Archive for Transcription

Famous last words

Guest post by Karen Stollznow


In recent weeks we've been following the tragedy and mystery of the Malaysia Airlines flight 370 that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board. Less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing all communication was cut off. The plane diverted unexpectedly across the Indian Ocean and disappeared from civilian air traffic control screens. There has been much controversy surrounding the transcript of the last incoming transmission between the air traffic controller and the cockpit of the ill-fated flight.

We tend to have a morbid fascination with people's last words. We assign profound meaning and philosophical insights to the final words uttered by those who face their fate ahead of us. There are numerous books and websites that chronicle the linguistic legacies of famous people such as Douglas Fairbank's ironic, "I've never felt better," to Woodrow Wilson's courageous, "I am ready," and the betrayal expressed in Julius Caesar's "Et tu, Brute?" Planecrashinfo.com maintains a database of last words from cockpit recordings, transcripts, and air traffic control tapes. These are disturbing announcements of impeding doom, including: "Actually, these conditions don't look very good at all, do they?" through to an assortment of cuss words, and moving farewells like, "Amy, I love you."

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"Let It Go!" in Chinese

Natasha Heller called to my attention the fact that there are several Chinese covers of the Oscar-winning song "Let It Go", from the blockbuster Disney computer-animated film "Frozen".

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Transcriptional and hybrid words in Mandarin

Like all languages, Mandarin and other Sinitic tongues have borrowed and coined words throughout their history.  But it would seem that the pace and nature of the current changes in Chinese usage are of such extraordinary amplitude that an unprecedented transformation is occurring, one that may be marked not merely by differences in quantity and quality, but of order and kind.

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No more Hong Kong, no more Tibet

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has begun to refer to Hong Kong as Xianggang, the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation of the name.

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Scholar-hegemons in China

In "Nerd, geek, PK: Creeping Romanization (and Englishization), part 2" and other Language Log posts, we have delved into the terminology for nerddom.  In the course of our discussions, we seem to have arrived at a consensus that it's difficult to find a Chinese term that conveys well the notion and nuances of the English word "nerd".

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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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Please don't do nothing here: a Bengali conundrum

Sreekar Saha sent in this sign and expressed puzzlement over the English translation:

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Zhou Youguang, Father of Pinyin

Zhou Youguang, the main architect and early advocate of Hanyu Pinyin (the official romanized orthography for Modern Standard Mandarin), had his 108th birthday yesterday.  Although I've been a close friend and admirer of Professor Zhou since 1981, I've never dedicated a Language Log post exclusively to him, so it's about time that I do so.

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The Franco-Prussian Readings

Wicky Tse and Cheng Fangyi both sent me this photograph taken in a bookstore located in the central business district of Xinjiekou, Nanjing, China:

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Kimchee

Apparently, the South Korean government has decided that kimchi 김치 should no longer be referred to just as pàocài 泡菜 ("pickled vegetables") in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, but should have its own name to distinguish it from other types of pickled vegetables.  (There's a November 17 news article about it here.)

The Koreans are very proud of kimchi, and it may be referred to as the Korean national dish.  Kimjang, the tradition of making and sharing kimchi that usually is done in winter, has recently been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

My brother Thomas, who served in the Marines during the Vietnam War and fought alongside Korean soldiers, told me he was amazed that, when the Koreans opened their K-rations, there was kimchee inside.  Thus it is obvious that kimchee is extremely important to the Koreans, and it is indeed different from Chinese fermented vegetables.  But, if it's no longer to be referred to as pàocài 泡菜 ("pickled vegetables") in Chinese, what to call it?

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Japanese phonetically rendered in Mandarin pronunciation of Chinese characters

As used by the Chinese air force, according to a post on Twitter that Joel Martinsen sent to Brendan O'Kane, and Brendan relayed to me:

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Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s

Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of the entrance to the Batefulai Canting in Maolin, Taiwan, near the trail to the purple butterfly valley.

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Our Taiwan

From Jason Cox (with additions and modifications by VHM):

In Taiwan, one often comes across efforts at using zhùyīn 注音 ("phonetic annotation") to hint to readers that a Hoklo Taiwanese reading of the sentence is preferred, rather than a Mandarin reading.  Sometimes the characters are "correct" Hoklo Taiwanese (they convey the meaning of the characters directly); sometimes they will simply sound like Hoklo Taiwanese when read in Mandarin. Two examples that come to mind:

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"Spelling" English in Cantonese

As a follow-up to my Language Log post on Li Yang's fēngkuáng liánxiǎng 疯狂联想 ("crazy association"), Chris Fraser sent me three images of an old Cantonese book that purports to teach English by means of what it calls "Táng zì zhù yīn" 唐字註音 ("phonetic annotation with Tang [i.e., Chinese] characters").

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Za stall in Newtown

Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").

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