"Words / Characters of the Year" for 2013 in Taiwan and in China

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Back on December 17, 2011, I wrote a post entitled "Morpheme(s) of the Year" about kòng 控 ("control", but having lots and lots of other meanings, all covered in detail in my post).  The unusual title and thrust of that post were due to my dissatisfaction with the concept of a "character of the year" as a satisfactory parallel for or clone of Western "word of the year" competitions.  It was probably due to that dissatisfaction that I seem not to have written anything along these lines for the year 2012.

Now, however, we are inundated with Chinese words and characters of the year for 2013, so let's see what they convey and whether there has been any improvement in the grammatical understanding of what words are and how they function.

Well, People's Daily Online has proclaimed that fáng 房 ("house") has been chosen as the word of the year by a committee composed of representatives from China's National Language Resource Monitoring and Research Center, Commercial Press, and Beijing Language and Culture University.

"Fang" (literally: House) became the word of the year 2013 in China, Shandong TV announced at the ceremony of 2013 hot Chinese words on Sunday.

Li Yuming, Party chief of Beijing Language and Culture University, said the selection of "Fang" reflects people's expectation for a better policy that can tame overheated property market in China.

First of all, I'm suspicious of any WOTY competition where a Communist Party chief plays a major role, and I'm also dubious of the propriety of any WOTY selection process that has to do with public policy in the future.  Shouldn't a WOTY reflect what has happened during the current year?  But those are not my main beefs with the selection of fáng 房 ("house") as the WOTY for 2013.  For the meanings intended by the selection committee, fáng 房 would have to be combined with other morphemes to make sense, e.g., fángdìchǎn 房地产 ("real estate").  So, once again we encounter the problem of confusion between "word" and "character" that has plagued Chinese WOTY selections in the past.

The People's Daily Online got its wires even more badly crossed when it engaged in promoting jìn 进 ("advance; make progress; enter; go / move forward / ahead; go / get in; go on; come / go into; take / receive [N.B.!]; drill into) as another WOTY.

Jìn 进 was allegedly named WOTY

…by netizens on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, reflecting their feeling and expectations.

Lin Zhongsen, chairman of Strait Exchange Foundation, said at the announcement ceremony, "Jin delivers the feeling and expectation from the people across the strait and also indicates our relationship is upgrading and developing peacefully."

[VHM:  emphasis added]

Aside from the monotonous projection of expectations, there are more serious linguistic problems with choosing jìn 进 as WOTY.  Above all, jìn 进 is not even a word.  It is a bound morpheme which cannot function in grammatical isolation.  Examples:

jìnqù 进去 ("enter; go in")

jìnlái 进来 ("come in")

jìntuì 进退 ("advance and retreat")

zǒujìnlái 走进来 ("walk in")

jìnshì 进士 ("advanced scholar" — the highest degree in the traditional examination system)

Note, moreover, the committee's claim that jìn 进 "literally" means "upgrade; promote" (as in "upgrade / promote relations"), which shows pretty clearly what they had in mind.

In terms of the writing of jìn 进, it is strange that, for a character (NOT a word!) that was supposedly selected "by netizens on both sides of the Taiwan Strait", on all three pages of the Peoples Daily Online article cited above, not once does the character jìn 进 actually appear, despite the fact that there are photographs of numerous realizations by "famous calligraphers from Taiwan and Fujian"!  Instead, what we see is jìn 進 written over and over again.  進 is the traditional form of the character and 进 is the simplified form.  You'd think that at least some of the "famous calligraphers" from the Fujian side of the Taiwan Strait would have been willing to produce a rendition of the standard form of the graph on the Mainland.

This leads me to a consideration of the WOTY from Taiwan.  According to the South China Morning Post, a survey carried out by the United Daily News selected jiǎ 假 ("fake") as the WOTY in Taiwan.  Wait a minute!  It's the other side of the Taiwan Strait where so many things are fake (handbags, cigarettes, cell phones, food, medicine, infant milk powder…).  Furthermore, jiǎ 假 ("fake") is a real Chinese word (not merely a morpheme) and the poll by which it was selected is far more believable than the politically motivated committees that choose the so-called WOTY in China.

