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.
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.
The photo on the right is one of three seen in the subway in Shanghai. They’re advertisements for Phillips appliances. The image shows a young child chillaxin’ as a breeze goes by. The caption, in childlike handwriting, says 我家的房子会呼吸 wǒ jiā de fángzi huì hūxī, “my family’s house can breathe”.
Another in the series has a kid freaking the heck out at the shadow of a dinosaur and the caption, which I’m sure I don’t remember perfectly, says something like 哇！恐龙来啦 wa! kǒnglóng lái la, which translates as “holy crap! there’s an effing dinosaur!”
Compare the ability of native speakers, educated in their common scripts, to remember how to write words. Is it harder to remember Chinese characters, or English spelling?
If we measure Mandarin handwriting literacy by this ratio:
I doubt there is any student of MSL (Mandarin as a Second Language) with a lower ratio than mine. Not that my denominator is large, but my numerator is nano scale. Partly, I’d have to lay the blame on sloth and lack of talent. But in my own half-hearted defense, I can do a lot of written communication in Chinese — as I do in English for that matter — without ever having to put finger to pen.
Partly it’s a problem of where to start. With thousands of characters lining up, just begging to be written 50 times each, I’m kind of at a loss. In fact I have started, at various points in the past, by writing my way up the word frequency list from Jun Da’s corpus. Trouble is, that list isn’t remotely representative of the words I actually have to handwrite in a given three month period, which usually consist of, in this order:
- My Chinese name (I’ve pretty much got that down)
- The 大写 (dàxiě) numerals used in banking to keep illiterate foreigners from sending money around the country
For those who haven’t experienced the pleasure, this is just like the US practice of writing out numerals longhand to prevent fraud, so my transfer for 27,970 is written at left, in translation, as twenty-seven thousand nine hundred and seventy.
Honestly, what corpus would have told me that I need to be able to write 贰万柒仟玖佰柒拾? Continue…
Just to remind all you northerners, as you stamp the slush off your boots and wait in your traffic jams, that only a few weeks ago, actually prior to the unprophetically-named Spring Festival, you could have stumbled across this in your xiǎo qū (小区 = apartment complex):
For those outside of China, using plain water and a brush to script away the hours is as common a park activity as frisbee in the US. This was my first sighting this year, and I was struck by the clarity and durability of the characters visible even with a cell phone camera and an incompetent photographer. Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t do handwriting unless it’s of the second-grade variety, so I’ll offer Sinoglot subscription extensions to the first commenter to elucidate the text itself.