Diglossia in action

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Neil Kubler spotted this restaurant sign last week in Xi'an in northwest China:

It reads:

chǎngfēng chòu guìyú
"Changfeng stinky Mandarin fish / Chinese perch"

Chǎng 昶 ("a long day; unimpeded, unblocked") is #4,904 in a list of 9,933 unique characters (total number of characters in the corpus:  193,504,018), yet it is presumed that most people will not know how to pronounce it, so a phonetic gloss is provided.  Such public phonetic annotations for difficult or rare characters are not uncommon, prompting several colleagues to make observations such as this:  "Any primary writing system that must rely on a secondary writing system to function is problematic".

Incidentally, 昶 has only 9 strokes — would you have guessed that?  And, before you were told its meaning, which very few people know, would you have been able to figure out what the radical / semantophore / [semantic] classifier is?

Selected readings

N.B:  The number of previous posts on character amnesia, (emerging) digraphia, phonetic annotation of characters, etc. is so great that it would not be feasible to list them all here.  If you are interested in any of these subjects, please do a Google search for them yourself (Victor Mair Language Log XXXX).  See especially the last two items in the list below (both submitted by Neil Kubler) for additional public phonetic annotations for characters similar to the one provided by Neil at the top of this post.


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 7:49 am

    Is there any reason they couldn't have used a homophonous character to indicate the pronunciation?

    (Not saying that would necessarily be better – you'd presumably have to use quotation marks or something to indicate it is an indication of pronunciation.)

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 9:24 am

    That is one way they used to do in in the old (i.e.,previous to romanization) dictionaries, but that was a convention, noted as such, in a restricted context.

  3. Chris Button said,

    August 15, 2019 @ 7:10 pm

    It's an interesting character. It's tempting just to say 永 is being used graphically for 長, yet 長 and 永 both contain Old Chinese *-raŋ

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