I've received reports of many other WOTY contests in the Mainland, on Taiwan, and among overseas Chinese groups.  Since they are nearly all marred by confusion over just what a word is, have some sort of ax to grind, or were chosen by dubious means, I won't analyze all of the selected items.  For those who are interested in pursuing this topic further, however, here are a few articles to which you can turn:  link, link, link.

As for myself, I will be eagerly awaiting the announcement of this year's English WOTY at the meeting of the American Dialect Society on the evening of January 3 in Minneapolis.  Will it be "selfie"?  "Twerk"?  "Marriage"?  "Obamacare"?  Something else I haven't even thought of?  I'm starting to get nervous already!

[Many thanks to Ben Zimmer, Mr. English Word of the Year]


  1. Matt said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 7:00 pm

    Elsewhere in the Sinographosphere, Japan's kanji of the year was 輪, as in 五輪 (Five Rings = Olympic Games).

  2. cameron said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

    Could we translate jìn as -gress?

  3. Kuiwon said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

    I wrote a post on my blog on the "Character of the Year" chosen by Taiwan, China, and Japan, as well as "Four Character Idiom of the Year" by Korea: http://kuiwon.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/record-of-the-grand-historian-excerpt-of-biography-of-wu-zixu/

  4. John said,

    December 26, 2013 @ 10:45 pm

    The 進 people were clearly thinking of very common old adages like 學如逆水行舟,不進則退, where 進 is a standalone morpheme that does indeed mean "upgrade/improve." The character may no longer function this way in modern Mandarin, but it wouldn't exactly be obscure for an educated Chinese user.

    (I am also rather dubious of the assertion that 進 can never stand alone in modern Mandarin. In the sense meaning "to enter" it seems to stand alone just fine–when we talk of travelling abroad we often use the construction (city A)進 (city B)出, as you can see on this travel agency webpage: http://www.fuon.com.tw/front/bin/ptdetail.phtml?Part=b019

  5. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 12:45 am


    On jìn 进 as a bound morpheme in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), see Yuen Ren Chao and Lien Sheng Yang, Concise Dictionary of Spoken Chinese (Chinese title Guóyǔ zìdiǎn 國語字典) (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), p. 218.

    "The character may no longer function this way in modern Mandarin…." Precisely. The expression you quoted is not Mandarin. It is Classical Chinese.

    Whether or not such expressions are "obscure for an educated Chinese user" (and a lot depends on how "educated" you mean), their grammar and lexicon are not MSM.

    I read through the webpage you cited several times, and I found a number of things such as these:

    1. jìnrù Fàndìgāng jiàohuáng guó 進入梵諦岡教皇國 ("enter the Vatican Papal State"); jìnrù 進入 ("enter"), a proper MSM term, occurs several times

    2. jìnchū Zhōnghuá mínguó guójìng 進出中華民國國境 ("entering and exiting the territory / border of the Republic of China"); here too jìnchū 進出 ("enter and exit") is a proper MSM term

    It's noteworthy that, even in the couple of Classical expressions that you cite, jìn 进 is employed in constructions where it is closely connected to morphemes with which it is matched in MSM, e.g., 不進則退 ("if you don't go forward, then you'll go backward") and 進A出B ("enter A and exit B"), which is how I saw it used in the website whose link you provided. This would seem to indicate that, even for the sort of Classical usages that modern "educated" individuals can understand, they would seem to occur most often in constructions that may be viewed as related to MSM terms (see jìntuì 进退 ["advance and retreat"] and jìnchū 進出 ["enter and exit"], both of which I have discussed above).

    In undertaking linguistic description and analysis, one should strive to treat the grammatical systems and lexica of different languages on their own terms and not mix them all together in a big jumble (Classical Chinese + MSM + Taiwanese + Cantonese + Shanghainese + …). If one does not keep the languages with which one is dealing separate, one's linguistic explanations will be riddled with errors, i.e., invalid.

  6. Ahkow said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    Dr. Mair might be surprised to find out that the traditional script is still the go-to script for Chinese calligraphy because of its close association with classical literature and perceived aesthetic value. I'm not surprised that everyone's writing 進 in the photo.

