Futurity in Chinese and English and Its Supposed Economic Consequences

A guest post from Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania.

The linguists at Language Log have several times discussed the work of economist Keith Chen on the alleged economic impact of the way the future is conveyed in different languages:

Keith Chen, Whorfian economist
Thought experiments on language and thought
Keith Chen at TED

And Chen himself has presented his views on the same forum:

Whorfian Economics

Now that Chen’s work has been featured in Scientific American (How Your Language Affects Your Wealth and Health), I believe that it is time for another look at Chen’s theories. Continue…


I was a little surprised to see an article this morning about Lyu Xinhua.

At 62, veteran diplomat Lyu Xinhua was given a new job: the spokesman of China’s top political advisory body.

Lyu is not a typo. The Xinhua Agency seems to use this spelling of his family name consistently. Here’s the man himself.


Sini script in Taipei

While in Taipei this past week I ended up at the Islamic Cemetery (回教公墓, المقبرة الاسلامية) near Liuzhangli Station. It’s one of many cemeteries that wrap around the mountain, any one of which could easily take up a full day of wandering around, inspecting inscriptions. There was an interesting mix of Chinese and Islamic cemetery aesthetic. And rather than swamp RSS feed subscribers with a bunch of pictures, here’s a link to a Google+ photo album with a dozen shots of the area.

The most interesting thing was the use of Sini script on a number of the inscriptions, such as that in the photo above. We’ve talked about Sini a little here before. To recap, it’s a form of Arabic calligraphy unique to China’s Muslim ethnic minorities. And without having actually done a lot of research on this particular cemetery, most of the signs pointed to the graves belonging to members of the Hui minority, or rather what would be called Hui in today’s PRC; Many stones had Arabic names that didn’t phonetically match the Chinese names, and a lot of the Chinese family names were 馬, a name common among Hui, originally chosen as a phonetic approximation for earlier generations’ Arabic names.

At any rate, it was nice to see the regular use of Sini, as well as being a good reminder of the wide range of people who came to Taiwan as the Communists took power.

Check the album for more photos.


Samuel Purchas died in 1626. He claimed never to have travelled more than 200 miles from his birthplace, in the East of England. In 1613 he published the first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimage. The title page of the fourth edition, published in the year of his death, explains the focus of Purchas’ work:

Relations of the world and the religions observed in all ages and places discovered, from the creation unto this present

Chap. 18, Section VI of that fourth edition offers us a single paragraph on Chinese language. His sources seem to be Matteo Ricci and Nicolas Trigault, to whom he admits, somewhat grudgingly, that he is indebted.

I would like to wish all of our readers a very happy and healthy 2013, and offer you Purchas’ account of language in China.


40% of Minority Languages on the Way Out

If you haven’t already, head over to China Digital Times and check out the post on dying languages in China. Obviously it’s a topic close to our hearts here at Sinoglot.

Some highlights:

  • Non-han languages: 55 officially designated “peoples” (民族) speak an estimated 130 languages
  • Populations: one-half of non-Han languages are spoken by groups that number under 10,000 members, of which 20+ have 1,000 speakers or less
  • Endangered languages: Manchu, Tatar, She, Hezhen can no longer be used for conversation; another 20 percent, such as Nu, Yilao, Pumi and Jinuo are approaching that state; and a total of 40 percent are in danger of extinction in the mid-term.
  • Manchu: 11 million ethnic Manchus, but only 100 or so can speak fluently and less than a dozen read and write well.

七 as shǎng?

I was asked about this yesterday, and frankly I just don’t know the answer. But someone here might. Wiktionary has a reference in a couple different places of 七 transcribed as shǎng. I asked a couple other people about this but with no luck.

Is there such an alternate pronunciation? Is it a regional thing like 两 as the standard 2 in Wu or 幺 not showing up in Taiwan outside of the military?

Steve pointed out the likelihood that Wiktionary is just wrong. I can accept that. But since it’s in a few different places we thought it might be worth asking about here.


Driving around town today I came across the restaurant in the photo. It’s not often I see a character I’m sure I’ve not seen before, so when it happens I’m pretty happy. In this case, it’s 3 大 together like 品. A lot of blogs that review the place call it 大大大師傅, while others just say 太師傅. The zhuiyin with the character on the sign is ㄊㄞˋ, or in pinyin tài. It’s in Unicode (U+21619) but it’s one of those characters that just screws stuff up when I try to use it. So it’s there, and the company uses it on their Facebook page.

I’ve got to wonder what the tradeoff is for a business like this. You’re guaranteeing most of your customers will be unable to type your name. Then again, you’re helping them remember your business. And offering the pronunciation right there on the sign is a nice enough gesture as well. The food looks decent enough, anyway.