## The Base, Al Qaeda, and gays in China

Through a curious concatenation of sociolinguistic forces, the word jīdì 基地 ("base") has brought such disparate entities as militant Islamic fundamentalism, homosexuality, and Sinology together.

Brendan O'Kane sent in the following photograph from Beijing, "snapped on the smaller, slightly more raucous bar street that runs parallel to the main Sanlitun drag. (I've always called it 'Skid Row,' but I assume it has a proper name.)"

Read the rest of this entry »

## About those dialect maps making the rounds…

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably already seen Business Insider's "22 Maps That Show How Americans Speak English Totally Differently From Each Other." (Or, as it was originally titled, "22 Maps That Show the Deepest Linguistic Conflicts in America.") The piece has truly gone viral, garnering more than 21 million views, according to Business Insider. But there's been some confusion about the origins of the dialect survey data.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Tabudish and the origins of Mandarin

In the comments to "Shanghainese", a lively discussion on the relationship between the Wu branch of Sinitic languages and early Mandarin has ensued.  Quoting South Coblin,

This reminds me … of something Jerry Norman was wont to say, i.e., that there were three good criteria for identifying Mandarin and deciding how old the family is. These are the concurrent presence of the third person pronoun tā, the negative bù, and the subordinative particle de/di. Jerry called languages of this type “Tabudish”, and he sometimes used this name for them in correspondence with me.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Shanghainese

Just yesterday, in "The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads", we saw how delicate and uncertain is the comprehension of forms of Chinese that one is not intimately familiar with. A significant part of the problem is the result of a psychological barrier to understanding that comes from unfamiliarity with the context and content of what is being said. Thus, even though there was a considerable amount of Mandarin spoken in the videos of my post about the Windows 8 ads, of the scores of native speakers whom I consulted, no one could pick it out from the stream of sounds they were hearing.

The most important obstacle to intelligibility, of course, is the sheer difference (in grammar, syntax, phonology, vocabulary, etc.) among the topolectal varieties of Chinese. In this post, to show how dissimilar Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is from one of the most important Sinitic topolects, we shall look closely at a text composed in rather colloquial Shanghainese.

Read the rest of this entry »

## The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads

Everybody has been puzzling over the language of the series of online ads for Windows 8 that it recently released in Asia.

Native speakers of Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Korean declare that it is not any of those languages.  The first time I listened to them, the ads sounded as though they contained elements of some Wu topolect, a bit like mangled Shanghainese, but I could also definitely hear bits of Mandarin, albeit with unusual tonal contours and slurring.  What was most perplexing of all to me was that, although I was certain that the ads contained Chinese phrases and sentences, every Chinese person to whom I showed them emphatically maintained that they could not understand a single word!  In contrast, several non-native speakers of Mandarin said they could pick out a word of Chinese here and there.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Language change in progress – us and our Red Sox buddies

But none of that had prepared me for having it emerge in my own dialect. But there it was. And when I think about putting “We and our Red Sox buddies” instead, it sounds over-formal, doesn’t fit in the context of baseball buddies. So it looks like “us and …” has made the move from passive recognition to becoming an active part of my (most?) colloquial register, at least the baseball buddies register.

Read the rest of this entry »

## "Chinese" well beyond Mandarin

A topic which I have raised here and elsewhere a number of times is that of Sinitic topolects and languages (www.sino-platonic.org/complete/spp029_chinese_dialect.pdf), and I have also called attention to the increasing domination of Mandarin in education and the media.  Even native speakers within China sometimes don't appreciate quite how varied the Sinitic group of languages can be.  People often say that someone can move from one valley to the next, or one village to the next, and just not be able to make themselves understood.  But until you've been in that situation yourself, it doesn't really hit home.  Before long, I'll post on Shanghainese and will provide audio recordings that will demonstrate clearly just how different it is from Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM).  There are countless other varieties of "Chinese" that are just as different from each other as Shanghainese (or Cantonese or Taiwanese, for that matter) are from MSM.

Read the rest of this entry »

## A reprieve for DARE

A month ago, I posted an "SOS for DARE," detailing the impending financial threat faced by the Dictionary of American Regional English, a national treasure of lexicography. At the time it appeared that the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, where DARE is based, would be unable to provide support to offset the loss of federal and private grant money. But now there's finally some good news out of Madison, in the form of new funds from the University and external gifts.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet

The Dungan people are a group of Sinitic speakers whose Muslim ancestors fled to Central Asia (mainly in parts of what are now Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) over a century ago when the Qing (Manchu) government suppressed their revolt (1862-1877), one of many Muslim uprisings in the course of Chinese history since Islam arrived in East Asia during the Middle Ages.