    As for 房 ("house") I think it is used frequently in housing-related compounds for people to pick up on the "housing" interpretation on its own. E.g. 房子 "house" 房價 "home prices" 房屋貸款 "housing loans" 買房 "buy home" …

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 10:56 am


    Of course, I knew that many calligraphers in China still favor the traditional characters, so I'm not at all "surprised" at that, but I have seen plentiful instances of calligraphy using simplified characters in the PRC. Furthermore, as I've pointed out before, even Wang Xizhi (303-361), generally regarded as China's greatest calligrapher of all time, and other people of his era often used simplified characters in their personal letters, on steles, etc. Rather, I think that the reason why nobody in the exhibition reported on in the article I cited wrote 进 is because this was an exercise in cross-strait politicking.

    As for all of those fáng 房-related terms that you list (thank you for gathering them), they only reinforce my point about "word" vs. "character".

    fángzi 房子 ("house") definitely a disyllabic word

    fángjià 房價 ("home prices") a disyllabic word

    fángwū 房屋 ("houses; buildings") a disyllabic word

    mǎifáng 買房 ("house/home buying") I think that most grammarians would consider it a disyllabic term; the usual way to say "buy a house" would be mǎi fángzi 買房子 (see the first item above in this list) — do a Google search on "買房子" and you'll get a huge number of hits

  8. julie lee said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

    Is the Word of the Year in China called a zi字 ”character" or a ci词,辞 "phrase; word" ? Am I correct that zi字 means "character", but a character is often a word (e .g.,shui水 "water") , and ci词 or ci 辞 means "phrase" or "word" (which can be one or more characters, e.g.,
    feiji飞机 "airplane") ?

    Here's another example of the character jin进 “advance" standing alone in Modern Mandarin, but in relation to tui退 "retreat": "jin-ke-gong,tui-ke-shou进可攻,退可守“ [”advance, can attack; retreat, can defend", meaning being in a position in which one can be free to advance or retreat]. Underlying 进可攻,退可守 is the bound pair
    jin-tui 进退 “advance and retreat".
    This would be like the Latin pair "pro" and "con" in English, where "pro" can be used alone as a word (e.g. "the pros and cons") but has no meaning without relation to "con", and vice versa.

  9. Stephan Stiller said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 2:02 pm

    About 買房: In Chinese verb-object compounds, the second component (the "object" part) can be a bound morpheme representing a longer noun. VO-constructions are interesting; what's important to note here is that the existence of a VO-compound is not evidence for the O-part being a standalone noun.

    There is a different point I would like to make, and it addressed examples that seem to be exceptions: Sometimes a bound morpheme can, in the right circumstances, function as a word. An English example might be "anti" in an expression like "to be anti sth"; note that this is infrequent. In a parallel English-language situation, if some government or organization declared "anti" to be "word of the year", people would surely think of "anti-"-as-a-prefix (note that prefixes are specific types of bound morphemes), not the-infrequent-preposition/adjective/noun-"anti". For the Chinese situation, this means that – even if one can find a counterexample demonstrating that Chinese character X is not in 100% of all cases a bound morpheme – it'd be misleading to call it "word of the year" in English.

  10. Wentao said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

    Chinese sport fans always shout “进了!” Can 进 be regarded as a word (rather than a bound morpheme) here?

  11. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 3:34 pm


    Why don't they just shout jìn 进?

  12. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

    @Julie Lee

    From a colleague:

    The Chinese seem to go with the more correct 年度汉字 ("character of the year"). What they mean is 年度词素 ("morpheme of the year"), though the fact that they're not selecting 年度词 ("word of the year") raises some questions

    The fact that their "competition" or whatever selection process they use doesn't select (potentially polysyllabic) words but instead characters says something. Though the Japanese (who seem fine with the idea of words) also have kanji of the year (might be interesting to know whether they also have words of the year).

  13. Wentao said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

    @Victor Mair

    I think they do if a goal is imminent. But the celebration usually comes after scoring, so it's sensible to add a perfect suffix.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 8:15 pm


    If they really do say that (you're not sure), would that then be an imperative? If not, what verbal form would it be?

