Archive for Writing systems

Foul Meat-gate

In "Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law " (7/27/14), we discussed the food scandal that has rocked China in recent days.  Abe Sauer had earlier made this post to the brandchannel:  "China's Latest Meat Scandal Could Deal a Death Blow to Brands Like KFC " (7/23/14).  In it, Abe remarked, "Taking a note from America's Watergate-based nomenclature, the scandal is being called 'Foul Meat-gate' ('臭肉门')."  Ben Zimmer, who called Abe's post to my attention, asked, "Is '-gate' really working as a morpheme here?"

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Kiss kiss / BER: Chinese photoshop victim

David Moser sent this photo to me about five years ago and I'm only now getting around to unearthing it from the masses of files scattered over my desktop:


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"Jesus" in Dungan

Dungan is a Sinitic language spoken by the descendants of Hui (Muslim) refugees who fled from northwest China after a failed revolt against the Qing (Manchu) government about a century and a half ago.  Experiencing horrible losses along the way, their remnants settled in parts of what are now Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where ultimately they thrived and are quite successful today, particularly in growing produce.

Naturally, separated as they were from their homeland and its speech community, the language of the Dungans has undergone considerable change, especially through the borrowing of terms from Russian, Persian, Arabic, Turkic, and other languages.  Even more radical was the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet for their writing system (nearly all of those who fled were illiterate in Chinese characters).

For a brief introduction to the Dungans and their language, see "Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet".

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Neoguri: raccoon or raccoon dog?

The typhoon that struck Okinawa a few days ago and is now passing by Tokyo is called Neoguri.  It gets it name from a Korean word meaning "raccoon dog".

The Japanese refer to it as Taifū 8-gō Neoguri 台風8号ネオグ リ ("Typhoon No. 8 Neoguri"), but most often without the "Neoguri" (see below for discussion of Japanese typhoon designation practices).  However, the Chinese are calling it Huànxióng 浣熊 ("raccoon"), which is a clear mistranslation.  The Chinese name for the raccoon dog is hé 貉 or háozi 貉子.

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Devil-language

For May 21, China Real Time Report, the China blog of the Wall Street Journal, featured an article entitled "Do You Dare Try the Devil-Language? China’s 10 Hardest Dialects" by Isabella Steger.

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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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Sinographic memory in Vietnamese writing

Jason Cox sent in the following photograph of the cover of a Vietnamese religious text and asked what was going on with the "characters" along the left and right sides.


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Emojify the Web: "the next phase of linguistic evolution"

Today's announcement from the Google Chrome team (yes, note the date):


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Chineasy? Not

Last Friday, the following article appeared in The Wall Street Journal:

"A New Way to Learn Chinese:  Entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh aims to bridge the gap between East and West by teaching Westerners how to read Chinese".

The article is preceded by a video that begins with this note:

Entrepreneur and author ShaoLan Hsueh has devised a simplistic method for teaching English speakers to learn to read Chinese.

It is true that her system is "simplistic", but it is not true that people who use it "learn to read Chinese", despite her repeated claim that "it works."

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Bad shits

I received the following photograph of a sign taken by Son Ha Dinh in Damak, Nepal:

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A variable, transcriptional Chinese character

Gloria Bien sent in the following photograph and asked what to make of the Chinese text in it, especially the unusual character 叻, which is pronounced lè in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM; but see below for the Cantonese pronunciation and meaning). Wenlin says it's part of a name for Singapore, but not used alone, as it is in this picture. Google says Overseas Chinese use it for Singapore. But, as Gloria observes, "I'm the most Singapore" doesn't make sense.

This is from a package of noodles from Emeryville, CA, and says "Product of China," but complex characters are used throughout.

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Swype and Voice Recognition for mobile device inputting

In late 2012, while visiting my son Tom in Dallas, I noticed that he was doing something very odd with his cell phone.  Most people enter text into their cell phone by pressing their thumbs (or their fingertip) on the letters of a small keyboard, whether virtual or actual.  But Tom was doing something altogether different:  he was sliding his finger over the glass surface of his phone and somehow, by so doing, he was able to enter text.  I was dumbfounded!  What amazed me most of all was how casual he was about it.  He'd be talking to me about something, then glance down at his cell phone, move his fingertip around on the glass, and — presto digito! — he'd have typed a message to someone and sent it off.

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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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Multiscript Taiwan advertisement

Jason Cox sent in the following ad for a Christmas-themed exhibition of papercutting artwork from Taiwan:

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Cantonese as Mother Tongue, with a note on Norwegian Bokmål

I just received this note from a colleague:

I found a document on the Hong Kong Education Bureau's website that says:  "Xiānggǎng de qíngkuàng shì yǐ Zhōngwén wéi mǔyǔ 香港的情況是以中文為母語" ("The situation in Hong Kong takes Chinese as the Mother Tongue").

Zhōngwén 中文 ("Chinese") is a rather curious, ambiguous, and imprecise term since it can essentially mean just about any kind of Chinese. I think using it to refer to a person's so-called mother tongue is especially dubious and sneaky.

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