the cleric officials will study it exclusively and neglect scholarly literature. If they discover that knowledge of the twenty-(eight) letter Korean script is sufficient for them to advance in their official careers, why would they go through agony and pain to study the principles of Neo-Confucianism? If such a situation lasts several decades, then surely the people who understand the Chinese graphs would be reduced to a very small number. Perhaps they could manage their clerical affairs using the Korean script, but if they do not know the writings of the sages, they will become ignorant and unable to distinguish right from wrong.
This Korean script is nothing more than a novelty. It is harmful to learning and useless to the government. No matter how one looks at it, one cannot find any good in it.
His Majesty, having read the memorandum, responded to Choe Malli and his associates as follows:
You said that the use of letters for phonetic value violates the old practices. Is not the idu of Sol Chong also based on alien sounds? Is not the main objective of devising the idu to make it useful to the people? You and your associates believe the work of Sol Chong to be good, yet you reject the work of your sovereign. Why? What do you know about the book of rhymes? Do you know how many vowels there are in the Four Tones and Seven Sounds? If I do not correct the book of rhymes now, who is going to do it?
Choe Malli thinks to himself: Oh...fuck... 
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
  The Perils of Reading Chinese, Japanese and Korean Characters in English In an interesting essay, George Leonard discusses the problems of transliterating Asian languages into the English. In the process he discusses the more noteworthy features of each of these languages and their various writing systems. In an ironic twist of translation, this essay has been so poorly OCR'ed on to the website that a lot of it ended up being unreadable. I've included a cleaned up version of the section on Chinese here.
One of the most respected English professors in the world once remarked confidently to an audience, that he had become more multicultural, and had recently been reading Qing Dynasty poetry. He pronounced it, Kwing. Presumably he thought the Qing Dynasty and the Ch'ing Dynasty were two different dynasties. They are not, and they are both pronounced, simply, Ching. Why the bizarre spellings then? Spellings so unexpected they confuse even great scholars? Students will not get far if they think Qing and Ch'ing are different eras. In this essay I address myself to the professor who will have to deal, as soon as books are assigned, with this pedagogical emergency. I will deal with Chinese, then with Japanese and Korean romanizations-- the three most populous groups of Asian Americans with transliterated old country languages. The colonial heritage makes it unnecessary to devote similar attention to the Filipino or Vietnamese. Colonialism led the Philippines to use a romanization worked out by the Spanish; and led Vietnam to use a romanization (called quoc ngu) worked out by a French missionary, Alexander de Rhodes, in 1651, and enforced by the French when they closed the China-oriented civil service schools earlier in this century. Vietnam is the only country in Asia using romanized letters1. Thai's situation will be more understandable when we know Korea's. Chinese Not only "Ch'ing" and "Qing," but "Zhou" and "Chou" are the same dynasty as well, and the latter two are both pronounced like the English name "Joe." As American students move from book to book during an introductory course, they become confused, as Zhou in one book changes to Chou in another, and all the philosophers, titles of books and names of artists shift under their eyes. If only for that reason, when studying Chinese topics, the professor must start the class by identifying which system of "romanization" he or she will use-- and insist the class follow it. He or she should also insist, when the reading is assigned, on the whole class using one translation only-- if only to avoid orthographic confusion. The problem: there currently is (and perhaps can never be) a good "romanization" of Chinese-- a method of spelling out Chinese sounds into our alphabet. The older, still most widely used version, the Wade-Giles romanization, is so bad it's comic. Its defenders argue, at best, that it was conceived back when Asian studies was the province of specialists and experts, who had the time to learn Wade Giles's fine distinctions. Others, less charitable, actually have hinted that Wade and Giles were not unhappy about how convoluted their romanization was, for it meant that only professional Chinese scholars like themselves would ever pronounce the Chinese sounds correctly. For instance, the most important virtue for Confucius is spelled, in Wade-Giles, "jen." American readers pronounce it, naturally, like the first syllable of Jennifer. How do you think that "j" is supposed to be pronounced? Were they thinking of "j" in German, pronounced like "y"? No. As in Spanish, like "h"? No luck. Wade Giles used a "j" as their symbol for