Xi Jinping: "when a car breaks down…"

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Via Twitter, Matthew Leavitt asks Language Log what we think of the translation of Xi Jinping's metaphor:  "when a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to step down and see what the problem is."

This was spoken at a news conference during the Beijing summit between President Obama and Chairman Xi and quoted in the New York Times.  After avoiding the issue for awhile, Xi used this expression in response to a question about restrictions on visas for foreign journalists that was posed by Mark Landler, a reporter for the New York Times.

It's curious that, so far as I know, Xi's reply has not been reported by the media in China, but it can be found in reports published in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

From a Taiwan source:

Zhèngsè jǐnggào shuō:  "Méitǐ dōu bìxū zūnshǒu Zhōngguó de fǎlǜ hé guīdìng."

Xí Jìnpíng shuō:  "Jiù xiàng chē kāi dào bànlù gùzhàng, wǒmen kěnéng bìxū xiàchē kàn kàn wèntí chū zài nǎlǐ. Dāng yīgè tèdìng yìtí biànchéng wèntí, kěndìng yǒu yuányīn."

Tā yòu shuō:  "Zài Zhōngguó, wǒmen yǒu jù huà shuō: 'Jiě líng hái xū jì líng rén.'  Suǒyǐ wǒmen kěnéng yīnggāi qù kàn wèntí de zhàoyīn suǒzài."

正色警告說:「媒體都必須遵守中國的法律和規定。」

習近平說:「就像車開到半路故障,我們可能必須下車看看問題出在哪裡。當一個特定議題變成問題,肯定有原因。」

他又說:「在中國,我們有句話說:解鈴還需繫鈴人。所以我們可能應該去看問題的肇因所在。」

He sternly warned, "The media all must respect China's laws and regulations."

Xi Jinping said, "It's like when a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we should get out of the car and take a look for where the problem is coming from.  When a topic for discussion becomes a problem, there definitely must be a reason."

He further said, "In China, we have a saying, 'To fix a problem, you need the person who created the problem.'  So perhaps we should go see wherein lies the root cause of the problem."

From a Hong Kong source:

"Méitǐ dōu bìxū zūnshǒu Zhōngguó de fǎlǜ hé guīdìng."

Xí Jìnpíng nàirénxúnwèi dì biǎoshì, "Yī liàng chē rúguǒ pāomáo, dōu yào xiàchē jiǎnchá nǎ'er chūle máobìng.  Zhōngguó yǒu jù yànyǔ, 'Jiě líng hái xū jì líng rén.'  Xīwàng dàjiā kěyǐ zhǎo chū yuányīn."

「媒體都必須遵守中國的法律和規定。」

習近平耐人尋味地表示,「一輛車如果拋錨,都要下車檢查哪兒出了毛病,中國有句諺語,解鈴還須繫鈴人,希望大家可以找出原因。」

"The media all must respect China's laws and regulations."

Xi Jinping thought-provokingly indicated, "If a car has a breakdown, [everybody] has to get out of the car and inspect what has brought about the failure.  China has a saying, 'To fix a problem, you need the person who created the problem.'  I hope that everybody can find the reason."

Judging from the fact that there is a slight difference in wording between the Taiwan version and the Hong Kong version, we may conclude that the part about the car breaking down is not a fixed saying, although it may be a customary turn of phrase (I think that I've heard people say something like that before).  But the part about needing the person who created the problem to fix the problem is a fixed saying in Chinese, and that portion of the Taiwan and Hong Kong reports is quoted verbatim.  Indeed, we may trace this adage to a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) collection of Zen / Chan anecdotes.

A more literal translation would be something like this:  "The person who removes the bell (from the tiger's) neck must be the person who fastened the bell (around the tiger's neck)."

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng]



46 Comments

  1. Ethan said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    So a bell around a tiger's neck is considered to be a problem rather than a solution? Interesting that the implication is completely opposite to English "who will bell the cat?".

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

    This just in:

    "NYT to China: We Won't Stop Critical Coverage"

    http://www.voanews.com/content/nyt-to-china-we-wont-stop-critical-coverage/2518493.html

  3. Wentao said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

    A minor quibble – the 繫 in 繫鈴人 should be pronounced ji4.