When they came to Central Asia, the Dungans were mostly illiterate peasants from northwest China who spoke a series of topolects from Shaanxi, Gansu, and other areas.  From 1927 to 1928, they wrote their language with the Arabic alphabet, and from 1928-1932 they used the Latin alphabet.  In 1952-53, the Soviet government created for the Dungans a writing system based on the Cyrillic alphabet, which they continue to use till today.

Read the rest of this entry »

## SOS for DARE

Many Language Log readers are no doubt familiar with the Dictionary of American Regional English, which I hailed in a Boston Globe column last year as "a great project on how Americans speak — make that the great project on how Americans speak." At the time, I was previewing DARE's fifth volume, which completed the alphabetical run all the way to zydeco.  Since then, a sixth volume of supplemental materials has also been published, and plans are underway to launch the digital version of DARE, which would serve as an online home for future expansions and revisions. But now DARE editor Joan Hall passes along some troubling news about the dictionary's financial fate.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Chinese character transcriptions for "nerd"

Chinese speakers have phonetically transcribed the word "geek" as jíkè 极客, qíkè 奇客, etc., and these transcriptions are fairly widely used and recognized, even among Mandarin speakers (the initials would be velars in many non-Mandarin topolects, so they would sound more like "geek" than do the Mandarin pronunciations). So far, I don't know of any Chinese character transcription for "nerd", certainly none that is broadly circulating.

Read the rest of this entry »

## Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2

The question of whether or not there's a word for "nerd" in Chinese has recently come up, in Mark Liberman's "'Your passport has just been stamped for entry into the Land of Bullshit'".

Mark quotes Tom Scocca, who cites three terms:  fáwèi de rén 乏味的人 ("a dull and tasteless person"), diànnǎomí 电脑迷 ("someone excessively enthusiastic about computers"), and shūdāizi 书呆子 ("bookworm; pedant").

But none of these expressions comes close to functioning the way "nerd" does in contemporary American society.  The first, fáwèi de rén, is a makeshift, ad hoc dictionary definition that explains a small part of what "nerd" signifies, but is not a set term that has the social-intellectual resonance and reach of "nerd".  The second, diànnǎomí, is simply incorrect as even a translation of "nerd", since some people have called me a nerd, but I am absolutely terrified of computers (all of my good friends know that very well), though it might serve as a partial definition-explanation of "geek" (more about that below).  The third, shūdāizi, is often invoked as a Chinese functional equivalent of "nerd", but even many of the people who mention it do so a bit sheepishly and admit that it's not really the same thing as "nerd", whereas most people (myself included) will say that it's not even remotely equivalent to "nerd".

Read the rest of this entry »

## Cantonese resurgent

I've often felt that the percentage of loanwords in a language is one index of the strength and resilience of that language (witness English and Japanese, each of which has an enormous number of borrowings).  An abundance of loanwords in a language makes it lively, colorful, and au courant.

Read the rest of this entry »

## English or Engelsk?

A recent article in Science Daily has the headline Linguist makes sensational claim: English is a Scandinavian language'. The claim in question is Jan Terje Faarlund's conclusion that English is in reality a Scandinavian language' — that Old English quite simply died out while Scandinavian survived, albeit strongly influenced of course by Old English.' The core of Faarlund's argument is that, in addition to many words that originally belonged to Norwegian and/or Danish, English has syntactic structures that are Scandinavian rather than West Germanic in origin. Specifically, Faarlund argues that wherever English differs syntactically from the other Western Germanic languages — German, Dutch, Frisian — it has the same structure as the Scandinavian languages.' Faarlund then gives a few examples of syntactic parallelism between English and Scandinavian [that is, the Germanic languages of Scandinavia] and concludes that the only reasonable explanation' for this parallelism is that English is in fact a Scandinavian language, and a continuation of the Norwegian-Danish language which was used in England during the Middle Ages.'

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as the saying goes. The evidence cited in the article is nowhere near extraordinary. Assuming that he is quoted accurately, there are some serious problems with Faarlund's claims.

Read the rest of this entry »

## The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th edition

As soon as I heard that the 5th edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD) had come out, I rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore (yes, they still exist — that was Borders that closed) and plunked down two Bens (hundred dollar bills) to buy three copies at \$60 each:  one for my office at Penn, one for my study at home, and one for a friend.  The 5th ed. was actually published in November, 2011, but I was in China then, and didn't get a chance to buy my own copies until the day I arrived back on American soil.

Read the rest of this entry »