Archive for Topolects

Preserving Taiwanese

Article by Rhoda Kwan, Hong Kong Free Press (31/10/21):

‘The loss of language is the loss of heritage:’ the push to revive Taiwanese in Taiwan

"You can't completely express Taiwanese culture with Mandarin – something is bound to be lost in translation," says one advocate for the local language.

When I go to Taipei, I seldom hear Taiwanese being spoken, especially by people under forty or fifty.  That is always saddening to me, especially considering the fact that about 70% of the total population of Taiwan today are Hoklos.

The rare usage of Taiwanese, particularly on the streets of its capital Taipei, is a legacy of decades of colonial rule. During 50 years under Japanese rule, and the Kuomintang’s subsequent martial law from 1949 to 1987, generations of Taiwanese were banned from speaking their mother tongue in public.

“A whole generation’s learning in this language was washed away, and with this language a culture and identity was also washed away,” said Lí Sì–goe̍h, a Taiwanese language advocate.

Before the arrival of the Kuomintang, Taiwanese – a language from China’s Fujian province also referred to as Taigí, Taiwanese Hokkien, Hoklo or Southern Min – was spoken by most Han immigrants who arrived on the island from the 17th century onwards. Other languages, including other Chinese languages such as Hakka and dozens of different Austronesian indigenous languages, were also spoken on the island, a reflection of the diversity of ethnic groups that have lived on the island for centuries.

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Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation

Usually, though not always, when I Romanize Sinographs on Language Log, I do so using Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), but that is misleading, because MSM is only one of countless different topolectal pronunciations that could be used (Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuanese, and so on and so forth).  MSM is particularly ill-suited for the Romanization of pre-modern literature, since — of all topolects — it is the most highly evolved (ergo youngest) and least like earlier stages of Sinitic.  In this post, I will use Southern Min pronunciation to give a sense of how different it is from MSM.

The Min Romanizations have been prepared by Conal Boyce using a Yale-like system he developed in 1975 in preference to Douglas-Campbell.

Douglas, Carstairs (1899) [1873]. Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy (2nd ed.). London: Presbyterian Church of England.

 Campbell, W. (1913). A Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular. Tainan: Ho Tai Tong.

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A poster with an uncommon character denoting a common Cantonese word

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Speaking Taiwanese as a Second Language in Taiwan

Provocative Twitter thread:

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Another early polysyllabic Sinitic word

In various publications and Language Log posts over the years, I have collected scores of old polysyllabic words (e.g., those for reindeer, phoenix, coral, spider, earthworm, butterfly, dragonfly, balloon lute, meandering / winding, etc.), which proves that Sinitic has never been strictly monosyllabic, although that is a common misapprehension, even among many scholars.  The reason I call the one featured in this post "another early polysyllabic Sinitic word" is because I don't think I've ever pointed it out before.

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Hong Kong Cantonese in jeopardy

From a fluent speaker of Mandarin:

This past weekend, I watched the latest film from Marvel Studios: "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (an Asian superhero movie). I was rather surprised to hear about 30% of all lines spoken in Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Mandarin), especially when given that some scenes were set in Macau and characters from ancient Chinese villages. Although I could not find an article or commentary on this specific topic I was interested in, I did find this Reddit post—the author discusses how strange and peculiar the creators' decision to use Mandarin in particular is in the context of the movie. 

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"Kong Girl Phonetics"

New issue of Sino-Platonic Papers (no. 317 [August, 2021]):

“'Kong Girl Phonetics': Loose Cantonese Romanization in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement,” by Ruth Wetters (free pdf)

Abstract

Cantonese in Hong Kong occupies a specific cultural and political niche, informed by the unique context of the Hong Kong identity. During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, protesters used modified Cantonese online to evade detection and cement their identity as Hong Kongers. One way in which this was achieved is through a new online vernacular, dubbed “Kong girl phonetics” Kong nui ping jam. This vernacular borrows from grassroots romanization, English phonetics, number substitutions, and bilingualism in English and Cantonese to exclude all readers except young Hong Kong people, who show high bilingualism and high tech literacy and share the vocabulary of protesters. This essay explores aspects of this protest vernacular through non-comprehensive analysis of a thread on LIHKG (Lineage: Hong Kong Golden) lin dang 連黨 that is the first recorded example of “Kong girl speech.”

