Archive for Topolects

A museum for the languages of Taiwan

Language Log readers will be aware that "Chinese", i.e., "Mandarin" (Guóyǔ 國語), is not the only language on the island.  Indeed, it is a Johnny-come-lately, having become the official language of the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1945, and was strongly enforced as such after 1949 when the retreating mainland KMT armies of Chiang Kai-shek occupied the island.

The earliest indigenous languages of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesian.  And we should not forget that there was a period of partial Dutch rule (1624-1662), especially in the south, and Spanish Formosa (Formosa Española) was a small colony of the Spanish Empire established in the northern part of the island from 1626 to 1642.  Consequently, both Dutch and Spanish had an impact on the linguistic development of Taiwan during the 17th century.  The first Europeans to take notice of Taiwan, however, were the Portuguese who, passing Taiwan in 1544, recorded in a ship's log the name of the island as Ilha Formosa ("Beautiful Island").

Taiwan was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945, during which period Japanese was the official language.  As such, it was important for the development of language on the island, and its significance lasts till today.

The influence of English in Taiwan has been enormous during the last two centuries.

See "Languages of Taiwan".

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Crosstalk about topolects

In the last few days, we've been discussing the notion of "national language" and its relationship to other languages and topolects spoken in China.  Here's a famous 6:47 comic skit filmed in 1980 featuring the late Mǎ Jì 马季 and his straight man, Zhào Yán 赵炎, called "Guǎngdōng huà 广东话" ("Cantonese") (I will describe its contents below):

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Multilingualism in Philadelphia's Chinatown

Sign spotted by Diana Shuheng Zhang on December 7, 2019:

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Ablative acting as locative in an Inner Mongolian Mandarin topolect

Yuqing Yang, a first-year MA student in our department, was talking to Jingran Joy Luo, another first year MA student in our department, when she noticed something special in Joy's manner of speech.  Namely, Joy used the ablative particle cóng 从 as a locative.  Normally, the locative is indicated by zài 在 in Mandarin.

Joy is from Baotou, which has the largest population (2,650,364 [in 2010]) of any city in Inner / Southern Mongolia.  Joy was totally oblivious to this special usage of hers until Yuqing pointed it out to her.  Although the ablative can be used as the locative in Joy's Baotou Mandarin, a certain criterion has to be met.  That is, there must be an option where the action one is planning will take place.

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Yorkshire Topolect

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Bear talk

The bear seems a particularly fecund source of images, metaphors, memes, and symbols.  I'm currently preparing a Language Log post on words for bear in Sinitic and in languages with which it was in contact.  At the same time, I'm editing a closely reasoned and heavily documented philological study of bear words and lore by Diana Shuheng Zhang for Sino-Platonic Papers.  I'm hoping that both of them can be published by the end of this month or the early part of December.  In the meantime, as an interim offering, here are some notes on interesting expressions involving the word for bear in Northeastern colloquial speech.

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Variations on a colloquial Sinitic expression

When I walked into my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the students were energetically discussing a colloquial expression.  Those from south China didn't know the expression, but the ones from northeast China knew it, although they weren't entirely sure how to write it in characters, and there was some difference of opinion over how to pronounce it.

Finally, they agreed that we could write the sounds this way:  yīdīlə.

Then we moved on to a consideration of the meaning of this expression.  The consensus was that it meant "carry / pick up a group of things (such as a six pack)".

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Remarkable Name of a Hong Kong Restaurant

From Bob Bauer:

Bob explains:

The photograph shows the front of a Hong Kong restaurant which has not only chosen as its name the colloquial indigenous Cantonese word, 冚棒唥 ham6 baang6 laang6 'all; in all' (Sidney Lau 1977:324), but has also displayed this name in BOTH Chinese characters AND Jyut Ping. We should especially note that the Cantonese romanization is correct AND complete with tone numbers!

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Pretend dog

Zabrina Lo has a new article in Zolima CityMag titled "Pop Cantonese: 裝假狗 – Installing a Fake Dog" (10/24/19).  It begins thus:

In film sets in Hong Kong, one often hears the phrase zong1 gaa2 gau2 (裝假狗) – literally "installing a fake dog." It isn't too implausible to associate the first two characters with installing props or faking an act for filming purposes, but surely not every movie is about dogs, and what does it even mean to install a fake one?

Dogs have long had a pejorative connotation in Chinese culture, as University of Pennsylvania sinologist Victor Mair notes in his paper "Of Dogs and Old Sinitic Reconstructions." There are many derogatory expressions associated with dogs, such as zau2 gau2 (走狗, "go dog," a traitor), keoi5 hou2 gau2 (佢好狗, "the person very dog," the person is such an asshole), gau2 naam4 neoi5 (狗男女, "dog men and women," awful men and women) and gau2 ngaan5 hon3 jan4 dai1 (狗眼看人低, "dogs' eyes look people down," powerless people looking down on others). In all these cases, dogs are frequently referred to a person's vulgarity, unworthiness or lack of integrity.

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A disyllabic autantonymous stative verb

Lucas Klein and Nick Williams asked me about this interesting word:  落魄.

It can mean either "free-spirited" or "downtrodden", which appear to directly contradict each other, and it has at least three variant pronunciations (luòpò, luòbó, luòtuò).  Source

Negative meanings:  "down and out; in dire straits; abject".

Positive meanings:  "unrestrained; unconventional; untrammeled by convention; casual".

Seems to be a literary term.

Source

Goes all the way back to Shǐjì 史記 (Records of the [Grand] Scribe / Historian; completed ca. 94 BC), scroll 97, "Lì Shēng zhuàn 酈生傳" ("Biography of Li Sheng").

Can also be written 落拓 (cf. 落魄 above and note that both the semantophores and the phonophores of the second characters of the two variants are starkly different).

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"Hong Kong police" speaking Mandarin

Click on the 1:26 image to start the video:

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"Popo" in Hong Kong

Article in SCMP Magazine:

"How Hong Kong slang terms for 'police' have evolved over time", by Lisa Lim (9/28/19):

Back in the day, Hong Kong policemen were referred to in Cantonese as luhky ī  [sic; VHM: luk6ji1 綠衣]  ("green clothing"), for the green uniforms they had worn since the 19th century. Khaki drill became the summer uniform around 1920 while the current get-up of light-blue shirt and black trousers, worn year-round, was adopted in December 2004.

In addition to the green uniforms, headgear worn by policemen – the turbans of Sikhs and the conical bamboo hats of the Chinese – were also part of the personification.

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Interslavic

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