Archive for Pronunciation

C'est la vie ~

Chris P sent in the following emojis from WeChat:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)


Two days ago, we contemplated the wonders of the short Polish-American surname Dzwil.  Today we turn to a much longer, but equally wondrous, Hungarian-American surname, the one in the title of this post.

For some seemingly impenetrable Hungarian surnames, it helps an English speaker to have mnemonic devices to produce a passable pronunciation.  An example is the surname of the Berkeley Sinologist, Mark Csikszentmihalyi.  Mark is the son of the Chicago, and later Claremont, psychologist and management specialist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (in Hungarian orthography that would be Csíkszentmihályi Mihály).   Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is the creator of the concept of "flow", a highly focused mental state.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)


For the last few weeks, as I walk by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on my way to work, I've been noticing equipment marked "Dzwil" that belongs to a masonry construction company engaged to firm up the foundations.

Naturally, every time I saw that word I said to myself, "I wonder how they pronounce it".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (55)

The mysteries of 13.5

China is in the throes of hammering out its next five-year plan, on the model of the USSR.  For China, the current one they're working on is the thirteenth, so they refer to it as 13.5.  In Mandarin, that would be shísānwǔ 十三五.  Although the Communist bureaucrats think these five-year plans are hugely important, for the common citizen they are dreadfully boring.  For non-Chinese looking on, they are worse than boring, so — in an effort to explain and hype 13.5 to English speakers around the world, the Chinese Communist Party has sponsored the making of a glitzy-cutesy video that enjoins viewers to "pay attention to the shisanwu!"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (24)

Zuckerberg's Mandarin, ch. 2

Just a little over a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled to China and the world that he was willing to speak publicly in Mandarin: "Zuckerberg's Mandarin" (10/23/14).

That post includes a video which allows us to watch and listen to his every gesture and word.  Now he's back at it again at the exact same location, Tsinghua University, China's premier engineering and science school:

(Or see: "Mark Zuckerberg’s 20-minute speech in clumsy Mandarin is his latest attempt to woo China," 10/26/15.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

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! 

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (62)

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。

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

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").

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (48)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

Voice recognition vs. Shandong accent

The following video is very popular in China now:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

"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).

Comments (41)

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")

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)