Archive for Borrowing

"Poop"

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Yes, the following image from the most recent Weekly Playboy (週刊プレイボーイ Shūkan Pureibōi; not a regional edition of Hugh Hefner's Playboy), is labeled "Poop":

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Why electronic machine translation services sometimes seem to fail

The inability of Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Baidu Fanyi, and other translation services to correctly render jī nián dàjí 鸡年大吉 ("may the / your year of the chicken be greatly auspicious!") in various languages points up a vital distinction that I have long wanted to make, and now is as good a time as ever.  Namely, just as you could not expect these translation services to handle Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, etc. (unless specifically and separately programmed to do so), we should not expect them to deal with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS / CC).

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Caucasian words for tea

In Appendix C of The True History of Tea, a book that I wrote with Erling Hoh, I showed how all the words for "tea" in the world except two little-known Austro-Asiatic terms can be traced back to Sinitic.  The three main types of words for tea (infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves) may be characterized as te, cha, and chai.  I won't repeat all of the philological and linguistic data in this post, but you may find the essentials nicely summarized here:

"An evening with Victor Mair" ("Pluck Tea", 6/1/11), also in this Wikipedia article, and in this blog post on Languages of the World by Asya Pereltsvaig:  "What will you have:  tea or chai?" (9/28/14).

Here's a map of words for tea in European languages.

If you want more detail, go to Appendix C of the book, but — unless you have exceptionally good eyes — you'd be well advised to enlarge it on a photocopier because that part of the book is in double columns of very fine print.

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Creeping English in Chinese

Many years ago, I predicted that — due to the exigencies of technological change and the increasing tempo of life — China would willy-nilly gravitate either toward romanization of Mandarin (and the other Sinitic languages) or the gradual adoption of English for many aspects of written communication (e.g., business, science, medicine) because they are perceived as faster and more efficient.  In truth, I thought, and still do think, that there would be a transitional period during which both processes transpired, though naturally Chinese characters would continue to be used as well.  The evidence with which we are daily confronted, much of it presented in Language Log posts, confirms that my suspicions are being borne out.

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Nguyen: the most common Vietnamese surname

Dave Cragin writes:

I have a brother-in-law who is originally from Hong Kong and his last name is Yuen.  I learned from John McWhorter’s superb series on linguistics that this Chinese name is of Turkic origin.  I asked my brother-in-law about this and he said “Yes, family lore is that we originally came from North-West China” (i.e., where Turkic people had settled.)

According to Wikipedia, the Mandarin equivalent of Yuen is Ruan (阮) and the Vietnamese is Nguyễn.  Wikipedia further notes an estimated 40% of Vietnamese share this name.

I wonder if readers have information that contradicts the above – or is it correct?  (I’d like to know that our family story is accurate).  Is there a Turkish/Turkic equivalent of Yuen or did it remain Yuen?

Also, are there any other common last names that cover such a wide geographic, linguistic, and cultural span, particularly from such ancient times? (obviously, in modern times, people move everywhere).

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Multiscriptal cosplay poster in Haifa

Guy Almog sent me this photograph of a detail from a poster that he and I spotted at several places in and around the Haifa subway:

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Multiculturalism meets international trade

From Bill Thomas via John Rohsenow:

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Bus announcements in Okinawa

Travis Seifman noticed something interesting about the announcements on certain public bus lines in Okinawa: the pronunciation of Japanese / Okinawan place names in the English-language announcements is way off.


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Buzz-phrase

After reading "A new English word" (11/30/16), Yixue Yang sent me the following interesting note on "lihai" ("awesome / awful") in action in China today:

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"Bad" borrowings in North Korean

Last week, the Daily NK (from Seoul) published an article by Kang Mi Jin about "Loanwords frequently appearing in the Rodong Sinmun" (11/25/16), South Korean original here.  Rodong Sinmun is the official newspaper of the North Korean Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea.

A source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on November 21 that the authorities have been delivering public lectures on the need to “actively fight to eradicate the bad habit of using foreign languages, including words of Japanese origin and the language of the puppet regime (South Korea)." However, many have pointed out the increasingly frequent usage of foreign words in the Rodong Sinmun.

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A new English word

Since I began the study of Chinese languages half a century ago, there's one word that I have found very useful and versatile, but extremely hard to translate into English, so in this post I'm going to propose that we might as well just simply (gāncuì 乾脆 = the previous five English words) borrow it into English and be done with it.  That word is the almighty, inimitable, the one and only:  lìhài!

lìhài 厉害 (simplified) / 厲害 (traditional)

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Two new words in Mandarin

At least they're new for me.

I'm always learning new expressions, constructions, usages, etc. in Chinese.  The Sinitic languages are changing so rapidly that it is a heady experience trying to keep up with them.  The two new Mandarin words I just learned are good examples of the kinds of transformations that are constantly taking place in Chinese.

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The mystery of "mouthfeel"

Helen Wang writes:

I have a question – what's the etymology of the English word "mouthfeel"? In the last few weeks in the UK I have heard the word "mouthfeel" several times, spoken very naturally as though it's an established English word. I was surprised because I remember kǒugǎn 口感 (lit. "mouth-feel") as being "untranslatable" or an "awkward translation". So I looked up "mouthfeel" online to see when this direct translation made its way into English. It even has a Wikipedia entry! But no mention of kǒugǎn 口感 or any etymology. It seems to have just appeared in English – earliest usage in the 1930s.  See The Big Apple, "Mouthfeel" (4/10/12) by Barry Popik.

So I tried looking up kǒugǎn 口感 in Chinese and found it was not as ubiquitous as I'd remembered. My very quick and basic search gave the impression that kǒugǎn 口感 might be a translated term in Chinese, most examples being related to drinks such as wine or tea. I wondered if you knew more?

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