The story of Ithkuil

The New Yorker has a really interesting article about Ithkuil, an invented language, and John Quijada, the creator of Ithkuil: “Utopian for Beginners: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented.”


Listing more international sites with information about Taiwan

First, I was interested in the amount of coverage Taiwan received in the news media and started a list of news sites. Now, I have added a list of international organizations with information about Taiwan. It’s an ongoing look at Taiwan’s position internationally. I will keep adding sites as I find them. If you have any to add, please let me know.

An explanation of the voice-over in the animations from the “Learning Program for Stroke Order of Frequently Used Chinese Characters”

I have been using links to the Learning Program for Stroke Order of Frequently Used Chinese Characters in the “Word of the Week” posts to provide accurate pronunciations without using romanization. The audio says more than just the word, and I wanted to explain what is being said.

For the character 好, the line is: 「好,女部,三畫,共六畫,好,ㄏ,ㄠˇ,好。」 The character is pronounced. The words 女部 means the radical. 三畫 means three strokes and is the number of strokes to write the rest of character after the radical. This is basically the number of strokes to write . 共六畫 means total six strokes. This is the total number of strokes to write the entire character. The word is said again. is said, then ㄠˇ. This corresponds to the 注音符號 for pronouncing . Then is said again.

The reason the and are an important part of knowing the character is because those are the two elements used to organize the dictionary. The dictionary is divided by 部首 (radical). Once the 部首 is determined. The word is found by looking under the section for the number of (strokes) without the 部首.

Upside down and mirrored Chinese characters

After reading a few posts on Hanzi Smatter, I noticed that many errors come from the upside-down or mirrored characters. I suppose there is not much of a difference to the untrained eye. But from a language standpoint, it makes a big difference. Chinese characters need to be thought of as individual little paintings or drawings.


The pictures of the lobsters are identical. However, one picture is upside-down. The brain automatically thinks something is funny about the upside-down picture because the ice is hanging above and the bowl is upside-down. One would expect to see the ice falling in that situation. But, it is not and is registered as out of the ordinary. This is similar to what happens when a Chinese character is upside-down. It is not correct because certain parts of the character are supposed to be written above other parts.


This is the same picture, but one is flipped. In this case, the lobsters are facing different directions. A lobster can face either direction and it is normal. Unfortunately this is not the case for Chinese characters. When a character is flipped or mirrored, it no longer makes sense. Certain strokes face certain directions. Lobster image available here from Microsoft Office image gallery.

Now let’s move on to actual Chinese characters.

1 2 3 4

The first character (image 1) is the proper orientation for the character for rise. The second image (2) is the mirror image of the character. The strokes are backwards, sometimes creating strokes that do not exist naturally. When the character is mirrored, I can still read it. It’s like looking at letters through a window on the wrong side. It’s not ideal, but my brain can processes it. The upside-down character (3) and the upside-down mirrored character (4), on the other hand, cause a rather large headache. Depending on the character, I might be able to figure it out. But my initial reaction is usually that the character is written incorrectly.

I suppose that it is difficult for someone unfamiliar with Chinese to recognize characters correctly. Hopefully, after seeing more characters and becoming familiar with the different strokes, one will be able to figure out the correct orientation of characters.

My preferred Chinese-English online dictionary

Since I learned Mandarin Chinese and American English separately, I do not have an Chinese-English/English-Chinese dictionary. I have one dictionary for each language. For my latest project involving “Word of the Week” (in which I am going through a list of characters covered in the Taiwan school system), I needed to find an accurate and appropriate dictionary to provide the translations. My own translations are most likely not as accurate.

I tried Yahoo!奇摩字典 and found exactly what I prefer in a dictionary. My problem with dual language dictionaries is that the dictionaries tend to attempt to provide a one to one correspondence between terms in a language. However, that is usually never the most accurate translation. I prefer a translation of the definition to get the most accurate understanding of the term. Which is exactly what this dictionary does.

I was able to compare the English translations from Yahoo!奇摩字典 to the Chinese definitions from 國語小字典 (the mini dictionary from the Taiwan Ministry of Education). The results were very close. The first definition is usually a direct translation of the meaning of the word. Subsequent translations were translations of the different meanings from the mini dictionary. It was very accurate. I am really picky about dual language dictionaries, and I strongly recommend Yahoo!奇摩字典 for a Chinese-English dictionary.

How often do news sites publish articles on Taiwan?

After the appearance of Kane’s op-ed in the NY Times, I started wondering about Taiwan’s appearance in English news sites. I know from collecting articles on Taiwan (in the time of paper newspapers) that articles did not come up often unless a major event occurred or was going to happen. The major articles of the late 1980s to 1990s on Taiwan were about China’s missile tests and the first presidential election. Now, I’m wondering about articles in the world of the internet and news websites.

I have started a page to track various news sites. Most of these sites are from the U.S., but I’ve added some major English sites that are available worldwide. I do not include sites from Taiwan. I have chosen these sites because there are specific sections on Taiwan. This is not equivalent to a site search for Taiwan. The two are equivalent on some sites and I have not listed those. I have also chosen news agencies that produce their own content and are not completely reliant on wire services.

When a news site has a specific section for Taiwan, it is a promising start. I figure it means that the organization thinks that it is a large enough topic to have a page of its own. I also hope that it means the news site thinks there is plenty of news to publish. However, it could also mean that Taiwan comes up in plenty of articles, but there may be few articles devoted entirely to Taiwan. I am not distinguishing the two articles. I am, however, determining that an article is a piece of writing (instead of, say, a list with pictures).

The date of the last article published is also important. I have a feeling that that there are gaps of time where nothing is written about Taiwan. Then at some point, some large event occurs and that event becomes the token article about Taiwan for another period of time. I will keep note of the last date that I checked the sites. If the next to last article published was more than a month prior, I will also note it. I hope this will start to give us some idea of the prevalence of Taiwan in English news media.

Thoughts on NY Times op-ed on U.S. national debt and Taiwan

The first time I read the opinion piece “To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan”, I could not finish the whole article. As I got a few paragraphs in, and realized what the author was suggesting, I got a very uneasy feeling. Plenty of responses have shown up on the internet. James Fallows from The Atlantic mentions a post at Business Insider by Joe Weisenthal. Both analyze the U.S. national debt and China. Joshua Keating from Foreign Policy and Jonathan Sullivan from Taiwan 2012 both make excellent points. Naturally, Next Media Animation has their response to the article.

The sinking feeling I got was not from the proposal in the article. I know it is only an opinion piece and not news from Washington. But I also know that the article may be one of very few articles that the general public will ever read about Taiwan. The general public also probably does not know enough about Taiwan, Taiwanese history, or even the history of East Asia to make an informed decision about what to take away from the article. The article itself lacks the proper background information. Perhaps the NY Times needed to generate page views and controversy. For me, it is another example that the task of educating the public about Taiwan is far from over.