Dialectal tone swapping*

A month or so ago I happened to be in the Zhengzhou (Henan) area at the same time as a couple of my foreigner friends from Shanghai, though our paths never crossed. Upon returning to Shanghai, we talked about what it was like to deal with the locals and we all agreed on a couple points.

First, it was mindblowingly awesome to understand every conversation being had while walking down the street. Since the three of us have all spent the majority of our time in Wu speaking cities since coming to China, it was the first time any of us had experienced that.

Second, tones were by far the biggest problem in communication (unless of course the speaker was a mumbler). In the dialects of the area, tones don’t always match up with the MSM** equivalents. More on that in a minute.


Growing up Accentless

I had a conversation last night with a guy in one of the classes I’m taking. I’d noticed his Mandarin was straight out of the textbooks, so I asked where he was from. Turns out he’s from Ürümchi in Хіnjіаnɡ. The details have since been made unclear by baijiu, but I believe he said his father was from Manchuria and his mother was from Guangdong or Guangxi. They had volunteered to go to Хіnjіаnɡ after they were married, like so many Han of their generation, in search of wealth and success in the New Frontier.

We began talking about dialects (方言 was the word used). He said that they didn’t have a dialect, since it was a melting pot. Instead, the locals spoke with a wei dao 味道, a flavour, which from his examples is less an accent than a controlled slurring.

I went on to ask him if, after almost two decades of living in Хіnjіаnɡ, he’d been able to pick up any spoken Uуɡhuɾ. Not more than a few phrases, he said. Simple things like greetings. But not “thank you”. And not “bring me another beer”.

This, he said, was very typical of people his age growing up in Хіnjіаnɡ. You are born there of parents from somewhere else. Dialects and accents aren’t handed down to the new generation. The Uуɡhuɾs speak Mandarin when conversing with the Han population, but it’s rare enough for most people, he said, that there’s little inlfuence on the spoken Mandarin.

In a city as far from Beijing as one can reasonably get, a whole generation is speaking perfect Mandarin.

– – –

*You hear 味道 used like this in a lot of different places. I can’t say I’d encountered it before in terms of language, but the usage is completely unsurprising.

How to write f*ck in Chinese

Language geeks love discussing taboo avoidance. It’s an opportunity to say the damnedest things, all in the name of furthering knowledge. Maybe that’s why Language Log has covered taboo avoidance in English so hilariously and extensively.

China’s taboos extend way beyond bad words, of course, so avoidance is something of an art here. But the following form, from the first line of a language discussion board message, was new to me:

Yǒu rén wèn “⿱入肉” zì de dúfǎ
There are people who ask how to pronounce “⿱入肉”

[Update: what’s in quotes above should look like this

How to write fck in Chinese - Google Chrome 3262010 101539 AM.bmp

apparently some fonts don’t render the dotted 日 properly] 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…

Wut if ur kid’s skool thot this wuz fine spelling?

Then you might respond the same way folks did to the 1977 proposed-but-never-accepted “second round” character simplifications. I mentioned these a couple of posts ago in response to a hand-painted sign that used one of the rejected simplifications (仃 for 停).

Apparently the nu speling wasn’t well received.

Thanks to Zev Handel, who volunteered his scans in the comments, we now have a fuller picture of what was proposed. In the pics below, the simplifications are on the left and the original(s) on the right in brackets. 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…

Netizen Buzz words to be quashed

I don’t want it to be right but it probably is: ULN at chinayouren predicts Google Buzz will be harmonized and fast, the only question being how quickly.

Personally, I had to invoke my own personal Buzz firewall the first day the service appeared in my gmail. As I squandered precious brain time on update-after-amusing-update, I suddenly realized the Buzz Unread count was growing faster than I could read, let alone actually get other work done. So I turned it off — i.e. dug deep into gmail options and eliminated the Buzz category from my sidebar.

Still, I’d rather not see it blocked, since I agree that has ominous implications for gmail itself.

Language connection? Oh, that’s part of ULN’s predictions in Step 6 of the Google Buzz doom sequence:

More than 50% of the words on GBuzz worldwide are in mandarin characters, and about 10% of them are some form of 妈/逼 word construction (mother /cunt). Continue…

Eight-legged news reports

An article in the Lijiang Weekly News (丽江新闻周报) recently caught my attention: party secretary of the municipal party committee Wang Junzheng 王君正 has stressed the need to avoid the “eight legged news report” style of journalistic writing.

“Eight legged news reports” 新闻八股文 are a play on the eight-legged essays 八股文, a style of essay employed in the imperial examinations during the Ming and Qing that has become synonymous with pedantry and lack of innovation.


A fork in the road to the garden path

I told my son to brush his teeth and he said “我的牙刷没了。”   I suddenly
realized this could be interpreted in two ways, “I lost my toothbrush”
and “I brushed my teeth off” (“I brushed my teeth until they were

我的 (my)
牙刷 (toothbrush)
没了 (gone)

我的 (my)
牙 (tooth/teeth)
刷 (brush (v))
没 (until it/they was/were gone)*
了 (particle of completion)

*This is a complement of result; complements of result are put after verbs to show the result of the verb.  Another example would be 吃胖 (eat until you’re fat).

The normal interpretation of this sentence is “I lost my toothbrush”, so it’s not a classic garden path sentence, but it has a reasonably salient garden path interpretation, kind of like a fork, where one path leads to the garden, and one doesn’t.

Can anyone think of other two-or-more-character nouns where the last
character(s) also have verb senses? China satellite map