Archive for Names

Tones and the alphabet

The question of whether tones are added to alphabet words used in Sinitic languages arose in the discussion that followed this post:

"Papi Jiang: PRC internet sensation" (4/25/16)

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Name games in Hong Kong

Just a little over a year ago, I wrote a post about "'Farcical names'" (4/3/15), in which I related how an American businesswoman wanted to rescue Chinese from their predilection for adopting whimsical English names.

Now, in "iPhone, Cola and Kinky: what’s in a Hong Kongers name?" (SCMP 3/7/16), we find that the "Trend for Hongkongers choosing unusual English names continues as they compete to find most original one".

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Glenn Frey and the band with the anomalous name

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Glenn Frey died two weeks ago, and I found myself reflecting on the poetry of the songs he wrote with Don Henley for a Lingua Franca post (see it here). Working on that caused me to bump up against the odd fact that the band Frey and Henley co-founded had a name that nobody ever gets right.

Steve Martin reported in his autobiography Born Standing Up that Frey insisted the name was "Eagles", not "The Eagles." Thus the band had settled on a name that was supposed to be what The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) calls a strong proper name like Azerbaijan, which takes no the, not a weak one like (the) Azores, which must have a the. (Language Log, by the way, is a strong proper name.)

Everyone feels they need to supply a definite article for Eagles. And there's a reason for that. Once you look at the relevant grammatical constraints of English you see that Frey was really swimming upstream.

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More rare characters in Taiwan

Not too long ago, we looked at some "Difficult Taiwanese characters" (11/8/15).  By "difficult Taiwanese characters", I am referring to sinographs that literate Mandarin speakers are unfamiliar with.

The same situation obtains for Cantonese.  See, for example:

"Cantonese and Mandarin are two different languages " (9/25/15)

"Cantonese novels " (8/20/13)

"Hong Kong Multilingualism and Polyscriptalism " (7/26/10)

"Mutual Intelligibility of Sinitic Languages " (3/6/09)

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Is it necessary to invent a new Chinese character for "ivory"?

In a recent post, we discussed the creation of hitherto unknown Chinese characters:

"How to generate fake Chinese characters automatically" (12/30/15)

In that post and in other Language Log posts, we have mentioned how artists and language enthusiasts sometimes make completely new characters, whether out of whimsy or out of a genuine felt need (as though there were not already enough characters).

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Chinese names for the Lena River

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu]

The usual Chinese name for the Lena River is 勒拿河 Lèná hé. That's not a particularly felicitous transcription. Lèná rhymes with 圣赫勒拿 Shèng Hèlèná i.e. St Helena; it fails to reflect the palatalisation of the l in the Russian name. An alternative name transcribes the syllable ле with 列 liè, following the usual practice.

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From "Servia" to "Serbia"

[The first part of this post is from an anonymous contributor.]

The Serbian legation in London complains to the media about the spelling Servia, which is 'highly offensive to our people'.

(It is true that there is a place in Greece called 'Servia', whose name 'derives from the Latin verb servo, meaning "to watch over"'.)

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Cartographic cacophony

Zach Hershey sent in photographs of a map on the wall of an Ethiopian restaurant on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Here's one:

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Local language

From Bob Bauer:

A couple of days ago I discovered one of your Language Logs from last year that had a very interesting and very long back-and-forth discussion on the distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong's Chinese language.* I noticed.one commenter with initials HL** mentioned some particularly interesting things about the use of the term Punti 本地話*** to mean "Cantonese" in HK's law courts. Historically, Punti had referred to the indigenous Cantonese in contrast to the more recently-arrived Hakka immigrants. (By the way, for what it's worth, in the first half of the 19th century 地 was pronounced [ti], and then in the late 19th/early 20th century it diphthongized to [tei]).

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Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish, ch. 2

This is a sequel to "Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish " (11/11/15).

(‘Alone, Popecity’ 独克宗, a street sign on National Highway 214 at the entrance to Shangri-La, 2015. Photo: William Ratz)

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Csikszentmihalyi

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.

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Dzwil

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".

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Outlawed Uyghur names

The Chinese government is troubled by the ongoing unrest in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of the country. The authorities attribute the turmoil to what they refer to as religious extremism, which, they believe, leads to terrorism. Moreover, religious extremism also foments separatism, which the government is dead set against. In an effort to reduce the impact of religious extremism, the government bans many cultural practices that they assert are manifestations of undesirable ideological tendencies.

Here, for example, is a sign that was posted outside hospital in Yining forbidding the burka, unusual facial hair, the hijab, the symbolism of the crescent moon with star, and any apparel conveying pronounced religious sentiments:


(Photograph courtesy of an anonymous colleague)

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