Archive for Tones

"Plastic Mandarin"

That's a literal translation of “sùliào pǔtōnghuà 塑料普通话” ("Plastic Mandarin") or “sùpǔ 塑普” for short.  "Plastic" here means "artificial, inauthentic, fake"; in Changsha Xiang topolect (also known as Hunanese), the first syllable is a homophone for "bad", so the short form also means "bad Mandarin".

Chenzi Xu, a doctoral candidate at Oxford University, is from Xiangtan (population nearly 3 million), a prefecture-level city in east-central Hunan province, south-central China. an hour's drive from Changsha  She went to a middle school in Changsha (population over 8 million), capital of Hunan province, so she knows the local language well.

The hometowns of several founding leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, including Chairman Mao Zedong, President Liu Shaoqi, and Marshal Peng Dehuai, are in Xiangtan's administration, as well as the hometowns of Qing dynasty and republic era painter Qi Baishi, scholar-general Zeng Guofan, and tennis player Peng Shuai.

(source)

Other notables who hail from Xiangtan include the Taiwan politicians Ma Ying-jeou and James Soong, so this is a place whose language habits bear considerable weight nationwide.

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The sound of swearing

Trigger warning:  I'm VHM and I do not approve of this message in its entirety.

Article by Elizabeth Preston in NYT (12/6/22):

"Curse Words Around the World Have Something in Common (We Swear)"

These four sounds are missing from some of the seven words you can never say on television, and the pattern prevails in other languages too, researchers say.

Starting with the second paragraph:

A study published Tuesday in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that curse words in several unrelated languages sound alike. They’re less likely than other words to include the consonant sounds L, R, W or Y. And more family-friendly versions of curses often have these sounds added, just like the R in “shirt” or “fork.” The finding suggests that some underlying rules may link the world’s languages, no matter how different they are.

“In English, some of the worst words seem to have common phonetic properties,” said Ryan McKay, a psychologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. They’re often short and punchy. They also tend to include the sounds P, T or K, “without giving any obvious examples,” Dr. McKay said. These sounds are called stop consonants because they interrupt the airflow when we’re speaking.

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"Happy Birthday" melody formed from tones

A PRC graduate student in Chinese literature at Indiana University sent along this clever arrangement of "Happy Birthday":

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Mount a chariot

This has always been a bone of contention with me ever since I started studying Buddhology and Sinology in the late 60s and early 70s, when everybody I knew — Chinese and foreigners, scholars and laypersons alike — pronounced 大乘 and 小乘, the Chinese equivalents of Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna, respectively as dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  But that didn't make sense to me, since Mahayana means "Great Vehicle" and Hīnayāna means "Small Vehicle", i.e., modifier + noun construction, so I formed the opinion that, in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) they should be pronounced as dàshèng and xiǎoshèng.  Consequently, I began to use these pronunciations — dàshèng and xiǎoshèng — for Mahayana and Hinayana, rather than dàchéng and xiǎochéng.  At first it seemed odd, causing editors and reviewers to "correct" me.  Slowly, however, over the decades, other scholars began to adopt these readings, dàshèng and xiǎoshèng, until now most knowledgeable Buddhist specialists use them, although the lay public, by and large, still pronounce them dàchéng and xiǎochéng.

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Pinyin with tones on labels at a TCM research facility

(TCM = Traditional Chinese Medicine) 

Photograph of a small portion of specimen jars at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies northeast of Philadelphia in Warminster, Pennsylvania:

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Jichang Lulu

That's the name of a treasured Language Log reader and contributor (see under "Selected Readings").  When I asked him how to write that in Sinoglyphs, he told me that it is this:

飢腸轆轆 / simpl. 饥肠辘辘

Wanting to get the tones, I typed "jichanglulu" into Google Translate (GT), but forgot to click the space bar to make the conversion to characters with Hanyu Pinyin transcription complete with tones.  When I pressed the speaker button to hear how that sounded, what came out was something like Mandarin with an English accent, but still perfectly intelligible:  "jichanglulu".  It resembled the Mandarin produced by the strangers on the street who read off the Pinyin texts handed to them by my wife, Li-ching Chang.  She was always delighted when she heard them pronouncing Mandarin without ever having studied it.  "Jichanglulu" — see, you can say it too!

Adding the tones, we get jīcháng lùlù.  What does this somewhat odd assortment of sounds signify?

GT says "hungry", more literally, "hungry intestines are rumbling".

