Archive for Transcription

The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?

Just as all school children in the PRC learn to read and write through Hanyu Pinyin ("Sinitic spelling"), the official romanization on the mainland, so do all school children in Taiwan learn to read and write with the aid of what is commonly referred to as "Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ "), after the first four letters of this semisyllabary.  The system has many other names, including "Zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號" ("[Mandarin] Phonetic Symbols"), its current formal designation, as well as earlier names such as Guóyīn Zìmǔ 國音字母 ("Phonetic Alphabet of the National Language") and Zhùyīn Zìmǔ 註音字母 ( "Phonetic Alphabet" or "Annotated Phonetic Letters").  From the plethora of names, you can get an idea of what sort of system it is.  I usually think of it as a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)

Putin in Russian, Mandarin, and English

I'm at Yale University attending a workshop on Tangut.  So you ask, "What is 'Tangut'?"  Relevant Wikipedia articles:

  • Tangut people, an ancient ethnic group in Northwest China, not Tibetan people.
  • Tangut language, the extinct language spoken by the Tangut people, not Tibetan language.
  • Tangut script, the writing system used to write the Tangut language
  • Western Xia (1038–1227), also known as the Tangut Empire, a state founded by the Tangut people

Enough of Tangut for now.  I will write a separate post on Tangut language and script later on.  Meanwhile, since the majority of specialists on Tangut are Russian, and several Russians are participating in this workshop, I've heard them refer to the president of their country with a pronunciation that is rather different from what we say it in English, but more nearly resembles the way his surname is spoken in Mandarin.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Questionable Sino-Mongolian toponymy

News article from Xinhua (1/16/18, by Quan Xiaoshu, Qu Ting, Cao Pengyuan):

"Ancient tripartite-city of Xiongnu a special religious and meeting site: archaeologists"

It starts:

The ruins of an ancient tripartite-city, known as Sanlian City, in midwest Mongolia's Khermental City, demonstrates that the Xiongnu tribe used to perform religious ceremonies and hold alliance meetings there.

Bathrobe comments:

Now, it may be due to my poor web research skills, but I'm having considerable difficulty finding any Sanlian city or even a Khermental city in Mongolia outside of the Xinhua news article.

Is this another mangled news story where Chinese news reporters are too incompetent (or maybe arrogant) to check the names of geographical places outside of China? I'm also wondering at the thickskinned-ness of calling the archaeological site of a non-Chinese culture in a foreign country by a name so transparently Chinese as "Sanlian".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Zhou Youguang's 112th birthday

Comments (15)

Horse conquers dragon

French President Emmanuel Macron presented a horse to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Vesuvius, an 8-yr old gelding from the 'Garde Republicaine'.

Now, Macron's name in Chinese is transcribed as "Mǎkèlóng 马克龙" (lit., "horse subdues / overcomes / conquers / surmounts dragon").

Make of it what you will.

Comments (6)

Mistranscribed character

Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254-1322) is one of the most famous painters in the history of Chinese art.  Many of his priceless works still exist, and he was even honored by having a 167 kilometer-diameter feature on Mercury (132.4° west, 87.3° south), the "Chao Meng-Fu crater", named after him.

When Zhao Mengfu's name came up in a discussion on connoisseurship in one of my classes a few days ago, I almost fell off my chair upon hearing a graduate student from mainland China pronounce it as "Zhao Mengtiao".  Where did she learn that strange pronunciation for this ultrafamous artist's name?  Did she hear it from her teachers?  Her classmates?  Or was she just making a wild guess based on what she thought the ostensible phonophore, zhào 兆, would yield?  However she came up with "Zhao Mengtiao", the effect upon hearing it would be akin to hearing someone say "Michelanjump" or "Leonardo da Jump".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Sinitic is a group of languages, not a single language

Pro-Cantonese sign in Hong Kong:

A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally in 2010 against mainland China’s bid to champion Mandarin over Cantonese. Picture: AFP

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)


Receipt for yesterday's lunch:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)

Chicken paws and King Kong

A friend of Rebecca Hamilton saw this at a local market in Dundee Scotland:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Uncle Martian knocks off Under Armour

Comments (15)

Weaponized Tibetan Pinyin

Jichang Lulu has just posted a very interesting article titled  "the clash of romanisations" (5/12/17).  It begins:

Last month the Ministry of Civil Affairs (民政部) published a list of six ‘standardised’ place names in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a large part of which the PRC claims as part of South Tibet (藏南). This generated the predictable Indian protests, media brouhaha and mandatory Globule sovereignty-reaffirming blather. Analysis of what’s being called a “renaming” of Arunachal “districts” sees it as retaliation for the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the region. All these hit-back-at-the-DL-to-“re”affirm-sovereignty readings are surely plausible, but I don’t think it’s very clear in which sense these ministerial coinages are ‘renaming’ or ‘standardising’ anything.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Bill Gates speaks Mandarin

Here's Bǐ'ěr·Gàicí 比尔·盖茨 welcoming visitors to his new blog on the Chinese social network WeChat:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

Wade-Giles Romanization and Chinese food

From Clarissa Wei, "The Struggles of Writing About Chinese Food as a Chinese Person", Munchies (4/24/17)

I hold myself to high standards when it comes to writing about Chinese food, yet I live in a world that can be quite insensitive in their approach to the cuisine.

For example, many writers (especially on the East Coast) still use the Wades-Giles spelling of Chinese locations, a phonetic system that was invented by British diplomats Herbert Giles and Thomas Wade. It is a dictionary that is largely outdated and widely inaccurate in its representation of Chinese phonetics. In the Wade-Giles system, Sichuan is Romanized to Szechuan. Nanjing is Nanking. Beijing is called Peking. These writers are the same people who still refer to Guangdong province as Canton.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (44)