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Yesterday, Buzzfeed published an article titled "This Woman Ate A Pork Bun In A Typhoon And Now Everyone Loves Her" (9/28/16).  It featured this drawing:

The drawing is based on a photograph that appeared in a Wall Street Journal article on Typhoon Megi slamming into Taiwan the previous day.

I won't get into the psychology of the lady clinging to her half-eaten pork bun, nor into why the people of Taiwan made her into an overnight legend.  What intrigues me about this drawing is the interesting language of the caption:

Sǎn, kěyǐ gěi nǐ.  Dàn bāozi, bùxíng 傘, 可以給你. 但包子, 不行!
("The umbrella I can give to you, but the steamed stuffed bun?  No way!")

This is not the usual SVO order of Mandarin, but is OSV in order to give prominence to the object.

See "Topic-prominent language" and "Topic and comment".

Before closing, I would like to mention that the English translations of the witty comments on this lady and her stuffed steamed bun on the Chinese internet are done very well in the Buzzfeed article.


  1. Ellen K. said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

    Is putting the object first here more unusual in Mandarin than in English? I ask because, in the English translation, I found the word order unremarkable and didn't even notice the out-of-the-ordinary word order until reading your comments below it. So I'm wondering what makes it noteworthy in Mandarin. (I don't know any Mandarin.)

  2. Marc said,

    September 29, 2016 @ 9:57 pm

    More like my old Jewish relatives this sounds to me.

  3. Simon P said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 12:08 am

    One of the netizen comments is this: "大媽是正港臺灣人". There was a translation, too, but I surfed away from the article and now I hit a paywall. It was something like "She's a true Taiwanese through and through".

    The word zheng4gang3 正港 is new to me. My dictionary translates it as "authentic" or "genuine" (with a "slang" marker). I wonder what the history behind it is? Why is a "real harbor" Taiwanese a genuine one? Whence the harbor?

  4. John Rohsenow said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 12:28 am

    Way back in the syntactic sixties, we had an optional fronting transformational rule formally called "fronting", but colloquially
    referred to as "Yiddish Movement", i.e.," Chicken soup I can't stand."

  5. K. Chang said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 2:23 am

    @Simon P — quick Google search shows that 1) When Qing Dynasty took over Taiwan in 1683, only three harbors were designated as "official imperial harbors" completely with a duty collection point and navy presence (however minor). The three harbors are Anping 安平,Lugang 鹿港,and Bali Ben 八里坌. and they became known as zhenggang 正港. All other harbors are known as 副港. Though this is usually said in Minnan.

    Ref 1:

    Ref 2:

  6. jo lumley said,

    September 30, 2016 @ 10:44 am

    I hope I am not just embarrassing myself by my lack of knowledge about Chinese, but would it be fair to say in this case that strictly speaking it is not OSV instead of SVO, but something like O1 V O2 instead of (unmarked?) V O1 O2 ? (In that 你 still follows the verb, and the subject is omitted.)

    Actually, what do proficient Chinese speakers think would be the most 'unmarked' order? Is it Verb+傘+你, or Verb+你+傘? (Or something else? Or both as good as each other?)

  7. JS said,

    October 1, 2016 @ 12:12 am

    @jo lumley
    Hm, right, O1 V O2. Mandarin is [gei3 'give'] IO DO. (Cantonese is generally [bei2 'give'] DO IO). Both have lots of V O1 [gei3~bei2] O2 = 'V O1 to/for O2'; I guess we could call these serial verb phrases. Perhaps in this respect M had been influenced by C? Because in M [gei3] O2 V O1 feels more kosher when the meaning is benefactive (~"for"). Also M [ba3/jiang1] O1 (V) [gei3] O2, a syntactic pattern proper that achieves the "fronting" effect.

  8. JS said,

    October 1, 2016 @ 12:30 am

    For anyone interested, since I was thinking about it and have nowhere else to put it: I have heard 把O不V in the wild several times relatively recently, which seemed a rather special flower, and found 让她把书不要丢在地上 / 我都努力把書不要讓人看見 etc. via google… this kind of ba3 sentence defies serial verb / "co-verb" analysis and thus would really be a step in the direction of word order change, but don't know if it's a trend or has always been around at low levels.

  9. Smith said,

    October 1, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

    Without knowing how to formally express this in linguistic terms, I read sentences like "傘,可以給你" – which are very common – as some sort of reduction of "傘是可以給你的", in which 傘 is indeed the subject of the sentence (insofar as we accept 是 as a verb).

  10. John Rohsenow said,

    October 4, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

    from a native TW speaker:
    ""正港" is a loan word from 閩南話/台語 which means authentic or genuine. It has nothing to do with harbor. They just found a Chinese character that is closest to its pronounciation; that's it. This is happening more and more often in Taiwan now as speaking 閩南話/台語 has become a trendy or cool thing to do. Hope this helps! :)
    Another TW native spkr says that the character(s) with pronunciation(s)in Mandarin close to the TW pronunciation were chosen to represent thepronunciation in Taiwanese.

  11. KIRINPUTRA said,

    October 5, 2016 @ 9:19 pm

    TW Mandarin «正港» comes from TW Hokkien «正港» (chiàⁿkáng), which refers to a time in the 19th century when only a few TW ports (the 正 ports) were officially open for foreign trade (or maybe any trade). For something to be «正港» meant it came through an official port instead of being smuggled, but the word came to mean GENUINE. I found a bit of a write-up on this here:

    An HIV-awareness song in Hokkien sponsored by the Singapore gov't used the word «正港» in a further extended meaning, to mean TRULY as in "truly happy" (chiàⁿkáng teh heppi). (Not too sure on the exact pronunciation of «heppi», which is from English HAPPY.)

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