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Sinitic ideophones

I have always felt that binoms are a key to studying early vernacular Sinitic.  (See "Selected readings" below for useful references on this topic.)  Now we have a valuable research tool for access to and analysis of premodern Sinitic binoms, which fall within the purview of the tabulated listings introduced here:

The Chinese Ideophone Database (CHIDEOD)
L’ ensemble de données des idéophones chinois (CHIDEOD)

In: Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale (Brill)

Authors: Thomas VAN HOEY and Arthur Lewis THOMPSON

Online Publication Date:  26 Oct 2020

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Serial blind dates

This story (referencing Australian ABC News [1/13/22], with video)  has been doing the rounds in the Taiwan media:

"Chinese bachelorette locked in blind date's apartment after Henan's snap lockdown:

Woman says her date's performance under lockdown left much to be desired"

By Liam Gibson, Taiwan News (1/14/22)

This extraordinary report begins thus:

An unmarried Chinese woman surnamed Wang (王) had her blind date dramatically extended by several days after authorities announced an immediate lockdown.

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Another multilingual, multiscriptal sign in Taiwan

Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of a clever, curious sign at an automobile repair shop in Taiwan:

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Mair's hypothesis on tonal repetition

In his major July 1 speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CCP, one of Xi Jinping's many pronouncements featuring "blood" was this:

yù xuè fèn zhàn

浴血奋战/ 浴血奮戰

lit., "bathe blood energetic / rousing / fierce battle / fight"

i.e., "fight hard in bloody battles; a bloody fight"

It is hard to pronounce four 4th tones in a row.  Indeed, in normal speech, it is virtually impossible to do so.  When four 4th tones occur in succession, some sort of natural sandhi will arise to obviate that condition.  Most people I know who pronounce this quadrisyllabic expression will convert the third syllable to a light first tone.

Aside from the consonants, vowels, and tones, when one begins the study of Mandarin, one of the first things one learns about the pronunciation of the language is that you cannot have two 3rd tones in succession:  the first one has to become a 2nd tone, e.g., Nǐ hǎo –> Ní hǎo 你好 ("How are you?").

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When intonation overrides tone, part 6

Subtitle:  Virtuous / disgusting behavior / character

There's a common Mandarin put down that is much favored by Peking shopgirls:

Qiáo nǐ nà dé xìng ("Just look at that virtuous / disgusting behavior of yours!")

Readers will notice that I did not provide characters, since in truth there is a real problem knowing which character to choose for the last syllable.  There's no question whatsoever that it is pronounced in an emphatic fourth tone, which would make one think that it should be written as 性 ("nature; character").  The problem is that underlying the unmistakable fourth tone is an actual second tone, which should in fact be written as 行 ("conduct; behavior").

What's going on here?

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Recognizing half of a character and half of a word

I have a student whose given name is Zǐhàn 子菡.  The first character means "child; son; offspring; seed; small thing", plus lots of other things, for which see here.  The second character is much more problematic, since it doesn't mean anything by itself, but only in combination, as in the disyllabic word hàndàn 菡萏 (literary term for "lotus flower, especially one that has not blossomed")

Reconstructions

(Zhengzhang): /*ɡuːmʔ  l'oːmʔ/

(source)

As is my habit with my many students from other countries, I asked 子菡 if — following what is indicated in dictionaries — I were pronouncing her name correctly:  Zǐhàn.  She acknowledged that Zǐhàn is indeed the canonical pronunciation as given in lexicographical sources, but that people — including she herself — actually pronounce her name as Zǐhán.  Oh, woe is me!  That sort of blew my mind away.  It's not enough to be scrupulously observant of canonical prescription for pronunciation, I must needs learn another, noncanonical, pronunciation for the 菡 of 子菡's given name.

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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology, part 3

[Guest post by San Duanmu.  Please note that San's remarks were written before Sara de Rose's post ("part 2") on the same subject earlier this evening.]

In response to Victor’s request, I am offering some comments on qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy), two commonly used terms in traditional Chinese phonology. I shall follow the outlines suggested by Victor as well.

  1. When and how did the terms arise?

According to Tang (2016: 32), the terms were used linguistically in a ten-volume book 《聲類》 (Sound Categories) by 李登 (LI Deng) during 三國時期 (Three Kingdoms period, 220-280). The book was later lost, but references to it can be found in other books that survived.

According to YU Min 俞敏, in Li Ji《禮記》 (the Book of Rites), compiled by followers of Confucius (孔子 551-479 BC), the terms were also used to discuss music, as in “长者浊也……短者清也” (long ones give a muddy sound… short ones give a clear sound). If long and short refer to the shape of an instrument, then ‘muddy’ ought to mean a lower tone and ‘clear’ a higher tone. The exact relation between the terms used in music and those in sound classification is open to interpretation.

  1. How do the terms function within traditional Chinese phonology?

In traditional Chinese phonology, qing 清 (clear) and zhuo 濁 (muddy) are used to classify consonants. In addition, each is further divided into two sub-categories. Therefore, there are four categories of consonants, shown in the table below, with samples in IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

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