[That’s readings, not lectures, mind.]

At Language Log, Bill Poser has posted a wonderful introduction to Hangul (한글). Today is Hangul Day, the celebration of the promulgation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great in 1446.

Prior to 1446, the Korean language was rarely written at all. The written language used in Korea was Classical Chinese. The combination of the use of a foreign language with the large amount of memorization required to learn thousands of Chinese characters meant that only a small elite were literate, overwhelmingly men from aristocratic families. The great majority of people were illiterate. On the relatively rare occasions when Korean was written, it was written using Chinese characters, in part for their sound, in part for their meaning. This too was a complex system poorly suited for mass literacy. Hangul was the first writing system to make it easy for any Korean to read and write his or her native language. […]

Hangul is considered a great achievement for several reasons. First and foremost, it is a perfect alphabet. It distinguishes all of the distinct sounds in Korean and makes no subphonemic distinctions. From the point of view of the reader, there are no ambiguities. From the point of view of the writer, there are a few ambiguities in that in certain environments syllable-final nasals may be written either as nasals or as the plain stops of the same point of articulation. This is not an error but reflects a decision to write at a higher level of abstraction than a classical phonemic representation. It makes things slightly harder for the writer but makes things easier for the reader, who is given more direct access to lexical representations.

Go and read the whole thing.

Bookforum has an article by Jesse Sheidlower, editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, about Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary.

And in French news, we learn via ABC de la langue française that Le Petit Robert — arguably the best one-volume brick-sized French dictionary — is advertising via… eggcorns (poteaux roses). Well, they don’t use the label (yet?), but the first instalment of their new campaign plays on the reshaping tirer au flanc»tirer au flan (.gif image). Eggcorns are useful: the proof is in the pudding.

Amuse-bouche to zaibatsu

Des entrées nouvelles dans le Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, l’un des dictionnaires les plus réputés de la langue anglaise.

New entries in the 2005 edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary.

I was slightly surprised about the new sense of neoconservative. There must have been some semantic variation over the last few years.

Avibase is a multilingual bird database with 1.9 million entries on 10,000 species and 22,000 sub-species. In case you need to know that the Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark is called Saharanvarpuskiuru in Finnish.

The French version of the home page makes me smile. When they ask you to enter a “nom d’oiseau”, this is meant literally (scroll down to the very bottom of the page).

Merriam-Webster offers a collection of five search tools for download to access their free online dictionary and thesaurus directly from inside Firefox. There is even a “Get Firefox” button for those who still haven’t tried it. They have a solution for every taste: bookmarklet, the Firefox search field, a M-W toolbar, right-click search… Excellent! Dictionary publishers […]

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Via Language Hat, a Cajun French-English glossary for the students at Louisiana State University. I only regret that they don’t use IPA for the phonetic transcription. The system they do use is, frankly, unusable (except maybe for speakers of a particular variety of American English, which they don’t further specify).

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A friend pointed me to the International Dictionary of Literary Terms (DITL — Dictionnaire International des Termes Littéraires), which is a project by a group of researchers from the Université de Limoges. A small disclaimer: Even though the welcome page indicates that “the articles are in either French or English at the discretion of their […]

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