Pinyin with audio and Chinese characters: Fortress Besieged

cover of the book 'The Besieged City' (??)Sinolingua‘s terrific series of abridged editions of classic Chinese books includes one of my favorites, which may well be the finest novel written in Mandarin during the twentieth century: Qian Zhongshu’s Wéichéng (??/??), best known in English as Fortress Besieged but published by Sinolingua with the English title of The Besieged City.

I’m very pleased to announce that Pinyin.info now offers the first chapter of Sinolingua’s edition this book, along with an audio file of it being read aloud. This edition is in Mandarin, in word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin (with Chinese characters underneath) and has a few notes in English as well as mp3 files of the text being read aloud.

Here’s the download page: Wéichéng (??/??/).

I’ve often told people who plan to go to China and want me to recommend a book that will help them “understand” the country (as if!) they’re about to visit: “By all means, read the Analects of Confucius, the Dàodéj?ng, and the Zhu?ngz?; but know in advance that they’ll be about as relevent to your trip as reading the Gospels would be to someone from China who’s about to travel to the West for the first time. And don’t waste your time with crap like The Tao of the Chinese Boardroom’s Inner Art of Feng-shui or whatever. Read Fortress Besieged. It’s as good a start as just about anything — and a lot more fun to read.”

The novel is also available in a fine English translation.

Related reading:

screenshot of part of a paragraph of the PDF of this book

Ba Jin in Pinyin, with audio

illustration of two young men under an umbrella -- from Ba Jin's 'Family'This bit of news is simply wonderful. As part of Sinolingua‘s Abridged Chinese Classic Series, all three volumes in B? J?n‘s “torrents” trilogy (J?liú s?nbùq? / ?????) are now available in abridged editions in word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin (with Chinese characters underneath), along with a few notes in English and mp3 files of the text being read aloud.

These books would make great material for those who are

  • studying Mandarin
  • trying to memorize Chinese characters
  • learning Hanyu Pinyin
  • wanting to read something in Mandarin that isn’t too damn hard but isn’t a children’s book either
  • looking for something to read in Mandarin that doesn’t require much or even any knowledge of Chinese characters (ABCs and other “overseas Chinese,” take note!)

Through the generousity of the publisher, Pinyin.info now offers sample chapters from each of these three classics of twentieth-century Chinese literature along with audio files of the text being read aloud.

I’m very pleased to offer samples from these books on this site and hope these editions will be enjoyed by many readers worldwide and become standard texts in many classrooms.

romanization in early communist propaganda

pre-1949 Chinese communist propaganda woodblock featuring Sin Wenz romanization; a peasant man is shown with crops and farm animalsI’ve been reading War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945, by Chang-tai Hung, which is one of the University of California Press books available for free online. It contains a reproduction of a woodcut with with the following text in romanization:

XIANG WU MANIOU KAN KI
(??????)

To my disappointment, the book does not discuss the romanization movement at all, though the presence of Sin Wenz (X?n Wénzì / ???) in the woodcut is an indication of its relevence.

Note: DeFrancis’s Nationalism and Language Reform in China has some good material on Sin Wenz. The sample chapter I have here on Pinyin.info, however, doesn’t cover that. And the long-out-of-print book is not presently searchable through Google Books either. But at the time of this writing Bookfinder has two copies for under US$40, which is a good deal for this hard-to-find book. So if you have the money and this is the sort of book you like, you should buy this now, as you’re unlikely to come across one for less money.

Anyway, back to the romanization in the illustration. In Hanyu Pinyin, which would not exist until some 15 years later, XIANG WU MANIOU KAN KI would read “xiàng Wú M?ny?u kànqí” (“emulate Wu Manyou”). This Wu Manyou was a “model peasant” who got his very own official emulate-this-guy campaign in the early 1940s.

Notice that the use of the letter x predates Hanyu Pinyin. (Actually, x in romanization for Sinitic languages long predates Hanyu Pinyin, appearing even in Trigault’s seventeenth-century work.) But even though the xiang of Sin Wenz and the xiang of Hanyu Pinyin are written the same, the two systems handle the letter differently in most cases. In Sin Wenz texts, most of the time the letter x represents what would be written h in Hanyu Pinyin. For example, the full name of Sin Wenz is Latinxua Sin Wenz, not Latinhua Xinwenz. Note, too, the use of the original “Latin” rather than “Ladin”, just as Gwoyeu Romatzyh uses Romatzyh rather than Luomaatzyh, indicating the link between romanization and the alphabet of Rome (Roma).

