Archive for Writing

Sinitic is a group of languages, not a single language

Pro-Cantonese sign in Hong Kong:


A man holds a sign professing his love for Cantonese as he attends a Hong Kong rally in 2010 against mainland China’s bid to champion Mandarin over Cantonese. Picture: AFP

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"I don't like kanji"

Claro's tweet:

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Bad Chinese handwriting or just another style?

Lisa Chang took this photo of two paintings at an antique store in 2015 (the store was either in Maryland or Pennsylvania):

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"National backbone"

I. J. Khanewala writes:

While visiting the tomb of the first emperor, I saw a sign in Mandarin which read minzu jiliang and translated as "National backbone". It left me quite mystified.  Here's a photo of the sign:

Source ("Utterly lost in translation").  Any idea what it could mean?

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Backward characters

Name on a ship that docked in Yancheng (in Jiangsu province) harbor last Thursday:

The reason there are armed public security forces patrolling near the ship is because it was full of smuggled cargo.  The story is reported here:

"Smugglers caught because they got their Chinese characters the wrong way round:  Language blunder gives sugar carriers a bitter lesson after it attracts coastguards’ suspicions" (SCMP, 9/5/17)

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Slaps on the face for forgetting how to write Chinese poetry

This is what happened in a middle school in Anhui's capital city of Hefei on the first day of the new school year:


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He lapsed into the passive voice

Mark Landler recently published an article in the New York Times under the headline "Where Predecessors Set Moral Standard, Trump Steps Back." Unlike his predecessors, he notes, the current president has rejected the very concept of moral leadership:

On Saturday, in his first response to Charlottesville, Mr. Trump condemned the violence "on many sides." Then he lapsed into the passive voice, expressing, as he has before, a sense of futility that the divisions between Americans would ever be healed.

"It's been going on for a long time in our country," he said. "Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time."

This incompetent, floundering president, who has never previously had to run an organization and is revealing that he is no good at it, is guilty of so many things that could have been mentioned. But passive voice?

Asking whether "the divisions between Americans would ever be healed" is passive voice, but that's not Trump, that's Landler, who's the accuser here. "It's been going on for a long time in our country" is not in the passive voice. Mark Landler is one more case (I have literally lost count) of someone who writes for a major print source and pontificates about other people's grammar but doesn't know the difference between active and passive.

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Learning to write Chinese characters

Following on yesterday's post ("The naturalness of emerging digraphia" [7/28/17]), Alex Wang tells me, "parents and supplementary educators often post photos like these on their WeChat moments".  Here's an example of one that he sent along:

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The naturalness of emerging digraphia

From David Moser:

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Listening, speaking, dissing, and writing

The four main aspects of learning a language are "tīng shuō dú xiě 听说读写 (simplified) / 聽說讀寫 (traditional) ("listening, speaking, reading, and writing").  A few days ago in Singapore, an event was held to promote Mandarin in accordance with this fourfold approach.  Unfortunately, at the launch of the campaign on July 10, 2017, on the front of the large podium behind which stood the four guests of honor, this slogan was miswritten in simplified characters as tīng shuō dú xiě 听说写, where the third character has a water radical / semantophore instead of the speech radical / semantophore.  The pronunciation of the two characters is identical, but there's a world of difference in their meaning.

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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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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 4

Spotted by Greg Ralph in a London restaurant:

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