  15. ahkow said,

    December 27, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

    @Dr Mair

    Agree that calligraphers have used what are now simplified characters for centuries. But is not one of these "proto-simplified" glyphs, so it's not surprising that they have chosen to write instead. (run a search for 進 at any online calligraphy dictionary, e.g. http://sf.zdic.net/)

    If 來 "to come" were the chosen "monosyllabic morpheme of the year" my guess is more would be writing (i.e. the simplified version of 來).
    (see link here for lots of pre-1950 versions of by calligraphers)

    And I don't disagree with your observation about the disyllabic nature of these compounds – I just wanted to point out that these compounds appear "frequently enough" (for lack of a scientific study) in everyday vocabulary for the "housing" connotation of 房 to be apparent to the Chinese public.

  16. Jo Lumley said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    Victor Mair, to answer the question of your unnamed colleague: as well as bodies awarding kanji (character) of the year as mentioned by Matt at the top of the thread, there are also Japanese 'words of the year' as well. 'Word' here corresponds to the suffix -go ~語, e.g. shingo 新語 'new word' or ryuukoogo 流行語 'buzzword'. However, while these 語 are certainly not restricted to single characters, the definition is still rather loose, and 2013's winners (short summary in English of one set; longer summary in Japanese of the same), like previous ones, contain strings that are indisputably longer than a single word.

    Morgan Giles and I are quoted with some further information on the subject of words of the year in Japan in a Language Log post from some years ago.

  17. Victor Mair said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 8:00 am


    You're right about 进 being a recent simplification. I checked several histories of the simplified characters, and they all say that 进 was "created by the masses" (or something to that effect) during the Communist period. However, until the post-Dengian "opening up" of the PRC, even recently simplified characters like 进 were fair game for those who wrote with brushes, and I've still seen them being taught in calligraphy classes after Deng.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 11:46 am


    From a Briton who has lived in China for many years and is involved in intercollegiate sports there:


    As a part time, once-upon-a-time, occasional football fan…

    I've been to two or three Chinese football matches, but not in the last few years.

    “进 了!” (进啦!)is possible when you're team has just scored, but “好球” is the more common expression. The former might be more fitting for a TV commentator than for a fan watching the game.
    An English football fan is unlikely to shout "Score!" as an imperative, much more likely would be "Shoot!" Indeed, this might be something of a shibboleth. Shouting "score" would be pretty much guaranteed to mark you out as an outsider, I would think. Though it's an awfully long time since I really paid attention to football.

    In such a situation, the Chinese fan might shout "射门!“ or perhaps just “射!”


    From a citizen of the PRC who received all of his degrees (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.):


    When a team is bringing the ball up the field and is attempting to score, their fans will yell she4 (to shoot). when i was a college student, all my classmates would yell this word in this situation.


    So the word used in this situation is shè 射 ("shoot; fire; discharge in a jet / stream; send out"). Please note that, unlike jìn 进, shè 射 is a free morpheme. No wonder it sounded very strange to me when you said that people might shout just jìn 进, which is a bound morpheme. Please note further that, even with shè 射, fans will often use the disyllabic term shèmén 射门 ("shoot [at the goal]").

  19. Victor Mair said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    This comes from an instructor of Chinese who grew up in Taiwan and received his B.A. there:


    Usually in that circumstance, I have seen/heard the crowd yelling 进、进、进 followed by an exciting scream or a disappointing sigh depending on the result.


    This is really interesting since it shows that, if jìn 进 is used in the situation where a team is being encouraged to score, it is not a single monosyllable, but is repeated, thus becoming trisyllabic (jìnjìnjìn 进进进), which is exactly what I would have predicted.

  20. Chau Wu said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    The development of 進 (进) from a free morpheme in Classical Chinese to a bound morpheme in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) reminds me of a plausibly parallel case. In Old Norse (ON) fóli means ‘fool’ and furðu-heimskr ‘very foolish’. My hypothesis is that the MSM expression hú-lĭ-hú-tú 糊裡糊塗 ‘very foolish’ may have come from ON *fóli furðu-heimskr ‘a very foolish fool’ [the (*) indicates that the compound as a whole is not attested in extant ON mss] with truncation of the very last element heimskr ‘foolish’, so that *fóli furðu > hú-lĭ-hú-tú. Originally fóli is a free morpheme, but after its (hypothesized) adoption into Chinese, hú-lĭ 糊裡 can no longer be one; it has to be in the whole hú-lĭ-hú-tú 糊裡糊塗 to make sense. In contrast, the furðu-, a bound morpheme in ON, can now be used alone hú-tú 糊塗 ‘foolish’. Bear in mind that the MSM expression hú-lĭ-hú-tú 糊裡糊塗 originating from an ancient European source is just a hypothesis. It requires further testing (or finding other similar examples).

