Archive for Pronunciation

Tonal variation and reading pronunciation

From Zeyao Wu:

I am intrigued by how the pronunciation of my nickname changed when I moved to Guangzhou [VHM: in the far south, formerly Canton] from Dongbei [VHM: the Northeast, formerly Manchuria].

In Dongbei, all my relatives and my friends called me Yáoyao 瑶瑶, with the second tone of the second syllable becoming neutral. [VHM: the base tone of yáo 瑶 ("precious jade") is second tone]

When I moved to Guangzhou, my friends call me Yǎoyáo 瑶瑶. It seems that this sort of pronunciation is not standard. I think Cantonese speak in this way because they pronounce Mandarin with the tones of Cantonese.

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Marmay tay

Just got off the phone with my 2nd-grader granddaughter, Samira.  She was in her dad's truck out on some errand with him.  She had a new cell phone and was excited to talk to me on it.

Her dad got out to pick up some things he had left behind at a store.  Thereupon Samira started to tell me about her grand plan to do housework for the neighbors so that she could save up enough money to buy a "marmay tay".

"What is a 'marmay tay', honey?" I asked

She tried to explain, but no matter what she said, I just couldn't grasp what a "marmay tay" was.

Finally, my son got back to the truck.

"Tom, what is this 'marmay tay' that Samira wants to buy?"

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Ask Language Log: How to pronounce "Antifa"?

From P.D.:

Long time reader, first time caller, etc. etc. As an armchair linguistics fan and someone who gets his news primarily online rather than from cable news, I've been wondering how one ought to go about pronouncing the word "antifa." I'd like to discuss current events with friends without putting my foot in it, like the friend I once had who pronounced "archive" as though it were something you might chop up and put on a bagel with some cream cheese.

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A common, horrendous typo in Chinese

In "Renewal of the race / nation" (6/24/17), we've been coming to grips with the sensitive, vital term "mínzú 民族" ("nation", "nationality"; "people"; "ethnic group"; "race"; "volk").

If we add an "h" and change the tone of the second syllable from 2nd to 3rd, we get mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), another key term in modern political parlance.

Next, we add a "g" to the end of the first syllable, yielding míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler") — this is a traditional term for an emperor, king, etc. that goes back well over two thousand years.

Politically speaking, mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy") and míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler") are polar opposites.  If you have míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler"), then you don't have mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), and vice versa.  Yet this is a very common error that often goes uncorrected (see the example sentences here).  People want to type mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), but they end up with míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler").

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Sorry, my Chinese is not so good

Music video by a trio of English musicians singing about learning Chinese:

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Siri can you hear me?

Wired.com has some perfect linguaphile clickbait: “Watch People With Accents Confuse the Hell Out of AI Assistants.”  By “accents” they mean, non-American ones (e.g., Irish English). The AI Assistants were Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. I’m curious about how well the voice recognition systems in these devices work with varieties of spoken English, so I clicked. Sucker! Can’t tell anything from the video except that it’s fun to say “Add Worcestershire sauce to my shopping list” to a machine.  This definitely beats asking Siri “What is the meaning of life?”

Mainly I was impressed by how poorly I understood the speakers.  I have a bad time understanding other people’s accents  but that’s only one data point.  How well do people understand speech that is in the same language as their own but spoken with a different accent?

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White dude challenges Chinese speakers in Shanghai

Jayme, his gangling arms covered with colorful tattoos, sallies forth onto Nanjing Road, the busiest shopping street in Shanghai, and tests the local denizens and tourists on their language skills (reading, writing, and pronunciation):

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Bill Gates speaks Mandarin

Here's Bǐ'ěr·Gàicí 比尔·盖茨 welcoming visitors to his new blog on the Chinese social network WeChat:


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Long kanji readings

SoraNews24 (4/20/17) has an article by Scott Wilson titled "W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 kanji with the longest readings【Weird Top Five】 ".  Before attempting to read and critique this article, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic terms and concepts about the modern Japanese writing system.  It basically consists of thousands of kanji (Chinese characters) and kana (a syllabary of 48 symbols, of which there are two different types, cursive hiragana and angular katakana).  As the name "syllabary" indicates, each of the kana symbols is pronounced as a syllable, except for one, which indicates the sound "n".

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The political dangers of mispronunciation

From Chinascope (4/3/17):

Party Officials Criticized for Mispronouncing Words during Public Speech

A Duowei News [Multidimensional News] article quoted an article from Jiefang Daily [Liberation Daily] on March 30 which sharply criticized a number of party officials for mispronouncing words during their public speeches and said that the phenomenon resulted in quite a lot of laughter and jokes in China. Some of the officials were reported to have even repeated the same mistakes at several locations. These officials were criticized for poor language skills and knowledge while the people around the officials were reportedly too scared to make any corrections or to say “No” to certain of their bosses’ inappropriate behavior. As Duowei reported, the Jiefang Daily article questioned whether mispronouncing the words was simply mispronouncing the words or if it sent another kind of alarming signal.

Source: Duowei News, April 1, 2017
http://china.dwnews.com/news/2017-04-01/59808599.html

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The pronunciation of "sudoku" in English

I find Japanese pronunciation to be straightforward and easy.  But, for some reason, many people murder Japanese words borrowed into English.  Take "karaoke", for example.  I hear Americans pronouncing it as something like "carry Okie".  How did that get started?  You can listen to the Japanese pronunciation here.  Cf. the UK and US pronunciations here.

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Daylight(-)Saving Time

Julian Hook writes:

The attached plot corroborates my vague recollections: a few decades ago many people spelled Daylight-Saving Time with a hyphen, but now almost nobody does.

The hyphen makes sense by the same logic as the hyphens in other N-Ving compounds like man-eating and blood-curdling. (Those who would object that Daylight-Saving Time doesn’t actually save any daylight should consider that man-eating plants and blood-curdling screams don’t really do what the words say they do either.)

More interesting than the punctuation, perhaps, is the pronunciation. Every other N-Ving compound I can think of is accented on the initial noun, but for some reason everybody seems to accent Daylight-Saving Time on Saving. Why do we do this? Could it have something to do with the fact that the noun daylight is itself a compound, with a secondary stress on the second syllable? And could this pronunciation explain the disappearance of the hyphen—if, perhaps, the odd stress pattern disguises the logic of the compound?

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Sensory century

I am at UC Davis to participate in a Global Tea Initiative.  The first event yesterday morning was to go to a tea tasting presided over by Master Wing-Chi Ip.  A taxi came to our hotel to drive us over to a building bearing the name of Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), a giant in the California wine industry.  It turns out that there are two buildings on campus bearing his name, a mammoth Center for the Performing Arts and an Institute for Wine and Food Science.

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