Also interesting is the form of the character that is second from the right. (These Chinese characters are read from right to left. Put left to right, they would appear as ??????.) Note how it is not in the traditional form:
?

Nor is it the standard “simplified” form (which would not have been officially adopted for more than decade after this woodblock was made):
?

Of variant characters there is no end.

Dungan and Gyami

The most recent release from the archives of Sino-Platonic Papers is a particular favorite of mine, Two Non-Tetragraphic Northern Sinitic Languages (2.6 MB PDF), by Victor H. Mair. In case that title sounds a little technical, in layman’s terms the title might be A Couple of Languages Closely Related to Mandarin that Are Not Written with Chinese Characters (Which Many People Mistakenly Believe Are Essential for Such Languages), with One of Them Having Been Successfully Written with an Alphabet for Many Decades.

This issue comprises two studies:

  1. Implications of the Soviet Dungan Script for Chinese Language Reform, which has long been featured here on Pinyin.info, and
  2. Who Were the Gyámi?

This issue also contains “A Short Supplementary Note on the Name ‘Tibet.’” The subject of the essay probably sounds perfectly innocuous. But it set off a few rounds of polite but pointed dueling among scholars — in the pages of a journal, that is, not with pistols at forty paces or anything of that sort. The exchanges make for interesting reading. See, for example, SPP 35 (“Reviews IV,” pp. 32-37) and SPP 70 (“Reviews VI,” pp. 21, 79-84).

This was first published in May 1990 as issue no. 18 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

further reading:

‘dialects’ wasting ‘important neurons’ needed for Mandarin, English: Lee Kuan Yew

In 1979 Singapore launched its campaign for people there to “Strike Hard Against Hoklo, Cantonese, and Other Languages that Your Government Says Are Puny and Insignificant Because They Have Only Tens of Millions of Speakers Apiece,” er, “Speak Mandarin” (Ji?ng Huáy? Yùndòng / ?????). The city-state has been marking the the 30th anniversary of this with some speeches, such as one a couple of weeks ago by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (L? Gu?ngyào), now “minister mentor.”

Lee described the situation:

Thirty years ago I launched the Speak Mandarin campaign. [Singaporean] Chinese students learned Mandarin at school. Unfortunately, they used to speak dialects amongst themselves, at home, and with their friends — a variety of dialects.

Here, “dialects” is of course the standard misnomer for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin.

Lee said that he himself was setting a bad example during the 1960s and 1970s by doing such highly irresponsible things as giving speeches in the native language of the majority of Singapore’s citizens. So he stopped all that. And he had the government shut down almost all broadcasts in Hokkien (Hoklo) and other such languages.

Lee said that although he understands “the strong emotional ties to one’s mother tongue … the trend is clear. In two generations, Mandarin will become our mother tongue.”

Actually, no, that’s not clear at all. Rather, a very different trend is apparent. During his speech Lee displayed the graph below, with data taken from surveys conducted by Singapore’s Ministry of Education.

Dominant Home Language of Singaporean Chinese Primary-1 Students (1980 to 2009)
graph showing English in a steady climb from 10% -- all numbers are approximate -- (1980) to 60% (2009); 'Chinese dialects' in steep decline from 1980 (62%) to 1988 (9%) and continuing to decline to only 1% or 2% in 2009; and Mandarin, which begins in 1980 at 28% and quickly tops 60% in 1985, with slower growth until 1988 (69%), after which it enters a steady decline to 39% (2009)

As the primary language of the home for young students, Mandarin has dropped steadily since the late 1980s, while English has risen steadily since 1980, with English surpassing Mandarin in 2004. (Language data for the whole population is more complicated. See, for example, the 2005 General Household Survey.)

Of course the government and Lee recognize this. But they don’t want to fight against English, which is crucial to Singapore’s success. So what Lee is proposing is that parents — both parents — speak Mandarin, not English, to their children.

(I see from my stats that this site gets lots of visitors from Singapore. Can any of you comment on how well you think the public will respond to Lee’s proposal.)

Lee explained in his speech that people have only so many “gigabytes” in their brains to devote to languages.

Though stating that speaking “dialects” in some situations can provide “extra warmth,” he warns that by using such languages: “You are losing important neurons with data which should not be there. And like the computer, when you delete it, it doesn’t really go away. It’s there at the back, and you’ve got to go to the rubbish channel and say ‘destroy.’ And it’s still disturbing your hard disk.”

