Chinese characters: Like, wow.

Some recent comments on the Hanzi domain name situation brought to mind a rant I was working on last month and then abandoned. But it seems worth finishing — relatively speaking, because this is a topic that touches upon so many areas that I could never get through it all — because the problem I discuss is a fairly common one. So today I’d like to address what I think of as the “like, wow” fetish of Chinese characters. In this, Chinese characters are regarded as if they bestowed a wonderful gift upon the reader that no other script could. But exactly how they do that and what exactly that gift is, though, generally doesn’t make too much sense.

This sort of thing is common, and not just among New Age nonsense. A good example of this approach is found in Search Engine of the Song Dynasty, an op-ed piece published in the New York Times in mid May. Basically, the author discusses how having URLs in Chinese characters is a good thing, but does so in a vague, flowery way that brings to mind a stoned grad student with a large vocabulary — which might not be so bad if the author had gotten the facts straight.

I had hoped for at least a little better, given that the author, Ruiyan Xu, has completed a novel, The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai, whose protagonist has bilingual aphasia. So one would expect Xu, who was born in Shanghai and moved to the United States at the age of 10, to have a better-than-basic understanding of linguistics. Alas, no — not if the article is anything to go by.

My annoyance here, though, isn’t specifically with Xu, who seems like a nice person and whose book has been getting some good advance reviews. It’s more with the “like, wow” phenomenon in general and the eagerness of the mainstream press to publish things about “Chinese” even though the substance of such articles falls apart if one devotes even just a little effort to examining it.

So let’s get into it.

Baidu.com, the popular search engine often called the Chinese Google, got its name from a poem written during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The poem is about a man searching for a woman at a busy festival, about the search for clarity amid chaos. Together, the Chinese characters bi [sic] and dù mean “hundreds of ways,” and come out of the last lines of the poem: “Restlessly I searched for her thousands, hundreds of ways./ Suddenly I turned, and there she was in the receding light.”

For reference, I’ll provide the poem. I’ve put the Chinese characters used by Baidu.com in bold and red.

????????
????????
????????
?????
?????
????????

????????
????????
????????
?????
?????
??????

The author of the poem, Xin Qiji (X?n Qìj? / ??? / ???), lived from 1140 to 1207 and was thus a contemporary of such Western poets as the troubadours Bertran de Born, Bernart de Ventadorn, and Giraut de Borneil — hardly poets whose work suffered for having been written with an alphabet.

Baidu, rendered in Chinese, is rich with linguistic, aesthetic and historical meaning. But written phonetically in Latin letters (as I must do here because of the constraints of the newspaper medium and so that more American readers can understand), it is barely anchored to the two original characters; along the way, it has lost its precision and its poetry.

Ugh. Where to start?

I’ll go ahead and skip “precision,” even though that’s perhaps not a word best applied to most poetry written in Literary Sinitic, and start with “rendered in Chinese.” However common the word might be, “Chinese” is a poor choice. In this case, the word seems to be intended to mean not any particular language but rather “Chinese characters,” which are not a language. Here, too, she appears to be blaming Pinyin for having lost something from Literary Sinitic, which is what the poem was written in. But Pinyin isn’t for Literary Sinitic; it’s for modern standard Mandarin. Also, whatever language Xin Qiji spoke could have been written with an alphabet with no loss of meaning, just like all other natural languages.

As Web addresses increasingly transition to non-Latin characters as a result of the changing rules for domain names, that series of Latin letters Chinese people usually see at the top of the screen when they search for something on Baidu may finally turn into intelligible words: “a hundred ways.”

Baidu vs. ?? on the Baidu.com home page:

Can you feel the difference in precision and poetry? No?

Also, it’s not clear just how much of a “transition to non-Latin characters” there’s going to be, especially where Chinese characters are concerned, especially in places like Singapore.

Of course, this expansion of languages for domain names could lead to confusion: users seeking to visit Web sites with names in a script they don’t read could have difficulty putting in the addresses, and Web browsers may need to be reconfigured to support non-Latin characters. The previous system, with domain names composed of numbers, punctuation marks and Latin letters without accents, promoted standardization, wrangling into consistency and simplicity one small part of the Internet.

For “could have difficulty putting in the addresses” read “could find it next to impossible to enter the correct address.” And by “one small part of the Internet,” she appears to mean the name of every single domain on the entire Internet.

But something else, something important, has been lost.

Part of the beauty of the Chinese language comes from a kind of divisibility not possible in a Latin-based language. Chinese is composed of approximately 20,000 single-syllable characters, 10,000 of which are in common use.

No, no, and no.

