Fangyán = topolect in DC

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I'm in Georgetown for a few days to meet with colleagues and do some research.  Shortly after I left my hotel and headed down Wisconsin Avenue toward the Potomac for a morning run, I stopped dead in my tracks when I crossed over the canal and saw this:

Especially with all the butterflies in the window, I thought I was dreaming.  Since they describe themselves as a "high-end clothing brand inspired by Asian culture" (source), I wondered, could they possibly have fāngyán 方言 ("topolect" — they even went to the trouble of putting a second tone mark on the second syllable) in mind?

Upon investigating further, it turns out that they really did:

FANGYÁN 方言 (fāng yán) is a brand and US-based multi-label retail e-commerce. The name is inspired by the language diversity in China, paying homage to the brand’s aim of curating pieces from all around the country.

FANGYÁN is translated as “dialect”, meaning a variety of Chinese languages.

It is a representation of the country’s melting pot culture where chaos meets order. In this context, FANGYÁN arises in its true colors, as a fashion project that delivers not only great designs but actively plays a role in this trend of redefining what China actually is to a new and curious global audience.


That put a spring in my step!

Selected articles

[Thanks to Ameen Shallal for the photograph]


  1. JPL said,

    June 20, 2023 @ 7:00 pm

    OT, but responding to the picture: Are you running in sandals?

    WRT the topic, since I seem to be making a comment, but out of complete ignorance, since I have no experience in Sinitic linguistics, and thus nothing authoritative to offer, I understand that "topolect" is a more accurate translation of the term "fang yan" (方言), but in the context of questions of causal explanation of historical changes in the norms for speech communities, as in language contact phenomena, or even the usual "sound changes", is there a term that considers the locus of changes to be the norms of speech communities, and as the product of the actions of speakers in those communities, as opposed to the product of the geographical place where the norm is in effect? 'Dialect', otoh, seems to refer to the language system as an autonomous object, without regard to either speakers or place, and seems to place the conditions for changes in norms only inside the language itself, which wouldn't seem to allow for an effective causal analysis. I only ask this out of ignorance of the ways of thinking of historical linguists, because recently I have been wondering about the question of how language systems (for speech communities) have gotten constructed over historical time, in particular, systems for the production (I didn't say "expression") of meaning. I think I want to tentatively insist on the objective reality of "norms", or whatever it is that is performing that unifying function, although that must be a controversial idea. Just a random musing, sorry.

  2. JPL said,

    June 20, 2023 @ 8:06 pm

    In a single geographically defined space you might have two (or more) different speech communities, mightn't you? (E.g., the case of "South Florida English" in the recent Llog post)

  3. AntC said,

    June 20, 2023 @ 10:01 pm

    Are you running in sandals?

    Further OT, but Kiwi here: I'd describe those as 'jandals' with the round-the-ankle strap and cushioned sole. Also can be worn with socks for extra padding — no between-the-toes thong. Ideal for outdoors activity in hot climes; also pack flat for travelling. I'm in Taiwan pounding the streets, beaches and parks; temperatures in the high 30's. I practically live in them.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 5:59 am

    Sharp eyes, JPL!

    Yes, sandals (or "jandals", if you will), but a very special kind. They're called "Tevas", and I've run thousands of miles in them during the last four decades, mostly at 3-5 miles a clip. They have all the virtues that AntC mentioned, plus are easy to put on and take off, and you can use them in the rain. For serious long distance running, however, such as my recent jog across Iowa and half of Illinois (at an average of 22.5 miles a day), a superior running shoe like the Brooks Ghost are better because they provide support in many dimensions.

    As for fāngyán 方言 ("topolect"), I appreciate your thoughtful observations on linguistic variation, but after my Georgetown encounter with the term in the raw, living, wild, I'm all the more determined to stick with it and proselytize for it.

    How so? Well, when I read the promotional literature of the proprietors of that fashion store quoted above, I was gratified to learn that the reason they chose it for the name of their business is the strong sense of locale that it evokes. One might say that they see the diversity of design as grounded in particular places, and that this localism resonates with language variation that they have experienced and lived.

    There is a gigantic difference in language variation between Shanghai and Beijing, and between Chengdu and Guangzhou (Canton), and there are concomitant cultural distinctions as well.

  5. Jerry Packard said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 3:30 pm

    Following JPL, it is the case that ‘dialect’ is broader than ‘fangyan’, ‘topolect’ or DeFrancis’ term ‘regionalect’, because it defines something independent of locale. ‘Dialect’ has the further nuance of mutual non-intelligibility, for what it’s worth.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 4:03 pm

    @Jerry Packard

    Did you mean "the further nuance of mutual intelligibility", not "non-intelligibility"?

    On the "mutual intelligibility"-"non-intelligibility" scale, I thought it was commonly agreed that "dialect" was on the former end and "language" on the latter end.

  7. Jerry Packard said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 7:56 pm

    Yes, Victor.

  8. Tye said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 10:08 pm

    This seems like a good time not to get into linguistic issues, but just to say congratulations to Victor. What a wonderful moment!

