Archive for Topolects

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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Topolectal traffic sign

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

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Cantonese tones

If you ask Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM — Guóyǔ 國語 / Pǔtōnghuà 普通话) speakers how many tones there are in their language, most of them will tell you without much hesitation that there are four tones (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th) plus a neutral tone.

Chances are, however, if you ask a Cantonese speaker how many tones there are in their language, they will not give you a clear answer, or if they do, it will differ from what other Cantonese speakers claim.  That has always been my experience over the years, but I just did a little survey to reconfirm my earlier impressions.  The results are rather more amazing than I expected them to be:

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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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