the "r" sound at the beginning of words like "rip." The Confucian term is pronounced "ren." Watch how the damage unfolds. Wade and Giles have used up the letter "j" to mean "r." How will they spell the name of the Taoist philosophic classic, which is pronounced Dao de Jing? They have used up the "j". So for the j sound they use... "ch". Why? I've no idea. They have to spell Dao de Jing as "Tao te Ching." They also, you'll notice, chose for some reason to spell the "d" sound with a "t." Generations of Americans have called the Dao the "Tao" (and soybean cake, dofu, "tofu." ) To recap, having used up "j" on the "r" sound, they then-- for the "J" sound-- used up "ch." So be it. But they're only painting themselves further into the corner. Having used up "ch" how can they spell the dynasty whose name starts with the "ch" sound, the Ching dynasty? Their amazing solution: when they print "ch" with an apostrophe in front of it, just say it the way you normally would. So the Ching dynasty they write Ch'ing. Everyone, naturally, sees that strange apostrophe, thinks the Chinese must pause for a second in the middle of the word; and everyone says "Ch... ing", two separate sounds. But all the apostrophe means is, "this "Ch" you shouldn't say as "j" but the way you usually say ch." If you must resort to an apostrophe, wouldn't it have made more sense to add the odd apostrophe when you're not supposed to say it the way you normally would? Why should the odd spelling symbolize the normal pronunciation? Alas, the name of the country was China, and the language, Chinese. According to their logic, Wade and Giles should now ask us to spell those two words "Ch'ina" and "Ch'inese." At this point Wade and Giles threw in the towel and said, "But go on spelling China and Chinese the way they've always been spelled, even though it violates our system." Chaos. The proof that Wade Giles has been a catastrophe is that many authors felt they had the right, even the duty, to make up a simpler system of their own. Then, in the 1950s, the Communists developed a new romanization called Hanyu Pinyin (or "pinyin" for short ) which avoids many of the Wade Giles problems, and is increasingly used throughout the West. Pinyin is better, and is becoming standard in newer books. Ren is, mercifully, ren, not "jen." But , as Molly Isham explains, there are still six symbols that Americans find difficult: Q like 'ch' in 'cheese'; X like 'sh' in 'sheep'; Z like 'ds' in 'beds'; C like 'ts' in 'cats'; Zh like 'dg' in 'edge'; E like the 'e' in 'the' when it appears before a consonant. That is how the Ch'ing Dynasty became the Qing Dynasty and befuddled the famous professor. That is why Chou in an old book is Zhou in the newer ones, and it's still pronounced Joe. (Even closer than a J, would be the harsh grinding sound made at the start of the name George.) All these romanizations, from Wade-Giles to Pinyin, only capture the way one of the eight main Chinese languages pronounce these words: putonghua, the language of the North, of Beijing, of the Emperor's city, and his ruling class-- the language we call "Mandarin." It is more accurate to say that "Chinese" is the name of a language family, like the "Romance" language family. Cantonese is as far from Mandarin as Spanish is from French. A 1955 PRC government conference estimated that 71.5% of Chinese spoke Mandarin, while the second most common fangyan, "regional speech", accounted for only 8.5% and behind that came Cantonese with only 5%. Pinyin does not represent the sounds of any language but Mandarin. (Among American Chinese, however, Mandarin isn't the most common. Until recently, ninety five percent of American Chinese came from the six counties around the southern seaport of Canton, or Guangdong, and the language there was primarily Guangdonghua, which we call Cantonese. Toishanese was spoken a lot nearby, as well, and is in the United States as a consequence.) But everyone in China has to study Mandarin in school, and all now learn pinyin as well as Chinese characters. Mao decided some central language, some lingua franca was needed, and decreed it would be Mandarin, the language of the Northern majority and of the capital. To further complicate matters, Chinese dialects within the languages are further apart than dialects within English. It is only as far from Beijing to Shanghai as from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but the difference in their Mandarin is about as wide as the difference between the English spoken in California and in Scotland. I've watched Shanghaiese listen to a Beijingese, slowly repeat what they'd heard, mulling over the sounds, then suddenly exclaim "Ai-ya!" and understand. Worst, all the Chinese languages (or "regionalects," to use a more precise term) are tonal languages, and the same sound, said four different ways, means four things. Two different tones, two different words: the difference between Oh? and Oh! Pinyin tries to cope with the tones by using a series of accent marks but American books often omit them as just too much to handle. That means, however, that you'll read of Confucius's love for