Archive for Topolects

Central government control over words for grandmother

Recently there was quite a ruckus over the correct word to be used for "maternal grandmother" in second-graders' textbooks in Shanghai:

"Much Ado About Grandma: Textbook Change Sparks Linguistic Debate:  Critics call ‘waipo’ to ‘laolao’ change ‘cultural hegemony’ from the north", Kenrick Davis, Sixth Tone (6/22/18)

"A debate over the word for ‘grandmother’ in China exposes a linguistic and political rift", Echo Huang and Ziyi Tang, Quartz (6/26/18)

The big controversy was over whether students should be taught to say "lǎolao 姥姥" or "wàipó 外婆", both of which mean "maternal grandmother".

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Mother tongue is like mother's milk

Pro-Taiwanese language poster on a wall in Tainan (courtesy of Tim Clifford):

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The future of Cantonese, part 2

During the month of May, we witnessed a major flare-up in Hong Kong over the status of Cantonese:

"Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18) — with references to more than two dozen earlier posts on Cantonese relevant to today's topic; in toto, the number of LLog posts touching on one or another aspect of Cantonese is far greater than those listed at the end of this 5/4/18 post

"Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2" (5/7/18)

"The Future of Cantonese" (5/27/18)

All of this has prompted Verna Yu to ask "Can Cantonese survive?", America (6/5/18).

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Here's an amusing Japanglish song by a Malaysian Chinese hip hop recording artist who is called Namewee:

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The Future of Cantonese

[This is a guest post by Robert S. Bauer]

HK’s Cantonese language continues to attract attention and be a topic of discussion.

Two Mondays ago (May 14, 2018) I was a guest discussant on RTHK Radio 3's Backchat programme.

The topic was "The Future of Cantonese" (in Hong Kong).

In addition to the two main hosts, Hugh Chiverton and Mike Rowse, the following people joined in the discussion:

Simon Liang, Member, Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis (a group promoting the correct usage of Cantonese)

Peter Gordon, Editor, Asian Review of Books; and Language Critic

Benjamin Au Yeung, TV host and Linguist

Robert Bauer, Honorary Linguistics Professor, University of Hong Kong

Li Hui, University of Hong Kong

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Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2

Half a day after the first part of this series, "Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18), was posted, someone unhelpfully and snarkily asked, "…but are we sure he used the English word 'dialect'?"

That's not the point.

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Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers

So say mainland and government spokespersons.  It sounds absurd, but here's the "reasoning", as summarized by Bob Bauer:

Have you heard about HK's latest brouhaha that Cantonese is NOT the mother tongue of HK's Cantonese-speaking population? A bigshot mainland scholar has written that HK Cantonese can't possibly be their mother tongue because it's MERELY a dialect and dialects can't be mother tongues!

Yesterday the Chief Executive Carrie Lam was asked by a legislative councilor what her mother tongue was, but she refused to answer his question and said it was pointless!

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Peppa Pig has been purged

The porcine princess seems innocuous enough, but for some reason(s), the Chinese government has decided to censor her:

"China bans Peppa Pig to combat 'negative influence' of foreign ideologies" (

"Chinese video app targets 'subversive' Peppa Pig in online clean-up" (CNN)

"China gives 'subversive' Peppa Pig the chop" (AFP)

More links here.

Why go after poor Peppa Pig?  How about Hello Kitty?  Micky Mouse?

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Differing Cantonese and Mandarin readings of the same headline

A Cantonese grad student from Guangzhou sent me this headline that means something very different in Cantonese and in Mandarin:


Érzi shēng xìngbìng, mǔ bèi gǎn ānwèi 儿子生性病,母倍感安慰
("When her son contracted a venereal disease, the mother felt redoubled happiness").


Ji4zi2 saang1sing3, beng6 mou5 pui5 gam2 on1wai3 儿子生性,病母倍感安慰
("[Given that] her son is obedient, the sick mother felt redoubled happiness")

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Yibin, Sichuanese, Cantonese, Mandarin…; topolect, dialect, language

From Charles Belov:

My Apple Music subscription served me a folk-pop hip-hop song "Yibin BBQ" by Yishi Band at the tail end of a playlist mostly made up of rock from the former Yugoslavian republics.

Googling this band reveals that they sing in a dialect called Yibin.

I thought I heard a final consonant stop at 0:57-58 and 1:10 but I imagine that's a mishearing as the Wikipedia entry for Sichuan dialect does not list any consonant stops as possible finals. Also, as someone who doesn't know Mandarin, I fear this could be standard Mandarin without my knowing it. That said, when I try to match the first few words, what they rap doesn't quite match the printed lyric, and in particular, the character for the number one appears in the printed lyric and I'm hearing something that sounds like the number one in Cantonese and not in standard Mandarin.

(I took three semesters of Cantonese but never became fluent.)

I couldn't find this on YouTube and hope you either have streaming or know someone who can stream this for you.  Hope you can find and enjoy this.

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"Topolect" is in China!

Readers of Language Log will be thoroughly familiar with "topolect", since it is one of our regular categories (see, for example, hereherehereherehere, and especially here).  Imagine my delight when I received from Neil Kubler the following photograph of a label in an ethnographical museum in China:

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Mighty Maithili, monstrous Mandarin

In case you're in need of some intensely elegiac and panegyric reading material, this lovely volume just might fit the bill:

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Cantonese term on a traffic sign

Jeff Demarco writes:

My son snapped this photo on his way home from Hong Kong Disneyland. Wasn't quite sure what was intended…

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