Archive for Pronunciation

Bezoar

Yesterday I went to Philadelphia's famed Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians.  I hadn't been there for about 35 years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with some favored old exhibits (human beings with long horns growing out of their forehead, fetuses at all stages of formation and deformation, bodies with extra heads and limbs, gigantic tumors and colons, etc.), though a few of the most famous items had disappeared (e.g., shrunken heads, apparently because they had been "unethically procured").

One of the most striking exhibits — for me, since most people probably would not pay much, if any attention to it — was the one about bezoars.  They are nondescript objects that look like stony balls.  Even in section, they are not very exciting to look at, because they are basically a hard, indigestible mass of material such as hair, plant fibers, or seeds that form in the stomach or intestines of animals, especially ruminants, sometimes also humans.

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Scammers and swindlers with accents

The focus of this post is the nature and modus operandi of the piànzi 騙子 ("swindler; scammer").

According to this article in Chinese, scammers do not speak good Mandarin because having an "accent" enables them to carry out target screening.  Such an argument may seem like a bit of a stretch, but let's see how this supposedly works out through the eyes of two Mandarin speaking PRC citizens who have been the intended victims of the schemes of such piànzi 騙子, who pose as representing banks and other financial institutions, public security bureaus, and so forth.

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The article suggests that there are three reasons why phone scammers speak in strong topolect accents rather than standard Mandarin:1. Accent serves as a "mechanism of filtration", because those who are not sensitive enough to non-Mandarin accents and who can't recognize what is or is not Mandarin are more prone to fraud. 2. The scammers are simply not capable of speaking standard Mandarin given the current situation of Mandarin popularization in China. The scammers are more likely to be unschooled, and they usually share the same accent. 3. It is because of the high illiteracy rate in China that many people can't tell frauds from reliable phone calls made by authentic institutions.

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Xiongnu (Hunnic) Shanyu

One of the most hotly debated questions in early Chinese studies is the origin and pronunciation of the title of the ruler of the Xiongnu (Huns), which is written with these two Sinographs, 單于.  The current scholarly consensus is that the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation should be chányú.  Although it is much contested, the current scholarly consensus for the pronunciation of the name of the son of the first Xiongnu ruler, Tóumàn, is Mòdú (r. 209-174 BC): 

Modun, Maodun, Modu (simplified Chinese: 冒顿单于; traditional Chinese: 冒頓單于; pinyin: Mòdùn Chányú ~ Màodùn Chányú, c. 234 – c. 174 BCE), also known as Mete khan across a number of Turkic languages, was the son of Touman and the founder of the empire of the Xiongnu. He came to power by ordering his men to kill his father in 209 BCE.

(source)

The following is a guest post by Penglin Wang, which takes a different approach, and for the first time offers a novel source for the Hunnic title.  The state he refers to is Shanshan, better known as Loulan, which would make its language Indo-European (Tocharian or Gandhari Prakrit), for which see here.

For caṃkura as a Gandhari Prakrit title, see A Dictionary of Gāndhārī here.

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The language of Genghis Khan

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

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The pain of pronouncing Mandarin "guóqí" ("national flag") for a Mongolian child

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Pecan, pecan, let's call the whole thing off…

If you ask Google (in various ways) how to pronounce pecan, you'll get suggested additional questions like these:

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Thailand or Thighland? Dinesh D'Douza sets us straight.

 

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Freeest or freest

I wrote this sentence:  "Hong Kong was one of the freeest cities on earth".  My automated spell checker flagged "freeest", so I changed it to "freest", and the spell checker let that stand.  But in my mind I was still saying "freeest", with two syllables, whereas when I see "freest", it's very hard for me to think of that as having two syllables.  So how are we to pronounce the superlative degree of the adjective "free"?

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The complexities of a basic word for "barbarian" in Sinitic and neighboring languages

There are scores of words in Sinitic languages that regularly get translated into English as "barbarian".  One of the most conspicuous and pervasive is hú 胡, which we have often discussed on Language Log, perhaps most extensively and intensively in "The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15), with detailed etymological, orthographical, morphological, and philological notes.

The term came up again more recently in "'Carrot' in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc." (6/26/20), where we found it as the distinctive modifier of the Sinitic word for "carrot" (húluóbo 胡蘿蔔 / 胡萝卜).

[N.B.:  Several of my most respected colleagues in Chinese Studies do not permit their students to translate hú 胡 or any of the other Sinitic terms for non-Sinitic peoples as "barbarian".]

In reading PRC written materials, one must be wary of all the words in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) that are written with hú 胡, since the character simplification promoted by the communist government has collapsed at least six other traditional characters into this one (see here), the most interesting of which is the first syllable hemimorpheme of the Sinitic word for "butterfly" (húdié 蝴蝶 / 胡蝶), cf., "'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16).

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Gyro

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Graduation speech by a West African student at National Taiwan University

Stunning speech (7:49) by Achille, a graduating student from Burkina Faso at the NTU commencement on June 6:

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Matthew Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

Something extraordinary happened on May 4, 2020.  Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger delivered an extremely impressive speech in virtually flawless Mandarin.  Here it is:

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Ping-pong bing-bang

Xi Jinping commits another pronunciation gaffe.  Even if you don't know Mandarin, you can hear it clearly here because it is repeated over and over again.  Instead of saying "pīngpāng wàijiāo 乒乓外交" ("ping-pong diplomacy"), he says "bīngbāng wàijiāo 冰邦外交" ("ice states diplomacy"), which some wits are further distorting as "bīngbàng wàijiāo 冰棒外交" ("popsicle diplomacy"):

https://twitter.com/RealEmperorPooh/status/1144817965008744448

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