Archive for Pronunciation

Ask Language Log: pronouncing apoptosis

From AB, MD (CPT, MC, USA):

I have an odd inquiry that I'm hoping you'll oblige. My question is about the preferred pronunciation of apoptosis. I believe the scientist who originally described this phenomenon asked a linguist to invoke an image of an Autumn tree shedding a leaf. We are now in an intense debate about the most accurate pronunciation of this word. As a long time language log reader, I was hoping you could help us settle this fiery debate. How do you pronounce apoptosis? Thank you very much! 

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Tormented in Taiwanese

A couple of weeks ago, we encountered the case of Chang Chun-ning being asked by her fěnsī 粉絲 ("fans") on the Mainland to change one of the characters in her name that they weren't familiar with:

"7,530,000 mainlanders petition Taiwan actress to change her name" (5/14/15)

After the incident about the bank in China telling Chang Chun-ning to change her name that was quoted and translated by K. Chang here ("Even the bank wanted me to change my name. I've had enough!!!!!!"), there is another clause that finishes her Weibo (microblog) post, as quoted in the China Times article:

hái fù shàng 'zhuākuáng' de tiētú 還附上「抓狂」的貼圖。

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Nondifferentiation of -n and -ng

In Shanghai, Tom Mazanec recently came across a listing for a kind of tea called Tiě Guāngyīn 铁光阴 (second from the bottom in the photo), which he thought might be a knockoff of the famous Tiě Guānyīn 铁观音. The picture was taken at a restaurant near Fudan University called Xiǎo Dōngběi 小东北 (the name of the restaurant [Xiǎo Dōngběi sīfang cài 小东北私房菜, at the top of the menu] is rather endearingly translated as "The small northeastern dishes").

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How to pronounce the surname "Tsien"

A prominent scholar of early Chinese writing and books at the University of Chicago recently passed away:

"T.H. Tsien, Scholar of Chinese Written Word, Dies at 105" (4/19/15)

The New York Times "pronouncer" for "Tsien" is "chee-AHN".  That is very far from the mark.  Even for those who are not familiar with the niceties of Chinese consonants and vowels, "chee-AHN" doesn't sound remotely right because "Tsien" (like the vast majority of Chinese surnames) is one syllable, but "chee-AHN" makes it seem to have two syllables.  Moreover, Chinese is tonal, whereas the "AHN" of the pronouncer makes it seem to have emphasis on the second, (non-existent) syllable.

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Cavemen and postmen and explanation

For those who were interested in Mark's post on the curious question of when the -man suffix gets a reduced vowel (woman, fireman, madman, milkman, gunman, batman, Batman, caveman, postman, weatherman, etc.), and especially for those who commented on it, Ben Yagoda has now written insightfully on the topic over at Lingua Franca.

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Voice recognition vs. Shandong accent

The following video is very popular in China now:

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"It depends on where you are in the spectrum"

Martin Heymann writes (Tue, 2 Dec 2014 22:26:55 +1100):

Tonight, I was watching the Australian federal Minister of Education interviewed on TV.  He was discussing a senator called Dio Wang (see also here), and got in a bit of a scrap with the interviewer about how to pronounce the surname.

According to the Minister, "it depends on where you are in the spectrum" as to how the surname is pronounced.  Here's the clip (it's quite hilarious, especially because the recording keeps repeating in a loop).

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Troublesome characters

The People's Daily microblog account posted this list over the recent National Day holidays:

"Yī dú jiù cuò de 50 gè dìmíng 一读就错的50个地名" ("Fifty place names you're sure to misread")

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I want to / two fish

In the comments to "slip(per)" (7/22/14), we have had a very lively discussion on whether or not people would pronounce these two sentences differently in Mandarin:

wǒ yào tuōxié
我要拖鞋
"I want slippers."

wǒ yào tuō xié
我要脫鞋
"I want to take off my shoes."

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The concept of "mother" in linguistics

I began drafting this post around Mother's Day, which we recently observed, but got distracted by other things.  This is an old topic that I've been thinking about for years.  Namely, I've long been intrigued by the use of mǔ 母 ("mother") in linguistic terms, such as zìmǔ 字母 ("letter", lit., "character mother") (e.g., sānshíliù zìmǔ 三十六字母 ["36 initial consonants"]), shēngmǔ 声母 ("initial", lit., "sound mother") and yùnmǔ 韵母 ("final", lit., "rime mother").  The first two go back to the Song period (960-1279), but I don't know how old the latter two are. See here, here, and here for references.

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No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has begun to refer to Hong Kong as Xianggang, the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation of the name.

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A variable, transcriptional Chinese character

Gloria Bien sent in the following photograph and asked what to make of the Chinese text in it, especially the unusual character 叻, which is pronounced lè in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM; but see below for the Cantonese pronunciation and meaning). Wenlin says it's part of a name for Singapore, but not used alone, as it is in this picture. Google says Overseas Chinese use it for Singapore. But, as Gloria observes, "I'm the most Singapore" doesn't make sense.

This is from a package of noodles from Emeryville, CA, and says "Product of China," but complex characters are used throughout.

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How to learn Chinese and Japanese

Some years ago (in 2008, as a matter of fact), I wrote a post entitled "How to learn to read Chinese".  The current post is intended as a followup and supplement to that post.

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