  21. Wentao said,

    December 28, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

    @Dr Mair

    Thank you very much for your and your colleagues' reply. Yes, you are right that 射 is the natural and commonly used expression here.

    I have also come across the "进 进 进" scenario. It seems to me a very novel idea that repetition of bound morphemes in Chinese can result in a word. I wonder if this is a widespread phenomenon, and if the number of repetition is significant?

    I'm also curious that, since we have established that 进 is a bound morpheme and I have always regarded 了 -le as an inflectional suffix, can such a suffix be added to a bound morpheme, as in the case of 进了? It's like in English, where "-gress" is a bound morpheme, but "-gressed"/"-gressing" cannot exist in isolation either.

  22. JS said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 12:17 am

    Jin is an interesting question. The context is highly confined, but Wentao's point about the word's use (especially in basketball) is solid: jin le 'it went in', mei jin 'it didn't go in', jin! 'go in!', etc. Of course, this is not 'upgrade, promote', and might postdate Chao et. al's remarks…

    However, I still think jin can be a free morpheme 'enter'. Googling (arbitrarily) with the subject she 'snake', I found
    蛇进宿舍了 a snake entered [my] dorm room
    蛇进家里有什么说法 what does it mean when a snake enters [one's] home
    梦见蛇进屋 dreamed about snakes entering [my] [bed]room
    蛇进房子怎么办 how should one deal with a snake's entering the house?
    蛇进瓶子 a snake goes into a bottle
    2米长蛇进幼儿园惊师生 two-meter long snake enters kindergarten, startling teacher and students
    梦见一条黑蛇进肛门 [I] dreamed of a black snake going into [my] anus (!)

    Such don't represent the morpheme's most common usage as a complement, but surely indicate a retained free status?

  23. Victor Mair said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 7:54 am


    Those are some of the most bizarre example sentences I've ever seen, especially the last one about the snake entering someone's anus. They almost make me feel that shé jìn 蛇进 ("snake enters") is a sort of fixed expression.

  24. Wentao said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 1:31 pm


    Very interesting examples!

    蛇进宿舍了 – I think this is a variation of 进了
    梦见蛇进屋 – For this one I would argue that 进屋, like 进门, is a fixed expression.
    2米长蛇进幼儿园惊师生 is headlinese – I don't think 惊 can be used independently in MSM either.
    梦见一条黑蛇进肛门 – This one sounds grammatically awkward to me, and although I have never said/heard anyone say such a bizarre thing, I would prefer 进入/进了 rather than 进 in this case.

    That leaves 蛇进家里、蛇进房子 and 蛇进瓶子 unexplained. The only observation I can make so far is that the objects are all bisyllabic, and that instinct tells me that none of 蛇进家、蛇进房 and 蛇进瓶 is grammatical.

  25. Observation said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    As a Hong Konger, I don't feel JS's sentences are bizarre; in fact, they all seem rather natural to me. The kindergarten one is a newspaper title from People Daily, so the simplifications make sense. 蛇进家、蛇进房 and 蛇进瓶 are also quite fine to me, although in an actual sentence it might help to add a monosyllabic modifier in front of 蛇 to maintain the rhythm and flow of the sentence. (Lame sentence I just made up: 老師甫進課室大門,一陣凜冽的寒風乍然吹來,恍如大蛇進房,同學都打了寒顫。)

    Then again, I'm used to a half-classical, half-vernacular style of writing in Chinese, so that might be the explanation.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 8:55 pm

    From a colleague who hails from China and received her Ph.D. in America:

    I consulted my family back in China and this is what they said: If it's soccer, people say "shemen 射门". If it's basketball, people say "toulan 投篮". In other words, it depends on the sport.

