Archive for Writing systems

Simplified characters for Hong Kong? No thanks!

On July 1, the government is sponsoring a spectacular fireworks display that will light up the sky over Victoria Harbor to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial control to the People's Republic of China.  Trouble is, the show will begin with the words "China" and "Hong Kong", but the form in which they will be written has made local residents unhappy:

"Hong Kong fireworks display for 20th handover anniversary sparks controversy over use of simplified Chinese characters:  City’s most expensive fireworks event since 1997 to run 23 minutes over Victoria Harbour at cost of HK$12 million" (Jane Li, SCMP, 6/12/17)

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Don't forget to pay pay pay pay pay the rent

Recently, signs like this one showed up in the Shanghai subway:

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Coral reef, dead or alive

June Teufel Dreyer noticed that the People's Daily and other official outlets refer to Okinotori as a jiāo 礁, reef, which fits her understanding of the geology involved.  The Japanese, hoping for a larger Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), say it is an island. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) definition is that a rock incapable of sustaining life (“life” is not defined; could be human life, animals, plants, bacteria?) is not an island. The government of Japan position is that Okinotori isn’t a rock, since it is composed of coral.  Yet the character, which she assumes the Japanese use as well, clearly contains the rock element.   So, June asked, can coral be considered a rock?  In this case, there are substantial implications.

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From "barbarian" to "very"

Earlier this week, I wrote a post titled "'Little Man' the eating machine" (5/22/17), in which I pointed out that "Man" here does not mean "(hu)man" or "male human", but that it signifies "(southern) barbarian", with extended meanings of “rough; reckless; fierce; rude; unreasoning; unruly; bullying”.  I also noted that this mán 蛮 has another set of meanings:  "quite; rather; somewhat; very".

In the sixth comment to the post, liuyao wrote:

I was hoping VHM would do a linguistic/philological analysis of 蛮 in the sense of “very”. Given that it was originally a derogatory term for “barbarians” in the south (possibly Austroasiatics that have long been displaced or assimilated), how did it come about that the southern topolects (or when they speak their variants of Mandarin) have this character or word for “very”? Are there alternative characters for this morpheme?

I will now attempt to answer all of liuyao's questions.

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Chinese emoji, with a twist

Adrienne LaFrance has an eye-opening article about "The Westernization of Emoji" in The Atlantic (5/22/17).  Here's the summary statement at the beginning:

The takeout box and the fortune cookie are perceived as emblems of Chinese culture, when they’re actually central to the American experience of it.

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Unknown language #9

Forwarded by Geoff Wade (sans Twitter comments):

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White dude challenges Chinese speakers in Shanghai

Jayme, his gangling arms covered with colorful tattoos, sallies forth onto Nanjing Road, the busiest shopping street in Shanghai, and tests the local denizens and tourists on their language skills (reading, writing, and pronunciation):

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Unknown language #8

Michael Carasik, on behalf of NAPH (National Association of Professors of Hebrew), has forwarded to me a letter that was written to Oscar P. Schaub in the 1920s. Can anyone identify the script and/or translate it for him?

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Last gasp of lead type

Chen Cheng-wei and staff writer Elizabeth Hsu, "Taiwan's last lead-character mold maker works to preserve the past" (Focus Taiwan, 5/1/17):

Rixing Type Foundry is home to the last remaining collection of traditional Chinese movable type character molds in the world. It possesses 120,000 molds of different characters in a wide range of sizes and three different typefaces — kaiti (楷體) or regular script, songti (宋體) and heiti (黒體) or sans-serif black — and has more than 10 million lead character pieces for printing or sale.

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Writing moxibustion is a bust

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

I took a group of my students, who are studying the Chinese medical system, to a yǎngshēngguǎn 养生馆 [VHM: "health center / club" — centered on TCM = Traditional Chinese Medicine], which are very common in Beijing.  I wanted them to see and experience firsthand the kinds of informal "well being" treatments that the lǎobǎixìng 老百姓 ("common people") indulge in every day, such as foot massage, cupping (báguàn 拔罐), medicinal foot baths, moxibustion, etc.

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Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 3

Christopher Alderton saw this flyer on his way to work a few days ago:

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Long kanji readings

SoraNews24 (4/20/17) has an article by Scott Wilson titled "W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 kanji with the longest readings【Weird Top Five】 ".  Before attempting to read and critique this article, we need to familiarize ourselves with some basic terms and concepts about the modern Japanese writing system.  It basically consists of thousands of kanji (Chinese characters) and kana (a syllabary of 48 symbols, of which there are two different types, cursive hiragana and angular katakana).  As the name "syllabary" indicates, each of the kana symbols is pronounced as a syllable, except for one, which indicates the sound "n".

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How not to learn Chinese

In "Sinological suffering" (3/31/17), "Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17), and other recent posts, we examined the difficulty, for some the near impossibility, of mastering how to write hundreds and thousands of Chinese characters.  Yet, if one wishes to become literate in Chinese, one simply must do it.  Until the 21st century, there was basically only one way:  rote copying of the characters to engrave them in the neuromuscular pathways of the learner.

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