  4. Brendan said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    I wonder if the different wording in the Hong Kong and Taiwanese reports of the Xi Jinping quote mightn't be due to the papers back-translating from an English translation.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

    @Wentao

    Fixed now.

    @Brendan

    I had the same feeling about possible back-translation from English.

  6. Michael Watts said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

    I've become curious about that 系. I notice that the expression appears in two forms in my ABC dictionary: 解铃还是系铃人,and 解铃还须系铃人. Both give xì as the pronunciation of 系. There's a link to the shorter form 解铃系铃, which also appears in CC-CEDICT and the Hanyu Guifan Cidian (the one VM doesn't like), and is always given as using the pronunciation xì.

    I also notice, as I type the chinese into windows 8, that typing pinyin xilingren produces 系铃人 as a suggestion, while typing jilingren produces various nonsense not including 系铃人. And when I type the whole thing all at once, jielinghaixujilingren, the expression appears, with a parenthetical note after the 系 indicating that it's pronounced xì!

    Entries for the character 系 indicate that in the pronunciation jì it has the sense [tie; fasten], which is appropriate, but they also indicate that the same character (the same even in its traditional form) also has the sense [tie; fasten] in the pronunciation xì, and since the various ABC, Hanyu Guifan, CC-CEDICT, and Microsoft dictionaries are unanimous that in the context of this expression only the pronunciation xì is acceptable I would have considered the evidence compelling. What's the full story here?

  7. Michael Watts said,

    November 13, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    Since I found this somewhat amazing, here's the screenshot of Microsoft letting me know I'm pronouncing the saying wrong:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/i4vqvr5m1ylp39y/MSFT_has_opinions.png

  8. Richard W said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:43 am

    The Liang'an Cidian dictionary says xì
    https://www.moedict.tw/~%E8%A7%A3%E9%88%B4%E9%82%84%E9%A0%88%E7%B9%AB%E9%88%B4%E4%BA%BA

    and so does Guoyu Cidian
    https://www.moedict.tw/%E8%A7%A3%E9%88%B4%E9%82%84%E9%A0%88%E7%B9%AB%E9%88%B4%E4%BA%BA

    In its entry for 繫(系), Liang'an Cidian says


    1. […]
    4. 〈書〉拴;綁。
    例 「繫舟」、「解鈴還需繫鈴人」。
    5. […]


    打結。
    例 「繫鞋帶」、「繫領帶」、「繫蝴蝶結」。

    I.e., 繫(系) has "fasten" as one of its meanings when pronounced xì, and that's the pronunciation used for the saying 解鈴還需繫鈴人.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 8:40 am

    When I went to sleep last night, I thought that I'd wake up this morning to find that Wentao or someone else would have definitively answered Michael Watts' question about the pronunciation of 繫 in the saying under discussion. I thank Richard W for his contribution, but the question is still up in the air. I have spent the last hour going through dozens of dictionaries and other reference materials in my basement library, and have hauled a bunch of these heavy books upstairs and put them here near my computer. It will take me at least three hours to provide a note on this, because I have some other pressing things to do this forenoon as well. The explanation I end up giving will disappoint some of you and will surprise others.

    Please wait for a few hours while I prepare my note and take care of a number of other things.

  10. Wentao said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 12:33 pm

    Sorry I went to bed after making the comment last night and didn't see the responses until now. My first impression is to trust the correction Microsoft gives, because they are usually generated for expressions that most people struggle with, and it seems that whoever makes the suggestion is aware that typing "jilingren" is a common mistake. I use the default Apple input method, where "jilingren" is accepted. But I've come across some blunders before so I won't

    I confirmed with a dictionary and indeed both Xiandai Hanyu Cidian and the online Handian concur that the standard pronunciation is xi4. Initially I thought it was ji4 because that's the common pronunciation for a verb, e.g. 系绳子 "tie a rope" and 系鞋带 "tie shoelaces", whereas xi4 is used in nouns such as 关系 "relationship", 联系 "connection", 中文系 "Chinese department" etc. However, I found this article from Renminwang (I suppose it's a rather authoritive source):
    http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2014-04/26/content_1420139.htm

    In which it's specified that xi4 can be used in literary/Classical contexts as a verb:

      4.在文言中表示"拴"、"绑"。例如:"系马"(拴马)。

    And also more specifically:

      需要注意的是,带有文言色彩的,一般读xì。例如:"解铃系铃"(也说成"解铃还须系铃人" )中的"系",工具书标注读xì(见《现代汉语词典》)。

    I'm very curious about this rather arbitrary distinction between colloquial and literary, and wonder whether it has any historical roots. This is what I found:

    According to Guangyun, 繫 used as the verb "to tie, fasten" 缚繫, has the pronunciation 古詣切 (reconstructed something like *kei). The note lists a variant 計二切, but it's irrelevant to the discussion here since only the vowels are different and both initial consonants are /g/.
    http://ytenx.org/kyonh/dzih/16039/

    The Ming dynasty Zhongyuan Yinyun similarly gives the sole pronunciation of the verb in which the initial consonant is also 見 [g]. After palatalization, this yields ji4 in MSM.
    http://ytenx.org/trngyan/dzih/繫/

    On the other hand, in both books the following are pronounced 胡計切, which was to become xi4 in MSM: (1) Commentaries in "I Ching" (易之繫辭) (2) "thread, connection" (緒也) (3) a rare surname (又姓,楚有系益). They are all nouns.

    http://ytenx.org/kyonh/dzih/16055/
    http://ytenx.org/kyonh/dzih/16051/
    http://ytenx.org/trngyan/dzih/系/

    Therefore, my conclusion is that the MSM pronunciation of the verb in 系铃人 is indeed standardized as xi4, rather than ji4 – but it is incongruous with both historical evidence and quotidian convention. I really look forward to Professor Mair's notes and hope they can shed more light on this issue!

  11. Wentao said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

    Oops, the first paragraph in my comment above should end with "so I won't use this as evidence against the argument".

  12. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    All right, here we go. Since this is for specialists, I will not go to the trouble of providing Romanizations and translations of everything the way I do for my normal posts and comments.

    First thing, the problem with 繫 is exacerbated by the fact that its simplified form is 系, which also serves as the simplified form of 係. This causes things to get messy really fast. I remember my astonishment when I once saw a sign on the Sichuan University campus that had been put up by none other than the Chinese Department that nonetheless confused 系 and 係.

    According to my 新华字典 (bilingual version, 2000), 系 (= trad. 繫), pronounced jì, means "tie; fasten" (as of shoelaces). Pronounced xì, it has the following meanings:

    = trad. 系: with interrelated relationship; system; academic department; a term used in stratigraphy

    = trad. 係: be; related; connected

    = trad. 繫: related; connected; tie / fasten / bind (as a horse to a post); to tie somebody or something up to send him or it up or down (!)

    Second thing, the saying we're discussing occurs in many different forms:

    解鈴還須繫鈴人

    解鈴須用繫鈴人

    解鈴還是繫鈴人

    解鈴繫鈴

    繫者解得 (the earliest form of the saying)

    解鈴 (which stands for the whole saying!)

    Third thing, in a previous comment I mentioned that the source of the saying was a Ming collection of Zen anecdotes. That is true for the expanded form, and it comes from the 指月錄. But the earliest form of the saying (繫者解得) goes back to another collection of Zen anecdotes from the Song period, the 林間集.

    Fourth thing, different authorities, all of which I respect, read 繫 in this saying differently, as either xì or jì. Here I shall briefly list some of the many sources that I gathered together this morning:

    Gwoyeu tsyrdean, p. 1838b: shih (i.e., xì)

    An Alphabetical Index to the Hanyu da cidian, p. 515a: xì

    Xiandai Hanyu cidian (2002), p. 649a: xì (see 解铃系铃)

    ABC Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs (2002), p. 69b: xì

    汉语成语考释词典 (1989), p. 541b: xì

    中华成语辞海 (1994), p. 530c: jì

    中国成语大辞典 (1987), p. 624a: jì

    zdic (http://www.zdic.net/c/3/171/383178.htm): jiě líng hái xū jì líng rén

    汉英语林 (1991), p. 1707a: jì

    You may find the many translations of the saying provided by the last source to be amusing / edifying:

    =====

    In order to untie the bell, the person who tied it is required.

    The one who creates a problem should be the one to solve it.

