Miss Lin on "fashion"

« previous post | next post »

When I first mentioned this remarkable video on Language Log nine years ago, it was buried in this post, "The Westernization of Chinese" (9/6/12), under "this phenomenal video".  I always regretted that I didn't make it more accessible (didn't know how to post YouTubes directly back then), so now here is Miss Lin in all her glory:

To help you understand the linguistic significance of this amazing video, here are a few paragraphs from the original post:

The video stars "Miss Lin" in a virtuoso solo performance.  She is discussing and demonstrating "fashion", and uses that English word many times instead of the Chinese equivalent, shíshàng 时尚, which occurs in the subtitles.  There are many sensational moments in the video, but the one that captured the public imagination the most was when she says "hold住”.  We need to spend a little bit of time on zhù 住 to see how extraordinary this usage is.  Zhù 住 has many meanings and functions ("live; dwell; reside; stop; cease; halt; bide"), but in Miss Lin's construction it serves as a resultative complement of the English (N.B.!) verb "hold" and signifies that the action of the verb is to be maintained firmly.  In other words, Miss Lin is talking about holding a pose, which is what being a model in the fashion industry is all about.

Here we have an English verb with a Mandarin resultative complement.  Miss Lin uses this construction in a natural, fluent, relaxed manner and without any hesitation.

The subtitles of the video do not do justice to the large amount of English Miss Lin and the others who are present speak:  "welcome", "party", "thanks", "well, well, well", "Paris" (not Bālí 巴黎), "university", "What is fashion?", "don't worry", and so forth.  This is a language that all of the young people in the audience, and most other youths, speak and understand.  As such, I would say that it is well on the way to becoming a hybrid form of speech.  It is neither Chinglish nor Singlish, nor yet is it Zhonglish.

Miss Lin is talking about one kind of fashion, but the language in which she expresses it is another kind of fashion — and both are always changing.


Selected readings


  1. David Marjanović said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 1:40 pm

    Well, this is a comedy, so I'm sure she's exaggerating the amount of English she uses for comedic effect.

    I would say that it is well on the way to becoming a hybrid form of speech.

    Hardly. It's just a bunch of loanwords and loaned phrases – conventionalized code-switching at the very most.

    Lots of languages in Europe sound almost like this in this kind of situation.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 2, 2021 @ 4:33 pm

    Before dismissing the intent of this post, remember that this video was from 9 years ago and things have come a long way since then. Please read all of the forty "Selected readings" and take into account the data and points made in them (including this post).

    This morning in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class, one of the students gave an excellent oral presentation (with detailed ppt) on the impact of English upon Mandarin (grammar, syntax, morphology, etc.) during the last half century. Since the oral presentation was in preparation for the final paper of the semester, it will likely be published within a year. When it comes out, I will circulate it. I think you will be surprised and no longer say "It's just a bunch of loanwords and loaned phrases – conventionalized code-switching at the very most." Hardly.

  3. David Marjanović said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 10:06 am

    Fair enough – I'm in no position to detect English influence in the syntax of fluently spoken Mandarin. I'm looking forward to the paper.

    I didn't mean to "dismiss" the post; it is certainly noteworthy that Miss Lin's English is good enough to pull her performance off, and that her audience's is evidently good enough to understand it. My point was that "well on the way to becoming a hybrid form of speech" seems exaggerated to me; this, with a bit less of comedic exaggeration, is simply what intensive borrowing looks like when it happens very quickly – as far as I could tell.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 10:14 am

    "…what intensive borrowing looks like when it happens very quickly…"

    Fair enough.

    It is indeed happening very quickly. You would be amazed.

  5. other one spoon said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 11:20 am

    Liberal sprinklings of English words in conversation certainly does seem to be the default in today's Taiwan. I'm currently studying Mandarin in Taipei, and even my teachers keep doing this during class, when we're supposed to be avoiding English, because they're just so used to talking that way. Including teachers from the older generation – not just a millennial thing!

  6. David Marjanović said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 6:50 pm

    It is indeed happening very quickly. You would be amazed.

    Well, I have a cousin in Switzerland whose first reaction to encountering cool in a German context was tiens – c'est français ! So my threshold for being amazed may be unfairly high.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2021 @ 11:43 pm

    I'm sure it's happening in many languages, except maybe not Icelandic.

  8. Qi Miao said,

    December 4, 2021 @ 7:02 am

    This video is gold!
    Do you know of any research on the influence of *Russian* on official PRC (or maybe even ROC) language, and whether that influence later extends to self-consciously formal language used by non-officials?

  9. B.Ma said,

    December 6, 2021 @ 10:58 am

    Hold住 is a very common usage in Cantonese though I would use it to mean holding something in one's hand, or maybe holding on the phone.

  10. Phil H said,

    December 7, 2021 @ 10:53 pm

    Hold住 – sometimes now sinicised to 厚得住 – is certainly pretty common, though interestingly where I live (Fujian) it doesn’t seem to be used in the literal sense that B.Ma suggests, but in the sense of staying in control, similarly to the way it’s used by Lin in the video.
    Her performance strikes me as quite weird in one way: her pronunciation of the English words is good and *sounds American* in the middle of a Chinese sentence. Round here, English words in a Chinese sentence are pronounced accented. If I do a full codeswitch and use my native British accent to pronounce a word, most Chinese listeners here would not get it, even when it’s a word they know.

RSS feed for comments on this post