  27. JS said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    One is headlinese, true, but to me the rest are neither bizarre nor at all classicized; it would be easy to find parallel examples with other sorts of subjects/locations. And we haven't even touched on "ergative"-type stuff: 手机进水怎么办? (googled) could not be more kosher Mandarin: 进 here is clearly a word, unless one wishes to argue that 进水 and thus 进+every possible substance that could get into a cell phone are "fixed expressions."

    Probably best to conclude that there are lots of monosyllabic morphemes in Mandarin of rather indeterminate status as regards wordhood (that is, having a limited range of free usages in addition to more typical bound ones) — seeing a word, or fixed phrase, in every collocation is no more useful than seeing a word in every character.

  28. JS said,

    December 29, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

    Prof. Mair,
    True; we were (or I was) thinking not of sports vocabulary per se but of language people use when talking about esp. basketball. Here is a typical message board comment in its original form:
    So it seems jin has to be treated as a word in 进了 (…if it had gone in…) and 没进 (…turned out it didn't go in)?

  29. Observation said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 3:22 am

    I've done a bit of pondering in my head. I think I've found a pattern: subject + unmodified 進 + complement constructions can act as subjects, act as objects, follow a preposition, precede 的, be part of a serial verb construction, etc., but never standalone clauses.

    These lame sentences sound right to me:
    老師甫進課室大門,一陣凜冽的寒風乍然吹來,恍如大蛇進房,同學都打了寒顫。 (follows a preposition)
    一條白蛇進瓶子死了,所以地上的蛇都為牠默哀。(serial verb)
    我想多寫一個例句,又想不出好主意,只好鼓起勇氣進房子看看,找找靈感。(serial verb)

    These don't:

  30. The suffocated said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    I'm not sure about Mandarin, but in Cantonese, it's not unusual to use the character 進 as a standalone morpheme. For instance, 進屋(/門/廳)前先除鞋 (although it's more customary to say 入屋 rather than 進屋)。Even in Mandarin, 進 is not bounded when it is used as a chess term. E.g. 象七進五. No chess player would say 進入/進了/進來/進去 in this context. Just 進 alone。

  31. The suffocated said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Uhh, I forgot to mention that the 進 in 象七進五 means "advance" (前進).

  32. Victor Mair said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 8:58 am

    Great discussion, everybody!

    象七進五 is technical language of a special kind that can hardly be considered as typical Mandarin.

  33. Wentao said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 12:30 pm


    It seems to me that Yue and Min has preserved a lot of Classical monosyllabic words, which is why bound morphemes in Mandarin can stand alone in Cantonese and expressions such as 蛇进家、蛇进房 and 蛇进瓶 sound right to one from HK. I have heard people say phrases like this and to me they have a distinctive "southern flavor". However, they are not idiomatic in Beijing vernacular.

    Some of your examples are indeed half-classical… If someone says 甫进 in daily speech I don't think I can understand at all. But thanks, it's a nice word to know in writing!

  34. JS said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    The awkwardness of 蛇进瓶, etc., in Mandarin may have to do with Mand. length preferences affecting the members of V-O (and Det-N) combinations, discussed on LL in the past, rather than with free vs. bound morphemes per se.

    Observation's observations are nice; doesn't it look like jin, and probably other similar morphemes, is roughly comparable to a "non-finite" verb of English, etc., in being unable to function as root of an independent clause?

  35. The suffocated said,

    December 30, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

    @Victor Mair

    If you want daily examples, there are lots of them from People's Daily. E.g.:

    造成進門時鞋、物 (sic) 無處安置的不便
    It's worth noting that, while one may bind the morpheme 進 with the others (e.g. replace 進 by 進入) in most of the above examples, the morpheme is typically unbound in the first two examples. In the first example, one can say 向西進發/向西進軍 instead, but I'll bet 99 out of 100 Mandarin-speaking people would simply say 西進. In the second example, 进院 usually refers to admission into hospital, but 进入医院 may simply mean "walk into the hospital".

  36. Victor Mair said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 9:54 am

    @The suffocated

    Your examples reek of newspaperese, a type of bànwén-bànbái 半文半白 ("semiliterary-semivernacular") writing, a concept that I should have introduced into this discussion long ago. In some instances, it may be referred to as "bastardized vernacular", "impure vernacular", etc.