  • By “Latin-based language” the author seems to be referring not to a Romance language but to a language that uses the Latin alphabet for its standard script.
  • What exactly is this divisibility? Mandarin words can be divided into morphemes. The words of English, French, etc. work the same way.
  • No language is composed of Chinese characters.
  • There are a hell of a lot more than 20,000 Chinese characters.
  • “Common use” is difficult to pin down. But most authorities would give a lower number.

These characters each mean something on their own; they are also combined with other characters to form hundreds of thousands of multisyllabic words.

No, that’s wrong. Again: words — whether they be multisyllabic or monosyllabic — are not made of Chinese characters. Instead, Chinese characters are the script most seen for written Mandarin.

Níh?o, for example, Chinese for “Hello,” is composed of ní — “you,” and h?o — “good.” Isn’t “You good” — both as a statement and a question — a marvelous and strangely precise breakdown of what we’re really saying when we greet someone?

Again, this is assigning meaning to characters, when the meaning is of course in the word itself.

Note, too, that “níh?o” is incorrect in several ways.

  • One of the basic rules of Hanyu Pinyin is that tone sandhi is not indicated. So even though — because in Mandarin if something has two third tones in a row, the first shifts to second tone — the greeting is pronounced níh?o, the diacritical mark over the i should indicate third tone (?) rather than second (í).
  • The diacritic over the a is wrong. It should be a? (Unicode ̌), not ? (Unicode ă) — sharp vs. rounded. (You may need to enlarge the fonts on the screen to see this.)
  • Most careful authorities write this with a space rather than as solid: n? h?o rather than n?h?o. This, though, is something I don’t much care about. Popular usage of Pinyin as a real script will eventually work this out one or the other. Also, if someone is going to err in word parsing, I’d much rather they do it by making words solid rather than by breaking up the syllables.

The Romanization of Chinese into a phonetic system called Pinyin, using the Latin alphabet and diacritics (to indicate the four distinguishing tones in Mandarin), was developed by the Chinese government in the 1950s.

I’m a bit surprised the copy editors at the New York Times let that muddled sentence though. But I’ll pass over it without further observation.

Pinyin makes the language easier to learn and pronounce, and it has the added benefit of making Chinese characters easy to input into a computer. Yet Pinyin, invented for ease and standards, only represents sound.

In other words, Pinyin represents language — that being what writing systems are designed to do. And, yes, it’s easy to learn and use, which happens to be a good thing, not a bad one.

In Chinese, there are multiple characters with the exact same sound. The sound “b?i,” for example, means 100, but it can also mean cypress, or arrange. And “Baidu,” without diacritics, can mean “a failed attempt to poison” or “making a religion of gambling.”

My dictionary gives some different phrases. But whatever. Then there’s also the simple point: If there’s a problem with writing Pinyin without diacritics, then don’t write Pinyin without diacritics, write it with diacritics. But I have a hard time imagining how anyone would get such things confused in context.

Q: “Honey, could you check Baidu for information on when that new movie is coming out?”
A: “Baidu? Sorry, could you write that in Chinese characters for me. I can’t tell if you mean “a failed attempt to poison,” “making a religion of gambling,” or the search engine.”

Behind this is just the usual homonym canard. In English, as in other languages, there are many morphemes with the exact same pronunciation (sound). If we look at the closest English has to the Mandarin sounds bai and du, we can get by, buy, bye, bi-, and dew, do, due, etc. — all of which have various meanings. Take a look.

Those who don’t need to be hit over the head again and again to understand the simple point that English has plenty of homonyms but does just fine with an alphabet — as would every other natural language, including of course Mandarin and the other Sinitic languages– may wish to just skim the following blockquote.

bi, bi-, buy, by, bye

buy (transitive verb)

  1. : to acquire possession, ownership, or rights to the
    use or services of by payment especially of money :
    purchase
    1. : to obtain in exchange for something often at
      a sacrifice <they bought peace with their
      freedom>
    2. : redeem
  2. : bribe, hire
  3. : to be the purchasing equivalent of <the dollar
    buys less today than it used to>
  4. : accept, believe <I don’t buy that hooey> -often
    used with into

buy (intransitive verb)

  1. : to make a purchase

buy (noun)

  1. : something of value at a favorable price; especially :
    bargain <it’s a real buy at that price>
  2. : an act of buying : purchase

bi (noun or adjective)

  1. : bisexual

bi- (prefix)

