Archive for Borrowing

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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Back in mid-December, 2013, I started assembling materials for a post about the differences between Chinese and Japanese writing.  I think that someone (I forget who) sent me a couple of links that stimulated me to think about this topic, and then I added some things of my own.  That was about as far as I got, though, so the would-be post was filed away in my drafts folder until I stumbled upon it today.

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Eighteenth-century European sources for some Chinese proverbs

Jan Söhlke was intrigued by the issue of fake Chinese proverbs that had come up in some recent Language Log posts. That reminded him of the time when he was preparing his MA Thesis he stumbled across an unusual selection of Chinese proverbs. His thesis is on Wilhelm Raabe's novel Das Odfeld.  As a motto Raabe uses a quote from a text by his own grandfather, August Heinrich Raabe, that appeared in a journal called the Holzmindisches Wochenblatt (Holzminden Weekly) back in 1787.  As Jan was leafing through the journal, he noticed a group of Chinese proverbs. It struck him as a bit odd, so he made a copy.  Unfortunately, at the time he did not own a digital camera nor did he have a cell phone with camera, so he had to type them by hand.

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Writing English with Chinese characters

Sign on a pet-grooming place in Banqiao, Taiwan (contributed by Mark Swofford):

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Tormented in Taiwanese

A couple of weeks ago, we encountered the case of Chang Chun-ning being asked by her fěnsī 粉絲 ("fans") on the Mainland to change one of the characters in her name that they weren't familiar with:

"7,530,000 mainlanders petition Taiwan actress to change her name" (5/14/15)

After the incident about the bank in China telling Chang Chun-ning to change her name that was quoted and translated by K. Chang here ("Even the bank wanted me to change my name. I've had enough!!!!!!"), there is another clause that finishes her Weibo (microblog) post, as quoted in the China Times article:

hái fù shàng 'zhuākuáng' de tiētú 還附上「抓狂」的貼圖。

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Names of the chemical elements in Chinese

Mike Pope relayed to me the following from his son Zack, a high school physics teacher:

I was wondering what the periodic table of elements looked like in China, and found this image.

This may or may not be the "official" periodic table, but I thought it was interesting to see the similarities in the characters. Specifically the character for gold, which is also the character for metal in general, and is a prefix for a large portion of the periodic table. The character for water is a large part of the character for mercury, and a few others, and all of the gas elements have the same character in them. It makes me wonder what the protocol is for naming new elements in Chinese, since they seem to be focused on the properties of the element itself, and that would take more investigating than might be possible for new elements, which usually only exist for fractions of fractions of seconds. Newly discovered elements these days are named (in English) after people: Bohrium, Rutherfordium, Fermium, Einstenium, etc. and I wonder what the Chinese equivalent of those elements is.

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