Archive for Writing systems

Variations on a colloquial Sinitic expression

When I walked into my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the students were energetically discussing a colloquial expression.  Those from south China didn't know the expression, but the ones from northeast China knew it, although they weren't entirely sure how to write it in characters, and there was some difference of opinion over how to pronounce it.

Finally, they agreed that we could write the sounds this way:  yīdīlə.

Then we moved on to a consideration of the meaning of this expression.  The consensus was that it meant "carry / pick up a group of things (such as a six pack)".

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Remarkable Name of a Hong Kong Restaurant

From Bob Bauer:

Bob explains:

The photograph shows the front of a Hong Kong restaurant which has not only chosen as its name the colloquial indigenous Cantonese word, 冚棒唥 ham6 baang6 laang6 'all; in all' (Sidney Lau 1977:324), but has also displayed this name in BOTH Chinese characters AND Jyut Ping. We should especially note that the Cantonese romanization is correct AND complete with tone numbers!

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Ask Language Log: The alphabet in China

Jeff DeMarco writes:

I have just come across some mixed language abbreviations on Chinese social media. For example, 川A市 refers to Chengdu. 皖J市 is Huangshan in Anhui, and 皖A市 is Chaohu.

I am curious as to how the letters are assigned.

The incorporation of the Roman alphabet into the Chinese writing system is a topic that we have often addressed on Language Log, for which see the "Readings" (and the bibliographies they include) below.

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Acronyms in China

Recently, one of my students found an interesting post from the Communist Youth League about the use of Hanyu Pinyin acronyms on the Internet. When people type on Weibo, WeChat, and other social media, they frequently use Pinyin acronyms. For examples:

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A new variant of a common Chinese character

Invented by a fledgling American calligrapher:

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A Sino-Mongolian tale in three languages and five scripts

"Silk Road Tales: A Look at a Mongolian-Chinese Storybook"

By Bruce Humes, published

This post features the tale of Zhang Qian, diplomat and explorer of the "Western Realm" during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141-87 BCE). The book is in Chinese and Mongolian (traditional script) and forms part of a "Socialist Core Value" (社会主义核心价值观幼儿绘本) picture-book series for children aged 5-6.

To facilitate comparison, the blogger has provided the text in three languages, five scripts: the original Chinese and Inner Mongolian script (vertical); Hanyu Pinyin; Cyrillic Mongolian (used in Mongolia); and a translation of the text into English.

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Why Hong Kong people should preserve traditional characters

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Loose Romanization for Cantonese

A month ago, it was being called "Women's Romanization for Hong Kong" (8/17/19).  Now it has been catapulted into an all-purpose, across-the-board status for the Hong Kong anti-extradition protesters:

"Insurgent tongues: how loose Cantonese romanisation became Hong Kong's patois of protest", by Rachel Leung Ka-yin, Hong Kong Free Press (9/21/19).

Leung's article begins:

"Gwong Fuk Heung Gong! Si Doi Gark Ming!"*

If you understand the above slogan, chances are you're probably a Hong Konger born in the post-80s or 90s. If that did not make any sense to you, the "language" in use is a form of loose Cantonese romanisation, which recently saw a surge from the niche to widespread use in political activism via the online platform LIHKG**.

*["Liberate Hong Kong! the revolution of our times!"]

**[VHM:  like Reddit]

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The benefits of handwriting

Many's the Language Log post in which we've looked at the pluses and negatives of writing Chinese characters (see "Selected readings" below).  These include discipline, character building, aesthetic aspects, myopia, even punishment.  Now, in "Bring Back Handwriting: It's Good for Your Brain:  People are losing the brain benefits of writing by hand as the practice becomes less common", Elemental (9/12/19), Markham Heid examines the psychological and physical effects of writing by hand as opposed to typing fully formed letters with the stroke of a key.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that "the writing cure," which normally involves writing about one's feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there's evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

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Mechanistic writing of Chinese characters

The following mind-boggling demonstration of machine-like writing of Chinese characters was posted on imgur a few days ago:

Flawless writing of Chinese characters

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Hong Kong protesters messing with the characters, part 2

Among the new polysyllabic characters (called hétǐ zì 合體字 ["compound / synthesized characters"] in Chinese) created by the Hong Kong protesters is this one (see below in the "Readings" [especially the first item] for other examples).  It is preceded by this note: "Hongkongers will remember 721 & 831", which are references to the extreme brutality wreaked on the people of Hong Kong by hired gangsters on July 21 and by "police" on August 31, for which see 721 Yuen Long Nightmare and #831terroristattack (also here).  This new polysyllabic character is widely circulating on the internet and has come to me from many sources (here's one).

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"Add oil," Kongish!

Speakers of Kongish have three ways to write their equivalent of English "Go!":  1. "ga yao" (Cantonese Romanization of the wildly popular term), 2. 加油 (the Sinographic form of the Cantonese expression), 3. "add oil" (Chinglishy equivalent of the former two forms).

See this excellent article by Lisa Lim for a brief introduction to Kongish:

"Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate:  The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as 'add oil', from Cantonese 'ga yau'", SCMP (30 Aug, 2019).  [VHM:  Includes a nice summary of Romanization efforts for Sinitic topolects from the late 16th century (Matteo Ricci) to the present.]

Illustration from the article:

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Vocabulary of Hong Kong protest slogans and new characters

The Hong Kong extradition bill protesters have developed a vocabulary of slogans and newly invented polysyllabic characters which they wield deftly.  Here are two instances from the Twitter feed of Ryan Ho Kilpatrick documenting this weekend's protest activities on the way to and in the Hong Kong International Airport.  If you scan through the photographs and short videos from the top to the bottom (there are some pretty rough, raw scenes), you can get a sense of the tension that continues to build after 11 weeks of protests that have convulsed Hong Kong, at times with hundreds of thousands or even millions of people on the street expressing their firm opposition to the heavy-handed policies of the Beijing government.

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