Opium rice

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Karen Serago sent in the following photograph taken by her husband, Ben Yu, of a restaurant in Taiwan that specializes in duck dishes:

The large characters on the sign out front say yā piàn fàn 鸭片飯 ("rice with sliced duck" or "rice with duck slices").

Everyone who reads it, however, is automatically going to think of yāpiàn fàn 鸦片飯 ("opium rice").

Now, yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices") and yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium") are ostensibly perfect homophones. However, while others may not make a distinction between the two (most people claim that they are identical in sound), I personally would pronounce them slightly differently, with a tiny pause between the two syllables of yā piàn 鸭片 (indicated by a space in the spelling) and a full, strong 4th tone on the second syllable, whereas for yāpiàn 鸦片 I would run the two syllables together and not give such an emphatic 4th tone on the second syllable. That's just my own preference; I'd be interested to hear what other people have to say about the comparative pronunciation of these two terms.

I think that some (most?) people from Beijing would probably put an -r at the end of yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices") but not at the end of yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium"), though it would be nice to have that confirmed (or denied) by native Beijingers.

N.B.: See below at the end of this post for extensive survey documentation of how various individuals pronounce yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices") and yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium").

It's not just the fact that these two terms are homophones that makes one think of yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium") when one sees yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices"), they are also near homonyms and homographs (I know that I'm going to get into trouble here). The second syllable / character is the same in both terms, while the first syllable is identical in both, and the orthography of both first characters shares the bird radical (niǎo 鳥), though the phonophores are different: yá 牙 vs. jiǎ 甲. I have given the pronunciation of the two phonophores in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), but note that they sound more alike in the various southern topolects:

牙 Cantonese ngaa4, Hakka nga2, Chaozhou / Teochew ghê5

甲 Cantonese gaap3, Hakka gap7, Chaozhou / Teochew gah4

For those who have been wondering, whereas yā 鸭 means "duck", yā 鸦 literally means "crow", but in the word yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium") it serves a strictly transcriptional purpose (although some might argue that it also simultaneously conveys meaning; conceivably the yā 鸦 could signify the blackness of the crow which is like the color of the dried latex of the poppy, and the piàn 片 ["slice"] could refer to some aspect of the preparation of the opium).

Be that as it may, the transcription yāpiàn 鸦片 for "opium" is already to be found in the Materia Medica (Běncǎo gāngmù 本草綱目) of Li Shizhen 1518 – 1593, and it certainly was deeply entrenched in the Chinese vocabulary by the middle of the 19th century. Although there are other transcriptions and translations for "opium" in Chinese (see here), yāpiàn 鸦片 is far and away the best known, and — in that form — it had an enormous impact on Chinese history, society, and culture. Consequently, when people see yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices"), they cannot help but think of yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium").

So inescapably does yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices") draw one to yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium") that — unless they want to achieve some sort of humorous effect — speakers will naturally avoid saying yā piàn 鸭片 when they want to refer to sections of duck meat and say instead something like yā kuài 鸭块 ("duck pieces"), yā sī 鴨絲 ("shredded duck") or yā tiáo 鸭条 ("duck strips"), though these (especially the last one) sound a bit odd too.

yā kuài 鸭块 281,000 ghits

yā sī 鴨絲 230,000 ghits

yā tiáo 鸭条 56,800 ghits

yā piàn 鸭片 214,000 ghits

Despite the (intentionally) awkward name, "opium rice" is very famous in Taiwan, as can be seen here, here, and here.

Oh, the smaller characters to the right side on the sign say xiāngpènpèn 香噴噴 ("puffingly fragrant"). It would seem that this dish, yā piàn fàn 鸭片飯 ("rice with sliced duck" or "rice with duck slices"), is so delicious that it is highly addictive.

SURVEY: Idiolectal pronunciation of yā piàn 鸭片 ("duck slices") and yāpiàn 鸦片 ("opium") by native speakers and extremely advanced, highly fluent foreign speakers of Mandarin.

1. Chinese-American professor of Chinese language (my first Mandarin teacher!):

Please remember that I am not a reliable native speaker source.
But I would pronounce both the same: yāpiàn.
I have heard people say yǎpiàn but I don't know which character would correspond.

