Archive for Borrowing

Both Chinese and Japanese; neither Japanese nor Chinese

An ad for a new product of a Hong Kong cake shop went viral for taking pseudo-Japanese to the extreme:

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Firefighting without the fire

Bruce Balden was curious as to why the Chinese terms for "fire department" (xiāofáng duì 消防队) and "firefighting" (xiāofáng 消防) do not have the word for "fire" (huǒ 火) in them.  I had thought about that long ago, but never made an attempt to determine why it is so.  Now that Bruce has brought up this issue directly, I am curious how true it is for other languages of the world as well.

For East Asia, since Japan also uses the same expression (shōbō 消 防), it became a question of determining whether the modern terminology for firefighting developed first in China or in Japan.

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Some difficulties of painting Chinese characters on streets

Ryan Kilpatrick has an interesting article in Hong Kong Free Press:

"Taiwan city promises to ‘correct’ simplified road sign after public outcry" (12/7/15)

It includes this photograph, which illustrates some of the problems:

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Japanese first person pronouns

Andrew Peters noticed an interesting aspect of the concise little figure in this article:  "Evolution of the first person pronoun in Japanese spoken language" (click to nicely embiggen).  It claims to show which pronouns were in use in various eras (Nara [710–794], Heian [794–1185], Kamakura [1185–1333], Muromachi [1336–1573], Edo [1603–1868], Meiji/Taisho/Showa [1868-1989], and postwar).  What Andrew discovered is that the two casual masculine pronouns ore おれ (俺) (this may even sound rude) and boku ぼく(僕) are, respectively, the oldest and newest pronouns in use today.

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Quinoa: way more than one way to pronounce it

From a colleague:

A question about quinoa. Linguistic, not gustatory or political-economic. How do / would you normally say it?

kee-NO-ah?  kwee-NO-ah?
KEE-no-ah?  KWEE-no-ah?
KEEN-wah?  KWEEN-wah?
keen-WAH?  kween-WAH?
(or? )

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English in Chinese — direct and indirect

Zach Hershey saw the following announcement on WeChat from a Chinese student association at UC Irvine:

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New Mandarin words: "pā" (part) and "lūsě" ("loser")

There is a lively March 25, 2015 lecture about the First Emperor of the Qin (260-210 BC), the ruler who unified China by force and bequeathed the name of his dynasty to China for all time.

The lecture, with the title "Qín shǐhuáng zài yǐnmán shénme? 秦始皇在隐瞒什么?" ("What was the First Emperor of the Qin hiding?"), is on YouTube.  The name of the speaker is Luó Zhènyǔ 羅振宇.  He's got the gift of gab, and is one of the best Chinese speakers I've ever heard.  Luo was a journalism major, a field in which he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D.

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The shawm and its eastern cousins

I have long been intrigued by the Chinese instrument called suǒnà 嗩吶 (double-reeded horn).  Because of the sound and shape of the name, and the fact that the characters used to write it both have mouth radicals, indicating that they are being used to convey pronunciation rather than meaning, I have always suspected that suǒnà 嗩吶 was the transcription of a foreign word.  This suspicion was underscored by the time (medieval period) and direction (from the Western Regions [as attested in wall paintings and plastic art]) that it entered the panoply of Chinese musical instruments.  There are at least half a dozen different combinations of various characters for transcribing the sound of this word (see Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 [Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic], 3.461b]).

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English in Chinese: over了, out了, 太low了, 太out了

Note from Gábor Ugray:

I just came across a hugely exciting conversation on Twitter, about English words mixed in with Chinese / adopted into Chinese speech – as seen in the subject line. There’s no easy way to extract conversations from Twitter, but it’s all in Liz Carter's feed today:

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Japanesey Chinese

A new wave of Sino-Japanese borrowings?

During the last century and a quarter or so, Chinese has absorbed a large number of borrowings from Japanese:

"Recent Japanese loanwords in Chinese" (7/22/13)

"'And the greatest Japanese export to China is…'" (8/21/12)

"Sino-Nipponica " (7/26/15)

"Metaphysics has ruined Chinese" (5/27/15)

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Beauty-protecting box

Nathan Hopson sent in this photograph of a trash can / rubbish bin in Nagoya, Japan:

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Niubi ("awesome") revisited

In recent years, this has been one of the most common modifiers and exclamations in Chinese.  You can say just "niu" by itself, where "niu" actually means niú 牛 ("cow"), but that's an elision of "niuB" or "niubi", which in turn means "cow pussy".  Although "niu(B/bi)" is used so frequently, in mixed company, on packaging, and so forth that it has lost much of its original shock value, it now means not much more than "awesome".  Nonetheless, I would recommend scrupulously avoiding it in situations where you are expected to be polite and formal.

Although "niu(B/bi)" may amount to "awesome", it is far more colorful and crude.  The origin of this usage is quite vulgar; for explanations, see here, here (with links to other posts in which the term is treated), also here and here.

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Political gat kruiping

In "Should Africa speak Mandarin?" (ZimDaily [8/31/15]), the phrase "political gat kruiping" occurs twice.  Upon first occurrence, "gat kruiping" is defined as "brown nosing".  Since this is in the context of "introducing Mandarin in schools next year to pupils between the grades 4 and 12", I was curious about the nuances and form of "gat kruiping".

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