Interview with authors of 500 Common Chinese Idioms

Full disclosure: Sinoglot earns not even 一分钱 (one cent) if you click on the link below and buy the book. However, we do accumulate good vibes from the improvement of Zhonglish around the world.

Title: 500 Common Chinese Idioms (成语五百条)

I first found out about this book from Carl Gene, who gave it a ringing endorsement. When I received it for Christmas last year and started thumbing through, it wasn’t hard to see why: they have done chengyu right for the second language learner! The 500 are selected by frequency from six corpuses* of spoken and written language. For each chengyu, two example sentences are constructed – and very well constructed! And of course there is lots of detailed explanation about history and usage.

I was so smitten I wrote the authors a mash letter and asked for a Sinoglot** interview, which they were kind enough to accede to. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Liwei Jiao and Cornelius Kubler: Continue…

ჯუჯები ქართულ!

ხურო ჯუჯები

დილიდან ხურო ჯუჯები გამალებით მუშაობენ თავიანთ პატარა სახელოსნოში.  ქუჩაში გამაყრუებელი ხმაური გამოდის.  იცით, რამდენი საქმე აქვთ?!  ჯერ ციყვს წიგნის თაროები უნდა გამოუჩარხონ, მერე ეჭედელ ჯუჯას – მაგიდა და სკამები.  იმ კუს კი, ხუროებს ისე რომ ამხიარულებს, ახალ სკეიტბორდს უმზადებენ.


China Illustrata


In a recent Language Log post, Hanzi Smatter circa 1700, Victor Mair discusses what appear to be fake Chinese characters on a European work of art.  In the comments, he adds a reference to a 1666 encyclopedic Latin work on China:

The great polymath, Athanasius Kircher (1601/1602-1680) had himself never been to China, but had a deep interest in Chinese characters, which are featured prominently in his China Illustrata (images readily available on the Web). Although his depictions of Chinese characters are painstaking, they are often so fantastically elaborated that it is impossible to determine which ones he was trying to represent. Continue…

ABC E-C C-E Dictionary finally out

The ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary finally appears to be available at Amazon and other booksellers. Announced on in October last year (here), it was pretty hard to get copies of this dictionary until a few days ago, when Amazon finally started stocking it. I’m not sure why this took so long, but I’ve just received a copy, and it looks like it was definitely worth the wait. Let’s take a look at this new dictionary. Continue…

Lonely Planet, 电子版

While looking for information for a source list on Shanghainese resources, I came across the page for the Lonely Planet phrasebook I’d mentioned before. Turns out you can buy individual chapters for about 5USD. So if you’d like to browse the Uyghur section or see what they have on Sichuan hua, now you can.

Here’s the link:

Murakami’s 1Q84

That’s “ichi-Q-hachi-yon”. The latest by Haruki Murakami 村上春樹 (Mandarin: cūn shàng chūn shù) has, much to my own disappointment, landed on my kitchen table. I say to my disappointment because he is one of my favourite writers, but the copy that we have is the Mandarin translation. As far as I know, there’s not yet an English one, and my Mandarin isn’t up to the kind of writing put out by Murakami.


GR in UK, 1955

Michael Rank has a fascinating review (h/t Danwei) of a book that’s now on my “buy when I go back to the US” list: Mandarin Blue: RAF Chinese Linguists in the Cold War.

I hope the book goes more into the difficulties of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization for Chinese, because this may be the one time in history that a large number of people used GR (let me know if you know of others!). Here’s a quote

An idiosyncrasy of the course was that the Romanization used was the now obsolete Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR), which uses an ingenious if complex system of “tonal spelling” rather than accents or numerals to indicate the four tones of Mandarin Chinese. This makes the tone part of the syllable, as it were, rather than an added-on feature, but the system is time-consuming to learn and even some of the Chinese instructors had difficulties getting to grips with it. But the powers that be were so committed to GR that two American military textbooks were transcribed into GR specifically for the RAF course.

Anyone read it?

‘He’s my rickshaw man’ and other frivolities

I was given a copy of a second-hand spoken Chinese textbook last Christmas.  But this isn’t your ordinary textbook; it was published in Shanghai in 1940, and is very much ‘of its time’.

The book, Introduction to Spoken Chinese (華言拾級) was written by J. J. Brandt, who also wrote Literary Chinese, Wenli Particles and Modern Newspaper Chinese. Anyway, it’s really good fun because some of the language used hasn’t really passed the test of time, as the example sentences seem aimed at wealthy expats with plenty of household staff. I provide some below (all taken from the example phrases sections after each lesson):

1. Tomorrow we are moving; hire some coolies.



Books on Wenyan

I’ve been approached by a few people in the last week asking about the books I’m using. I said I’d do a quick post to list the ones I’ve got once I was back from the spring festival break. Well I’m back, so here are the books. Note a number of them may be philosophical in focus.

 ISBN: 978-7-540-31066-0

古文语法 - 史存直
 ISBN: 978-7-101-04585-7

古代汉语 - 王力
 ISBN: 978-7-101-00082-5

文言文启蒙读书 - 杨振中
 ISBN: 978-7-532-62950-3

Classical Chinese Reader, Book I
 No ISBN. Too old.

A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese
 ISBN: 978-0-673-02270-6

Those are the main ones, though I end up buying another about once a week. I also have a couple copies of the 古文观止, plenty of copies of 老子,孔子,孟子 et cetera.

There are also a few dictionaries around that aren’t mine but that I use. So no information on them in this post.

Suggestions? I’m open to other texts.

From Chronic to Acute: R.H. Mathews

Today I went to my favourite neighbourhood bookstore on a quest for some early works of Y.R. Chao. While I didn’t find what I was looking for I did spend some time with Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary. It was the 1960 edition but included the preface from the 1943 edition. Excerpt below.

With books no longer coming from the Far East, the need for Chinese dictionaries in this country has grown from chronic to acute. To answer the immediate demands of American students, the Harvard-Yenching Institute has undertaken to revise and reprint two practical dictionaries, (1) C H Fenn’s Pocket Dictionary, which appeared in November 1942, and (2) the present Chinese-English Dictionary by R.H. Mathews, both photolithographed reproductions.