Win Sinoglot's first-ever romanization prize!

What are we going to call it: the Sinoglot Sinitic Specialist Award?

The executive committee is still debating the exact value of the prize, but the contest is simple enough:

  1. Consider the following two lines of romanization* from a recording of a someone speaking a Sinitic language
    • A,aqna.Geqkeq cio Cinsaenonminro,Geqthe raeyeugnin rokeq va?
    • Naha la?Zyyau mentie ha la?Menmenkoe ya,Geqlaonshian raeyeugnin rokeq va?Dakae ze mmeqleq.
  2. On your honor, without peeking at the recording on Phonemica, be the first to name
    1. The Sinitic language being transcribed
    2. The type of romanization being used and a bit of its history

*Not guaranteed to be error-free, as Phonemica is crowd-sourced and editable by anyone!

Origins of Khor Ewe Pin

Can Sinoglot readers puzzle out the romanized version of a name of Chinese origins? Chris Waugh writes:

Got an email from a friend about a Malaysian Chinese author whose name is Khor Ewe Pin/许友彬, a bit of googling and threw up an article in Bahasa Melayu that gave as his bahasa ‘Kantonis’ and ‘Bahasa Inggeris’ and ‘Bahasa Melayu’. A bit more googling suggested Khor is a possible romanisation of 许 in Malaysia. I made a thoroughly uneducated guess based on that Bahasa: Kantonis that Khor may be Cantonese, but neither of us has managed to find any more…. I was wondering if somebody in the Phonemica or Sinoglot communities might be able to answer this question: what ‘lect is Khor Ewe Pin? Thoughts?

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.


Pinying Issues

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m planning a trip to Korea this year. After failing to find truly cheap airfare, I ended up buying from one of those online sellers where the price looks great and then you’re suddenly hit with a thousand kuai in “fees”. I’m still working through the bitterness.

It turns out there were still some issues once the ticket had been purchased. The flight I had signed up for didn’t actually exist. They were kind enough to email me and let me know though, offering an alternative flight at close to the original time.

The original flight I had was to land in Gimpo 김포, and the only other one I knew of was landing in Incheon 인천. Gimpo is in a better location but either would work. The problem was that the new flight was to land in Rengchuang.

Rengchuan? What?


Disco-polo and a Polish transcription of Mandarin

In one of the most important Polish newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, I encountered an article about the introduction of disco-polo to the Chinese music market. In case you don’t know what disco-polo is (and I’m pretty sure you don’t, unless you are from Poland), check out this Wikipedia entry. Basically, it’s a music genre that had its golden age in the ’90s and that some Poles adore, but for others it’s a synonym for bad taste, kitsch and “redneckedness” (most of the bands originated from small villages where they played at weddings etc.).

I have absolutely no idea why someone would try to sell this kind of music in China. And while in Poland it is (or, hopefully, used to be) popular mostly in rural areas and among less-educated people, the Chinese target is “between 25 and 40 years old, higher education, big city resident, high professional and social position, incomes much higher than average”. At least that’s what the producer says.

In autumn a disco-polo band BayerFull (in Polish bajer is a slang word meaning gimmick or sweet talk) is going on a tour in China. Its leader says “We’re entering the Chinese market professionally. Everything is arranged legally. We’ve had our Chinese costumes tailored, our dragons are ready. Our image is going to get people interested. But we’re not deceiving ourselves, we know we’re going to be treated as an oddity.”

And finally comes the language part: Continue…

Romanization Rumble: GR vs Pinyin

A couple weeks ago Zrv issued this challenge to Pinyin-lovers:

As an interesting experiment, see if you can find a paragraph-long passage written in both GR [Gwoyeu Romatzyh] and pinyin.  Even if you don’t know GR well, I think you’ll find that just glancing over it, it looks much more like a real written language.

It sounded better to me than responding to clients’ emails, but I didn’t have a paragraph of GR handy. Then I remembered that someone out there had created a romanization converter.

Behold! Thanks to the nifty converter from Online Chinese Tools and a Pinyinified essay by 张靖和 [Zhāng Jìnghé] from, we can all have a front row seat at the showdown: Continue…

Once upon a time we wrote yī

Every second-language student of Mandarin is told pretty quickly that yī (hanzi: 一) is subject to “tone sandhi”, meaning it changes tone depending on the tone of the following syllable*. HOWEVER, the founding rules of Pinyin say that the tone sandhi should not be marked and that you should continue to write yīgè, for example, even though it’s said “yígè.”

Sometimes this “rule” feels really awkward. In this comment on Beijing Sounds, Randy Alexander took me to task for writing bùshì (as the rules would have it) instead of búshì (as it’s pronounced).

He’s not the only one. Check out this page from my daughter’s new favorite book:

click to embiggen

Here we have yígè, yìshēng, and yí going over to some word on the next page. All sandhi are marked.

Now before takes me to task, let me note that the usage on the page above violates a much more important rule: i.e. that it sep ar ates each syl la ble instead of putting syllables together into words. Well, you can’t have everything, and anyway the use of Pinyin here is not so much as a script in itself as it is just a way to get kids past the characters they don’t know.

Still, does anyone know if this is going to become the new standard for Pinyin? Or is it just a single publisher’s idiosyncrasy?


*Instantspeakchinese puts it succinctly (h/t Sinosplice, where John follows up with some other good comments on tones):

Rule 4: Rules concerning the word “yi.”

  • “The word “yi” is 1st tone when used as part of a number (yi, er, san, … shiyi).
  • The word “yi” is 4th tone when preceeding 1st, 2nd, or 3rd tones. (yi ge ren)
  • The word “yi” is 2nd tone when proceeding a 4th tone.

For some reason that’s always been hard for me to incorporate into everyday speech, and I continue to make mistakes.

English vs. Chinese on BBC

What is the popular view of the Chinese language(s) in English-speaking countries? I’m interested in the answer, but I don’t think I have any good intuition anymore.

And of course there’s not just one answer. The popular view varies depending on where you look. At the Hanzismatter level, the perception is that Chinese is a bunch of mysterious strokes and dots and boxes. On the other hand, lots of folks in more international circles realize at least that Cantonese and Mandarin are different Chinese languages.

You might suppose a BBC radio program would be closer to the latter, so when Language Log recommended one recently, I decided to listen*.

But now I’m torn.

I want to like the program. It talks about nuances of Chinese that don’t get much air in the popular English-language media. For instance, it talks about Chinese computer input with Pinyin and about how kids start first grade by learning Pinyin. This is already way more depth than the “Chinese characters communicate meaning directly” kind of nonsense we usually hear. Continue…