Link roundup — 28 Feb 2011

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xiamenconcentrationcamp_lrg

You're reading that right: "concentration camp"

Sexism in Characters

A lot has been said on the topic already, but I thought I’d take a look myself.

A good number of words we would deem negative have the 女 woman radical. I got to thinking about this again today while writing an email to a friend. In it, I wrote jídù 嫉妒, “jealous”. 女疾, 女户. So I popped open Pleco, went to the Unihan dictionary and found the 女 radical. Here’s what I could come up with:

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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. Continue reading

Link roundup — 21 Feb 2011

The first two entries today illustrate the constant tug of language preservation and dominance in China. On the one hand, there’s a proposal that Mandarin should be renamed 中国语, Zhōngguó yǔ (a Danwei translation by Joel Martinsen) and given more “strategic” prominence than the “equal footing” it has with other languages these days. On the other, the People’s Daily publicizes a proposal by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) “to promote the use of [Zhuang language / Vahcuengh], which, unlike many languages belonging to ethnic groups, is still in wide currency.” H/T to Liuzhou Laowai, who acerbically notes that “almost no Zhuang speakers know the written form” and that Zhuang language includes “mutually unintelligible groups known as Northern and Southern Zhuang”.

Elsewhere:

Xiao’erjin is not quite Pinyin

Xiao’erjin (alternatively xiao’erjing¹ 小儿经) is the name of a form of transcription for Mandarin and related languages. Rather than using Cyrillic or Roman letters, the Arabic script is used. China has had a large Muslim population for about as long as there have been Muslims, and it was among those of them who were less likely to have a traditional classical education that the system was used.

The structure is fairly simple. Syllable initial consonants are written with a single Arabic letter. The final then was primarily done with harakat or vowel diacritics. Before Annals of Wu, was blogging on xiao’erjin and Chinese Islam in general on another site, appropriately enough called xiao er jing.

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Top Gear moves to China, brings pun along

Rejoice! Top Gear, the massively popular UK driving programme in which overfed manchildren do stupid (and often genuinely hilarious) things with cars, is coming to China.

The British newspaper and bastion of right-wing reportage, The Telegraph, has this to say concerning the Chinese version’s title:

The Chinese show will also retain the pun in its name. It has been titled Zui Gao Dang, which translates literally as “Top Quality”.

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ꆈꌠꁱꂷ Text Messages

Note: If you see the title of this post as anything other than “ Text Messages”, it means you don’t have proper Yi syllables font support. Click here to remedy that.

I posted last week on Tibetan keyboard support on the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. I’m a big fan of progress with personal computing when it comes to script support, so Tibetan keyboards are a good sign, even if I have no reason to type Tibetan. Hell, I still can’t easily type IPA on my iPod, though I did find a way to cheat. And I get really frustrated when something as simple and common as Arabic gets mis-rendered as late as 2011. We should have figured out how to make this consistently work by now.

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Posted in Yi

Beijing bi-literacy, continued

Syz recently posted an image from a gravestone in Beijing. Emblazoned atop the stone was a word in Arabic, written in what is known in Arabic as Sini script (خط صيني) which really just means Chinese script. The calligraphic style is found throughout China anywhere Hui Muslims live. It ornaments mosques and memorials as mentioned, but also restaurants and the grill of your local chuarwalla.

In the case of Syz’s photo, the script lends a particularly Islamic touch to a gravestone that might otherwise be missed as that of a Muslim.

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Beijing bi-literacy

Explorer, n. one who digs through his* own rubbish pile (or someone else’s) for the hidden treasure he never found as a kid

Tourist, n. One who favors packaged over live, who inches squeamishly past the teeming fauna of his own backyard — with its outrageous comedies, its epic contests, its tawdry intrigues — in order to reach the specimen cabinet at his neighbor’s place.

I like exploring almost as much as I hate tourism. The recent trip to Sinoglot’s Xiamen office, thankfully, was 80% exploring and only 20% t**rism. Even better, my parents, who have been visiting over the new year, are both more explorers than tourists. So when I take them on a hike in the western hills of Beijing, trying to find “a different trail that I’m sure could get us up to that pagoda,” and we end up on a desolate road squeezed between the base of a hill, abandoned development projects, and some rather weedy graves — they’ll enthusiastically tell me they had a great time.

stonescript Continue reading

Exhausting the customer’s patience

Businesses all over get flack for abusing and inventing vocabulary to fit their needs, or, as some see it, to deceive their customers. See the Starbucks Venti saga for a model of word rage.

The Chinese service industry is not immune.

Last night at the famously poorly-managed 鸿毛饺子 restaurant, the waitress managed to elicit near-shrieks of indignation during the ordering process when she said, in response to the request for one dish:

“… qìng le”

The first customer response was, 什么? (“Shénme?” = what?) Continue reading