Archive for Topolects

Extreme simplification and phoneticization

Probably only Northeastern Chinese could understand.


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Speak Mandarin, not Cantonese, even in Macau

Eason Chan rebukes Chinese fans demanding he speak Mandarin at Macau concert

'I love speaking whatever way and language I want,' says Chan

By Keoni Everington, Taiwan News (2023/10/20)

Well, it looks as though we are having a clash of languages — Mandarin vs. Cantonese — right in the heartland of Cantonese.

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Hong Kong singer Eason Chan (陳奕迅) rebuffed demands by Chinese fans to speak Mandarin instead of Cantonese at a concert in Macau.

On Oct. 13, Chan kicked off his "Fear and Dreams" concert tour in Macau. As is often the case with his concerts, Chan began to casually chat in Cantonese with the audience between songs.

During the show, several Chinese audience members started to shout and boo. They repeatedly interrupted him demanding that he "Speak Mandarin!"

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Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse writes in Nynorsk, a minority writing system

"The Nobel literature prize goes to Norway’s Jon Fosse, who once wrote a novel in a single sentence"


While Fosse is the fourth Norwegian writer to get the Nobel literature prize, he is the first in nearly a century and the first who writes in Nynorsk, one of the two official written versions of the Norwegian language. It is used by just 10% of the country’s 5.4 million people, according to the Language Council of Norway, but completely understandable to users of the other written form, Bokmaal.

Guy Puzey, senior lecturer in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, said that Bokmaal is “the language of power, it’s the language of urban centers, of the press.” Nynorsk, by contrast, is used mainly by people in rural western Norway.

“So it’s a really big day for a minority language,” Puzey said

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Language, topolect, dialect, idiolect

An educated person will have all four levels of speech.

The more highly educated they are, the higher up the scale their language capacity will go, though they may not be familiar with some of the argot of the lower levels.

Of course, all four levels are language, but that is possible because "language" has two meanings:  a generalized, abstract sense that comprises all human speech and writing, and the officially recognized speech and writing of a nation / country / gens — a politically united group of people.

A topolect is the speech / writing of the people living in a certain place or area.  It is geographically determined.

A dialect is a distinctive form / style / pronunciation / accent shared by two or more people.  To qualify as the speaker of a particular dialect, one must possess a pattern of speech, a lect, that is intelligible to others who speak the same dialect.  As we say in Mandarin, it's a question of whether what you speak is jiǎng dé tōng 講得通 ("mutually intelligible") or jiǎng bùtōng 講不通 ("mutually unintelligible").  If what two people are speaking is jiǎng bùtōng 講不通 ("mutually unintelligible"), then they're not speaking the same dialect.

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Heavily accented Mandarin

In "Voice-activated lights" (9/20/23), we saw how difficult it is even for native speakers of Modern Standard Mandarin to understand other varieties, and can be thankful to Zeyao Wu, who comes from the area where the topolect in the film is spoken, for kindly identifying and transcribing it for all of us.

rit malors writes:

You may also want to try how many native speakers of Sinitic languages can identify or understand this speech from the late Head of Macau, Fernando Chui Sai On (Cant. Ceoi1 Sai3 On1; 2009-2019):

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Voice-activated lights

I showed this mp4 video to a dozen native speakers of Sinitic languages (mostly Mandarin), but no one could identify, much less understand, what it was:


(from imgur)

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Language and politics in Hong Kong: National Security and the promotion of topolect

From the Hong Kong Language Learning Association:

Announcement Regarding Suspension of Hong Kong Language Learning Association

Given recent events, wherein personnel from the Hong Kong National Security Department (NSD) visited both my former residence and the residence of my family members for searches and inquiries, alleging a violation of the National Security Law in connection with an entry for the Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis (SLHK) ’s Cantonese essay competition, and demanding its removal, I have decided, with the guidance of legal counsel, to cease all operations of the Hong Kong Language Learning Association, effective immediately, in order to ensure the safety of my family and former members. Dissolution procedures are also initiated.

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Teaching Taiwanese in France

Taiwanese may be fading in Taiwan (see "Selected Readings" below; except for foreign diplomats and the like!), but in France it is thriving:

"Language of our own: Fun Taiwanese classes gain popularity in France"

By Tseng Ting-hsuan and James Lo, Focus Taiwan (8/10/2023)

In a classroom in Paris, Taiwan's top envoy to France François Wu (吳志中) was serenaded with ballads from his homeland, sung not in French or Mandarin, but in Taiwanese Hoklo.

For approximately two hours, the University of Languages and Civilizations (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, INALCO) classroom was filled with the sounds of French students trying their hand at performing songs in Taiwan's version of the Southern Min dialect.

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No parking sign in Taiwanese

Photo taken outside a casino in Tainan, Taiwan:

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Elk topolects

Who would have thought?

Even North America’s Elk Have Regional Dialects

Why do Pennsylvania elk sound different from Colorado elk?

By Kylie Mohr, The Atlantic Monthly (July 16, 2023)


It’s a crisp fall evening in Grand Teton National Park. A mournful, groaning call cuts through the dusky-blue light: a male elk, bugling. The sound ricochets across the grassy meadow. A minute later, another bull answers from somewhere in the shadows.

Bugles are the telltale sound of elk during mating season. Now new research has found that male elks’ bugles sound slightly different depending on where they live. Other studies have shown that whale, bat, and bird calls have dialects of sorts too, and a team led by Jennifer Clarke, a behavioral ecologist at the Center for Wildlife Studies and a professor at the University of La Verne, in California, is the first to identify such differences in any species of ungulate.

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Impressive speech in Taiwanese by Australian representative

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Fangyán = topolect in DC

I'm in Georgetown for a few days to meet with colleagues and do some research.  Shortly after I left my hotel and headed down Wisconsin Avenue toward the Potomac for a morning run, I stopped dead in my tracks when I crossed over the canal and saw this:

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Topolects and texts

Illuminating new book from Hong Kong University Press edited by Richard VanNess Simmons:

Studies in Colloquial Chinese and Its History:  Dialect and Text

ISBN : 978-988-8754-09-0

The book also has a Chinese title:

Hànyǔ kǒuyǔ de lìshǐ yánjiū: fāngyán hé wénxiàn


I would prefer to render this into English as:

Studies on the History of Spoken Sinitic:  Topolects and Texts

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