Poet, artist, scholar and inventor Jonathon Stalling opened his exhibition, Poetics of Invention, at the Miller Nichols Library earlier this month.
The exhibition is Stalling’s attempt to make English more accessible for Chinese learners by merging the languages through the sounds of their letters.
The exhibition features many displays that contributed to the process, but Stalling’s favorite is the rotating print case, made through woodblock printing.
Wang Zhen, a Chinese government official, invented woodblock printing in 1298 A.D. Zhen organized the characters by their “rimes”—the vowels and tones—and created printing plates.
The printer could spin and bend the tabletop to select characters quickly, with consonants on the outer circle and vowels on the inner circle.
“This is cool, this is the entire English language,” said Stalling. “There’s not a single English word that can’t be encoded. So as an object, I find that conceptually quite beautiful.”
So how can English and Chinese speakers learn each other’s languages?
When English speakers learn Chinese, they use Romanized letters to spell out the sounds of Chinese words. However, Chinese speakers learning English can’t do this with Chinese letters without running into errors.
Stalling solved this problem when he launched his app, Pinying, in 2016. The app updated a 1,000-year-old Chinese linguistic concept with algorithmic and digital technologies to re-sequence the English language genome into 42 Chinese characters with common Mandarin pronunciations.
Check out the exhibit on the fourth floor of the Miller Nichols Library through May 2019.