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.


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…

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.


Is Huihui literate?

Translation from this article (thanks Joel for the link)

The tone is a bit maudlin, but this article captures well the sense I often hear from adults that Pinyin is almost a secret code. They find it very hard to read (naturally, I’m not implying anything intrinsic to the script, just that if you’re not used to it, it’s rather slow going) and often seem captivated by the idea that kids in first grade can use it to write out comprehensible language, even, as in Huihui’s case, to express heartfelt thoughts.



Mother bursts into tears at daughter’s first “Pinyin Diary”

2010-10-29 10:46:37

pinyin pic卉卉的“拼音日记”。

(Picture) Huihui’s Pinyin diary Continue…

Hanzi vs Pinyin, in case you hadn’t heard enough

Just procrastinated my way into a (sort of) recent Language Log post by Victor Mair. The subject is whether Chinese characters are “necessary” for writing Chinese. There are 62 comments at this writing and a frenzy of emotion. One of the key quotes from Mair:

My rule of thumb is always this: if homography were a problem in (more or less) phonetic scripts based on real, spoken languages, then homophony would be a problem in the speech of such languages.

I’m not trying to pick on words, but this looks to me more like a tautology than a rule of thumb. By definition, spoken language written in a phonemic script is not going to have homophony problems unless the spoken language has homophony problems.

So why the big debate over whether Mandarin “can” be written in Pinyin? It’s helpful to parse the question a bit. The real issue is whether Mandarin as it is currently written could be written successfully using Pinyin. That’s the only case of serious interest. The other two — (a) writing Classical Chinese in Pinyin, or (b) writing spoken Mandarin in Pinyin — should be universally acknowledged as (a) impossible, and (b) a cinch. Continue…