Archive for Topolects

Cantonese: good news and bad news

The good news is that it's a language.

The bad news is that you can't speak it.

"China’s version of TikTok suspends users for speaking Cantonese:  ByteDance’s short video app Douyin has been urging live streamers to switch to the country’s official language", Abacus via SCMP (4/3/20)

I've been hearing similar reports concerning the use of Cantonese on other social media:  it is definitely discouraged or even forbidden.  At least, though, the Abacus article does not miscall Cantonese a dialect, but affords it the dignity of referring to it as a language.

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Alphabetical transcriptions in Cantonese

[This is a guest post by Till Kraemer]

I live in Hong Kong, and many things are fascinating here, especially the way they use English characters in Cantonese. Some very frequently used words (including tones and everything) don't have Chinese characters at all, like "hea" and "chur". Obviously it's colloquial, but this interesting Chinese/English mix goes as far as official names of movies:

(image source)

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The musicality of Changsha tones

With approximately six million native speakers centered on the capital of Hunan, the province just to the south of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has been raging for the past three months and more, Changsha topolect (Chángshā huà 長沙話) is a significant form of Sinitic:

Changsha dialect (simplified Chinese: 长沙话; traditional Chinese: 長沙話; pinyin: Chángshā-huà; Xiang: tsã˩˧ sɔ˧ ɣo˨˩) is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is not mutually intelligible* with Standard Mandarin, the official language of China.

(source)

[*VHM:  I like the way they put that — "not mutually intelligible".]

I don't know if the tones of Changsha topolect are innately more musical than those of other Sinitic topolects, or indeed of varieties of speech in non-Sinitic language groups, but it seems to be a thing to represent them musically.

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The many varieties of Japanese regional speech

Anyone who learns Standard Japanese and then travels around outside of the Tokyo area will quickly come to realize how distinctive and numerous are the local forms of language once one leaves the metropolitan region of the capital.

Some interesting aspects of this phenomenon are presented in a new article in nippon.com, "Linguistic Treasures: The Value of Dialects", by Kobayashi Takashi, professor at the Center for the Study of Dialectology, Tōhoku University, who specializes in dialects and the history of Japanese.

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Sia suay (or xia suay): a Hokkien expression in Singapore English

Here at Language Log, we are quite familiar with Singapore English, which comes in two registers:  Singapore Standard English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish).  The term we are discussing today can be used in either register.

This multipurpose expression is featured in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in two recent articles in The Independent:

I

"'Sia suay should be the word of the year…' Netizens take a dig at Chan Chun Sing now that panic buying is happening in many countries

Many netizens went online to say that those words had become a kind of catch phrase. It implies something that is a disgrace or an embarrassment", by Anna Maria Romero (3/5/20)

II

"'Let’s not xia suay again, Singaporeans.' Netizens respond to Chan Chun Sing’s assurance that the country has enough food supplies

Many people commented thanking him for issuing the reassuring update in such a quick manner and called for Singaporeans to stand united at this time", by Anna Maria Romero (3/17/20)

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A Persian word in a Sinitic topolect

Yesterday afternoon at Indiana University I gave a wide-ranging lecture on Iranian and Chinese interconnections from the Bronze Age through the late imperial period.  After the lecture, Chen Su, a doctoral candidate in Central Eurasian Studies, approached me and said that some of the points I made helped her to realize something about her own speech that had confused her for years.

Chen Su, who hails from Xi'an, where Guanzhong topolect is spoken, had noticed an interesting coincidence in the similarity of the pronunciation between Persian and Guanzhong topolect for the word “head”.

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Languages in Singapore

Fraser Howie called my attention to these two articles that look at language usage in Singapore from quite different angles:

"Revealed: The World’s Best Non-Native English Speaking Countries, 2019", by Anna Papadopoulos, Ceoworld (November 5, 2019)

"Singapore has almost wiped out its mother tongues:  Elderly speakers of Cantonese, Hakka and Hokkien sometimes cannot talk to their own grandchildren", Asia (Feb 22nd 2020)

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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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