Archive for Tones

Jipangu = Japan Country?

This was supposedly Marco Polo's word for Japan.  It has recently come back in vogue for films, games, etc.  It would seem that "Jipangu" (also spelled "Zipangu") is cognate with Jap. Nihonkoku / Nipponkoku, Ch. Rìběnguó 日本國, Kor. Ilbon-guk, Viet. Nhật Bản Quốc , but in none of the Chinese topolects I'm aware of does it sound quite like that.  Certainly it would not work for the southern or other topolects that have an entering tone final -k (or some -t) for the last of the three syllables.  Ditto for Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Even the Sinitic topolects without an entering tone final don't have the right vowel shape / quality at the end to match the -u of Jipangu.

Maybe Marco Polo got it from Persian, the lingua franca of international diplomacy in his time.  Could it be that the phonotactics of Persian could not tolerate / represent any of the Sinitic topolectal forms of 國 directly but transformed one of them into something that sounded to Marco Polo like -gu?

Did Marco Polo get "Jipangu" from the Mongols?  If so, from whom did the Mongols get it?

Wiktionary entry for 日本國.

Wiktionary entry for .

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When intonation overrides tone, part 5

There are three ways to say "Monday" in Mandarin:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一 (you can also say this in the shortened form bài yī 拜一)
xīngqí yī / xīngqīyī 星期一

As usual with my classes at Penn, most of my students are from mainland China.  I asked one of them to pronounce those three ways of saying "Monday".  A student from Shangdong who speaks beautiful Mandarin read them this way:

zhōu yī 週一
lǐbài yī 禮拜一
xīngqīyì 星期一

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When intonation overrides tone, part 4

Some folks think that intonation never overrides tones, but I'm convinced on the basis of empirical evidence that it does.

For example:

Nǐ xiǎng gàn hā 你想干哈 –> Nǐ xiǎng gàn há 你想干哈 ("what do you want to do?") — especially in the Northeast.

Here are some other examples — all of them provided by native speakers of MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin):

A.
 
1. 不( bù ["no"]):Sometimes, I would say  不 ( bú) even though there is no falling tone character after  不 to invoke tone sandhi, such as "我不  ( bú)". This happens when somebody asks me to do something I don't like, I will say 不 ( bú) to express my rejection. 
 
2.中间 (zhōngjiān ["in; among; between; amidst"]): Sometimes, I would say 中间 (zhōngjiàn)to emphasize the place.  I think most people will commonly pronounce this phrase as  中间 (zhōngjiàn), but it is "wrong". 
 
3. 都 (dōu ["all"]):   I will pronounce this character as dóu when I want to emphasize the meaning "all." For example, 我都  (dóu) 写完了 I finish them all, 他都 (dóu) 吃完了,he ate them all. But here, I am thinking about whether I am influenced by 东北 Northeastern / dongbei topolect because I think dongbei people will commonly use the pronunciation dóu .

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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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A Chinese citizen's thoughts on Matt Pottinger's speech in Mandarin

The CCP government has done its utmost to prevent Chinese citizens from viewing Matt Pottinger's remarkable May Fourth speech (see "Selected Readings" below) or even from reading about it or expressing their ideas concerning it.  Yet some of them have taken the risk of using illegal VPNs to jump the Great Firewall (GFW) and have managed to see Pottinger's presentation with their own eyes.  Among those who have watched the video of Pottinger's speech, some have dared to express their reactions to it.  Here is one:

I watched Matt Pottinger's message. His Chinese is excellent except for his stressing on more than necessary words that makes him sound a bit unnatural like machine-generated. Had he been acquainted with the subtleness of spoken Chinese, he would definitely qualify for an A+.

Not surprisingly, his message can't be watched within the GFW. What's on the news are the slams and abuses on the message from the official media. Some curious people might wonder what the original message is and climb over the walls to explore. There are quite a few comments on the official news demanding access to the original message of Pottinger so that people may "join the government to criticize".

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"Was he reading Hanzi, or Hanyu Pinyin?"

A commenter to this post, "Matthew Pottinger's speech in Mandarin" (5/9/20) posed the questions in the title. These are interesting questions that raise important issues.

Since I don't know Matthew Pottinger, I am unable to say for sure what he was reading, whether it was Hanzi, Hanyu Pinyin, or something else.  The reason I say "something else" is because his teacher, Perry Link, was a strong advocate of Gwoyeu Romatzyh spelling, aka GR or the National Language Romanization system, so it may have been that.

For those who are not familiar with it, GR is a kind of tonal romanization in which the tones of words are spelled with letters.  It is difficult to learn (though much less difficult than characters, of course!), but it is very effective in imprinting the tones of words in the heads of learners.  Indeed, many of the best foreign speakers of Mandarin learned the language via GR, and they include Perry Link and Tom Bartlett.

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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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Chinese: what do you hear?

[This is a guest post by Jonathan Smith]

Here's an audio passage from a film I've been watching:

If you know Chinese, test yourself to see how much of it you understand.

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The musicality of Changsha tones

With approximately six million native speakers centered on the capital of Hunan, the province just to the south of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has been raging for the past three months and more, Changsha topolect (Chángshā huà 長沙話) is a significant form of Sinitic:

Changsha dialect (simplified Chinese: 长沙话; traditional Chinese: 長沙話; pinyin: Chángshā-huà; Xiang: tsã˩˧ sɔ˧ ɣo˨˩) is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is not mutually intelligible* with Standard Mandarin, the official language of China.

(source)

[*VHM:  I like the way they put that — "not mutually intelligible".]

I don't know if the tones of Changsha topolect are innately more musical than those of other Sinitic topolects, or indeed of varieties of speech in non-Sinitic language groups, but it seems to be a thing to represent them musically.

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Vietnamese without diacritics

From Reddit:

[Click to embiggen]

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Tao vs. Dao: amazing restaurant sign near UPenn

I've eaten in this hot pot (huǒguō / WG huo3-kuo1 / IPA [xwò.kwó] 火锅 / 火鍋) restaurant at 3717 Chestnut St. on a number of occasions, and each time I go, I am struck by the creative sign out front:

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Kirsten Gillibrand's Mandarin

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Sememic spelling

During the last century and a half or so, there have been thousands of schemes for the reform of the Sinitic writing system.  Most of these schemes were devised by Chinese, though a relatively small number of them were created by foreigners.  They run the gamut from kana-like syllabaries to radical simplification of the strokes, to endless varieties of Romanization.  Among the more linguistically sophisticated (but also difficult to learn) are tonal spelling schemes, such as Gwoyeu Romatzyh (National Romanization), which spell out the Mandarin tones with letters.  There have even been efforts to produce Romanizations that could be read out by speakers from different areas according to the pronunciation of their own topolects, e.g., the Romanisation Interdialectique of Henri Lamasse (c. 1869-1952) and Ernest Jasmin (fl. 1920-1950) and Y. R. Chao's (1892-1982) diaphonemic orthography called General Chinese.

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