Archive for Writing

Speak Cantonese

We started teaching Cantonese at Penn more than a quarter of a century ago, and it has been a very successful program.  Yale was teaching Cantonese long before us, and the title of this post is the same as that of a famous Yale textbook for the teaching of Cantonese by Parker Po-fei Huang and Gerard P. Kok.

I'm very pleased that more and more schools are offering Cantonese, and I'm hoping that the same will hold true for Taiwanese, Shanghainese, and other Sinitic languages.  Penn offers a dozen modern South Asian languages, which shows that linguistic diversity is possible in universities when there's a will to make it happen.

Cantonese language instruction is booming in Hong Kong as well, and that is entirely appropriate, since — although Cantonese is the Mother Tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population — in recent years, it has increasingly been threatened by the rise of Mandarin as the language of the central government, which has been exerting ever greater control in the SAR (Special Administrative Region), particularly after the British returned the former colony to Chinese suzerainty in 1997.

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The uses of Hanyu pinyin

Hànyǔ pīnyīn 汉语拼音 ("Sinitic Spelling") is the official romanization of the PRC.  It also comes with an official orthography which provides guidelines for word separation, punctuation, and how to deal with grammatical constructions.  An English translation of the basic orthographical rules by John Rohsenow can be found at the back of the various editions of the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary from the University of Hawai'i Press.

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Needless words

I know I've been a long-time critic of everything in The Elements of Style, not least William Strunk's platitude that you should omit needless words. "Needless" is not defined even vaguely; nobody really writes in a way that sticks to the absolute minimum word count; and if neophyte writers could tell what was needless they wouldn't have to be handed this platitude (which they don't really know how to use anyway). But every now and then one really does see a case of a word that screams at you that it should have been left out. The University of Oxford has an official form on which this is the heading:

CLAIM FOR REIMBURSEMENT OF ALLOWABLE EXPENSES

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Colloquial contractions in Mandarin

I've mentioned my old friend Liu Yongquan in various posts and comments — see, inter alia, here, here, and here, where I wrote:

A colleague, Liu Yongquan 刘永泉, who spent most of his life working in Beijing as an applied linguist (especially concerned with machine translation and computer applications), spoke quite good MSM, referred to people who speak "like that" (as I have described colloquial Pekingese in the above paragraph) as méi xiūyǎng 没修养 ("lacking cultivation"). I'm not sure where Liu originally came from, though I think it was from somewhere in the northeast. He had a curious speech mannerism: whenever he said zhè'er / zhèr 这儿 ("here") and nà'er / nàr ("there"), they always came out as zhèher and nàher. For the first few months when I heard him talk like that, I thought that it was an affectation, but later I heard the same pronunciation from a few other people, so I suppose it has some basis in a regional variety of Mandarin.

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The esthetics of handwriting

The following photograph of a page of Chinese characters comes from this BuzzFeed article:

"21 Pieces Of Handwriting So Perfect They’re Borderline Erotic" (5/4/16)

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LipsyncHK

Near the Star Ferry terminal on the Hong Kong Island side, Bea Lam noticed a number of fantastic, huge, colorful posters plastered on the walls as part of a “LipsyncHK” project that showcases Cantonese phrases and encourages visitors to try them out.  Bea was (very happily) surprised to see this large and open demonstration of Cantonese pride in a government-sponsored project, given the political environment.

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Character amnesia redux

This is a topic that we have frequently broached on Language Log:

In several recent messages to me, Guy Almog has raised the issue once again.  This is not unexpected for someone whose ongoing research focuses on the changing writing and reading habits of native Chinese and Japanese speakers, and mainly with issues of memory and forgetfulness of hanzi / kanji.

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Pinyin for Singlish

A correspondent from Singapore saw the following photograph in his Facebook feed:

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Love transformed

With the title "Yeah… that totally translates to 'love'", imgur presents the following image:

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Pressing the House of Commons swiftly

There is a designated staff member whose job at The Economist is to make the magazine (my favorite magazine) look ridiculous by moving adverbs to unacceptably silly positions in the sentence. She is still at work. This is from the December 12 issue, p. 58, in an article about preparations for a referendum next year on whether Britain should abandon its membership in the European Union:

Most pollsters reckon a later vote is likely to boost the leave campaign. Avoidance of delay was a big reason why the government this week pressed the House of Commons swiftly to overturn a House of Lords plan to extend the referendum franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds.

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Some difficulties of painting Chinese characters on streets

Ryan Kilpatrick has an interesting article in Hong Kong Free Press:

"Taiwan city promises to ‘correct’ simplified road sign after public outcry" (12/7/15)

It includes this photograph, which illustrates some of the problems:

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Bad sex writing: really really bad

I'm pleased to be able to announce on Language Log the winner of the Literary Review's 2015 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The award went to the singer Morrissey for his debut novel List of the Lost. And it seems to have been honestly earned. The judges cited this sentence:

Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza's breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra's howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza's body except for the otherwise central zone.

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Difficult Taiwanese characters

[This is a guest post by Michael Cannings]

This brief news segment features a poster with a lot of interesting points packed into three short lines of text. The billboard is a traffic safety announcement by police in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.


[Screengrab with most of the text visible]

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