Archive for Writing systems

Creeping English in Chinese

Many years ago, I predicted that — due to the exigencies of technological change and the increasing tempo of life — China would willy-nilly gravitate either toward romanization of Mandarin (and the other Sinitic languages) or the gradual adoption of English for many aspects of written communication (e.g., business, science, medicine) because they are perceived as faster and more efficient.  In truth, I thought, and still do think, that there would be a transitional period during which both processes transpired, though naturally Chinese characters would continue to be used as well.  The evidence with which we are daily confronted, much of it presented in Language Log posts, confirms that my suspicions are being borne out.

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Nguyen: the most common Vietnamese surname

Dave Cragin writes:

I have a brother-in-law who is originally from Hong Kong and his last name is Yuen.  I learned from John McWhorter’s superb series on linguistics that this Chinese name is of Turkic origin.  I asked my brother-in-law about this and he said “Yes, family lore is that we originally came from North-West China” (i.e., where Turkic people had settled.)

According to Wikipedia, the Mandarin equivalent of Yuen is Ruan (阮) and the Vietnamese is Nguyễn.  Wikipedia further notes an estimated 40% of Vietnamese share this name.

I wonder if readers have information that contradicts the above – or is it correct?  (I’d like to know that our family story is accurate).  Is there a Turkish/Turkic equivalent of Yuen or did it remain Yuen?

Also, are there any other common last names that cover such a wide geographic, linguistic, and cultural span, particularly from such ancient times? (obviously, in modern times, people move everywhere).

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Zhou Youguang 1906-2017

Zhou xiansheng,

You were my dear friend for decades.  I wish that you had gone on living forever.  You will be sorely missed, but yours was a life well lived.

As the "Father of Pinyin", you have had an enormous impact on education and culture in China.  After you passed the century mark, you spoke out courageously in favor of democracy and reform.

Now, one day after your 111th birthday, you have departed, but you will always be in our hearts, brimming with light, as your name suggests.

Tearfully,

Victor

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Monumental laughing face

From an anonymous reader, who spotted this photograph on Instagram, where it was posted by nanorie, who has given her permission to repost it:

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Chinese lung cancer poeticizes in English

For several days I've been aware of a strange poem that has gone viral in China:

"Read The Smog-Inspired Poem That China Can't Stop Talking About" (NPR, 1/12/17)

The strangeness of the poem is due to its being written from the perspective of lung cancer and addressed to the patient.  You judge for yourself — here's the complete poem:

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The Annoying PPP (past-perfect progressive)

It's only January, yet we may have already seen this year's winner in the category of Misapprehensions about Chinese Characters and the Nature of Language.  It appears in Xiaolu Guo's "‘Is this what the west is really like?’ How it felt to leave China for Britain" (The Guardian, 1/10/17).  Ms. Guo's long essay, an adapted extract from her forthcoming Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up, is preceded by this dismal epigraph:

Desperate to find somewhere she could live and work as she wished, moved from Beijing to London in 2002. But from the weather to the language and the people, nothing was as she expected.

Poor Xiaolu Guo!

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Teaching Chinese characters in Korea

Bruce Humes writes:

I noticed this news item today (below) that foresees teaching young South Korean students how to read Chinese characters.

I don’t know Korean, but I’ve always been interested in how Chinese characters are used (or not) in Korean and Japanese. I look forward to the occasional piece in your Language Log, touching on topics such as what the re-emphasis on hanja signifies, why it might “boost understanding of Korean terms,” etc.

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Mystery script in a library book

We received the following intriguing note at Language Log Plaza:

Hey there, my name's Dan and I work at the Calistoga library. I found this little note in a book that was returned and I'm curious what script it's in.
At first I thought it was in Cherokee, but then looked closely and saw it wasn't.
It was returned in a Spanish-language book, if that's any clue.

A cursory look through writing systems on Omniglot didn't turn up a match. Can Language Log readers identify the script (assuming it's a script)?

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A bilingual, biscriptal pun in Belgium

Alex Baumans sent in this photograph of the logo of a Korean food truck in Belgium, run by one San-Ho Park Correwyn:

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More biscriptal examples from Israel

Last month, in "Apostrophe in Hebrew" (11/22/16), we saw an "s" and an apostrophe incorporated in Hebrew writing.  Here, on top of a taxi, from left to right it says "taxi", and from right to left it says מוֹנִית ("taxi").

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Multiscript sign in the Hong Kong subway

Many's the time that we have encountered biscriptalism in the Sinosphere and elsewhere (see here, here, here, and here).

Now Jenny Chu has sent in this photograph of an interesting ad, currently in Hong Kong's MTR, which fuses Japanese- and Korean-appearing lettering with English, presumably in order to seem in touch with the latest trends.

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Ken Liu reinvents Chinese characters

In "Inside the world of Chinese science fiction, with 'Three Body Problem' translator Ken Liu" (Quartz, 12/2/16), Nikhil Sonnad conducts an interview with the sci-fi author and translator of the Sān tǐ 三体 (Three-Body [Problem]) series by Liú Cíxīn 刘慈欣.

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Aravrit

Speaking of biscriptalism, Guy Almog called my attention to an interesting project called Aravrit (that is, Arabic + Hebrew [ivrit]).

From the home page:

Aravrit is a project of utopian nature. It presents a set of hybrid letters merging Hebrew and Arabic.

This new writing system is composed of an Arabic letter on the upper half and a Hebrew letter on the bottom half. The characteristic features of each letter were retained, however in both languages the fusion required some compromises to be made, yet maintaining readability and with limited detriment to the original script. In Aravrit, one can read the language he/she chooses, without ignoring the other one, which is always present.

Judging from Aravrit's Facebook page, many of the details of this new, hybrid script were inspired by features found on Yemenite manuscripts.

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