2. Korean-German specialist on Mandarin and Cantonese:

I asked two young (age <25) speakers (and of course didn't tell them about yāpiàn or yǎpiàn as choices). One (from Henan) told me that in both cases only yāpiàn is correct. The other (from the Northeast) told me that both are yāpiàn, but that yǎpiàn is an alternate reading for 鸦 片 which one might hear from older people. The same person also tells me that 鸭片 would be an ad-hoc compound and infrequently used.

3. One of the best American-born speakers of Mandarin I know:

I would follow what I have read in standard Mandarin dictionaries and pronounce them the same, i.e., both first syllables in first tone and both second syllables in fourth tone. But my wife, who is a native speaker of Pekinese, says she pronounces the first syllable of 鸦片 in what sounds to me like a half-third tone.

4. Native Beijinger and respected college teacher of Mandarin:

I don't quite know what 鸭片 is, and I would certainly not give an r-accent to it.

As for 鸦片, ya3 or ya1, I hear them both and I pronounce it both ways, but with a slight inclination towards ya1.

5. Native speaker and respected university professor of Mandarin:

Interesting. In their "fowl" meanings, there is no variation in tone. duck is always ya1; so is raven ya1 as in wu1ya1. But ya3pian4 seems to be a possible pronunciation of opium along with ya1pian4.

6. Highly advanced American-born speaker of Mandarin with expertise in phonology:

I would use relatively longer duration on both syllables for the first one (lingering a bit), and shorter duration on both syllables for the second one (a bit choppy), I think. No neutralization in either case.

Had to think about this one quite a while to figure out if there would be a real difference or if I was just imagining some sort of difference in my head. At first, I tried to work something out in terms of neutralization, like: "Mandatory full tones for the first one, but neutralization optional for the second one??" But finally I got out of that box and thought about duration instead.

Even if my response above regarding duration is "wrong" for distinguishing this pair (from a native speaker's perspective), I'm glad you posed the question because it made me think about duration as a somewhat neglected "dimension" — surely quite important to be aware of in some situations, if not this one in particular!

(By the way, the Gwoyeu Tsyrdean and several modern dictionaries that I looked at later indicate no neutral tone for opium, but both Mathews and Fenn show it with a neutral tone. Curious.)

7. Native speaker from Hunan but educated (B.A. and M.A.) at Tsinghua in Beijing:

I think that in Mandarin the pronunciations of the two words are the same. However, there might be a difference in the pronunciation of the topolect in my hometown, although I am not sure about the sound of "鸦".

8. Native speaker who is a university instructor of Mandarin:

I will naturally pronounce 鸭片 with an '-r' ending.

9. One of the best American-born Mandarin speakers and teachers I know:

I think that native Mandarin speakers would, yes, pronounce these slightly differently. More elongation on the first-tone ya for the duck strips, I would say.

VHM: Four other native speakers from Taiwan and the Mainland (all college and university instructors of Mandarin) said that they pronounce 鸭片 and 鸦片 the same way.

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng, Jing Wen, Maiheng Dietrich, Melvin Lee, Grace Wu, Liwei Jiao, Gloria Bien, Stephan Stiller, Thomas Bartlett, Perry Link, Jiajia Wang, Zheng-sheng Zhang, and Conal Boyce]

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30 Comments »

  1. Stephan Stiller said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 1:54 am

    Interesting. The relative length differences wouldn't be phonemic, but since a few people have expressed that they are there, let's try to explain them.

    I conjecture that 鸦片 ("opium"), which is how a native speaker will interpret the phoneme string yāpiàn by default, is pronounced faster because it is more frequent (its regional variant pronunciation yǎpiàn notwithstanding). In order to make it clear to the listener that one means 鸭片 ("duck slices") instead, one will need to pronounce it in a way that emphasizes the compound nature: duck+slice (鸭+片). While both words can be analyzed as "(semantically nominal) bound morpheme"+"noun" compounds, this division will in the case of 鸦片 ("opium") be opaque to the native speaker. That is: this word might psycholinguistically be stored/processed as a monomorphemic lexical item despite the possibility of analysis. 鸭片 ("duck slices") is entirely transparent as a compound and will need to be understood as one if it is not lexicalized. That would explain a pronunciation that draws out its parts and separates them a little.

