Archive for Topolects

"Topolect" is spreading in China

A few days ago, the hashtag #方言怎么翻译 (fāngyán zěnme fānyì ["how to translate 'fangyan']") was trending on Weibo (a Chinese microblogging website) since it appeared in the cet-6 exam (College English Test, a national English examination in the People's Republic of China) that recently ended. It was interesting to see how examinees translated it. For example, "local language, folk language, place's language, regional language, area's language."

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Is this Cantonese, Mandarin, or a combination of the two?

Sign on a municipal bus in San Francisco:


(Sponsored by truthornahsf.org)

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On swallowing and slurring in Pekingese

I called this old post to the attention of Yijie Zhang, a true native of Peking / Beijing / Beizhing:

"How they say 'Beijing' in Beijing" (8/18/08)

Yijie's reply:

I totally agree with you! There is indeed an enormous amount of slurring and swallowing of consonants in Pekingese, which is sometimes referred to as "tūn zìr 吞字儿" ("swallowing characters") or "tūn yīn 吞音" ("swallow sounds"). As a native Běijīng rén 北京人 ("Pekingese"), I remember a friend of mine from Jiangsu province once complained that it almost sounded like a trisyllabic word when I was saying a five-character phrase, and she always had to guess what I was saying (according to the vowel contours) because of my "tūn yīn 吞音" ("swallowing the sounds"). Other topolect speakers enumerated some of the most typical words of "tūn yīn 吞音" ("swallowing the sounds") in Pekingese:

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How to maintain first and second language skills

In the comments to "Cantonese as a Second Language" (4/22/19), there's an interesting discussion going on about how to maintain and / or acquire competency in more than one language.  This post started out as a comment to that thread, but it soon grew too long, so I've separated it off here.

My son was born in Taiwan and spent the first two years of his life in Taipei in an all-Mandarin household with lots of members (father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and two aunts), and plenty of other relatives in the Taipei area (more uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.) — all mainlanders.  They all spoke Mandarin with him.

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Cantonese as a Second Language

That's the title of a new book from Routledge:

John C. Wakefield, ed., Cantonese as a Second Language:  Issues, Experiences and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning

Readers of Language Log know that I'm an ardent advocate of this vibrant language and will understand why I consider the publication of Cantonese as a Second Language a cause for celebration.

Two caveats:

1. It's a full-fledged language, not a mere "dialect".

2. You don't have to worry about the Sinographs when you learn it.

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Language in Shanghai during World War II and now

Two days ago, I called the attention of friends and colleagues to this recently published book:

Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, 1933-1947: A Selection of Documents (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018.

At 717 pages and with 184 primary documents in German, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Chinese, and Russian, this big volume was edited by Irene Eber (1929-2019), who passed away a few days ago.  Here's a short (7:26) video telling how she became a Sinologist.

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Things you can do with "water" in Cantonese

Peter Golden sent me the following video, "Luisa Tam says: Let's put more HK English on the map", South China Morning Post (10/23/18):

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Cantonese and Mandarin are two different languages, part 2

From Guy Freeman:

These advertisements on a Hong Kong bus (plastered on the back of every seat on the upper deck) use Cantonese so unashamedly, at least in their main type, that I just had to pass them on.  Clearly advertisers still appreciate that written Cantonese is the best way to connect to the Cantonese-speaking masses.

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Speak Darja (Algerian colloquial), not Fusha (Arabic)

This little clip, of sociolinguistic as well as non-linguistic interest, has gone viral in the Algerian online world (via Twitter):

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Reclamation of a wasteland by an army unit

Jane Skinner received this from a friend who saw it in Chengdu, Sichuan:

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Speech like birds chirping

When human beings hear others speaking but are unable to comprehend what is being said, to what do they compare such speech?  We will gain one common characterization from this article about a prematurely dying Iraqi dialect:

"Iraqis amid Mosul's silent ruins fear the loss of a dialect", by Sam Kimball, SFGate (2/1/19)

It begins thus:

For centuries, residents of Mosul have spoken a unique form of Arabic enriched by the Iraqi city's long history as a crossroads of civilization, a singsong dialect that many now fear will die out after years of war and displacement.

Much of Mosul's Old City, where speakers of the dialect are concentrated, was completely destroyed in the war against the Islamic State group. Thousands of residents were killed in months of heavy fighting, and tens of thousands fled, taking with them the city's local patois and memories of its more cosmopolitan past.

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Cantonese under renewed threat

When Great Britain handed Hong Kong over to the PRC in 1997, the communist government promised to maintain the status quo of the colony's laws, educational system, human rights, language policy, and so forth for half a century, until 2047.  It has only been a little over twenty years, and already virtually all aspects of government, society, and culture are being reshaped along the lines that are operative in the PRC.  Naturally, the aspect of Hong Kong life that concerns us at Language Log most are policies governing language norms and usages.

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An army and navy

See, I didn't even quote the whole quip, and you already knew that this post is about Max Weinreich's ubiquitous saying:  "A language is a dialect with an army and navy".  It may well be the most frequently invoked formula in all of linguistics.  Readers of Language Log are certainly no strangers to it, since we've written a number of posts that are about the adage or mention it prominently (see Readings below), and it is often cited in the comments, even when there is no conceivable rhyme or reason for doing so.

Actually, it wasn't Max Weinreich (1894-1969), a specialist in sociolinguistics and Yiddish, who dreamed up the army-navy quip, but — by his own testimony — someone who attended a series of his lectures and mentioned it to him after one of them.  Subsequently, however, Weinreich did make a point of popularizing the saying, so it is not entirely wrong to associate it with him.

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