    Because of this consideration, I never refer to Dunhuang popular Buddhist texts (which I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation on and studied for more than a quarter of a century) as pure vernacular, but only as partial vernacular, because the matrix is still often largely classical with vernacular elements mixed in to greater or lesser degree.

    For the same reason, so called vernacular writing of the topolects in Chinese characters (Shanghainese, Hokkien, Shanxinese, etc., etc.) usually actually only has a few truly vernacular elements mixed in a Mandarin matrix. Even so-called written vernacular Cantonese, as Donald Snow has shown in his masterful Cantonese as Written Language: The Growth of a Written Chinese Vernacular (Hong Kong University Press, 2004) and as I've repeatedly pointed out in my Language Log posts, consists of varying degrees (mostly far less than 50%) of Cantonese morphemes. In contrast, it is very easy to write pure vernacular in romanization, as the missionaries and others have demonstrated for over a century with Amoyese, Cantonese, and other Sinitic tongues.

    In the present instance, we're trying to identify Mandarin grammar and lexicon, but having to fend off the encroachment of non-Mandarin usages from technical jargon / argot, literary predilections, headlinese and newspaperese more generally, and so forth.

    Another related problem, which I will only mention here but not go into deeply, is that "Mandarin" itself is not a monolithic entity, but varies widely from region to region, frequently even to the point on non-intelligibility. I predict that eventually Mandarin will begin to be classified into a number of different separate languages. This has already happened, to the satisfaction of many specialists, for Jìnyǔ 晋语 (Shanxinese), and Kaiyan Yang has written a brilliant paper on Lower Yangtze Mandarin as constituting an independent language; she accomplished this on rigorous linguistic grounds. Eventually, I'll help Kaiyan get her important paper published in a suitable journal.

    To return to jìn 进, I still say that Y. R. Chao knew what he was talking about when he referred to it as a bound morpheme. Nonetheless, this has been a very useful discussion, because it points out just how hard it is to do grammatical analysis of Sinitic languages.

  37. SusanC said,

    December 31, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

    I recall some of our undergraduate students (who speak Chinese as a first language .. I forget whether they were Mandarin or Cantonese speakers) saying that they always write the traditional form of the character when doing art calligraphy, even though they use the simplified form in everyday writing. So I'm not surprised by calligraphers using the traditional form. (This is an anecdotal observation of course).

    I'm surprised though, that the newspaper didn't pick a more interesting character — e.g. one that has been pressed into service for a new meaning in Internet blog posts. Possibly some of those might be a bit too political…

  38. julie lee said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    About whether jin进 "enter; advance (move forward)" is a bound morpheme, or whether it can also be a stand-alone word, as in the phrase jin yuan 进院 "enter the hospital".

    Prof. Mair (and the late renowned Chinese linguist Zhao Yuanren) sees 进 as a bound morpheme but not a standalone word in Modern Mandarin, although they recognize it as indeed a standalone word in Classical Chinese. In this view, jin进 "enter" in "jin-yuan 进院 "enter the hospital" would be an abbreviation of jinru yiyuan 进入 医院 “enter hospital") , where both jin进 "enter" and yuan院 "hospital" are abbreviations of bound morphemes (yuan院 as a standalone word does not mean "hospital")。
    Are abbreviations words? For example, is "Sosh" for "Social Security" a word in English, or American-English? If you call up, or go up to, a government employee in the U.S. to apply for something, the first thing they'll ask you is "What's your Sosh?" and everybody understands that Sosh means "Social Security number". Other examples of abbreviations in vernacular American-English include "qual" for "qualification", "bio" for "biography" (everyone in an American office understands the sentences "Get me his quals" (meaning resume) or "Let's look at his bio ….". ),"lit" (as in English lit, French lit), "pedi and mani" (short for "pedicure and manicure"), glam (for glamorous), and so on. Magazines are teeming with these abbreviations. But "sosh", "qual", "bio", "lit", "glam", "pedi" and "mani" are bound morphemes. They can stand alone only as abbreviations. Are these abbreviations bona fide standalone words? If they are, then perhaps Chinese jin进 ("enter", "advance") can also be a standalone word in Modern Mandarin.

