Archive for Writing systems

Chinese characters and eyesight

There was an interesting article in the Economist a couple of day ago:  "Why So Many Chinese Children Wear Glasses" (11/9/2014)

Myopia is epidemic in China, and the percentage of those with this affliction is increasing each year.

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A child's substitution of Pinyin (Romanization) for characters

The following diary entry by an elementary school student is making the rounds in the Chinese media and in the blogosphere:

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cactus wawa: the strange tale of a strange character

On December 15, 2012, Jakob Leimgruber sent in the following photograph of an unusual sign in Montreal:


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Embarrassing amnesia

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

Part I

I was giving a talk the other day, in Chinese, to Chinese students, about English pedagogy (go figure).  I wanted to mention something about the difficulty of remembering how to write Chinese characters, and I chose to use an example of the idiom 韬光养晦 tao1guang1yang3hui4, "to hide your light under a bushel."  Now the interesting thing about this example is that I had used it several times before as an example, in talks about the difficulty of Hanzi, and I said to the audience something like:

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Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2

When Tom Mazanec came home from Fudan University in Shanghai a few nights ago, he found this leaflet in a baggie hanging on his door:


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The second life of a Language Log comment

More than four years ago, on Aug. 23, 2010, Doctor Science left the following comment on a post by Mark Liberman, "Cell phone cupertinos":

I'm pretty sure I saw something several years ago about a whole dialect (argot? jargon? slang?) that had developed among young people in Japan (or possibly some other Asian country), based on phone cupertinos. Basically, they used the first suggestion from the autocomplete function *instead* of the original target word, to create an argot that was reasonably opaque to outsiders.

Now that comment has been brought back from the dead, appearing in two different articles about autocorrect.

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Dissimilation, stress, sandhi, and other tonal variations in Mandarin

A few months ago on the Penn campus I heard a Chinese guy and a girl having a conversation in Mandarin, and I was surprised when he twice said, "Wo3 ming2bai4 le."  The rest of his speech was standard, but then he came out with this strange transformation of "Wo3 ming2bai le".  Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised, because I've heard the exact same thing before.  Nonetheless, it still sounded odd to me, since from first-year Mandarin on I've had it drilled into me that this sentence should be pronounced "Wo3 ming2bai le" and that any other pronunciation of ming2bai was wrong.  This was reinforced by the canonical pronunciation ming2bai given in dictionaries and other authoritative sources.

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Stray Chinese characters in English language documents

Lawrence Evalyn wrote to me saying that he received the official communication below about a new student card that is being issued by his university.  He was perplexed by all the Chinese characters that got inserted in the text.  They seem to appear consistently in certain places and for certain letters.  [N.B.:  The communication has been anonymized for posting on Language Log.]

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Chinese characters formed from letters of the alphabet

Tim Cousins sent in this photograph of a sign in a local mall in Dalian, northeast China.


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Cantonese and Mandarin interwoven

Tom Mazanec noticed this ad for China Mobile by the baggage claim at the Guangzhou (Canton) Baiyun Airport a few nights ago:


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Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese

We have often seen how the Roman alphabet is creeping into Chinese writing, both for expressing English words and morphemes that have been borrowed into Chinese, but also increasingly for writing Mandarin and other varieties of Chinese in Pinyin (spelling).  Here are just a few earlier Language Log posts dealing with this phenomenon:

"A New Morpheme in Mandarin" (4/26/11)

"Zhao C: a Man Who Lost His Name" (2/27/09)

"Creeping Romanization in Chinese" (8/30/12)

Now an even more intricate application of alphabetic usage is developing in internet writing, namely, the juxtaposition and intertwining of simultaneous phrases with contrasting meaning.  Here are a couple of examples:

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Chineasy2

I was hoping that, after writing "Chineasy? Not", I wouldn't have to concern myself with this pedagogical bugaboo again.  Wishful thinking!  For reasons that escape me, the Chineasy juggernaut continues to rumble forward

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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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