Archive for Grammar

Disappearing readings of Sinoglyphs: focus on Bo (–> Bai) Juyi / Haku Rakuten

When I learned Mandarin half a century ago, it was a matter of faith, rectitude, and integrity that one should pronounce 說服 ("persuade") as shuìfú, not shuōfú, because when 說 is used with the meaning "convince; persuade", its pronunciation should be shuì, not shuō, which means "say; speak; explain", the more usual reading.  Now, however, in the PRC, according to my students from there, the pronunciation shuì basically no longer exists, not even when the character 說 is intended to mean "convince; persuade", and not even in many dictionaries.

說 can also be pronounced yuè, in which case it means "happy; delighted", and is the equivalent of 悦 (and compare my remarks on the equivalent meaning / reading of 樂 below).

In addition, 說 can also be pronounced tuō and means the same thing as 脱 ("to free; relieve").

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Omnibus Chinglish, part 4

Yet more fun (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

Don't JuYiGe


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Close enough: glossing Sinographic Mandarin with Pinyin Mandarin

Intriguing t-shirt that is making the rounds these days:


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Characterless Northeasternisms

From a native Northeasterner:

Many people think that Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) = Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin). Nononono! Although phonologically Dōngběi huà 东北话 (Northeastern Topolect) sounds like Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Modern Standard Mandarin), it is not Mandarin at all because of its distinctive lexical inventory. Yesterday we talked about hermaphrodites, or intersex persons, which are called “èryǐzi” (sounds like 二椅子 (lit., "two chairs"), though I don’t know which are the Chinese characters at all); and also breasts as zhāzhā — e.g., a small kid would say to his/her mom “Wǒ yào chī / mō 我要吃/摸 zhāzhā” ("I want to nibble / touch zhāzhā") when he/she looks for the mama’s breasts; and also xuán了 for “a lot” — e.g. "Lǎoshī liú de zuòyè xuánle 老师留的作业xuán了" ("the teacher gave a lot of homework"),"Dàjiē shàng yǒu xuánle rénle 大街上有xuán了人了" ("the street is crowded with so many people"),or "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了" ("he has a lot of toys"). Note that we don’t say "Tā yǒu xuánle wánjù 他有xuán了玩具",but rather "Tā de wánjù xuánle 他的玩具xuán了"。Funny grammar :) Again, I don't know how to write these words in characters.

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Me, myself, and I

This morning, while washing my face and still not fully awake, I heard a rap song on the radio that kept repeating "me, myself, and I".  It started to bother me.  Why would anybody say that?  Why would they say it over and over?  What do they mean by it?

Emma Bryce (TEDEd [8/28/15]) tells us that " 'Me' is an object pronoun, 'I' is a subject pronoun, and 'myself' is a reflexive or intensive / emphatic pronoun."  Well, so what?  What's the point?  What statement are they trying to make?

According to YourDictionary, "me, myself, and I" implies "Only me, me alone, me without companionship."  Fair enough; that makes some sense.

Wiktionary agrees that "me, myself, and I" emphasizes the speaker's aloneness, i.e., only me; myself alone.

English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (5/6/16) tells us that "Me is the physical aspects. Myself is the soulful aspects. I is the spiritual aspects."  I'm not so sure about that, but at least somebody believes it.

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Sentence length and syntactic complexity

[This is a guest post by Don Keyser, in response to "Trends" (3/27/22).]

I do hope Sir Walter Scott is part of the study, as an outlier perhaps.  I still have nightmares going back to English class in an era when one still was obliged to diagram the sentences to establish to the satisfaction of the teacher that one truly and fully grasped the structure and meaning.  Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was the acid test.  I'm not sure blackboards of the era were sufficiently large, or chalk sufficiently sturdy, to get through the diagram of a single sentence in Ivanhoe and other works.

I just checked online and found that there are free versions of Ivanhoe in ebook and .pdf format.

Some examples of all too typical sentences from that work:

On the other hand, such and so multiplied were the means of vexation and oppression possessed by the great Barons, that they never wanted the pretext, and seldom the will, to harass and pursue, even to the very edge of destruction, any of their less powerful neighbours, who attempted to separate themselves from their authority, and to trust for their protection, during the dangers of the times, to their own inoffensive conduct, and to the laws of the land.

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Will this magical shaker leave you shooketh?

Pictured here is a zhèn lóu shénqì 震楼神器 ("magical floor shaker"):

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Shooketh, rattleth, and rolleth

In his "The Good Word" column of The Atlantic (1/24/22), Caleb Madison has a new article, "Why We’re All Shooketh:  The term is online slang of Biblical proportions".  The first two paragraphs:

Lately modern life has felt all too biblical. Plagues, massive weather events, tribal divisions, demagogic leadership … and people using words like shooketh. The phrase I’m shooketh was first uttered by the comedian Christine Sydelko in a YouTube video uploaded to her account in 2017 (she was expressing her shock at having been recognized by a fan at Boston Market). The adjective shooketh took off as a way to lend biblical proportions to awestruck confusion. But the linguistic journey to its creation spans the evolution of the English language, connecting Early Modern English, turn-of-the-century adventure novels, and Twitter slang.

