Archive for Colloquial

Excepted for publication

I wrote to a colleague who helped me edit a paper that it had been accepted for publication.  She wrote back, "I’m glad it is excepted".

Some may look upon such a typo as "garden variety", but I believe that it tells us something profoundly significant about the primacy of sound over shape, an issue that we have often debated on Language Log, including how to regard typographical errors in general, but also how to read old Chinese texts (e.g., copyists' mistakes, deterioration of texts over centuries of editorial transmission, etc.).

Often, when you read a Chinese text and parts of it just don't make any sense, if you ignore the superficial semantic signification of the characters with which it is written, but focus more on the sound, suddenly the meaning of the text will become crystal clear.  In point of fact, much of the commentarial tradition throughout Chinese history consists of this kind of detective work — sorting out which morphemes were really intended by a given string of characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (33)

GE

The particle "ge 個/个" is one of the most frequent characters in written Chinese (12th in a list of 9,933 unique characters).  It is generally thought of as a classifier, numerary adjunct, measure word.  Indeed, it functions as the almost universal, default classifier when you're not sure what the correct / proper measure word for a given noun should be.  In addition, "ge" has more than a dozen other definitions and usages, for which see Wiktionary. However, I'm not sure that any dictionary or grammar accounts for a very special usage that I have long been intrigued and enchanted by, namely the "ge" in this type of sentence:

Wǒ máng de gè yàosǐ

我忙得個要死!

"I'm so busy I could die!", i.e., "I'm incredibly busy!"

Here de 得 is a particle marking the complement of degree.

Because I lived with a big household full of Chinese (Shandong) in-laws, I picked this construction up very early in my learning of spoken Mandarin, but I always had a visceral feeling that it was extremely colloquial and unlikely to be encountered in written texts and was probably not covered in conventional grammars.  So I asked around among colleagues and native speaker informants how they would explain this unusual "ge", grammatically or otherwise.  Here are some of the replies I received.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

Ambling, shambling, rambling, wandering, wondering: the spirit of Master Zhuang / Chuang

All the talk of moseying and ambling propelled me into a customary mode of mind.  Those who have taken classes with me know that, though I may start at a certain point in my lectures, it is difficult to predict how we will get to our intended destination, though we are certain to pass through many interesting and edifying scenes and scenarios along the way.

As I have stated on numerous occasions, my favorite Chinese work of all time is the Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu 莊子 (ca. 3rd c. BC).  The English title of my translation is Wandering on the Way.  The publisher wanted something more evocative than "Master Zhuang / Chuang" or "Zhuang Zi / Chuang Tzu", so I spent a couple of days coming up with about sixty possible titles, and they picked the one that I myself preferred, "Wandering on the Way", which is based on the first chapter of the book:  "Xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊" ("Carefree wandering").

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

Colloquial Cantonese and Taiwanese as mélange languages

Charles Belov writes:

My understanding was that Hong Kong newspapers, newscasts, and popular Cantonese songs use literary Chinese exclusively while Hong Kong star magazines and Cantonese hip-hop (e.g., LMF, Softhard) use colloquial Cantonese exclusively. But today as I was walking along, an old Beyond song, 俾面派对, was earworming me and it suddenly hit me that, unlike most Cantonese songs, and like Cantonese hip-hop, which it isn't, it includes colloquial Cantonese, specifically 唔 and 佢 (and, as it turns out, "D").

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

India pips China

Headline from the Deccan Herald:

"India pips China, inks deal to develop, support maintain harbour at naval base in Maldives", Anirban Bhaumik (2/21/21)

Although I could guess from the context what it meant in the title of this article, I had never encountered "pip" with this meaning before.

Upon looking it up in Wiktionary, I find that "pip" has no less than seven different main meanings.  Of these, five are nouns and only two are verbs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (38)

Herrgottsbescheisserle

I assigned this book to my class on the Silk Road:

The Silk Road:  A Very Short Introduction, by James A. Millward (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2013)

I noticed that it bore the following dedication, one of the most peculiar and eye-catching I've ever encountered:

For Herrgottsbescheisserle and all their cousins

It looked German, but not standard German.  I could see "God's" at the beginning and "shitter" near the end.  So I asked Jim Millward what it meant.  He replied:

It's a dumpling–a friend told me about them:  god-cheaters, since the meat is in the dumpling, God can't see it, so you can eat it on Fridays is the idea behind the name.  I don't know German, but I verified the word with a bunch of sources, to my satisfaction.   Looking now at it I do see "scheisse" as a root which even I recognize as "shit," so I hope I didn't commit a vulgarity, albeit in the descent obscurity of a learned language.  

I can't help with the etymology, but the general "roughly translated as little god foolers" idea seems pretty common. You can check with a German speaker. My point was to dedicate the book to dumplings, since I'd had the whole manti discussion in the book–which you helped me with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

Subtle nuances of particle usage in Sinitic languages and topolects

Let's take the following three utterances that superficially and essentially all say the same thing — "give me face":

1.

Gěi wǒ gè miànzi ba 給我個面子吧

2.

Gěi gè miànzi ba 給個面子吧

3.

Gěi gè miànzi bei 給個面子唄

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

A Northeastern topolectal morpheme without a corresponding character

A favorite expression of Dōngběi rén 東北人 ("Northeasterners") is zhóu.  It means "mulish".  The adjective zhóu describes a person who is stubborn, but not in an obnoxious, offensive way, rather in a cute, amiable, charming, or naive manner.

Despite its relatively high frequency in Northeastern speech, there is no known Sinograph / Chinese character that corresponds to this morpheme.  It is customarily or conventionally written as "zhóu 軸" ("axis; axle"), but that is only a borrowed makeshift.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Variations on a colloquial Sinitic expression

When I walked into my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the students were energetically discussing a colloquial expression.  Those from south China didn't know the expression, but the ones from northeast China knew it, although they weren't entirely sure how to write it in characters, and there was some difference of opinion over how to pronounce it.

Finally, they agreed that we could write the sounds this way:  yīdīlə.

Then we moved on to a consideration of the meaning of this expression.  The consensus was that it meant "carry / pick up a group of things (such as a six pack)".

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Playing a small abacus

A learned colleague observed:

A few days ago, a Chinese military spokesperson was criticizing U.S. Department of Defense budget priorities.  The spokesperson said, "We have noticed that the U.S. defense department always likes to play 'small abacus' when seeking military budgets, in an attempt to gain more benefits for itself by rendering the threat of other countries [sic]."

From China.org and Xinhua.

The colleague went on to ask:

That must have sounded better in Chinese.  What did he mean by that?  Does it refer to lowballing budgets?  Is it like "penny-wise-pound-foolish?"

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)