Archive for Topolects

Taiwanese and Old Norse words for "homestead, village"

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

Tai Po District 大埔區 is one of the 18 districts of Hong Kong whereas 大埔县 (Dabu xian) in Guangdong is a Hakka culture center bordering on Southern Fujian. In Taiwan the term 大埔 (Tōa-po·) is found in about 40 place names such as 大埔鄉 Tōa-po·-hiong, 大埔村 Tōa-po·-chhun, 大埔里 Tōa-po·-lí, etc.

In fact, Tw 埔 (po·) 'homestead, village' is the most popular Taiwanese word in place names (Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 262, p. 123). The lexicographer 陳修 (Tân Siu) states in his 台灣話大詞典 (The Great Dictionary of Taiwanese, page 1379) that, "我們台灣以埔po· 為地名者特別多 (In Taiwan we use 埔po· in place names especially plentifully)."

Its corresponding word in Old Norse, bær 'homestead, village', is also the most popular word for naming places by the Vikings. Examples are: Sjöbo in Sweden, Maribo and Rødby in Denmark, Valebø in Norway, and Fellabær in Iceland. Its loan to English becomes -by as in Hornby, Gatsby, and the "by" in "bylaw".           Pointing to its popularity, Cleasby and Vigfusson state that, "wherever the Scandinavian tribes settled, the name by or bö went along with them." (An Icelandic-English Dictionary, page 92). It appears that this unique Nordic custom of using bær/bo/by in place names is carried on in Taiwan.

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The Cantonese slang term for "gas mask"

In case you were wondering, it's "zyu1 zeoi2 豬嘴" (lit. "pig snout").  You can see pictures of them here and here.

Since the police have fired thousands of canisters of tear gas at the protesters, "zyu1 zeoi2 豬嘴" ("pig snout [gas masks]") — not to mention yellow helmets to protect your skull from being cracked by the police and hired thugs — have become almost essential items of apparel if you wish to venture on the streets these days.

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"Add oil," Kongish!

Speakers of Kongish have three ways to write their equivalent of English "Go!":  1. "ga yao" (Cantonese Romanization of the wildly popular term), 2. 加油 (the Sinographic form of the Cantonese expression), 3. "add oil" (Chinglishy equivalent of the former two forms).

See this excellent article by Lisa Lim for a brief introduction to Kongish:

"Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate:  The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as 'add oil', from Cantonese 'ga yau'", SCMP (30 Aug, 2019).  [VHM:  Includes a nice summary of Romanization efforts for Sinitic topolects from the late 16th century (Matteo Ricci) to the present.]

Illustration from the article:

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Putonghua used by police in Hong Kong

Police giving orders to fire tear gas at protesters, Kowloon Bay, August 24:

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"Loser" in Taiwan and in China

From Don Keyser:

Perhaps you are familiar with the Taiwan slang word lǔshé 魯蛇 — I was not, and needed to look it up.  Cute.  Picking evocative characters pronounced lu3she2 — for "loser."  This usage is sufficiently common to have found its way into Pleco, though it befuddled Google Translate when I first tried there.

Those who write for Sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克 [Voicettank] often identify themselves in witty ways.  This author, Ke Fanxi 柯汎禧, informs the reader that he is a loser at the lowest rung of academia, currently a doctoral student at the Institute of Political Science of Sun Yat-Sen University: "Zuòzhě mùqián shì jiùdú yú Zhōngshān dàxué zhèngzhì xué yánjiū suǒ de bóshì shēng, xuéshù zuì dǐcéng de lǔshé 作者目前是就讀於中山大學政治學研究所的博士生,學術最底層的魯蛇.

Having occupied that rung myself in the long ago, I appreciate both the sardonic wit and the accuracy.  Well, there ARE lower rungs, to be sure, but mere doctoral candidates can certainly be made to feel like creepy, crawly losers.

The article "Hán fěn de xìnxīn dào nǎlǐ qùle 韓粉的信心到哪裡去了?" ("What has happened to the confidence of Han [Kuo-yu's] fans?") referred to above is found here.

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Cockroach protesters

The world has been convulsed this week by the news that China (where all such American social media platforms are outlawed) has been using hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread gross disinformation about the Hong Kong extradition bill protesters:

"Facebook and Twitter Say China Is Spreading Disinformation in Hong Kong", by Kate Conger, Mike Isaac, and Tiffany Hsu (New York Times, 8/21/19)

Here's an example of their dirty work from the Times article:

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"Come, comrades, over there!"

There's a huge controversy over whether the police commander uses the Mandarin word "tóngzhìmen 同志们" ("comrades") at around 2:15 in this video:

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"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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