    1. : two <bilateral>
    2. : coming or occurring every two
      <bicentennial>
    3. : into two parts <bisect>
    1. : twice : doubly : on both sides
      <biconvex>
    2. : coming or occurring two times
      <biannual> – compare semi-
  1. : between, involving, or affecting two (specified)
    symmetrical parts <bilabial>
    1. : containing one (specified) constituent in
      double the proportion of the other constituent or
      in double the ordinary proportion
      <bicarbonate>
    2. : di- 2 <biphenyl>

bi- (Variant(s): or bio-) (combining form)

  1. : life : living organisms or tissue
    <bioluminescence> <biosphere>
  2. : biographical <biopic>

bye (noun)

  1. : the position of a participant in a tournament who
    advances to the next round without playing

by (preposition)

  1. : in proximity to : near <standing by the
    window>
    1. : through or through the medium of : via
      <enter by the door>
    2. : in the direction of : toward <north by
      east>
    3. : into the vicinity of and beyond : past
      <went right by him>
    1. : during the course of <studied by
      night>
    2. : not later than <by 2 p.m.>
    1. : through the agency or instrumentality of
      <by force>
    2. : born or begot of
    3. : sired or borne by
  2. : with the witness or sanction of <swear by all that
    is holy>
    1. : in conformity with <acted by the
      rules>
    2. : according to <called her by name>
    1. : on behalf of <did right by his
      children>
    2. : with respect to <a lawyer by
      profession>
    1. : in or to the amount or extent of <win by a
      nose>
    2. b chiefly Scottish : in comparison with :
      beside
  3. -used as a function word to indicate successive units or increments <little by little> <walk two by two>
  4. -used as a function word in multiplication, in division, and in measurements <divide a by b>
    <multiply 10 by 4> <a room 15 feet by 20 feet>
  5. : in the opinion of : from the point of view of
    <okay by me>

by (adjective)

  1. : being off the main route : side
  2. : incidental

by (noun)

  1. : something of secondary importance : a side issue

by/bye (interjection)

  1. : short for goodbye

dew, do, due

dew (noun)

  1. : moisture condensed upon the surfaces of cool bodies especially at night
  2. : something resembling dew in purity, freshness, or power to refresh
  3. : moisture especially when appearing in minute droplets: as

    1. : tears
    2. : sweat
    3. : droplets of water produced by a plant in transpiration

due (adjective)

  1. : owed or owing as a debt
    1. : owed or owing as a natural or moral right
      <everyone’s right to dissent is due the full protection of the Constitution – Nat Hentoff>
    2. : according to accepted notions or procedures : appropriate <with all due respect>
    1. : satisfying or capable of satisfying a need, obligation, or duty : adequate <giving the matter due attention>
    2. : regular, lawful <due proof of loss>
  2. : capable of being attributed : ascribable -used with to <this advance is partly due to a few men of genius –
    A. N. Whitehead>
  3. : having reached the date at which payment is required
    : payable <the rent is due>
  4. : required or expected in the prescribed, normal, or logical course of events : scheduled <the train is due at noon>; also : expected to give birth

due (noun)

  1. : something due or owed: as

    1. : something that rightfully belongs to one
      <give him his due>
    2. : a payment or obligation required by law or custom : debt
    3. plural : fees, charges <membership dues>

due (adverb)

  1. : directly, exactly <due north>
  2. <obsolete> : duly

do (transitive verb)

  1. : to bring to pass : carry out <do another’s wishes>
  2. : put -used chiefly in do to death
  3. : perform, execute

    1. <do some work> <did his duty>
    2. : commit <crimes done deliberately>
    1. : bring about, effect <trying to do good>
      <do violence>
    2. : to give freely : pay <do honor to her memory>
  4. : to bring to an end : finish -used in the past participle <the job is finally done>
  5. : to put forth : exert <did her best to win the race>
  6. : to wear out especially by physical exertion : exhaust
    <at the end of the race they were pretty well done> b
    : to attack physically : beat; also : kill
  7. : to bring into existence : produce <do a biography on the general>
  8. -used as a substitute verb especially to avoid
    repetition <if you must make such a racket, do it
    somewhere else>
  9. : to play the role or character of b : mimic; also : to behave like <do a Houdini and disappear> c : to perform in or serve as producer of <do a play>
  10. : to treat unfairly; especially : cheat <did him out of his inheritance>
  11. : to treat or deal with in any way typically with the sense of preparation or with that of care or attention:

      1. : to put in order : clean <was doing the kitchen>
      2. : wash <did the dishes after supper>
    1. : to prepare for use or consumption; especially : cook <like my steak done rare>
    2. : set, arrange <had her hair done>
    3. : to apply cosmetics to <wanted to do her face before the party>
    4. : decorate, furnish <did the living room in Early American> <do over the kitchen>
  12. : to be engaged in the study or practice of <do science>; especially : to work at as a vocation lt;what to do after college>
    1. : to pass over (as distance) : traverse <did 20 miles yesterday>
    2. : to travel at a speed of <doing 55 on the turnpike>
  13. : tour <doing 12 countries in 30 days>
    1. : to spend (time) in prison <has been doing time in a federal penitentiary>
    2. : to serve out (a period of imprisonment)
      <did ten years for armed robbery>
  14. : to serve the needs of : suit, suffice <worms will do us for bait>
  15. : to approve especially by custom, opinion, or propriety <you oughtn’t to say a thing like that — it’s not done – Dorothy Sayers>
  16. : to treat with respect to physical comforts <did themselves well>
  17. : use 3 <doesn’t do drugs>
  18. : to have sexual intercourse with
  19. : to partake of <let’s do lunch>

do (intransitive verb)

  1. : act, behave <do as I say>
    1. : get along, fare <do well in school>
    2. : to carry on business or affairs : manage
      <we can do without your help>
  2. : to take place : happen <what’s doing across the street>
  3. : to come to or make an end : finish -used in the past participle
  4. : to be active or busy <let us then be up and doing
    – H. W. Longfellow>
  5. : to be adequate or sufficient : serve <half of that will do>
  6. : to be fitting : conform to custom or propriety
    <won’t do to be late>
  7. -used as a substitute verb to avoid repetition
    <wanted to run and play as children do> ; used especially in British English following a modal auxiliary or perfective have <a great many people had died, or would do – Bruce Chatwin>
  8. -used in the imperative after an imperative to add emphasis <be quiet do>

do (verbal auxiliary)

    1. -used with the infinitive without to to form present and past tenses in legal and parliamentary language <do hereby bequeath> and in poetry <give what she did crave – Shakespeare>
    2. -used with the infinitive without to to form present and past tenses in declarative sentences with inverted word order <fervently do we pray –
      Abraham Lincoln>, in interrogative sentences
      <did you hear that?>, and in negative sentences <we don’t know> <don’t go>
  1. -used with the infinitive without to to form present and past tenses expressing emphasis <i do say> <do be careful>

do (noun)

  1. chiefly dialect : fuss, ado
  2. archaic : deed, duty
    1. : a festive get-together : affair, party
    2. chiefly British : battle
  3. : a command or entreaty to do something <a list of dos and don’ts>
  4. British : cheat, swindle
  5. : hairdo

All that’s without me bothering to get out a big dictionary.

Alas, poor English! How confused we must be to be using a mere alphabet. Oh, if only we could achieve linguistic, aesthetic, and historical meaning!

In the case of Baidu.com, the word, in Latin letters, has slipped away from its original context and meaning, and been turned into a brand.

Baidu is a brand, and as is generally thought of as such regardless of what script it is written in. Furthermore, it’s understood as a “word” only as that search engine. In the poem the characters “??” are used to write not one word but two — and even written in Hanzi this is not something more than a relative handful of people in China or Taiwan would recognize as having come from that poem unless someone told them about it first.

Language is such a basic part of our lives, it seems ordinary and transparent. But language is strange and magical, too: it dredges up history and memory; it simultaneously bestows and destabilizes meaning. Each of the thousands of languages spoken around the world has its own system and rules, its own subversions, its own quixotic beauty. Whenever you try to standardize those languages, whether on the Internet, in schools or in literature, you lose something. What we gain in consistency costs us in precision and beauty.

When Chinese speakers Baidu (like Google, it too is a verb), we look for information on the Internet using a branded search engine. But when we see the characters for b?i dù, we might, for one moment, engage with the poetry of our language, remember that what we are really trying to do is find what we were seeking in the receding light. Those sets of meanings, layered like a palimpsest, might appear suddenly, where we least expect them, in the address bar at the top of our browsers. And in some small way, those words, in our own languages, might help us see with clarity, and help us to make sense of the world.

Clarity? Clarity?!

I understand that the author, as a novelist rather than a linguist, might be preoccupied with the whole Ezra Pound “make it new” and “give people new eyes” thing. If so, good for her. But, still, one should not not confuse flights of fancy, no matter how cool they might sound, with facts and should at least attempt not to be completely wrong about almost everything, especially when publishing in the New York Times.

If the argument for Chinese characters is supposed to be that their continued, indeed expanded, use is necessary so people can quote poems in Literary Sinitic out of context so that what would be at best a low-single-digit percentage of native speakers of Mandarin or another modern Sinitic language might recognize the allusion despite a lack of context and might get a Hanzi-licious frisson out of the experience … that would have to be one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read.