When we want to transform verbs like shake into adjectives, we typically use something called a participle, either present or past. The present participle of shake is shaking, as in “I’m shaking.” The past participle would be “I’m shaken.” But, for some reason, in the 19th century, the simple past tense, shook, took hold. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure classic Treasure Island, Long John Silver admits, “I’ll not deny neither but what some of my people was shook—maybe all was shook; maybe I was shook myself.” And 14 years later, in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, the form reappears within a now-common collocation with up when Dan Troop exclaims, “Well, you was shook up and silly.”

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Circumspection, circumlocution, irresolution, and indecisiveness in Japanese

I don't recall how I learned first-year Japanese half a century ago (perhaps through self-study), but I remember very clearly my ascension to second-year during 1972-73 at Harvard University.  My teacher was young Jay Rubin, and our textbook was the famous Hibbett and Itasaka*.  It was a veritable baptism by fire.

[*Howard Hibbett and Gen Itasaka, ed., Modern Japanese: A Basic Reader, 2 volumes (Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press, 1965).]

This was real Japanese, no more made-for-gaijin pablum.  It was a big book with a wide variety of humanities and social science genres, and no punches pulled.  All of the texts seemed very difficult, and I will explain the main reason why below.  One of the essays haunted me for years, and still sometimes it comes back to fill my mind with melancholy and morbid thoughts.  It consisted of the reflections of an author on the best way to commit suicide.  He dwelt on all aspects of the act of suicide.  Surprisingly, the emphasis was not on which method was least painful or most effective, but rather — at least as I recollected his thought process — more on which act was most elegant or least repulsive.  Reading that essay was so wrenching that I was almost afraid to decipher the next sentence after having figured out one with great effort.

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Little friend

From the Twitter account of @JiayangFan:

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Measure words for robots

Christian Horn was reading an article in Japanese Endgadget (8/11/21) about the introduction of a new kind of robot called a "Cyberdog".

Says Christian:

You don't need to know Japanese to understand the fascinating part:  in Japanese, when counting things, the type of "thing" you are counting is relevant.  So you count "flat things" differently than "long shaped" things.  Or machines, fish, or animals.

The article states that Cyberdog is aimed at developers, and is limited to "1000台(匹?)", showing hesitation over which measure word to use, dai 台 (counter for machines, including vehicles) or hiki 匹 (counter for small animals​; counter for rolls of cloth; counter for horses​).  If you use dai 台 as a measure word for counting Cyberdogs, it would indicate that you think of them as machines.  If you use hiki 匹 for counting them, it would indicate that you regard Cyberdogs as animals.

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I'm (like)

Yesterday, I had a ride with a young man (age 23) from East Liverpool, Ohio to Irwin, Pennsylvania, a distance of about 70 miles, so we had the opportunity for a good talk.  He is a tow truck operator by trade, but was also acting as a taxi driver to earn some extra income.

We had a nice, free-flowing conversation covering all sorts of interesting topics:  his work as a tow truck driver, the ceramics industry in that Tri-State (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) corner of the world, his 12-year-old niece winning the first demolition derby of her life and getting a 6-foot-high trophy plus a prize of $1,200 at the Hookstown County Fair, and much else besides.

Fairly early in our conversation, I noticed an unusual feature of the young man's speech, the prevalence of the word "I'm" at the beginning of sentences.

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GE

The particle "ge 個/个" is one of the most frequent characters in written Chinese (12th in a list of 9,933 unique characters).  It is generally thought of as a classifier, numerary adjunct, measure word.  Indeed, it functions as the almost universal, default classifier when you're not sure what the correct / proper measure word for a given noun should be.  In addition, "ge" has more than a dozen other definitions and usages, for which see Wiktionary. However, I'm not sure that any dictionary or grammar accounts for a very special usage that I have long been intrigued and enchanted by, namely the "ge" in this type of sentence:

Wǒ máng de gè yàosǐ

我忙得個要死!

"I'm so busy I could die!", i.e., "I'm incredibly busy!"

Here de 得 is a particle marking the complement of degree.

Because I lived with a big household full of Chinese (Shandong) in-laws, I picked this construction up very early in my learning of spoken Mandarin, but I always had a visceral feeling that it was extremely colloquial and unlikely to be encountered in written texts and was probably not covered in conventional grammars.  So I asked around among colleagues and native speaker informants how they would explain this unusual "ge", grammatically or otherwise.  Here are some of the replies I received.

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