    It is better for the doer to undo what he has done.

    Let them untie the knot they themselves tied.

    Let the mischief-maker undo the mischief.

    Whoever started the trouble should end it.

    One's fault should be amended by oneself.

    Since one caused the trouble it's up to him to fix it.

    Let him who tied the bell on the tiger take it off.

    The knot must be untied by the one who tied it.

    Only the one who has tied on the bell can undo it.

    No one can help unravel the knots (in somebody's heart) better than one who has tied it [sic].

    =====

    So, we can see what Xi was thinking when he used this old adage to rebuke the NYT, but he probably had not the foggiest notion that he was employing a Zen expression when he did so, and the way he wielded it was not at all what the Zen masters meant by it when they devised and elaborated this aphorism. I'll leave it to the Zen scholars among us to enlighten us on the deeper meaning of "untying the bell".

    Last word on xì vs. jì: Yuen Ren Chao and Lien Sheng Yang, Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese, for whom and for which I have the highest regard: jih / chi4 (i.e., jì); shih / hsi4 (i.e., xì) (Reading pron.) (on p. 170) I'll repeat that more straightforwardly: jì is the spoken, "colloquial" pronunciation of 繫; xì is the reading pronunciation of 繫.

    P.S.: Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary, p. 363a:

    繫 hsi4 (i.e., xì); also read chi4 (i.e., jì)

    解鈴繫鈴 let him who tied the bell (on the neck of the tiger) take it off again, used fig.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

    @Wentao

    Thanks very much. Your findings, more from the historical phonological side, corroborate mine, more from the textual and philological side.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

    Following up on my comment about the confusion between 系 and 係 by people from the Chinese Department at Sichuan University, a colleague comments:

    =====

    At Fudan, I watched someone present a draft of his dissertation and receive comments from the faculty about it; the draft was full of typos. After other professors criticized the student heavily for this, Qiu Xigui [VHM: China's foremost paleographer] told a story about a student of his (in palaeography!) at Peking University whose submitted dissertation had "中文係" on its title page. It was not accepted.

    =====

  15. Richard W said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    @Victor Mair: Thanks for all that information. So, would you say Xi probably said jì? At any rate, the NTD reporter in this video puts jì in Xi's mouth at the 28-second mark.
    http://www.ntdtv.com/xtr/b5/2014/11/13/atext1153845.html

  16. Richard W said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

    Thank you Wentao, too, for what you uncovered.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

    I asked a number of graduate students and colleagues from China about how to pronounce 繫 in 解鈴還須繫鈴人. Here's the first response:

    =====

    Intuitively I'd pronounce 繫 in 解鈴還須繫鈴人as xì, but I think I've corrected myself to "jì" a few times, since I'll always say 繫(jì)鞋帶. Actually I don't know which one is right, but I feel pronouncing 繫 as "jì" in the phrase in question sounds a bit off.

    The reporter pronounced it as "jì" for sure, and I didn't hear Xi saying the phrase in the video.

    Where should I find a video with Xi saying "繫"?

    =====

  18. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

    #2:

    =====

    I pronounce it as "xi" and I'm sure it's the right way. The reporter made a mistake. (Maybe because it's not a TV station from mainland China?)

    I tried to find a video of this speech but still haven't. President Xi uses this phrase a lot, especially towards Japan on the history issue. So I'm guessing he should get the pronunciation right.

    I'll get back to you once I found the video.

    =====

  19. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 10:03 pm

    #3:

    =====

    1. How would you pronounce 繫 in that sentence?

    I pronounce this character in two ways: ji (4) or xi (4).

    2.How does the reporter in this TV broadcast pronounce 繫 (at 0:28)?

    I think the reporter in this TV pronounced ji(4).

    3.How do you think Xi Jinping pronounced 繫?

    I guess that he might pronounce ji(4) because this sound is the one recorded in one of the most authoritative dictionaries. (拼音:jiě líng hái xū jì líng rén 中国社会科学院语言研究所词典编辑室编:《现代汉语词典》(第6版),商务印书馆,第666页。) However, I am not sure because there is no record of the speech on website.

