Archive for Writing

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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The miracle of reading and writing Chinese characters

We have the testimony of a colleague whose ability to write Chinese characters has been adversely affected by her not being able to visualize them in her mind's eye.  See:

"Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye" (3/24/17)

This prompts me to ponder:  just how do people who are literate in Chinese characters recall them?

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VX in Chinese

By now practically the whole world knows that Kim Jong-nam, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's older half-brother, was killed by the extremely toxic nerve agent called VX.  VX is much more potent than sarin, which was used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult to kill 12 people and injure thousands of others in the Tokyo subway in 1995.  Apparently, it's not clear why this series of nerve agents is called "V" ( "Victory", "Venomous", or "Viscous" are some of the possibilities).  Since research on these agents is restricted primarily to the military, not much is known about them in civilian circles.  Whatever the "V" stands for, and besides VX, other agents in the series include VE, VG, VM, and VR.

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Chinese restaurant shorthand, part 3

Yixue Yang and I were on a mission to find out what the mysterious "O" in this entry from the previous installment in this series stands for:

laan2 / lán 兰O — stands for gaai3laan2 / jièlán 芥兰O
("Chinese kale / broccoli / gai lan / kai lan order")

Since that "O" occasioned so much discussion in the comments to the previous post, we were determined to put the controversy to rest, once and for all, and we now have done so, as will be explained at the end of this post.  For the moment, though, let's look at the bill we received this time (Saturday 2/25/17):

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Study hegemon

Here's another example of Chinese writing frustration:

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Writing frustration

Somebody posted this in a WeChat group:

The character they were struggling to write is this:

xiāo 宵 ("night; evening; dark")

Here it combines with yuán 元 ("first; primary; chief; principal") to form the word yuánxiāo 元宵 ("Lantern Festival", but in this sentence it means a super delicious kind of sweet dumpling made of glutinous rice flour that people eat on the Lantern Festival).

The Lantern Festival is celebrated on the night of the 15th of the first month of the lunisolar Chinese calendar and marks the last day of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.  This year it falls on February 11.

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The origins of graphic communication, pt. 2

Annalee Newitz has a fascinating article on abstract Paleolithic notations in Ars Technica (

"38,000-year-old carving includes enigmatic 'punctuation' pattern:  New finding suggests that paleolithic Europeans shared a common set of symbols."

reporting on this paper:

R. Bourrillon, R. White, E. Tartar, L. Chiotti, R. Mensan, A. Clark, J.-C. Castel, C. Cretin, T. Higham, A. Morala, S. Ranlett, M. Sisk, T. Devièse, D.J. Comeskey, "A new Aurignacian engraving from Abri Blanchard, France: Implications for understanding Aurignacian graphic expression in Western and Central Europe", Quaternary International (1/24/17).

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2016.09.063

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Chicken is down

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