Listening, speaking, dissing, and writing

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The four main aspects of learning a language are "tīng shuō dú xiě 听说读写 (simplified) / 聽說讀寫 (traditional) ("listening, speaking, reading, and writing").  A few days ago in Singapore, an event was held to promote Mandarin in accordance with this fourfold approach.  Unfortunately, at the launch of the campaign on July 10, 2017, on the front of the large podium behind which stood the four guests of honor, this slogan was miswritten in simplified characters as tīng shuō dú xiě 听说写, where the third character has a water radical / semantophore instead of the speech radical / semantophore.  The pronunciation of the two characters is identical, but there's a world of difference in their meaning.

dú 读 / 讀 ("read")

dú 渎 / 瀆 ("show disrespect or contempt to somebody; malfeasance or dereliction of duty")

The second character also has another set of meanings:  "ditch; drain; sluice; gutter".  When I learned this character long ago in Taiwan, I recall that we were taught to read it as dòu for this set of meanings, but that reading seems to have been lost on the Mainland, where both sets of meanings are now pronounced dú.

This blunder must have been acutely embarrassing to Grace Fu, Singapore's Minister for Culture, Community & Youth, because she was standing directly behind the erroneous character on the front of the podium.

Yeo Kaiqi has written an excellent article about this cringeworthy incident:

"Speak Mandarin Campaign uses wrong Chinese character for the word ‘Read’:  The wrong character used actually meant 'showing disrespect and contempt'." (mothership [7/10/17])

[H.t. Geoff Wade]


  1. Alex said,

    July 11, 2017 @ 11:59 am

    "According to the 2015 General Household Survey, English is now the most frequently spoken language at home for more than half of Chinese residents who are below 25 years old.
    For Chinese residents who are between the ages 25 and 54, about 50.6 to 56.2 percent speak Mandarin most frequently at home.
    The Speak Mandarin Campaign has acknowledged the error and apologised for the mistake on its official Facebook page:

    The lesson learnt here: Not only do we need the Speak Mandarin Campaign more than ever before, we may have to consider a Write Chinese Campaign one day."

    The chances of the use of Mandarin characters growing in Singapore is about as much as people starting to say and write National Basketball Association instead of NBA.

  2. rpsms said,

    July 11, 2017 @ 12:13 pm

    I recall a kid in junior high who, along with his family, were immigrants (refugees) from Cambodia. He did not really speak *any* English, but the other kids in school made a point of teaching him every swear word they could think of.

    So, yeah, perhaps dissing is introduced early for many language learners.

  3. david said,

    July 12, 2017 @ 1:47 am

    They did choose a truly horrible font for it. Nobody might have realised if 说 does not share the radical with 读, thereby providing an immediate point of comparison.

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