Archive for Alphabets


In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable.  "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times.

"The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

"'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" (2/27/15) by Charles Liu

"Chinese netizens just invented a new word, and it's going insanely viral" (2/28/15) by Ryan Kilpatrick (English text part of the way down the page)

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Education in Xinjiang

A government sponsored mural in Kashgar:

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Chinese characters formed from letters of the alphabet

Tim Cousins sent in this photograph of a sign in a local mall in Dalian, northeast China.

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English "-ing" ending in Korean

Rich Scottoline sent in the following photograph of a box of crackers that he happened across in a Nonghyup food store in South Korea:

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Bad shits

I received the following photograph of a sign taken by Son Ha Dinh in Damak, Nepal:

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A trilingual, triscriptal ad in the Taipei subway

Mark Swofford took these photographs of an advertisement for a very well-known brand of instant noodles in the Taipei MRT (subway system). It makes use of three scripts (Chinese characters [including some rare, non-standard forms], bopomofo / zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號 [Mandarin "Phonetic Symbols" of the Republic of China, and Roman letters) and possibly as many languages (Taiwanese, Japanese, English) — with Mandarin apparently *not* being among them.

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Please don't do nothing here: a Bengali conundrum

Sreekar Saha sent in this sign and expressed puzzlement over the English translation:

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Substituting Pinyin for unknown Chinese characters

On September 25, I posted on "Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia", which occasioned a vigorous debate. A few of the commenters thought the essay in question wasn't actually written by a student. Be that as it may, this habit of replacing characters by Pinyin is becoming more and more common, especially among young students. Let us look at this scene from the Chinese documentary "Qǐng tóu wǒ yī piào" 请投我一票 (Please vote for me) at (34:29).

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Phonetic symbols of the Republic of China on American baseball caps

Below is a photo that Bryan Van Norden took of a baseball cap a guy was wearing at a casino in Atlantic City. Someone else at the table asked him what it meant, and he said he thought it was Chinese for "good luck." Bryan explained that he was wrong.

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Za stall in Newtown

Together with his "greetings from small-town Japan", Chris Pickel sent in this photograph of a sign, which was put up in his neighborhood for the aki-matsuri 秋祭り ("autumn festival").

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Spelling bees and character amnesia

An article in today's Want China Times entitled "Audience of Chinese 'spelling bee' forget how to write" begins thus:

Chinese characters are difficult to learn not only for non-native speakers but also for natives as well. This was made evident in a contest held by China's state broadcaster CCTV to test teenagers on their ability to write Chinese characters, reports the internet portal Tencent.

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Dungan: a Sinitic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet

The Dungan people are a group of Sinitic speakers whose Muslim ancestors fled to Central Asia (mainly in parts of what are now Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) over a century ago when the Qing (Manchu) government suppressed their revolt (1862-1877), one of many Muslim uprisings in the course of Chinese history since Islam arrived in East Asia during the Middle Ages.

When they came to Central Asia, the Dungans were mostly illiterate peasants from northwest China who spoke a series of topolects from Shaanxi, Gansu, and other areas.  From 1927 to 1928, they wrote their language with the Arabic alphabet, and from 1928-1932 they used the Latin alphabet.  In 1952-53, the Soviet government created for the Dungans a writing system based on the Cyrillic alphabet, which they continue to use till today.

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Universal alphabet

Not that I think this is any sort of panacea, but our good friends at BBC have seen fit to ask: "Could a new phonetic alphabet promote world peace?"

Although backers of this supposed universal alphabet claim that "it will make pronunciation easy and foster international understanding", I have doubts that SaypU (Spell As You Pronounce Universal project) constitutes a viable route to world peace.

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