li, courtesy/ritual, and a few pages later of his opponent's (the Law and Order School's) belief in li, force. Confucius's li was said like a skeptical "li?" and his opponents' li was said like an emphatic "li!" The two tones make two different words-- indeed, two opposing philsophies! To avoid conflicting romanizations, the professor, if books are assigned, should insist the class all work from one translation. There's another reason. Chinese translations can legitimately differ from each other much more widely than two translations from, say, French into English, legitimately can. Here are two translations from the Tao te Ching, chapter 6: The valley spirit never dies; It is the woman, primal mother. Her gateway is the root of heaven and earth. (Feng and English) The Valley Spirit never dies. It is named the Mysterious Female. And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang. (Arthur Waley) Is the valley spirit "primal mother" or Mysterious Female? There's a difference! In the first translation, her gateway "is", present tense, right now, the root of heaven and earth. But in the second, the Tao seems to be talking about a cosmic event long ago, the origin of "Heaven and Earth," some sort of creation myth: "the Doorway of the Mysterious Female is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang." Yet neither translation is wrong. The Chinese text permits both of them, and indeed, many others. It has to do with the great differences between Chinese and English. Chinese has no plurals, no "a" or "the", often avoids verbs, and has only the present tense. You put time first in a sentence to specify when something happened. We sometimes do that too: "Yesterday I'm walking along the road and I see a girl walking toward me." The Chinese say that, in effect, to create a past tense. To create a future tense, they say something like, "Tomorrow, I am walking along a road and I see a girl walking toward me." So literary texts can justifiably be translated many different ways. The Chinese sentence to be translated literally says, "He/she/it says/said/will say to him/her/it...." and the translator has to pick the sense that makes the most sense. Pick one translation; be aware from the start which romanization it uses; compare it with other translations if it seems odd. Chinese affords tremendous room for interpretation and many translators take advantage of it. Be particularly wary if the translation seems surprisingly trendy. Chinese gives plenty of room for a translator who's grinding some axe to turn ancient Chinese sexists into feminists, or pacifists, or whatever the soup du jour is. (Stephen Mitchell of Berkeley comes to mind.) Watch out for "orientalism," for hippie translations full of mystic magic mumbo jumbo, and, equally obnoxious, for yuppie translation that turn old generals Sun Tse into CEO's giving tips on how to run an office.
1 - That's not really true, in addition to Vietnam and the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also use the roman alphabet - JH.  
  Thought-like emission of the day Soo Ling told me the other day that laputan means "report" in Malay. That made me think that I should have called this blog Laputan Laputan but then again repeating a word like that in Malay is how one makes a plural, so I guess that would then just translate as "Reports". 
Monday, November 25, 2002
  Maps of the Roman Empire from 1 AD until the fall of Byzantium This site has simply the most exquisite colour maps of the Roman Empire I have been able to find anywhere on the net. If you thought the Empire ended when the Goths sacked Rome in 476, then think again. Technically, the Roman Empire ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. These maps cover everything in between including the rise of the Carolingian Holy Roman Empire. I actually found these maps some years ago, but then lost track of the link. Thankfully, I was able to use Google's image search to relocate them. Each map is about 250 KB.

Here they are for your viewing convenience:
1 AD 100 AD 200 AD 300 AD 400 AD 500 AD 600 AD 700 AD 800 AD 900 AD 1000 AD 1100 AD 1200 AD 1300 AD 1400 AD 1500 AD reposted from the Collaboratory  
Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

October 06, 2002 / October 13, 2002 / October 20, 2002 / October 27, 2002 / November 03, 2002 / November 10, 2002 / November 17, 2002 / November 24, 2002 / December 01, 2002 / December 08, 2002 / December 15, 2002 / December 22, 2002 / December 29, 2002 / January 05, 2003 / January 12, 2003 / January 19, 2003 / January 26, 2003 / February 02, 2003 / February 09, 2003 / February 16, 2003 / March 02, 2003 / March 09, 2003 / March 16, 2003 / March 23, 2003 / March 30, 2003 / April 13, 2003 / April 20, 2003 / April 27, 2003 / May 04, 2003 / May 11, 2003 / May 18, 2003 / May 25, 2003 / June 01, 2003 / June 08, 2003 / June 15, 2003 / June 22, 2003 / June 29, 2003 / July 06, 2003 / July 13, 2003 / July 20, 2003 / July 27, 2003 / August 03, 2003 / August 31, 2003 / September 07, 2003 / September 21, 2003 / September 28, 2003 / October 05, 2003 / October 19, 2003 /

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