Archive for Topolects

Wenzhounese in Italy

Commonly referred to as "Devil's language" (èmó zhī yǔ 恶魔之语), because it is considered by outsiders to be extraordinarily difficult, Wenzhounese (Wēnzhōu huà 温州话), the language of the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province 230 air miles south of the Yangtze estuary, has been a topic of discussion on Language Log before:

"Devilishly difficult 'dialect" (8/20/15)

"Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects" (10/5/14)

"Devil-language" (5/25/14)

"The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads" (5/14/13)

"Mutual intelligibility" (5/28/14)

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A trilingual, biscriptal note (with emoji)

Message in a store window @ 826 Valencia, San Francisco:

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Why learn Cantonese and one way to do it

Anne Henochowicz, who for years was a mainstay at China Digital Times, and whom I have often cited on Language Log, has decided to branch out from Mandarin and tackle another important Sinitic language, Cantonese.

Check out her new blog:  "I'm Learning Cantonese:  Teaching Myself a Second Chinese Language".

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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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The perils of pronunciation

Distinguishing between "four" and "ten" in rapid, slurred Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is not always easy:  sì 四 vs. shí 十.  Try saying sìshísì 四十四 ("forty-four") quickly and it starts to feel like the beginning of a tongue twister.  Now, when speakers from the various topolects, even within the so-called Mandarin group, come together and tones, vowels, and consonants start flying off in all directions, things can become still hairier and sometimes even costly.

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Cantonese teachers influenced by Mandarin

[This is a guest post by Silas S. Brown]

It seems a few native Cantonese speakers employed in the production of Cantonese language courses are quite happy to read out Mandarin vocabulary with Cantonese pronunciation, rather than the actual native Cantonese versions of the words, and I can't help wondering why.

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Ken Liu reinvents Chinese characters

In "Inside the world of Chinese science fiction, with 'Three Body Problem' translator Ken Liu" (Quartz, 12/2/16), Nikhil Sonnad conducts an interview with the sci-fi author and translator of the Sān tǐ 三体 (Three-Body [Problem]) series by Liú Cíxīn 刘慈欣.

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Dialect death

Reports of the death of languages and the extinction of languages are alarmingly routine, but before a language dies out entirely, when it is endangered, its dialects die off one by one.

"Last native speaker of Scots dialect dies" (10/6/12)

Dialect Death:  The case of Brule Spanish (1997)

The list of publications documenting the dead and dying dialects could go on for many pages:  I lament each and every one of them.

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Language vs. script

Many of the debates over Chinese language issues that keep coming up on Language Log and elsewhere may be attributed to a small number of basic misunderstandings and disagreements concerning the relationship between speech and writing.

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Hokkien-Tagalog-English-Spanish phrasebook

Page of a phrasebook published in 1941 (click to embiggen):

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English-Cantonese and Hokkien-Malay phrasebooks

Ryan of Singapore sent me photographs of a section from a Chinese almanac that amounts to a ten-page English phrasebook phonetically annotated in Cantonese. Here are two of the pages (as usual, click to embiggen):

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More old names for Singapore

We have already studied an old name for Singapore on the back of an envelope dating to 1901:

Now, Ruben de Jong, relying on the works of Dutch scholars, has discovered several others.

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The perils of "7" and "9" in Cantonese

Here we go again:

"Samsung’s Galaxy On7 goes official" (Marketing-Interactive, 9/28/16)

As we’ve covered shortly two weeks ago, the pronunciation of “7″ sounds like “penis” in Cantonese, and the latest Samsung Galaxy On7 launch has once again stirred up discussion on the internet in Hong Kong.

The Cantonese pronunciation of  “On9″ [sic: there seems to be a mix-up here] is similar to slang meaning “stupid”, and many are saying the new release is a crossover between the two slang words.

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