Archive for Topolects

Varieties of Mandarin

Speakers of Northeastern / Dongbei topolect and Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin) speaking very common equivalent expressions and holding up cards with the written forms of what they are saying:

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Correction of a public sign

Photograph taken by Adrian Thieret in Shanghai (Pudong) about a month ago.

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Imperial miscommunication

[This is a guest post by Krista Ryu]

I came across a fun anecdote from The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty,  which is the annual records of the Joseon Dynasty from 1413-1865, a national treasure of Korea. It is full of interesting, authentic records, since no one, including the kings themselves, could revise the records.  Consequently, even funny mistakes made by the Kings will be recorded in detail.

The story of failed communication between a Goryo Dynasty diplomat and the Hongwu Emperor (1368-1398; r. 1328-1398) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The story is as below (I have translated into English what I read in Korean, so what was actually said in Chinese at the time could be slightly different but the meaning should be the same):

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Stigmatization of dialects

[This is a guest post by Krista Ryu]

I was reading the book, Language Change in East Asia, and one of the articles, "Dialects versus the Standard Language in Japan," talked about the standardization of Japanese and its consequence on the many "hougen” (方言) of Japan. I thought it was very interesting and related to what we talked about in class regarding the various Chinese languages (topolects).

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Tonal variation and reading pronunciation

From Zeyao Wu:

I am intrigued by how the pronunciation of my nickname changed when I moved to Guangzhou [VHM: in the far south, formerly Canton] from Dongbei [VHM: the Northeast, formerly Manchuria].

In Dongbei, all my relatives and my friends called me Yáoyao 瑶瑶, with the second tone of the second syllable becoming neutral. [VHM: the base tone of yáo 瑶 ("precious jade") is second tone]

When I moved to Guangzhou, my friends call me Yǎoyáo 瑶瑶. It seems that this sort of pronunciation is not standard. I think Cantonese speak in this way because they pronounce Mandarin with the tones of Cantonese.

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GA

One of my favorite Chinese words is GANGA (pronounce as in "Lady Gaga", but put a nasal at the end of the first syllable).  It is so special and has had such a deep impact upon me since I began learning Chinese half a century ago that, in this post, I shall refer to it simply as "GANGA", in capital letters only, except when discussing its more precise pronunciation, derivation, meaning, and written representation in Chinese characters.  Referring to this unusual word as "GANGA" is meant to emphasize the iconic quality it has for me personally, in the sense that its nature reveals many verities about Sinitic languages and Chinese writing.

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A common, horrendous typo in Chinese

In "Renewal of the race / nation" (6/24/17), we've been coming to grips with the sensitive, vital term "mínzú 民族" ("nation", "nationality"; "people"; "ethnic group"; "race"; "volk").

If we add an "h" and change the tone of the second syllable from 2nd to 3rd, we get mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), another key term in modern political parlance.

Next, we add a "g" to the end of the first syllable, yielding míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler") — this is a traditional term for an emperor, king, etc. that goes back well over two thousand years.

Politically speaking, mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy") and míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler") are polar opposites.  If you have míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler"), then you don't have mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), and vice versa.  Yet this is a very common error that often goes uncorrected (see the example sentences here).  People want to type mínzhǔ 民主 ("democracy"), but they end up with míngzhǔ 明主 ("enlightened ruler").

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Cantonese: still the main spoken language of Hong Kong

Twenty years ago today, on July 1, 1997, control of Hong Kong, formerly crown colony of the British Empire, was handed over to the People's Republic of China.  The last few days has seen much celebration of this anniversary on the part of the CCP, with visits by Xi Jinping and China's first aircraft carrier, as well as a show of force by the People's Liberation Army, but a great deal of anguish on the part of the people of Hong Kong:

"Once a Model City, Hong Kong Is in Trouble" (NYT [6/29/17])

"Xi Delivers Tough Speech on Hong Kong, as Protests Mark Handover Anniversary" (NYT [7/1/17])

"China's Xi talks tough on Hong Kong as tens of thousands call for democracy" (Reuters [7/1/17])

"China 'humiliating' the UK by scrapping Hong Kong handover deal, say activists:  Pro-democracy leaders say Britain has ‘legal, moral and political responsibility’ to stand up to Beijing" (Guardian [7/1//17])

"Tough shore leave rules for Chinese navy personnel during Liaoning’s Hong Kong visit:  The crew from China’s first aircraft carrier will be prohibited from enjoying Western-style leisure activities during city handover anniversary visit" (SCMP [6/28/17])

All of this political maneuvering has an impact on attitudes toward language usage in Hong Kong.

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Cantonese is not dead yet

Not by a long shot, judging from several recent articles in the South China Morning Post:

"American professor speaks up for Cantonese to preserve Hong Kong’s heritage: Robert Bauer from HKU is writing a Cantonese-English dictionary that will include colloquial terms, believing language represents cultures" (Heyling Chan, 5/21/17)

"Hong Kong vloggers keeping Cantonese alive with money-spinning YouTube channels:  While many fear Cantonese may be in decline, for Hong Kong’s online stars it has opened a gateway to thousands of followers and lucrative careers" (Rachel Blundy, 6/10/17)

"Use Cantonese as a tool to extend Hong Kong’s influence, academic urges:  Chinese University linguist says better teaching of the native language is the vital first step in raising the city’s profile in Beijing’s trade initiative" (Naomi Ng, 5/4/17)

"In Vancouver’s ‘Cantosphere’, a sense of responsibility and an identity under siege:  Artists and academics in Vancouver are carving out a space to examine both the fate of Hong Kong and the diaspora identity" (Ian Young, 5/19/17)

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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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Written public cursing in Hong Kong

Spotted by Howard Goldblatt in Shatin:

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Cantonese sentence-final particles

Even if you don't know any Cantonese but listen carefully to people speaking it, you probably can tell that it has an abundance of particles.  For speakers of Mandarin who do not understand Cantonese, the proliferation of particles, especially in utterance final position, is conspicuous.  Non-speakers of Cantonese, confronted by all these aa3, ge3, gaa3, laa1, lo1, mei6, sin1, tim1, and so on naturally wonder why there are so many particles in this language, what are their various functions, why they are often drawn out (elongated), and how they arose.

Cantonese speakers, on the other hand, just take them in stride as a natural part of their expressive equipment and don't think that there is anything unusual about them.

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