  2. dainichi said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 6:18 am

    Interesting.

    I've been looking into the concept of stress in Mandarin lately, and (without having done much research) it seems that the most common analysis for two-syllable words is one where the choice of stresses is between "normal-strong", "strong-normal" and "strong-unstressed(neutral)".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Chinese_phonology#Word_stress

    I don't know how commonly accepted this analysis is (unfortunately not common enough for the primary-normal distinction to appear in the dictionaries I have access to), but was just wondering if, using this analysis, both 鸭片 and 鸦片 would fall within the same group. Or could 鸭片 somehow be strong-strong, thereby having a phonemic difference from 鸦片?

  3. dainichi said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 6:22 am

    PS. What are the restrictions on submitting comments? I tried to submit the above comment a couple of hours ago, but it didn't show up. But when I submitted it again, for some reason it said "you've already said that". I gave up and came back, and this time the submission was successful.

  4. richardelguru said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 6:47 am

    So the Opium Wars were really about sliced duck?… it all makes sense now!

  5. Stephan Stiller said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 7:21 am

    @dainichi

    While I disagree with ideas of stress in Mandarin, it's nevertheless good you're pointing us to this.

    Sometimes books will list stress annotations for Mandarin words (like what one can see on Wikipedia), but it's never really clear what the restrictions on stress patterns are. The sources I've seen simply don't do a convincing job of explaining this. A similar thing that's often talked about are rhythmic patterns on the phrase or sentence level. A book might annotate a sentence with an iambic pattern and state that there's parallelism for reasons of "rhythm", but I've never seen a comprehensive analysis describing restrictions on rhythmic patterns that depend on phrase structure (for example). Maybe stress and "rhythm" can be argued to be important for Mandarin, but I'd say if there were a good theory we'd know by now.

    Stress in Mandarin also came up earlier on LL; the thesis talking about this didn't convince me that anything is lexicalized, because the patterns shown seemed to be predictable from part of speech or morphology or some simple combination thereof.

    That said, I do see a morphological difference in the two words (ie: what I described above). (Maybe that's the sort of thing underlying those posited "stress" differences, except I wouldn't call it "stress".)

    I could be wrong, but I'd want to see a good analysis from someone.

  6. Stephan Stiller said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 7:49 am

    @ dainichi

    To continue –

    I mean, pitch accent is a real thing in Japanese, and there's no excuse for dictionaries or textbooks not listing it. (Sure, it varies regionally, but so do all other aspects of Japanese.)

    But stress in Mandarin? How would it be realized (mainly amplitude, or length/timing, or a combination – if so, how do these factors contribute relative to each other)? What are some minimal pairs? (I want lots and lots of examples. Even if they're not minimal pairs.) Which stress combinations can occur over which tonal patterns (eg: "anything goes as long as you don't put stress on a neutral tone" – and if so, I'd want to see a comprehensive list of examples)? What's a good base reference so I can learn more about this? (The book Wikipedia cites doesn't say very much.) If it's a novel thing, I'd need to see convincing proof. But no, just once in a while a section in a book mentions that supposedly there's stress in Mandarin, giving a few isolated examples with no theory behind it.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 8:12 am

    @dainichi

    Our policy concerning comments is listed at the top of each LL page. We warmly welcome comments from all who are willing to comply with the guidelines. You certainly have made many valuable comments on LL over the years, so it's just a matter of somebody going into the comments pending part of our site and approving your comment, something that has to be done for each comment that gets posted. Depending upon the hour of the day or night when a comment comes in and who's up and about at that time, in some cases (hopefully not often) it may take an hour or more after a comment is submitted before it is actually posted.

  8. dainichi said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    @Stephan Stiller

    I'm neither a proponent nor an opponent of the Mandarin stress theory, I'm merely a hobby linguist/Mandarin learner seeking a way to understand phonological phenomena that I can't explain otherwise.

    It seems clear to me that (at least Beijing) Mandarin isn't mora or syllable timed. So the obvious question is whether it's stress timed. Or it could be something completely different, I don't know.

