Archive for Topolects

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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The Cantophone and the state

Cantonese — its nature, its status, its past, present, and future, its place in the realm of Sinitic languages and in the world — has been one of the chief foci of Language Log.  Consequently, it is my great pleasure to announce the publication of the three-hundred-and-thirty-fourth issue of Sino-Platonic Papers:

“The Concept of the Cantophone: Memorandum for a Stateless Literary History,” by Wayne C. F. Yeung.

This is a landmark work of scholarship that penetratingly probes the position of Cantonese — and thereby all "Chinese" topolects — in the complex mix of language, literature, nation, politics, and culture.  

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CCP scamming with a Taiwanese-like accent

Topolects matter:

Taiwanese buys anti-CCP book, gets scam call from Chinese propagandist:

Caller posing as Eslite Bookstore’s ‘marketing department’ tells consumer book content inappropriate

By Stephanie Chiang, Taiwan News, Staff Reporter (5/14/23)

Before delving into the substance of this report, I should mention that Eslite is a huge, and hugely influential, bookstore in Taiwan.

AntC, who called this article to my attention, remarks:

A 'scammer' (not sure that's the right term here) called someone who'd bought a book at Eslite book store, Taipei. Then proceeded with a fake 'customer survey' about the purchase. The customer's facebook post (in Chinese) relating the interaction is here.

The linguistic interest: "despite the caller’s Taiwanese-like accent, it became apparent to her that she was not truly a Taiwanese native."

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Shanghainese under attack

Headline in a Hong Kong Chinese newspaper, Bastille Post 巴士的報 (4/15/23):

Shànghǎi Xújiāhuì shūyuàn yìmíng zhī zhēng shìfǒu gǎi yòng Hànyǔ Pīnyīn zhuānjiā hándié

上海徐家匯書院譯名之爭 是否改用漢語拼音專家咁䏲

"Controversy over the transcription of the name of the Xujiahui Library in Shanghai:  should it be changed to Hanyu Pinyin? Expert opinions"

Currently the name of this library at the entrance to its impressive building is "Zikawei".  What does this name signify, and why is it a matter of contention?  Put simply, "Zikawei" is the Shanghainese pronunciation of Mandarin "Xujiahui", and some nationalistic partisans are opposed to the use of Shanghainese on a public building in Shanghai.

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The historical vagaries of a Shanghai temple and town name: Lu Ji and the "Wenfu" ("Rhapsody on literature")

From Rostislav Berezkin, who teaches at Fudan University:

The place where I stay is called Qibao town, now Minhang district of Shanghai. The name means "Seven Treasures". It comes from the name of the Buddhist temple called Qibaosi. Legend says that the temple was built by the Lu family to commemorate Lu Ji* and Lu Yun, brothers of the 3rd cent. AD who were very famous poets and politicians.  Their tombs were located there. It became known as Lubaosi (Precious Temple of Lu). But 500 years later the king of Wuyue (907-978) during the Ten Kingdoms (907-979) period visited the place. When he asked the name of the temple, he misheard it as "Six Treasures Temple"; "six" is pronounced somewhat like "lok" in modern Shanghainese (it's "luc" in modern Vietnamese, also an equivalent of the "entering" tone). Apparently this is very close to the medieval pronunciation of the Lu surname ("[main]land"). The king was perplexed because there are seven treasures in Buddhism, not six. Therefore, he decided to donate the precious manuscript of the Lotus Sutra in gold letters he had made before, so that it would constitute the seventh treasure. Then the monastery became known as the Qibaosi.

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