    I checked it on the website and found that there are two different sounds of the character:
    1) jiě líng hái xū jì líng rén (http://baike.baidu.com/view/102399.htm)
    2) jiě líng hái xū xì líng rén (http://www.zdic.net/c/3/fa/261408.htm)

    =====

    VHM: This is starting to develop into a rather amazing state of affairs.

    Note that the zdic pronunciation cited by this student is xì, whereas the zdic pronunciation cited by me (in my long comment above) from another location in zdic is jì!

    Even more incredible is that the Xiandai Hanyu cidian, which is supposed to be the most authoritative dictionary of Putonghua, wavers back and forth between xì and jì! I just checked the 2nd ed. (1978) in my office, and on p. 573a it has xì.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

    #4:

    =====

    1. I would pronounce 繫 as xì.

    2. The reporter pronounces it as jì. I think one reason why people tend to confuse the two pronunciations is that in school we are often taught that 系 is pronounced as jì (like in 繫鞋帶) in verbs and as xì (like in 關係) in nouns.

    3. I can't find a video with Xi saying the phrase. I'm not sure how he would pronounce it since it was in his response to a journalist and thus could not be prepared by his secretary.

    =====

  21. Victor Mair said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 12:51 am

    #5:

    =====

    I think the 繫 in the sentence could be read as "ji" or "xi". Both are OK, because they all have the meaning of "tie or fasten." The reporter in the TV broadcast read it as "ji." I think it is usually read as "ji", which might be followed by Xi.

    =====

  22. Victor Mair said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 12:54 am

    #6:

    =====

    I think the official pronunciation of it should be "ji" in fourth tone, and I guess Xi would also pronounce it in this way because "ji" seems to be naturally easier to pronounce than "xi."

    I always pronounce 繫 as "xi" in that sentence because of two reasons:
    1) I watched lots of Qiong Yao's (琼瑶) custom drama (古裝戲) when I was young. Most of the actors/actresses are Taiwanese, and they often say it in this way. Somehow I found it elegant and adopted it.

    2) When 繫 is pronounced as "xi," it is often used in phrases like "干繫"/ "繫念," indicating some kind of intertwined emotions and relationships. I think "繫鈴" is very different from "繫 (ji) 鞋帶," which is simple and meaningless.

    =====

  23. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 5:04 am

    @Victor Mair: Note that the zdic pronunciation cited by this student is xì, whereas the zdic pronunciation cited by me (in my long comment above) from another location in zdic is jì!

    I believe that zdic is compiled from multiple sources, and is not entirely reliable. The English glosses can be well off the mark, badly spelled, and mismatched with the Chinese senses beside which they appear. Nor can the pinyin be trusted. For example, for 三瓦兩舍, zdic gives the pinyin as sān wǎ liǎng shě. I think that's a straight-out error (should be shè, not shě). At any rate, zdic contradicts itself by giving the zhuyin as ㄙㄢ ㄨㄚˇ ㄌㄧㄤˇ ㄕㄜˋ.
    http://www.zdic.net/c/9/a/16118.htm

    And that's not an isolated example.

  24. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 5:43 am

    @1:09 jì
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jeDEbwe3Zo

    @2:06 xì
    http://v.ifeng.com/news/opinion/201206/c4162d24-6e34-4bff-a229-e40881cc61e9.shtml

  25. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 6:10 am

    @1:45 jì
    http://v.pps.tv/play_331WSP.html

    @0:01 jì
    http://www.iqiyi.com/w_19rqur0ir1.html

    @2:15 xì
    http://v.ifeng.com/news/opinion/201210/9a49fe18-6987-4e74-b4eb-3e85ba2ab336.shtml

    xì for grown-ups and jì for the kiddies, perhaps?

  26. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 6:52 am

    @0:01 jì
    http://jingji.cntv.cn/20100909/101848.shtml

    @0.56 xì
    http://v.ifeng.com/mil/annals/201204/c77181f6-de12-4ae3-a866-aee53a437a12.shtml

  27. Victor Mair said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    @Richard W

    "xì for grown-ups and jì for the kiddies, perhaps?"

    Well, every kid knows that you're supposed to say "jì xiédài", not "xì xiédài", for "tie shoelaces". Shucks, even adults know that!

    What a cornucopia of 解鈴還需繫鈴人 YouTube sightings you've given us! Thanks.