    Also, I observe that apart from lexical neutral tones (e.g. 西 in 东西), grammatical words seem to undergo some kind of reduction in some circumstances (e.g. 是 in 你是说 sounds more like a neutral tone to me than a fourth tone in natural speech). Typically, dictionaries will not really help you with this, though.

    I'm curious to see these two phenomena, rhythm and tone/syllable reduction, explained. Whether stress has anything to do with it, not sure.

    @Victor Mair

    Thanks for explaining the approval mechanism, I wasn't aware of it.

  9. Ken said,

    January 31, 2014 @ 11:47 pm

    Is "yāpiàn" derived from "opium"? They have some similarity. According to a couple of online dictionaries "opium" is a diminutive of Greek opos "plant juice". Other online sources say it has been used in western Eurasia for thousands of years, but was only introduced to China in the fifteenth century. So was the word also introduced?

  10. Stephan Stiller said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 1:44 am

    @dainichi
    I would say that the theory that categorizes languages into stress-timed, syllable-timed, and mora-timed ones is itself unsatisfactory. I have never found that these descriptors match real-life speech. Whether they provide good "underlying" timing that one can think of as later being modified by prosody I don't know.
    About your example, I would in fact let prosody (phrase-level stress and timing) explain that.
    So I'm saying that I don't see Mandarin as being out of the ordinary and that these phenomena themselves are hard to get a handle on. But I understand that exclaiming "Prosody!" doesn't make for a particularly good predictive theory …

    @Ken
    Good question. In Cantonese, 鴉片 (= 鸦片, "opium") is aa1pin3.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 9:00 am

    @Ken

    Yāpiàn 鸦片 is commonly identified in dictionaries and encyclopedias as a transcription of the English word "opium", e.g., http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E9%B8%A6%E7%89%87

    As Stephan Stiller has pointed out in the note just above, 鸦片 is pronounced as aa1pin3 in Cantonese, which sounds more like "opium" than does the Modern Standard Mandarin pronunciation yāpiàn.

    This is not the place for a detailed study of the history of words for opium in China, but I'll just give a few additional notes.

    The most comprehensive, relatively early source for botanical terminology in Chinese is the Compendium of Materia Medica (Běncǎo gāngmù 本草綱目) of Li Shizhen, the first draft of which was completed in 1578.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compendium_of_Materia_Medica

    In that text, there is a note which says "sú zuò yāpiàn 俗作鸦片". This means "[it is] commonly / colloquially / conventionally / customarily / secularly / vulgarly / vernacularly written as 鸦片." However, the main heading for the plant is āfúróng 阿芙蓉, which has a very interesting form. This looks as though it is fúróng 芙蓉 ("hibiscus; lotus; etc.") with a familiar prefix, but in fact it is a transcription of Arabic afyūm ("opium"), which would appear to have come to China before the English word. Indeed, I suspect that the note "sú zuò yāpiàn 俗作鸦片" may have been added to the Běncǎo gāngmù 本草綱目 after 1578, because I don't think that the English word had reached China by that year.

    So far as I can determine from a preliminary, hasty search, though afyūm ("opium") may have come to China quite early with trade from the Middle East, the earliest European incarnation of the term to circulate in China would probably have been Portuguese, which is "ópio", although Dutch "opium" would likely also have been circulating in the Far East before the English brought the same term.

    Without further research I can't be sure, but I believe that prior to yāpiàn 鸦片 becoming the most popular way to transcribe "opium" in Chinese characters, it was also known as āpiàn 阿片. As I indicated in previous remarks, I think that yā 鸦 may have been chosen to replace ā 阿 for the first syllable because it indicates blackness.

    In any event, since the time of its introduction to China, opium has acquired many other names, such as yān 烟 ("tobacco" < "smoke"), dà yān 大烟 ("big tobacco"), wū yān 乌烟 ("black tobacco" — N.B.!), and yáng yān 洋烟 ("foreign tobacco").

