Link Roundup – 29 Nov 2010

Earlier this week, Sinoglot’s Randy and Paweł posted the 15th instalment of The Book of Nishan Shaman.

For a bit of elderly Dongbei dialect, check out the documentary by C. Custer and the ChinaGeeks team, Kedong County. While you’re at it, check out his latest project.

John Pasden’s call for a public, large-scale corpus of spoken Mandarin gets a strong seconding from Sinoglot. The current corpuses/corpora are grossly inadequate.

The blog 一步一个脚印 ( has an informative post called “74 Switch-Around Words in Mandarin“. Here are just a couple:

蜜蜂 mìfēng (“bee”) & 蜂蜜 fēngmì (“honey”)
合适 héshì (“suitable”) & 适合 shìhé (“to be suitable”)

Finally, on the Omniglot blog, there’s a post up looking for help with the Endangered Alphabets Project. Among the scripts on which the project is focused: Manchu and Nüshu.

Ryakuji in Mandarin

In Japanese they’re called ryakuji りゃくじ. In Korean, yakja 약자. The corresponding characters are 略字, pronounced lüè zì in Mandarin. They are the unorthodox simplifications that are seen in handwritten texts from time to time. They are not in any official list of approved kanji/hanja/hanzi, and you won’t really learn them in school. But they are used.

Think 仃 for 停 but lacking the authority once (briefly) held by 仃. Or, think of all those times you wrote 旦 in place of 单 蛋 or 弹 in your notes in class, because you couldn’t be bothered by all those strokes at the time. I know I’m not the only one to do this.

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Advice to the Mandarin Newbies

There are a few things that I think I understand about Mandarin, or at least about speaking it as a non-native, that I didn’t understand back when it would have been most helpful. The following are things that I wish someone had told me three years ago when I was learning this stuff.

1. In pinyin, ü is not a u. It’s an i. I know, I know. It’s /y/. Well people don’t tell you that. They tell you, indirectly of course, that it’s related to u. That’s why it’s a u with ¨ on top. Well it’s not. It’s an i. Stop thinking of it as a u. Go “eeeeeeee” and then round your lips. i.

2. Also in pinyin, r is not r. It’s voiced sh¹. Get it out of your head that it has anything to do with r as you know it. Minimal pairs are your friend.

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English-Pinyin abbreviation games

My nephew suddenly piped up as we were driving down the road yesterday:

Ài cún bù cún!
“See if we care if you don’t want to save”*

Sure enough, we were passing


one of the largest banks in China.

The joke requires rudimentary knowledge of both Pinyin and English, which elementary students have in spades. It’s a play on ICBC, of course, where the I is read as the sound of the letter in English (same as Mandarin for “love”, 爱=ài) and CBC is made into an abbreviation for 存不存 = cún bù cún. Continue reading

Link Roundup – 22 Nov 2010

Batur at Autonomous Region comments on Xinjiang Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian’s use of Uyghur (with original article).

The Economist has an article called Teaching Chinese: Mandarin’s Great Leap Forward on the increasing number of people studying Mandarin outside of China.

Meanwhile tells us that Mandarin is now the second most important language for e-commerce sites.

And finally, the Omniglot blog has a hanzi puzzle for you.

Fishcakes and 7up

The following is from the Twitter stream of @newsshanghai and it was too interesting to pass up. I’ve added spaces between the characters to keep it from triggering the NetNanny.

The tweets are in regards to some flowers left at the site of the recent fire in Shanghai that cost the lives of many of its residents. It’s been said that the fire was preventable, and many are pointing fingers in a specific direction, which we’ll see below.

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Link Roundup – 15 Nov 2010

The following are posts or articles relevant to language in China. Each week we share a handful of links that we think are worth reading. If you see something we missed, please let us know.

A recent post by John over at WooChinese responds to an article in the Wall Street Journal about handwriting helps one’s memory, and takes it into the realm of learning Chinese characters. John has posted many good articles for Mandarin language learners.

For language learners wondering how bureaucratic Mandarin would render the verb in “fool around with a female reporter”, check out this translation from China Digital Times (h/t Danwei).

John Pasden (Sinosplice) puts up his take on Why Learning Chinese is Hard. In his classic thorough fashion, he includes a discussion of what “hard” means, learning curve comparisons of Japanese & Chinese, and a good summary of links to what others have said about learning Chinese.

Transliterationisms takes a look at stamp-out-everything-but-Mandarin pro-Mandarin campaign slogans in Singapore. 多讲华语,亲切便利 anyone?

Kanji Shaker

While cruising the iTunes app store for a good version of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms game, which by the way doesn’t exist, I ended up on KOEI’s page. In addition to a painfully mediocre version of my favourite childhood game, they have an app called “Kanji Shaker”. iPhones let you shake them to do stuff. It’s a safe bet that anything with “shake” in the name is based on a gimmick.

So I downloaded it.

Here’s the idea: Type in your name, push a button, and BAM! You now have a kanji name. Time to get a tattoo.

My name is apparently 気都冷ん. Ke to rei n. I don’t know where ‘to’ is coming from, and ん is hardly kanji, but I digress.

And in case you’re wondering about the shaking, it actually does nothing but make the kanji spin in place. Wee.

So what’s a Hanzi Shaker? Why, 震教徒, of course.

Is Huihui literate?

Translation from this article (thanks Joel for the link)

The tone is a bit maudlin, but this article captures well the sense I often hear from adults that Pinyin is almost a secret code. They find it very hard to read (naturally, I’m not implying anything intrinsic to the script, just that if you’re not used to it, it’s rather slow going) and often seem captivated by the idea that kids in first grade can use it to write out comprehensible language, even, as in Huihui’s case, to express heartfelt thoughts.



Mother bursts into tears at daughter’s first “Pinyin Diary”

2010-10-29 10:46:37

pinyin pic卉卉的“拼音日记”。

(Picture) Huihui’s Pinyin diary Continue reading

The Importance of Using the Right Key

The following is a guest post by Julen of ChinaYouRen

I saw this in Nanjing over the weekend and I thought it might be sinoglot worthy (since my own blog is mysteriously inaccessible these days).

It’s a remarkable double mistranslation effort in a tourist sign. The object are these balls that the Nanjing wall defenders employed to crunch the bones of the occasional visiting horde:


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