本字、正字 and consistency in transcription

This keeps coming up with transcription work. The question is, when transcribing a person speaking their local dialect, what characters should you use? I provide the following definitions, which are up for debate:

本字 běnzì – The character that most accurately represents the word in etymology. In a way, it shows the cognates.
正字 zhèngzì – The “Standard” character. That which represents the meaning of the intended word for a wider audience.

As a semi-hypothetical example, Dialect X has a word that means “high” or “tall”, read “huan”. It’s cognate with Mandarin 懸 xuán as any educated speaker will tell you. A speaker of Dialect X may write it as 懸, or they may just write 高. They wouldn’t say 高 gāo or a cognate of 高. But then they may assume the rest of the country which doesn’t speak their dialect might not know 懸 as having this meaning, since in Standard Mandarin 懸 means “to hang”. So if you can imagine, they’re still writing in their dialect, but they’ve changed the characters to make it just a little easier to read for a wider audience.


Modern iteration: 谢^2

Chinese traces use of the iteration mark (usually〻 or 々) to indicate a repeated character back at least 2900* years or so. A Wikipedia article dates this piece of bronzeware

back to 825 BCE, where you can see something like 二 used to indicate doubling of 子and 孫 to make “子子孫孫寶用” Continue…

Growing up Mongolian in Jilin

Zhū Hǎijuān (朱海娟) is a native Mongolian speaker living in Songyuan, Jilin Province.  She was born into a Mongolian speaking family and attended 1st through 3rd grade in Huanaoer Tun in one room with one teacher and all three grades mixed together, a total of about 15 students.  All classes were taught in Mongolian.  (Though of course as always, Chinese class is taught in Chinese.)  Now the little school is no more.


Written Taiwanese and Cantonese

With the mercury in Taipei rising incessantly (roads have started melting and all), it seemed as good a time as any to expand the horizons of Sinoglot’s coverage to the Pénghú 澎湖 archipelago, a group of islands in the Strait of Taiwan. Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the economy on these islands, which are also known in Taiwan for their boisterous religious festivals and the well-preserved local culture.

So, with a little trepidation at flying in a little turboprop plane for the first time, your correspondent bravely went where no Sinoglot post had gone before. It soon turned out that the preservation of the islands’ local culture extends to its language: unlike in Taipei, Taiwanese (Mǐnnányǔ 閩南語 / Táiyǔ 台語) is still going strong on these islands – you hardly hear any Mandarin on the streets, even among the younger generations. I asked a few islanders and they all agreed that almost all kids are still learning how to speak Taiwanese and using it actively in everyday life, again unlike in Taipei.


Passing notes

I caught two sixth grade girls passing notes in class today (which I think is far better than just chatting and disrupting the class), and they unexpectedly didn’t try to hide the note when I approached them when the class was over.

I was quite surprised at what I saw.  I recognized the script, and had long thought it would be perfect for this sort of thing because I haven’t found many people in China who can identify it, let alone read or write it.


Found Characters — take 2

When I was about to hit Post on the first “found characters” piece the other day, I could still hear that nagging voice: “Dude, you never write things clearly the first time. Just wait. Post it tomorrow.”

From the email, it appears I shoulda listened. I got some interesting photos, but only one example of what I had in mind. So now, belatedly, here’s my attempt at a definition:

Found Character: Something that can be recognized as a Chinese character but is accidentally such. That is, it is either made by nature or made by a person who had no intent of communicating with hanzi.

For what it’s worth, Found Character is a play on Found Art — not that I’m trying to compare hanzi to urinalsContinue…

Teeny tiny little "found characters"

You’ll excuse the artist for hooking his 小 the wrong direction, since he’s a bit of a birdbrain.

Still, I liked the style, and the medium, since that’s about the best thing one could do with Beijing’s eighth-inch of dust-dry snow.

Does anyone know if “found characters” have a formal name? I’m sure there’s some internet hound who’s collected ten thousand, but I don’t know how I’d search for them. Continue…

The Nèis have it

Nèi doesn’t get much respect. Here in Beijing it’s undeniably the pronunciation of choice for 那  except when 那 is a pronoun*. But you wouldn’t know that by looking at most books: 那 maps to nà as surely as Beijing will officially meet its air quality goals for 2011. If you say it often enough it must be true, right?

It’s a dumb habit made even worse by the fact that the nèi/nà distinction in everyday speech so nicely shows different grammatical usage. Where 那 is a pronoun (A, below) it’s pronounced nà. As an adjective (B), though, it’s pronounced nèi.

A. 那是你的
nà shì nǐde
that is yours

B. 那件大衣是你的
nèi jiàn dàyī shì nǐde
that overcoat is yours

So why mix things up by pretending that it’s always pronounced nà? It’s not as if there’s no precedent for a Chinese character having more than one pronunciation… Continue…

I shall be telling this with a Cai…

There’s nothing better than mile three of a glorious late fall trek through Beijing, when the winds have brought a respite from the usual bong backwash that passes for air, and the green grocers have graciously provided a living example of character simplification, especially one as logical as

That is: 大白菜 (dà báicài is what I would call napa cabbage) but with 菜 written as 才+艹. Continue…