Archive for Diglossia and digraphia

Is the Urdu script on the verge of dying?

Hindi-Urdu, also referred to as Hindustani, is the classic case of a digraphia, so much so that there has been a long-standing controversy over whether they are one language or two.  Their colloquial spoken forms are nearly identical, but when written down, the one in the Devanāgarī script, the other in the Nastaʿlīq script, they have a very different look and "feel".

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"Frozen" in Arabic

The New Yorker blog has an online article by Elias Muhanna entitled "Translating 'Frozen' Into Arabic".  What's noteworthy is that Disney's "Frozen" was translated into Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), while previous Disney releases were translated into Egyptian Arabic.  Somewhat oddly, the author compares MSA vis-à-vis colloquial forms of Arabic with both King James Bible English / sportscaster English and Latin quatrains / hiphop French.

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Great taste

Victor Steinbok sent in this photograph of a dim sum restaurant in Boston:


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English or Mandarin as the World Language?

Over at Lingua Franca, fellow Language Log author Geoffrey Pullum has an excellent article entitled "There Was No Committee".

Here's a key paragraph:

Some people talk as if Mandarin Chinese was gaining on English. It is not, and it never will. A Tamil-speaking computer scientist explaining an algorithm to a Hungarian scientist at a Japanese-organized scientific meeting in Thailand calls on English, not Chinese. Nowhere in the world do we find significant numbers of non-Chinese speakers choosing Mandarin as the medium for bridging language gaps. There are no signs of that changing.

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"I tell you"

Bruce Rusk, in a comment to "A bilingual, biscriptal product designation in Taiwan", mentioned "the informal Taiwanese Mandarin pronunciation of 給 ('give') gei3 as gie (3rd tone?), which is not a 'legal' Mandarin syllable" and noted that he "always assumed it was influenced by Taiwanese."

Bruce's mention of "給 ('give') gei3" in turn reminds me of a related Taiwanese-Mandarin interference that affected my own speech in a profound way.

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A bilingual, biscriptal product designation in Taiwan

Well, it's not quite as complex as the mixture of languages and scripts that we addressed in "A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway", but the following group of four characters and four phonetic symbols on the container of a fish-based food flavoring (here's the company's web page for this project) raises plenty enough interesting issues to merit its own post.

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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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Substituting Pinyin for unknown Chinese characters

On September 25, I posted on "Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia", which occasioned a vigorous debate. A few of the commenters thought the essay in question wasn't actually written by a student. Be that as it may, this habit of replacing characters by Pinyin is becoming more and more common, especially among young students. Let us look at this scene from the Chinese documentary "Qǐng tóu wǒ yī piào" 请投我一票 (Please vote for me) at (34:29).

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Chop-chop and chopsticks

Reader Geoff Wade asks:

Might you and your band of linguist lads and lassies turn your erudition to the term 'chop-chop', which according to Wikipedia derives from Cantonese. I can think of no Cantonese term which would give rise to this term.

On this day of Thanksgiving (or Thanksgivvukah, if you prefer, which is said to happen only once every 5,000 years [actually, the next occurrence will be in 2070]), all that I really want to do is "chomp chomp".  But I'll make a start before dinner, and then let others fill in the gaps.

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Our Taiwan

From Jason Cox (with additions and modifications by VHM):

In Taiwan, one often comes across efforts at using zhùyīn 注音 ("phonetic annotation") to hint to readers that a Hoklo Taiwanese reading of the sentence is preferred, rather than a Mandarin reading.  Sometimes the characters are "correct" Hoklo Taiwanese (they convey the meaning of the characters directly); sometimes they will simply sound like Hoklo Taiwanese when read in Mandarin. Two examples that come to mind:

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"Spelling" English in Cantonese

As a follow-up to my Language Log post on Li Yang's fēngkuáng liánxiǎng 疯狂联想 ("crazy association"), Chris Fraser sent me three images of an old Cantonese book that purports to teach English by means of what it calls "Táng zì zhù yīn" 唐字註音 ("phonetic annotation with Tang [i.e., Chinese] characters").

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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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The multilingual name of a Taiwanese baseball team

In Tainan, Taiwan, there's an amateur sports team that calls itself the Yěqiú rén bàngqiú duì 野球人棒球隊, the English version of which is "Yakyuman Baseball Team"

Here's their Facebook page.

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Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia

David Moser saw this photograph of a child's essay via Twitter:

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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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