  28. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

    @Victor Mair: I have spent the last hour going through dozens of dictionaries and other reference materials in my basement library, and have hauled a bunch of these heavy books upstairs and put them here near my computer.

    As a philologist and General Editor of the ABC Chinese Dictionary Series, you really should get yourself a scriptorium in your back garden — like James Murray, philologist and founding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Murray in the Scriptorium at Banbury Road

    … and maybe grow back the beard.

  29. Wentao said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

    Professor Mair, thank you very much for your valuable notes and responses from Chinese speakers! They are absolutely fascinating. So it seems that the standardized pronunciation is xi4, but we don't really know why and even major dictionaries seem to waver from time to time.

    I was shocked at someone saying "I think '繫鈴' is very different from '繫 (ji) 鞋帶,' which is simple and meaningless." Regardless of what he/she means by "meaningless" (colloquial = meaningless?), I thought 系铃 is closer to 系鞋带 than any other instances quoted above simply because the semantics are nearly identical.

    Similarly, I feel exactly the opposite to this statement: "I feel pronouncing 繫 as 'jì' in the phrase in question sounds a bit off." – if anything, xi4 would sound strange because (at least in my mind) only ji4 can be associated with the verb!

  30. Richard W said,

    November 15, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

    It's interesting that, among the eight video clip examples I found, the five instances that were scripted used jì, and the remaining three, where xì was used, were (presumably) unscripted interviews (with middle-aged men).

    Also, in the latter two interviews the interviewer chimed in with the interviewee to complete the saying "…還需繫鈴人". I couldn't hear a clash in those videos, but it seems possible that, in conversation, one person might say xì líng rén while the other simultaneously says jì líng rén.

    By the way, Liǎng'àn Cídiǎn has an entry for 繫鈴人 as a word meaning "somebody who causes a problem" — i.e., they have a word xìlíngrén not segmented as xì líng rén.

  31. Ted Powell said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 3:19 am

    "when a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to step down and see what the problem is."

    A century-old problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz3rUXzJfUE

  32. Victor Mair said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 8:28 am

    @Ted Powell

    Fantastic contribution! We should play this YouTube for Xi Jinping and all other Party officials who use that metaphor. Mandatory listening. Except that YouTube is outlawed in China! — though I suppose the rulers have special access YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.

  33. Ted Powell said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

    My first encounter with the song was a very spirited performance of a part of it by the character Mimi Labonq, a WWII Resistance fighter in 'Allo 'Allo, played by Sue Hodge. It's here, starting at about 1:19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Yjk7qnpjY8 Later I heard the whole song in a TV show about early history of the automobile.

  34. Victor Mair said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

    #7:

    =====

    Some people might pronounce it as 'xi4,' but the standard pronunciation should be 'ji4' as shown on 'Xiandai hanyu cidian' (Contemporary Chinese Dictionary) even though the Oxford Chinese Dictionary glossed it as 'xi4.'

    =====

  35. Richard W said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    @ #7 and Victor Mair: the standard pronunciation should be 'ji4′ as shown on 'Xiandai hanyu cidian'

    Does the "standard" allow only one correct pronunciation? Is there any well-defined way of determining the standard in a specific instance? Clearly, dictionaries are not very helpful in this case, since they vary among themselves and flip-flop from edition to edition. Should we simply trust #7's judgement on this matter?

    There are a lot of words in English that are pronounced in two or more ways. Is this jì-xì issue more significant than, say, the issue of whether to pronounce the "t" in "often"? English dictionaries typically give two ways of saying "often". Is that not a possibility that can be countenanced for 解鈴還需繫鈴人?

  36. Richard W said,

    November 16, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

    All three of my video clip examples of xì (above) were spoken by middle-aged men in interviews. But here is another man being interviewed — and he says "jì" (at 0:08).

    But wait, here is a woman who, in an interview, says "xì"! (at 3:38)

  37. hwu said,

    November 17, 2014 @ 7:04 pm

    I think it's because the 系 here is a 异读字, which means its pronunciation in classical Chinese (xi4) is different from its pronunciation in modern Chinese (ji4).

    It was encouraged to keep the ancient pronunciation only in old poems/sayings (in this case, xi4). 20 years ago when I was a kid, everyone in China was taught this way.

