Archive for Language and art

Grue and bleen: the blue-green distinction and its implications

When I started to learn Mandarin more than half a century ago, it was easy for me to master lán 蓝/ 藍 ("blue") and lǜ 绿 / 綠 ("green").  But as I became better acquainted with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, I was troubled by the word qīng 青, which seemed to straddle and include both blue and green.

The character depicts the budding of a young plant and it could be understood as "verdant", but the word is used to describe colors ranging from light and yellowish green through deep blue all the way to black, as in xuánqīng (Chinese: 玄青). For example, the Flag of the Republic of China is today still referred to as qīng tiān, bái rì, mǎn dì hóng ("'Blue' Sky, White Sun, Whole Ground Red"—Chinese: 天,白日,滿地紅); whereas qīngcài (青菜) is the Chinese word for "green bok choy". A cucumber is known as either huángguā (Chinese: 黃瓜) "yellow melon" or qīngguā* (Chinese: 青瓜) "green melon", which is more commonly used in Cantonese. Qīng 青, was the traditional designation of both blue and green for much of the history of the Chinese language, while 藍 lán ('blue') originally referred to the indigo plant. However, the character 綠 ('green'), as a particular 'shade' of qīng applied to cloth and clothing, has been attested since the Book of Odes (1000 to 600 B.C.) (e.g., the title of Ode 27 《邶風·綠衣》 'Green Upper Garment' in the Airs of Bei). As a part of the adoption of modern Vernacular Chinese as the social norm, replacing Classical Chinese, the modern terms for blue and green are now more commonly used than qīng as standalone color terms, although qīng is still part of many common noun phrases. The two forms can also be encountered combined as 青藍 and 青綠, with 青 being used as an intensifier.

Source

[VHM:  Cant. *ceng1gwaa1]

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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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The indecipherability of the Voynich manuscript

Less than half a year ago, we were treated to yet another among countless claims for the decipherment of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (henceforth "Vm"):  "Voynich code cracked?" (5/16/19).  I was skeptical then and am even more skeptical now after having read this article:

Peter Bakker, "The Voynich manuscript: the decipherment of ms. 408", Lingoblog (9/10/19)

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I'm strikin' it

Poster advertising a citywide strike in Hong Kong:


(Source — with many other examples of powerful protest art from Hong Kong)

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The rake and the vamp

Chris Brannick posted this photograph of a fan on his Facebook page:

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Freemocracy

We just posted on a calligraphic ambigram that means both "go" and "Hong Kong":  "'Go Hong Kong!'" (6/12/19).  Here's another one that does not require rotation:


(Source)

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"Go Hong Kong!"

Whether in English or in Chinese (Xiānggǎng jiāyóu 香港加油!), "Go Hong Kong!" has been blocked and censored on the Chinese internet because of the massive protests against the hated extradition bill that Xi Jinping is trying to force upon the city.  However, through the magic of Chinese calligraphy, there's a way to get around the ban against this cheer:

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Restaurant logo with a dingus

Klaus Nuber writes: "Sometime ago I saw the sign of this 'Asia Palast' with the logo consisting of the two chairs and the round dingus between. Is this logo just cute or has it a hanzi background?"

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Scripts in Google International Women's Day doodle

For International Women's Day, Google made one of its doodles — this one with quotations from various women from around the world. Each is given its own distinctive typography. Several languages and scripts appear.

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"Rondle it!"

I recently became aware of a viral new meme in China, but didn't know what it meant or even how to pronounce it.  The characters are 盘他, which superficially, literally would seem to mean "plate him / her / it".  Of course, that doesn't make sense, so 盘他 flummoxed me for quite a while.

Since the expression seemed so alien and odd, I thought that maybe the second character had a special topolectal pronunciation and would have pronounced the whole expression as pán tuō, but that was just a wild guess, and it wasn't long before I learned that the term should be pronounced "pán tā", the usual way for those two characters.

I still didn't know what "pán tā 盘他" meant.

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"Hong Kong is (not) China"

From the Los Angeles Loyolan, the student newspaper of Loyola Marymount University:

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Porcelain bumping

I learned this term from an important article by David Bandurski in today's (10/17/18) The Guardian, "China's new diplomacy in Europe has a name: broken porcelain:  Beijing's message to Sweden and beyond – criticise us, and we'll topple your agenda – won't win it any hearts and minds".

The relevant Chinese expression is pèngcí 碰瓷, which literally means "bump porcelain" (think pèngpèngchē 碰碰车 ["bumper cars"]).  How did pèngcí 碰瓷 ("bump porcelain") become embroiled with diplomacy and international politics?

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Chaotic calligraphy

In the middle of last month, I participated in a double book launch by Cambria Press in Singapore (links here, here, and here).  The event was held at one of Singapore's most outstanding art galleries, called iPreciation (links here and here).  This is what I saw as soon as I walked in the door:

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