Archive for Borrowing

“White left” — a Chinese calque in English

I had never heard of “white left” until two or three days ago when I read this article by Chenchen Zheng in openDemocracy (5/11/17):

The curious rise of the ‘white left’ as a Chinese internet insult“.

It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece, followed by a stimulating discussion among the commenters who come from many perspectives and venture into all sorts of relevant areas (e.g., immigration, race, social constructionism, deregulation, privatization, healthcare, and so on, but even more purely philosophical questions as well).

What I find particularly interesting about the issues swirling around “white left” is that they were initially broached in the context of China, which means that both the advocates and detractors of “white left” thinking were outsiders critiquing the West, yet wondering what implications the “white left” critique of the social, political, and economic situation in the West hold for themselves.

Here’s the epigraph:

Meet the Chinese netizens who combine a hatred for the ‘white left’ with a love of US president Donald Trump.

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Cheater’s stocks in Hong Kong and on the Mainland

Until three days ago when I read the following article in the South China Morning Post, I had never heard of this expression:

Opinion: All you need to know about cheater’s stocks: its lures, its victims and the key opinion leaders” (Shirley Yam, 5/10/17)

She calls these stocks LAO QIAN GU in Chinese, but since I was not familiar with the expression, I was unable to think right away what characters she had in mind.

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Salty pig’s hand

Tony Lin, “End of the Line for Subway Ad Against Sexual Harassment:  One year later, Guangzhou feminist group still hasn’t succeeded in putting up anti-harassment billboards” (Sixth Tone, 4/28/17) is about a group of Chinese women who have — unsuccessfully so far — tried to place a series of public service notices in the Guangzhou subway, alerting passengers to the need to oppose groping. It contains pictures of the would-be ads, including this one:

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Haba: mysterious Mandarin morpheme for “pug”

There’s a town called Hǎbātún 奤夿屯 (where tún 屯 means “village, hamlet; camp; station”) in Chāngpíng qū 昌平区 (“Changping District“) of Beijing.  The name sounds odd and the first two characters are unusual.  It is said to date back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when it was a Mongol military encampment.  Southerners supposedly referred to the Mongols as “hǎbā”.

I’ve also often wondered about the origin of the name “hǎbagǒu 哈巴狗” (where gǒu 狗 means “dog”), which is the Chinese name for “pug” (it is also called bāgēquǎn 巴哥犬 [where bāgē 巴哥 literally means “ba brother” and quǎn 犬 is another word for “dog”]).  Is it possible that the hǎba 哈巴 of hǎbagǒu 哈巴狗 is related to the Hǎbā 奤夿 of Hǎbātún 奤夿屯?

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The pronunciation of “sudoku” in English

I find Japanese pronunciation to be straightforward and easy.  But, for some reason, many people murder Japanese words borrowed into English.  Take “karaoke“, for example.  I hear Americans pronouncing it as something like “carry Okie”.  How did that get started?  You can listen to the Japanese pronunciation here.  Cf. the UK and US pronunciations here.

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Topolectal traffic sign

This has apparently been around for awhile, but I’m seeing it now for the first time:

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“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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