    See: http://www.zdic.net/c/6/157/344193.htm

    See also: Hanyu da cidian 12.1070b

    For more precise information, we need to hear from the experts on the history of opium (and tobacco, for that matter) in East Asia.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

    From Che-chia Chang:

    We have this in Taiwan, really "鴉片" rather than confusing people with 鴨片.
    http://www.opium.com.tw/

  13. Bob said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

    Advertisers love to have a phrase or a name of a product sticks in people's mind. The creator of 鴨片 has certainly succeeded!
    **traditionally Peking Duck is served in slices, for the skin, and the meat courses;
    –The Peking Duck House on Mott Street in New York's Chinatown, charges additional $10, if you ask the roast duck to be sliced rather than chopped–
    鸭片 are boneless, particularly suitable for Americans and Europeans! My local (Cantonese/Hongkong style) Chinese restaurant uses the term 片鸭, sliced duck.. for Cantonese/Hongkong (roasted) duck has different seasoning that Peking Duck..

  14. Gpa said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

    During the Opium war, only port was 廉州市, so of course was spoken. That's why it doesn't sound close to opium in Putonghua. BTW,in correct Cantonese, =ngaa, NOT aa. aa is NOT correct Cantonese.

  15. Gpa said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

    I meant 廣州市.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    @Gpa

    "廉州市" –> "I meant 廣州市"

    Am I right in assuming that the typo was the result of some shape-based input system? If so, please tell me which one?

    The sound of the former (lián) is totally different from the sound of the latter (guǎng).

  17. Stephan Stiller said,

    February 1, 2014 @ 11:53 pm

    廣 has code ITMC in Cangjie 3 and ITLC in Cangjie 5. Fonts vary in their display of 廣 in whether they use the "traditional" component glyph 黃 or the "simplified" component glyph 黄. At least right now, the official shape in HK is with the former. Cangjie 3 (which is more widely used I think) assumes that 黃-or-黄-as-a-component is 黃, whose individual code sequence is TMWC and which in this component context is reduced to TMC. Cangjie 5 assumes that 黃-or-黄-as-a-component is 黄, whose individual code sequence is TLWC and which in this component context is reduced to TLC.

    Cangjie 5 aside, an input scenario might be that a user (sensibly, by following the rules and assuming component glyph 黄) thinks that the input sequence for 廣 is ITLC. Or he might have guessed because the system is difficult to master. On his Cangjie 3 system, he'll get a beep. Annoyed, he substitutes the problematic code letter L with the specifically designated "difficult component" code letter X. Oops, ITXC turns out to be the (only) input code for 廉 (lián/lim4), a different character with no phonetic resemblance to 廣 (guǎng/gwong2)!

  18. Bob said,

    February 2, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

    Gpa was using a HAND WRITTEN RECOGNITION INPUT system (such as myself, don't writing in Chinese often enough to justify spending the effort to learn PIN-YING)…. if you use windows as the operational system, Microsoft offers HAND WRITING RECOGNITION along with some of its Chinese input systems.–these systems are very demanding, their outputs can be varied from what are intended, but print out some character in some similar shapes.. there are graphic boards (with software) for this purpose in China, can be purchased from e-bay..

  19. Bob said,

    February 2, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

    @ Gpa… Opium Wars, while they were started near Guangzhou, the 1st one brought the British gun boats entered Yangtse River, to Nanjing. The Island of Hong Kong was ceased to Britain by the Treaty of Nanjing. The 2nd Opium War ended after the British-French armies invalided Beijing, burned the Imperial Garden… Opium/鴉片 are not related by sound, either in Cantonese, or Mandarin.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    February 2, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

    @Bob

    1. Why are you so sure that Gpa was using a handwriting recognition input system, and not some shape-based key-stroke system like Cangjie? Compare the remarks of Stephan Stiller just above.

    2. Are mistakes like this common with handwriting input systems?

    3. You say that "these systems are very demanding". In what ways are they demanding?

    4. You say that you "don't writing in Chinese often enough to justify spending the effort to learn PIN-YING)". But Pinyin is very easy to learn (you already know English spelling quite well). Why don't you give it a try? It probably would be a lot easier than shape-based inputting systems (which have a very high learning curve) and handwriting recognition systems which, as you yourself have said, "are very demanding".

  21. Victor Mair said,

    February 2, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    @Bob

    "Opium/鴉片 are not related by sound, either in Cantonese, or Mandarin."

    So where do YOU think the word 鴉片 came from?