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Slurring and blurring

Something seemed amiss from the very first words of this video:

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Taiwanese vs. Mandarin in a village school half a century ago

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Shandong vernacular, then and now

A week ago, Julie Lee made this interesting comment on Language Log:

…when I studied Yuan dynasty drama and had books from the library, my husband (a physicist) picked them up to read and was amazed at the 13th century dialogue. "That's just the way we spoke at home in Shandong", he exclaimed. He grew up in Tengxian County*, Shandong, and went to school in Qingdao. I couldn't understand his Shandong speech. I too was amazed that Chinese colloquial speech (in Shandong) lasted from the 13th century till the 20th century — 700 years. The dialogue in Yuan drama was popping with lively expressions.

[*Likely the birthplace of the populist, egalitarian, pragmatic, empirical, scientific minded philosopher, Mo Zi / Micius (ca. 470-391 BC.)]

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Scammers and swindlers with accents

The focus of this post is the nature and modus operandi of the piànzi 騙子 ("swindler; scammer").

According to this article in Chinese, scammers do not speak good Mandarin because having an "accent" enables them to carry out target screening.  Such an argument may seem like a bit of a stretch, but let's see how this supposedly works out through the eyes of two Mandarin speaking PRC citizens who have been the intended victims of the schemes of such piànzi 騙子, who pose as representing banks and other financial institutions, public security bureaus, and so forth.

I

The article suggests that there are three reasons why phone scammers speak in strong topolect accents rather than standard Mandarin:1. Accent serves as a "mechanism of filtration", because those who are not sensitive enough to non-Mandarin accents and who can't recognize what is or is not Mandarin are more prone to fraud. 2. The scammers are simply not capable of speaking standard Mandarin given the current situation of Mandarin popularization in China. The scammers are more likely to be unschooled, and they usually share the same accent. 3. It is because of the high illiteracy rate in China that many people can't tell frauds from reliable phone calls made by authentic institutions.

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Ukrainian is not Russian

Paul Goble has an article in Window on Eurasia — New Series (7/24/21) that is short, succinct, and significant enough to quote in its entirety:  "Despite Putin’s Words, Moscow Does Recognize the Ukrainian Language as Distinct, Yaroshinskaya Says":

            Staunton, July 17 – All[a] Yaroshinskaya, a senior Moscow commentator who was politically active at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of Russian ones, says that whatever Vladimir Putin says about Russians and Ukrainians being one people, even he has been forced to recognize that a separate Ukrainian language has existed for a long time.

            Beyond question, Putin wants Ukrainians to speak Russian; but his discussion of the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations unintentionally calls attention to Russian efforts from the 18th century up to now of Moscow’s efforts to restrict Ukrainian, an acknowledgement of its existence and power (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/07/15/1911461.html).

         Again and again the tsars and the commissars and now “democratic” Russian leaders have tried to restrict Ukrainian and get Ukrainians to speak Russian. Yaroshinskaya details the decrees and decisions of Russian rulers from the times of Peter the Great to the present; and she points as well to the single exception until now.

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Cantonese chatting

[This is a guest post by Tom Mazanec]

I recently became curious about the origins of the Cantonese word king1 gai2 傾偈 ("to chat"). Though I've never formally studied Cantonese, I'm picking up bits of it from my wife and in-laws, who moved to the U.S. from Guangzhou about 30 years ago and use Cantonese to speak to each other and to my children. I like to think I know it slightly better than my 1-year-old and almost as well as my 3-year-old. My in-laws use the term king1 gai2 often, especially in light-hearted tone to describe the kids' pre-verbal babbling when they were under 1.
 
The equivalent phrase in Mandarin is liáo tiān(r) 聊天(兒), which appears to have no relation to king1 gai2. So this got me wondering about where king1 gai2 came from. On its surface, the characters appear to mean "pouring out gāthās" (gāthā: "song" in Sanskrit; "Buddhist verse" in Chinese). This makes little sense (though it would've been nice to put it into my T'oung Pao article on gāthās a few years ago), so I suspected the characters 傾偈 were used in a purely phonetic manner. Sure enough, the word is also sometimes written as 傾計 (king1 gai2). 

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