  39. julie lee said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    p.s. Above,
    the sentence 'where jin进 "enter" and yuan院 "hospital" are abbreviations of bound morphemes'
    should be
    'where jin进 "enter" and yuan院 "hospital" are abbreviations
    AND bound morphemes'

  40. The suffocated said,

    January 3, 2014 @ 1:18 am

    @julie lee

    I don't think 進院 is really an abbreviation of 進入醫院, because the meanings of the two phrases are not really the same.

    @Victor Mair

    Hmm, I think you are cherry-picking here. Had I taken some examples from novels (e.g. in Y. R. Chao's 1922 translation of Alice in Wonderland, there is a sentence "他們倆都進城了"), you could have said "oh, these are just literature examples, not truly vernacular Mandarin." Unless one carries out a large scale survey to see how the character 進 is used in spoken Mandarin, every example we take from some printed source can be classified as some special case but not "pure", vernacular Mandarin.

  41. julie lee said,

    January 3, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

    @The suffocated:

    Thank you for the comment. Yes, jin-yuan 进院 means zhujin-yiyuan 住进医院 "enter (be admitted to) a hospital" not jinru-yiyuan 进入医院 " enter (walk) into a hospital".

    Just the same, jin 进 in jinyuan进院 “be admitted to a hospital" is a bound morpheme, an abbreviation for zhujin 住进 ("enter, i.e. be admitted").

    In my previous comment above, my question was:
    Can abbreviations, such as AmEng "quals" (for "qualifications" or "resume"), "lit" (for "literature"), "Sosh" (for "Social Security number"), and so on, be considered free morphemes?

    May I suggest that in the case of jinmen 进门 "enter the door, enter the house",jincheng 进城 "enter the town",jin进 "enter" is a bound morpheme, an abbreviation for jinru进入 "enter". Here, jin进 as a bound morpheme acts as a verb taking an object (the house, the door, the hospital, etc.)

    A similar case in English is the bound morpheme "de- " , functioning as a verb (meaning "remove from", "reduce", "reverse" etc.) taking an object, as in "dethrone",
    "de-sinification", "de-nationalization", "demystification"
    "devalue", "delimit", "demarcation", "de-emphasis", "de-" any number of things. Is "de-" a free morpheme?

    May I suggest that just because jin进"enter" can take any number of things as objects, as in jinyuan 进院 “enter the hospital",jinmen 进门 "enter the door" jinfang 进房 "enter the room" ,jinwu 进屋 "enter the house", jincheng 进城 "enter town", just because it functions as a verb taking an object does not necessarily make it a free morpheme in Modern Mandarin.

  42. Colin Fine said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 4:34 am

    Julie Lee: if these abbreviations are used as words, then they are words in that register. That makes them free morphemes. But only by accident are some of them – not all – identifiable with bound morphemes.

  43. Victor Mair said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

    @Colin Fine

    "in that register"

    This is key. See what I wrote above about "semiliterary-semivernacular" styles above.

    @The suffocated


    Since you're quoting none other than Y. R. Chao, who determined that jìn 进 is a bound morpheme, you'll have to square it with his grammatical analysis. Ergo, I have not engaged in "cherry-picking".

  44. julie lee said,

    January 4, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

    Colin Fine,
    Thank you for your comment.
    Let us take a hypothetical sentence :"Please sched. the distrib. of the prods. which are of good qual.", which can be easily understood as meaning "Please schedule the distribution of the products which are of good quality "
    Here "sched." is an abbrev. of a verb ("schedule") taking an object "distrib".
    I'd suggest the phrase "sched (the) distrib" above parallels
    the Chinese phrase jinchen 进城 "enter (the) town" , where jin进 "enter" is a bound morpheme because it is an abbrev. of a word jinru进入 "enter" , in which jin进 is a bound morpheme, just as "sched" is a bound morpheme in the verb "schedule".
    I realize many standard English words were once bound morphemes:
    "bus" for "omnibus", "cop" for "corporal","factory" for "manufactory", "cab" for "cabriolet", etc.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    January 5, 2014 @ 8:32 am

    I very much appreciate julie lee's comments on these difficult issues.

    Please see also:


  46. James said,

    February 10, 2014 @ 1:25 am

    Regarding 假: one of the biggest scandals of the year in Taiwan was that most of the olive oil the nation's companies were producing was fake.
    2013 Taiwan Food Scandal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Taiwan_food_scandal

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