Thus, those rubbish languages must be destroyed “dialects” must be let go, he said.

On March 8 a linguist at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “Although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual. Young children are not speaking some of these languages at all any more…. All it takes is one generation for a language to die.” But even after all these years, with Sinitic languages other than Mandarin fading fast there, this is apparently still no time to be slacking off, as Lee’s principal private secretary, Chee Hong Tat, promptly responded, “It would be stupid for any Singapore agency or NTU to advocate the learning of dialects, which must be at the expense of English and Mandarin.”

Part of the reason behind Lee’s call, however, is a basic misunderstanding. Setting aside the matters of educating children in a language not native to them and how many languages most people are capable of speaking effectively, the main difficulty with learning Mandarin is not the language itself (especially for those who speak other Sinitic languages) but Chinese characters as its near-exclusive script.

If Singapore is smart about promoting Mandarin, sooner rather than later it will develop a two-track system, with most students studying how to read and write Mandarin exclusively in Hanyu Pinyin, while those who wish become more specialized can go on to study Chinese characters as well. For this to work, Singapore will need to produce plenty of material to read in Pinyin. (A newspaper, for example, would be a must — and one with real news, not just cute stories for kids.) The city-state certainly has the means and motive for this. But does it have the imagination? If it does, most students could save their precious neurons and gigabytes for other things — perhaps even their families’ traditional native languages.

SOURCES:
Lee Kuan Yew speech:

Some Singapore blog posts:

newspaper stories:

letter to the editor:

additional:

Writing Taiwanese: 1999 study

This seems as good an announcement as any to end my hiatus from posting. Sino-Platonic Papers has just rereleased a popular issue of likely interest to many readers of Pinyin News: Writing Taiwanese: The Development of Modern Written Taiwanese (2.2 MB PDF), by Alvin Lin.

The table of contents gives a pretty good picture of what’s inside:

Preface
Introduction
The Status Quo: Characters and Taiwanese writing

  1. The Roots of Writing in Taiwanese: Wenyan, baihua and academic Taiwanese
  2. The Missing 15 Percent: Developing a written vernacular
  3. One Attempt at Finding the Missing 15 Percent: Yang Qingchu’s Mandarin-Taiwanese Dictionary

Writing Romanized Taiwanese

  1. The Roots of Romanized Taiwanese: Church Romanization
  2. Church Romanization Today: The Taigu listserver
  3. An Indigenous System: Liim Keahioong and Modern Literal Taiwanese

Linguistic and Social Considerations

  1. Some Linguistic Classifications
  2. Dealing with Homonyms: Morphophonemic spelling
  3. Tones in Taiwanese: Surface vs. Lexical tones
  4. Representing Dialects: Picking a standard written form or representing all dialects
  5. Summary of Linguistic Concerns: Deciding the degree of coding
  6. Writing, Reading, Printing, Computing, Indexing and other Practical Concerns
  7. Social Concerns: Tradition and Political Meaning
  8. Conclusion: Future Orthography Policy on Taiwan

Bibliography
Appendices:

  • Email Survey
  • Pronunciation guide to church romanization

List of Tables and Illustrations:

  • Table 1: Suggested Characters for Taiwanese Morphemes from Three Sources
  • Figure 1: Yang Qingchu’s Taiwanese-Mandarin Dictionary
  • Figure 2: Church romanization
  • Figure 3: Modern Literal Taiwanese
  • Figure 4: Sample e-mail from Taigu listserver

This was first published in 1999 as issue number 89 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

writing four-syllable idioms in Pinyin

cover of Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and OrthographyThe latest excerpt from Yin Binyong’s book on Pinyin orthography covers how to write four-syllable idioms in Hanyu Pinyin (929 KB PDF). Here’s a key passage:

almost all four-character idioms can be broken in two halves, called y?jié ?? (language segments), on the basis of phonetic structure. The simple expedient of connecting the two y?jié with a hyphen then provides idioms with their own distinctive written form, and assures ease of writing and reading. It is also a simple rule for students of HP to master.

But not all four-syllable idioms follow this rule, as the reading shows.

This is a worthwhile reading for Mandarin learners, even if you’re not particularly interested in Pinyin. There are many examples of idioms here, all given in Hanzi, Pinyin, and English.