  22. Stephan Stiller said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 2:27 am

    Btw, the Wubi (五筆) input codes for 廣 (or its simplified analogue 广) and 廉 are unrelated. (Wubi is another structural input method.)

    @Gpa
    As for what's proper Cantonese: There is for many people variation between ng- and ∅- (zero) initials. A check with a random native speaker and another random check on YouTube both yield aa1, but ngaa1 seems attested as well (whether spontaneous or as news broadcaster speech I don't know). As for dictionaries, more sources show me aa1 than ngaa1. Even a book by prescriptivist Richard Ho shows me 鴉 as "aa1/ngaa1". Given all of that, it would seem inaccurate to say that "aa1" is "not correct Cantonese". To emphasize free variation among young speakers nowadays, one can indicate 鴉 as "(ng)aa1". Note that I'm leaving the question of whether (or for whom) variation is fully free open. But, for what it's worth, note that if our loanword theory is correct, "aa1" was at that time (and still is) a better match than "ngaa1", and I would for that reason expect even the most ardent prescriptivist to prefer "aa1" for the word 鴉片.

  23. Jean-Michel said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 8:26 am

    To emphasize free variation among young speakers nowadays, one can indicate 鴉 as "(ng)aa1".

    Not just young speakers nowadays—Samuel Wells Williams' A Tonic Dictionary of the Chinese Language in the Canton Dialect (1856) transcribes 鴉 as á, with the note that "words in a or á are often heard beginning with ng, as ngá, ngai, ngat." Even in the 19th century it seems there was some amount of free variation going on.

  24. Mark Dunan said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 9:41 am

    I've known the Japanese word 阿片 (ahen, usually written アヘン in katakana, but my computer also offers 鴉片) for "opium" for years without ever suspecting that it had anything to do with English!

  25. Bob said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    @ Prof. Mair, for people with schooling from China or Hong Kong or Taiwan, we already know how to write Chinese, there is no new skill to learn, to input Chinese on computer using HAND WRITING RECOGNITION INPUT SYSTEM. — these systems require characters be written out in proper forms and correct sequence, to be recognized by the computer software. Many Cantonese speaking people cannot pronoun MSM words correctly, hence become a handicap in using PINYIN…. 五筆, 倉喆, etc., requires special markings on the computer keyboard, which is not usually available in North America…
    ** there are several learned comments with the origins for 鴉片 already, I have no new information to offer.

  26. Bob said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

    –ps– for the post 80 generation from China, PINYIN is taught in elementary schools as the way to pronounce Putonghua (MSM) correctly, so, they adapt to using computer handily. There is also an input system bases on the old Chinese pronouncement marks 注音符號/音標, which was not taught to me in Hong Kong.

  27. Victor Mair said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

    @Bob

    Which is harder, to learn to use handwriting recognition and shape-based component systems — which you have repeatedly said are demanding — or to adapt the alphabet that you already know for English to Pinyin or Jyutping inputting? As you have admitted, most people in China use Pinyin handily. I have many friends in Taiwan and in Hong Kong who also use it without much problem.

  28. Bob said,

    February 3, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

    @ Prof. Mair, ahh, this is the age old story about old dog and new trick…. writing Chinese is EASY for us old dogs….. like the popular social messaging service in China, QQ, said, after it offered its own hand writing recognition system, "now, your grand pa and grand mom can come on-line, too"…..

  29. Victor Mair said,

    February 4, 2014 @ 7:33 am

    @Bob

    But which is easier for the old dogs (esp. those who know English well) to learn — Romanized inputting or handwriting recognition and shape-based component systems (which you have said are "demanding")?

  30. Bob said,

    February 4, 2014 @ 5:05 pm

    @ Prof. Mair…. since Pin-Yin is also a tool to learn Chinese, using Pin-Yin to input Chinese on computer, requires the user to be able to recognize Chinese Characters only, not actually to be able to write them. It should be the easiest way for English speaking people. (Chinese characters are difficult to learn to write). The shape/structure based component input systems requires an additional skill, after one knows how to write Chinese.
    –the shape based method is preferred by professional writers, for its faster speed. There is only one character resulted from each entry , unlike the Pin-Yin and hand writing methods, users must select the intended character from a series of characters shown.

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