Archive for Dialects

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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Pekingese put-downs

This will be the first of two successive posts on Pekingese.  This one is about insults that, on the surface, seem as though they should be praise.

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Manchu loans in northeast Mandarin

Wei Shao, who hails from Liaoning Province in northeast China (formerly called Manchuria), rattled off the following sentence in her local language and asked me if I understood it:

Wǒ dǎ cīliū huá'r de shíhou bǎ bōlénggài'r kǎ tūlu pí'r le.

I could only sort of understand the following parts:  Wǒ dǎ … huá'r de shíhou bǎ …'r kǎ (?) … pí'r le ("When I was … slipping [?], I scraped [?] … the skin of…").  But it was all so fragmentary — mainly just the rough grammatical structure and three or four disconnected content words  — that I really didn't know what was going on.  Wei said not to worry, since no one from outside the area where she lives could understand it either.

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Uyghur as a "dialect" — NOT

The latest issue of The Atlantic has an article entitled "The Uighurs, China's Embattled Muslim Minority, Are Still Seeking an Identity".

The comments on language usage and policy in Xinjiang will be of particular interest to many Language Log readers, since they reverberate with a number of recent discussions that we've been engaged in.

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Signifying the Local

I just found out about this new book on local languages in China.  Judging from the abstract and table of contents, it looks very interesting and promising: Signifying the Local: Media Productions Rendered in Local Languages in Mainland China in the New Millennium. The publisher's blurb:

In Signifying the Local, Jin Liu examines contemporary cultural productions rendered in local languages and dialects (fangyan) in the fields of television, cinema, music, and literature in Mainland China. This ground-breaking interdisciplinary research provides an account of the ways in which local-language media have become a platform for the articulation of multivocal, complex, and marginal identities in post-socialist China. Viewed from the uniquely revealing perspective of local languages, the mediascape of China is no longer reducible to a unified, homogeneous, and coherent national culture, and thus renders any monolithic account of the Chinese language, Chineseness, and China impossible.

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Zazaki: a West Iranian language

In the midst of our ongoing debates about whether Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, and so forth are Sinitic languages or dialects, I continually find evidence that the custom of referring to them only as "dialects" is exceptional when compared with linguistic usage elsewhere (e.g., India, Europe, Africa).

Today I came across an Iranian language that I'd never heard of before, Zazaki, although — without knowing it — I probably met some of its speakers in Sweden, where there are many  Zazak refugees.  Also called Zaza, Kirmanjki, Kirdki, Dimli, and Dimili, Zazaki is found primarily in eastern Anatolia.  It belongs to the northwestern branch of the Iranian group of the Indo-European family.

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Big ear holes

Poster from the Singapore Crime Prevention Council:

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Rot and Rot (a really, really rude sex joke)

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English and Mandarin juxtaposed

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English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage

[This is a guest post by Stephan Stiller.]

This post complements Robert Bauer and Victor Mair's previous LL post titled "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" and addresses, among other things, J. Marshall Unger's comment in the corresponding thread. Please have a look.

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Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese

[This is a guest post by Robert S. Bauer, with some comments on "dialect" vs. "language" by me (VHM) at the bottom.]

1. After 1949 over the last few decades of British colonial rule, Cantonese was regarded as one more desirable/useful barrier separating HK from China.

As a consequence, the British treated Cantonese with benign neglect which allowed it to develop naturally and without interference, and this is why it has been doing as well as it has.

A couple of years ago the fact that only a handful of people showed up at a demonstration in support of Cantonese in HK shows that most HK speakers do not see it as being under imminent threat.

In Guangzhou people are told that "civilized people speak Mandarin" wénmíng rén shuō Pǔtōnghuà 文明人説普通話, which to me implies that uncivilized people speak "dialects" (topolects) such as Cantonese.

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Mr. and Ms. in Chinese

Didi Kirsten Tatlow is trying to trace the roots of the word xiānsheng 先生 (lit., "one who was born earlier / first / before" –> "sir; mister / Mr.; teacher; gentleman; doctor / Dr. [dated]").  She writes:

Today of course it's applied to all men, women being nǚshì 女士 ("Ms.; lady; madam"); once upon a time I believe it meant a teacher. Yet a woman considered especially smart may be given the honorific xiānsheng 先生 (!).

Am wondering about its origins and when/how it came to be applied to all men, and whether perhaps it came from the Japanese, like many other terms in modern times (i.e., post 1911 or even earlier?).  Does anyone have any light to shed, with references?

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Cantonese novels

In my estimation, there is far too little genuine topolectal literature in China.  Throughout history, nearly everything has been written either in one or another style of Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese) or in the national koine / lingua franca vernacular (currently known as Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 [in Mainland China] / Guóyǔ 国语 [in Taiwan] / Huáyǔ 华语 [in Southeast Asian countries]), i.e., Mandarin.

I wish that there were vibrant, vital written forms for Hokkien, Shanghainese, Hakka, and many other varieties of Chinese, just as there are for Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya / Odiya, and so forth in India.  Considering the plethora of spoken languages in China, I believe that the development of corresponding written languages for at least the major varieties would lead to mutual enrichment and invigoration, including of the national language.  While there have been some sporadic efforts to write Taiwanese / Amoyese, a full-blown literary tradition has never developed for that language (see Sino-Platonic Papers #89, #92, and #172, as well as the works of Henning Klöter).  There have also been occasional efforts to incorporate a few words of the local language in so-called Shanghainese literature, but it usually amounts only to a sprinkling of Wu lexical items in what is basically a Mandarin matrix.  The situation for the other topolects is even less, with next to none or no written form at all.

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