Archive for Pronunciation

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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Sing! King! Wa! Ta!

Sing! King! Wa! Ta! Sing! King! Wa! Ta!

The words were being hastily shouted down a phone, with loud sounds of wind and waves in the background, and the emergency call center operator could make no sense of them. Attempts at conversing with the caller failed; he seemed not to understand English. Yet the tone was unmistakably urgent: someone was in danger of his life. But who? And where?

About 23 people died in the event that led to that desperate, unintelligible phone call. It happed in 2004, ten years ago today. My vagueness about the number of victims is because no one who knew all the facts wanted to talk about the circumstances (the skull of one victim was only found in 2010).

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Cantonese poetry recitation

A recent issue (1/7/14) of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) carried an article by a staff reporter entitled "Hong Kong student's poem recital goes viral in the mainland ". The article features this amazing video of a Hong Kong high school student reciting a couple of Classical Chinese poems:

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Opium rice

Karen Serago sent in the following photograph taken by her husband, Ben Yu, of a restaurant in Taiwan that specializes in duck dishes:

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A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway

Mark Swofford took these photographs of an advertisement for a very well-known brand of instant noodles in the Taipei MRT (subway system). It makes use of three scripts (Chinese characters [including some rare, non-standard forms], bopomofo / zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號 [Mandarin "Phonetic Symbols" of the Republic of China, and Roman letters) and possibly as many languages (Taiwanese, Japanese, English) — with Mandarin apparently *not* being among them.

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Good good study; day day up

Somebody gave a friend of Rose Hill this coin purse as a gift:

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Media uptake on uptalk

Yesterday afternoon, UC San Diego Linguistics grad student Amanda Ritchart presented her research (joint with Amalia Arvaniti) on the use and realization of uptalk in Southern California English at the 166th Acoustical Society of America meeting. This work is profiled in the ASA's press room, and has thus far received a fair amount of attention. You can hear and/or read about it on KPBS (San Diego's public radio station), at WBUR's Here & Now, on BBC News, and in the Washington Post. (See also this shout-out on the Linguistic Society of America website.)

Uptalk has been discussed many times here on Language Log, so regular readers are probably not unfamiliar with it. But one of the most recent Language Log posts on the topic ("Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013) shows how relatively unaware of this long-standing feature of many varieties of English some folks still are. So the media coverage of Ritchart & Arvaniti's work is welcome — and on the whole pretty good, if a little biased toward a "wow, it's spreading to men!" interpretation of the research results, which kinda misses the point. But of course, if you scroll down to the comments (why oh why do I ever scroll down to the comments???), you'll see that many appear to think that the use of rising intonation at the ends of (some!) statements is the clearest evidence we have of the decline of western civilization. Sigh.

Update — more here.


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Pushing Pekingese

At the expense of English and of other Chinese topolects and languages?

We have seen that, in recent weeks and months, there has been considerable agitation against the increasing role of English in Chinese education and life in general. Supposedly, overemphasis on English is leading to the deterioration of Chinese language skills. Consequently, the amount of time devoted to English in schools is to be reduced, the weight placed upon English in college entrance examinations is to be decreased, and there are calls for children to begin to study English later than first grade of elementary school, which is the case now.

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Za stall in Newtown

Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").

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Variant pronunciations of the word for "brothers" in Mandarin

Yesterday morning in class, I had all the students from China pronounce a word I wrote on the board — gē'ermen 哥儿们 ("pals; buddies; brothers") — and everybody was astonished to hear with their own ears the enormous differences in the way the word was pronounced, even though each student thought they were speaking standard Mandarin.  This was not due to dialectal variation — because when I asked a few of the students to pronounce the word according to their home topolect, then it would come out in a quite different manner — but simply to individual differences in the realization of gē'ermen 哥儿们 in Mandarin.

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Nihon, Nippon, Japan

Students of Japanese often get confused about when to use "Nihon" and when to use "Nippon" as the name of the country.  In truth, there are many names for the "Land of the Rising Sun (a translation of Nihon / Nippon にほん / にっぽん / 日本), and sometimes the English name "Japan" gets thrown into the mix.  All of these variants came together in an incident that is recounted for us by Jim Breen.

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Phonetic annotation of Chinese characters

Here is the name card of one of the officers at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Boston.

Nearly every literate person who receives this card would pronounce her name, 黃薳玉, as Huáng Yuǎnyù, but they would be wrong.

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Mo Yan wins the Nobel prize in literature

The winner for the 2012 Nobel prize in literature is Mò Yán 莫言 (means roughly "speechless"), pen name of Guǎn Móyè 管谟业.

Currently the most comprehensive exposition of his work is Shelly W. Chan's A Subversive Voice in China: The Fictional World of Mo Yan published by Cambria Press in 2011.

Yesterday, there was talk from the PRC that, if Mo Yan won the prize, this would be the first for China, but that is far from the truth, since Gao Xingjian won the literature prize in 2000 and Liu Xiaobo — who languishes in prison — won the peace prize in 2010.

Despite the good news for Mo Yan that is being trumpeted around the world, his simple two syllable pen name is being murdered as "Mow Yawn", "Moe Yahng", and so forth. Here is a recording of what it sounds like in Modern Standard Mandarin as pronounced by a native speaker.

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