Archive for Writing systems

Japan: crazy over portmanteaux

No matter where I go these days, I hear young people shouting to their friends, "I'm playing Pokémon Go", which they pronounce "pokey-mon go".  It would be an understatement to say that, for the past few weeks, Pokémon Go has been a veritable craze.  Yet most people who play the game probably do not realize that the name "Pokémon" is a Japanese portmanteau based on two English words:  poketto ポケット ("pocket") + monsutā モンスター ("monster"). 

"What's in a name — Pikachu, Beikaciu, Pikaqiu?" (5/31/16)

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Stylized characters

Dean Barrett sent in these two photographs of signs from, respectively, the Taiwan Literary Museum and a sex shop in Tainan that is well known for its wide selection of condoms:

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Learning to read and write Chinese

Responding to "How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08), Alex Wang writes:

Thanks for the great blog.  I have also enjoyed the articles of David Moser.  My path toward your blog started when I decided to teach my younger son, 4, to start to read Chinese and English.  It also was heavily influenced by watching my elder son, 7, struggle with learning how to write characters.  He is attending public school here in Shenzhen.  Both were born in HK and raised in Shenzhen.  Moreover, my wife's side is from the mainland.  After analysing the issue at length I have come to many of the same conclusions as your colleagues and you have.

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A confusion of languages and names

Xinjiang  新疆 (lit., "New Frontiers / Borders / Boundaries") is the northwesternmost and largest (one sixth of the whole country) among all of China's 34 provincial-level administrative units.  It got its present official name in the 1880s under the Manchus during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but it has also been called, among other names, "Western Regions", Eastern Turkestan, and Uyghurstan.  When suitable, I prefer to refer to this region as Eastern Central Asia (ECA), since the latter designation is purely geographical in nature and has no political implications.

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Character conversion blues

Mike Miller writes:

I recently stayed in a hotel in a smaller city in Shandong and was surprised to see what they are calling a hair dryer these days.

Here's a photograph that Mike sent along:

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She calls herself Angelababy

That's what practically everybody else calls her too.

There's a great article by Qian Jinghua in Sixth Tone (Fresh voices from today's China) titled "Call Me Angelababy, Maybe:  Ban on foreign names in Chinese-language press reveals fear of cultural fragility." (6/30/16)

It's about a phenomenally popular 27-year-old actress, model, and singer whose Chinese name is 楊穎, which is read as Yáng Yǐng in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) and Joeng4 Wing6 (conventional spelling Yeung Wing) in Cantonese.  Her father, from Hong Kong, is half Chinese and half German, her mother is Shanghainese.  Yang Ying's stage name, "Angelababy", by which virtually everyone knows her (most people are uncertain about her Chinese name or don't know it at all), comes from a combination of her English name "Angela" and her nickname "Baby".

So what's all the fuss over her name?

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 4

The last installment of this series, "Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 3" (6/30/16), contains links to many other Language Log posts relevant to this subject.

It is often difficult to fathom which English word is intended when it is transcribed in Chinese characters.  John Kieschnick called my attention to an especially challenging one:  ěrlílìjǐng 爾釐利景.  Before going on to the next page and before googling it, try to figure out what it is meant to "spell".  Scout's honor!  No peeking!

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A new polysyllabic character

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s, pt. 2

Michael Meng, China curator at the Yale University Library, discovered several rare books in Yale's Medical Historical Library that provide important evidence for the development of phoneticization of Chinese characters in the transcription of country names and personal names of foreigners.

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Economy of expression

Flying back from Vienna on Austrian Airlines yesterday, I saw the following notices printed on the back of the seat in front of me:

Gurte während des sitzens geschlossen halten*

Fasten seat belt while seated

*some airlines begin this sentence with a "bitte", which would make the German even longer

Die schwimmweste befindet sich unter ihrem sitz

Life vest under your seat

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Chinese, Japanese, and Russian signs at Klagenfurt Botanical Gardens

Blake Shedd sent along a series of forty pictures of plant identification signs from the botanical garden in the small southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt am Wörthersee. He was rather impressed that the botanical garden staff went to the trouble of including non-Latin / non-German names for the plants.  And I was impressed at the remarkable documentation Blake provided by carefully and clearly photographing so many signs with essentially the same lighting and size.  There's no need for him to apologize ("leaning over roped-off areas to get shots resulted in a few blurry or less than ideal shots"). The green leaves appearing at the edges of some of the photographs, which are otherwise black and white, only serve to enhance the arboreal, herbaceous atmosphere evoked by reading the signs.

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Rapping Karl Marx in China

In Sixth Tone, Fan Yiying has written an article that leaves me reeling:

"Hip Song Gives Karl Marx Good Rap:  Theme music for a Marx-focused television show is a hit with Chinese youth."

The video of the song is posted here (unfortunately, you have to wait 40 seconds to get through the ads). And here is the audio:

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Firestorm over Chinese characters

It began with a one page think piece by Ted Chiang in the New Yorker (5/16/16) that we describe and discuss here:

"Ted Chiang uninvents Chinese characters" (5/13/16)

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