  9. JPL said,

    June 21, 2023 @ 11:50 pm


    I have no quarrel at all with the term 'topolect'; by all means continue to use it and stick with the advocacy. I agree that the term 'dialect' does not best describe the phenomenon you are referring to. I was concerned rather with the apparent fact that there isn't a term to refer to a different aspect of the linguistic phenomenon: an objectively existing abstract object that is a necessary logical precondition for any language activity called "communication", and that (i.e., which) is, I take it, what descriptive linguists take themselves to be describing when they write "grammars for languages", except that usually this includes only the morphosyntax (including the means of expression of meaning), and not the system of categories and propositional schemata that make the production of meaning possible, and that varies from language to language just as much as the morphosyntax. I always find myself saying things like, "language system on the level of speech communities, as opposed to the knowledge of individual speakers", and I wish I had a briefer expression to refer to it. I would like to be able to explore the production of meaning as an object of an empirical science, but not psychology, and not the logicians' model theory. And philosophers finally seem to be taking the notion of norms seriously. Those were the musings occasioned by your post about the nuances of terms for language systems on a social level. So if those thoughts have any merit, thank you!

    As for the footwear, well I gotta get me some of those! (But for running I would probably still stick to my Asics).

  10. Victor Mair said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 6:29 am


    On the matter of adequate, accurate terminology for describing language systems at the level of speech communities, I'm with you all the way and greatly appreciate your contributions toward refining our understanding of this complex subject.

    As for footwear, I thank you for introducing me to Asics. Though I have been a sportsman my entire life, I'm amazed that heretofore I had never heard of this brand of world class athletic shoes, which inspired even mighty Nike. And there's an interesting linguistic aspect to the origin of the name:


    Asics (アシックス, Ashikkusu) is a Japanese multinational corporation that produces sportswear. The name is an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano (translated by Asics as "a sound mind, in a sound body").


    Happy walking / jogging / running through various cultural locales and speech communities!

  11. AntC said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 8:36 am

    Asics (アシックス, Ashikkusu) is a Japanese …

    Heh, heh and the J in jandals (originally a trade name) is for Japanese sandals — as worn in bath-houses.

    And more coincidence: my previous post was written just after Japanese hot-pot in a retail multiplex in downtown Taichung, in which is the only Taiwan outlet for the brand of jandals ('Keen') I prefer. Of course not a lot of demand here for a make to suit my great clumping Anglo-saxon feet. Can report they (the jandals and the feet) performed admirably today clumping into a mountain waterfall near Taitung, with lots of swirling gravel.

  12. JPL said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 4:33 pm


    My first Asics running shoes were called "Onitsuka Tiger", and I've been using them ever since. (They changed their name, but we recognized the continuity by the distinctive stripe pattern.)

  13. Real Kiwi said,

    June 22, 2023 @ 7:12 pm

    Contrary to AntC's assertion, those are most definitely not jandals that Professor Mair is wearing, and no real Kiwi would ever call them jandals. Real jandals consist of a simple single-piece rubber sole and a rubber thong that goes between the big toe and the other toes. See: . The term might possibly be extended to include more up-market versions with a fabric thong, but the existence of the thong between the toes is an absolutely essential characteristic. I would call Professor Mair's footwear "sandals", "sports sandals", or possibly "Tevas". (Teva is a brand name but it is frequently used in a generic sense in New Zealand to refer to any sports sandals.)

    AntC, I understand you are an immigrant to New Zealand. How long have you lived here? I have been reading LanguageLog for a few years now and I have noticed you making several false or misleading statements about New Zealand English. I think your ear must not be fully attuned to the local language. I haven't bothered to comment before, but when you fail to recognise such a quintessential New Zealand icon as the jandal, by Gad, Sir, enough is enough!

  14. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 2:55 am

    « [Asics] is an acronym for the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano (translated by Asics as "a sound mind, in a sound body") ». How odd. I have always known the Latin phrase for "a sound mind in a sound body" as mens sana in corpore sano$^1$. I wonder when/where/how/why the "mens -> anima" substitution came about.

    $^1$ As in Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano (Juventus).

  15. Victor Mair said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 5:31 am

    @Taylor, Philip:

    I was thinking the same thing. Maybe they took a little bit of creative license since "Msics" is hard to pronounce..

  16. AntC said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 10:10 am

    @RealKiwi AntC, I understand you are an immigrant to New Zealand. How long have you lived here?

    Immigrated 1995; joined a tramping club immediately (the largest in the country by subscribed membership); was instructed to get a pair of 'jandals' to wear in the pool car to/from each tramp. aka 'hut shoes' — but that term can include 'Crocs' (brand name used generically) which are not 'jandals'.

    I readily agree what you describe with the thong between the toes are also called 'jandals', but you can't wear those over tramping socks. And they're positively dangerous for wearing round a hut. I've never heard 'Tevas' used in the generic sense, though certainly they're a popular brand.

    I'm bemused by your further asseverations. Yes prepared to concede my ear might be a bit out. I'm pretty sure NZ has a cultural divide between outdoors types cp. those who'll drive even to the dairy; and South Islanders cp. the other lot. Where do you place in those divides?

  17. Real Kiwi said,

    June 23, 2023 @ 9:58 pm

    'jandals' aka 'hut shoes'


    "Hut shoes" can include jandals, as well as crocs and other types of footwear, but is most definitely not synonymous with "jandals". I think you must have heard the term "jandals", misunderstood it, and over-generalised it to include those other types of footwear that can be used as hut shoes. "Jandals" refers quite specifically to the type of footwear in the photo I gave a link to, and nothing else. A simple google search for photos of "jandals" should convince you of that. And I have never noticed any difference between North Islanders and South Islanders on this matter, or between outdoor types and non-outdoor types.

    I live in Wellington and am also a strong outdoor type and also belong to a tramping club. And I have used (real) jandals as hut shoes and even worn them outdoors in the snow in the mountains, although I certainly wouldn't recommend it!

    If you've lived here since 1995 that's much longer than I would have thought, but yes, based on some of your comments I think your ear is still a bit out.

    What tramping club do you belong to? Maybe I'll run into you in the hills one day.

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