    Here is an authentic source:
    http://paper.people.com.cn/rmrbhwb/html/2014-04/26/content_1420139.htm

    where it says:

    "带有文言色彩的,一般读xì。"

    that said, things have already changed now. The rules of 异读字 are complex so people tend to ignore those traditions. They are also confusing for children to learn, so even some textbooks are using modern pronunciations now. In my opinion, this is why both pronunciations appear on internet, and it is a clue that Chinese itself is evolving.

    A scholarly article discussing about 异读字 can be seen here (including many similar examples):
    http://www.ruiwen.com/news/54895.htm

  38. Richard W said,

    November 17, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    That makes sense.

    So saying xi4 would be like saying "unto" in Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    And ji4 would be like saying "to": Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12, New International Version)

  39. Wentao said,

    November 19, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    @hwu
    But the question remains: all ancient pronunciations of the verb point to ji4 in MSM. Unless there are some other phonological changes in play here?

  40. hwu said,

    November 22, 2014 @ 1:22 am

    @Wentao

    Sometimes those pronunciations are from topolects. I suspect if this is the reason for 系.

  41. hwu said,

    November 22, 2014 @ 2:01 am

    @Wentao
    Also, note that those ancient pronunciations are kept ONLY in old poems/sayings.

    I think people are following the tradition to show respect for those old wisemen. Meanwhile, those pronunciations stay within the rules of rhyme. (such as 远上寒山石径斜xia2).

  42. Jeffrey Willson said,

    November 22, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    hwu: "I think people are following the tradition to show respect for those old wisemen. Meanwhile, those pronunciations stay within the rules of rhyme. (such as 远上寒山石径斜xia2)."

    So it seems the situation is that some ancient teachers mistakenly said it should be read xì, and a result their students' students followed that teaching against their own better judgment, making the wrong pronunciation into a learned pronunciation. Since it was the learned pronunciation, it became the preferred pronunciation in the dictionaries that are being used prescriptively in order to establish an MSM-speaking community. Therefore, anyone who aspires to speak correct MSM should reject the traditional pronunciation.

  43. Victor Mair said,

    November 26, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

    From Marcus Bingenheimer:

    I wanted to answer earlier but the AAR intervened. Here is what I have:
    指月錄 (X.1578) is a very popular collection by 瞿汝稷 (1548-1610). A supplement the 續指月錄 (X.1579) was compiled in 1679.

    Given the way the 指月錄 was compiled, it is not surprising that Qu quoted the 林間錄 (X.1624) by 惠洪 (1071-1128) (I couldn't find a 林間集). Huihong's work was very popular and widely quoted. It (@ X87n1624_p0263b07) seems indeed the earliest source for the encounter dialogue.

    If, as recorded in the 林間錄, it was indeed 法眼文益 (885-958) who first asked the question, we are looking at a 10th century Chan origin for the story, for which our first witness is about 150 years later.

    The expression "解鈴" in the sense of our story, seems to have become common only in the Ming and Qing. I was not able to find a Song/Yuan version of the story using 解鈴. As you noted 繫者解得 is the earliest version. We are not dealing with a "phrase meme" but rather with a "story meme". One wonders how many more Chan phrases or stories have crossed over into Ming/Qing literary Chinese.

  44. Richard W said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

    @ Victor Mair, who wrote: the Xiandai Hanyu cidian […] wavers back and forth between xì and jì!
    – Xiandai Hanyu cidian (2002), p. 649a: xì (see 解铃系铃)
    – I just checked the 2nd ed. (1978) in my office, and on p. 573a it has xì.

    That's two sightings of xì, but I don't think you have mentioned a specific sighting of jì in Xiandai Hanyu cidian. I note that informant #7 said "the standard pronunciation should be 'ji4' as shown on 'Xiandai hanyu cidian'" (which is a shaky argument indeed, given that XHC has also been saying xi4 in 1978 and 2002). Can someone provide a specific edition in which XHC says ji4?

  45. Victor Mair said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    @ Richard W (last comment)

    See the longest paragraph in the comment of #3:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15732#comment-1483356

    See also:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15732#comment-1483439

  46. Richard W said,

    November 27, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    Thanks. I missed that part of what informant #3 wrote.

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