Is Mr. Ma throwing a fit?!
You might remember the discussion we had last year about the peculiar usage of the exclamation “!” and other punctuation marks in modern mandarin. I bring this up again because in yesterday’s news there was a remarkable piece of writing that illustrates the phenomenon. Interesting too because the author is an admired member of the internet elite, speaker of English and used to working with foreigners: none other than Jack Ma, the founder of the Alibaba empire.
You can read all about it in this Forbes blog post. To make a long story short: Mr. Ma was slightly annoyed when he found that dozens of his employees were using the company to collude with outside swindlers, and he wrote a circular letter containing, in its Chinese original:
– 11 periods
– 21 exclamation marks.
In the first half of the letter it is even more pronounced, with a total of 12 exclamations for only 4 periods, and then those 4 look like they’ve been forgotten there at the end of the paragraphs.
Gady Epstein The author has chosen not to retain these marks in the English translation, and instead he peppers a few of them here and there (8) to convey the same meaning to his readers. A judicious choice, in my opinion, as the original state of affairs would have been misunderstood in English, causing Western investors to harbour serious doubts on the mental health of Mr. Ma, and perhaps sending the company’s market valuation to the gutter…
Investors not to worry! Mr. Ma was just mildly highlighting the subject for his employees. In a world where a normal email contains 10 exclamation marks, 21 are necessary to express intensity.
I think this proves the point that this usage of exclamation marks is part of modern mandarin, and not just a juvenile fad. And since we are at it, please do have a look at the use of commas vs. periods in the text, as well as the great choice of motivational motto for the company, straight from Sima Qian’s 2,000 year old Chinese, 非我莫属. And in good classical form, it comes free of exclamative additions!!!