Unhippest Mandarin word

Forty-year-old, fashion-blind, popular-press-eschewing recluses are generally excused from petty infractions of regulations against fuddiduddiness.

But some violations are inexcusable, apparently. So when I used the word 语言伙伴 (yǔyán huǒbàn, “language partner”) in a piece of writing the other day, my language partner grimaced. Her correction went something like this:

“Maybe you could just use the English word, ‘language partner’.”

“But isn’t the whole point to write Chinese?”

“Or you could use LP.”

“And Chinese speakers would know what ‘language partner’ or even ‘LP’ means?!”

“Well, my friends would. Nobody uses 语言伙伴. It’s sounds so, well, weird — kind of like some old-fashioned made-up word.” Continue…

Spelling pronunciations, instructed pronunciations

In English, spelling pronunciations have a long history, sometimes of bitter conflict. I recall a grade school teacher who insisted that “often” be pronounced with /t/ in the middle (ignoring the obvious phonetic parallel to soft->soften).  She was not the only one. This spelling pronunciation has spread to the point that some people — including my own brother, 10 years younger than me — pronounce it that way naturally.

In Mandarin it’s more difficult to call something a spelling pronunciation, because of course the characters give only, at most, a hint about how they should be pronounced. Still, the language is rife with words that are “supposed to be” pronounced one way, yet are almost always pronounced another way. Continue…

Buzzphrase tracking — the "China Model"

The latest post on the (highly recommended) China Media Project site has some fascinating history and analysis on phrases from China’s “discourse on greatness.”

A whole new set of terms is emerging in China to describe the country’s growing national power. Taken together, these form what might be called a “discourse of greatness,” or shengshi huayu (盛世话语). China’s discourse of greatness includes such terms as “China in ascendance” (盛世中国), “the China path” (中国道路), “the China experience” (中国经验), “the China pace” (中国速度), “the China miracle” (中国奇迹), “the rise of China” (中国崛起) and, last but not least, the “China Model” (中国模式). Continue…