Kicking the irony meter way up on all this is that the author of those remarks on the really cool feelings one can get from reading Chinese characters cannot herself read texts written in them, though she neglected to mention that little bit of information in her New York Times piece.

And for irony on top of irony, as someone who left China at the age of 10, she likely still knows her native Sinitic language, so texts written in romanization could give her the literacy in that language that she lacks in Chinese characters. Romanization could provide meaning; but instead she harps upon the virtues of Chinese characters.

Oh, and for a final bit of irony, here’s something else the author apparently didn’t bother to check: ??.com already exists. And is anyone surprised to hear that the site at that address is not a search engine of the Song dynasty? Here’s what it looks like.
screenshot of ??.com -- a linkspam site -- as of July 1, 2010

That’s right: ??.com is just a linkspam site. But apparently because, unlike baidu.com, it has Chinese characters in the URL it’s linkspam with its own quixotic beauty; it’s linkspam with its own sets of meanings, layered like a palimpsest; and it’s linkspam that is rich with linguistic, aesthetic and historical meaning.

C’mon, people! Feel the poetry of it! The precision!

Like, wow.

Hanyu Pinyin backer to return to Taiwan’s Cabinet

Dr. Ovid Tzeng (Z?ng Zhìl?ng / ??? ) will be returning to government as a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet of the incoming administration of Ma Ying-jeou.

Tzeng has done important work in psycholinguistics and is known to support Taiwan’s adoption of Hanyu Pinyin. Indeed, this support was one of the reasons he was pushed out of office the last time he was in government service, as minister of education at the beginning of President Chen Shui-bian’s first term.

Tasked with choosing a romanization system for Taiwan, Tzeng recommended Hanyu Pinyin. He was promptly replaced by someone who backed the adoption of the newly minted Tongyong Pinyin.

Tzeng’s name is often misspelled “”Ovid Tseng” in news reports.

Sexism in Mandarin: a study

This week’s free rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Covert Sexism in Mandarin Chinese (1.9 MB PDF), by David Moser (of Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard fame).

Here’s part of the introduction:

Like other cultures, China has a long history of sexist social conventions, and the Chinese language is pervaded with evidence of these. Research in this area has usually sought to identify and catalog aspects of Chinese that embody these sexist cultural traditions, such as sexist idioms, demeaning words for wife, derogatory terms of address for women, or the large number of characters containing the female radical (?) with negative connotations. Such elements tend to be rather easily identifiable and have been some of the earliest aspects to be targeted for linguistic reform. (The Chinese Communist Party, for example, in their attempts to elevate the status of women and eradicate vestiges of feudalism, has from time to time officially discouraged use of pejorative terms of address for women and wives.) Notable contributions have already been made in such research, but there are certain kinds of sexism in the Chinese language that are more subtly embedded in the grammar in such a way that they often escape conscious attention. This article attempts to shed light on some of these phenomena, since it is often in these hidden patterns of linguistic usage that sexist assumptions and notions are most powerfully present.

This is issue no. 74 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in January 1997.

‘Slips of the Tongue and Pen in Chinese’

David Moser wrote his highly popular work Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard (found right here on Pinyin Info) in the early 1990s. Around the same time he contributed another more academic but still highly readable essay to Sino-Platonic Papers, this one on the topic of “Slips of the Tongue and Pen in Chinese.”

This work has just been reissued for free (2.9 MB PDF).

reviews of books related to China and linguistics (2)

Sino-Platonic Papers has just released online its second compilation of book reviews. Here are the books discussed. (Note: The links below do not lead to the reviews but to other material. Use the link above.)

Invited Reviews

  • William A. Boltz, “The Typological Analysis of the Chinese Script.” A review article of John DeFrancis, Visible Speech, the Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems.
  • Paul Varley and Kumakura Isao, eds., Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu. Reviewed by William R. LaFleur .
  • Vladimir N. Basilov, ed., Nomads of Eurasia. Reviewed by David A. Utz.

Reviews by the Editor

  • “Philosophy and Language.” A review article of Françcois Jullien, Procès ou Création: Une introduction a la pensée des lettrés chinois.

Language and Linguistics

  • W. South Coblin, A Handbook of Eastern Han Sound Glosses.
  • Weldon South Coblin. A Sinologist’s Handlist of Sino-Tibetan Lexical Comparisons.
  • ZHOU Zhenhe and YOU Rujie. Fangyan yu Zhongguo Wenhua [Topolects and Chinese Culture].
  • CHOU Fa-kao. Papers in Chinese Linguistics and Epigraphy.
  • ZENG Zifan. Guangzhouhua Putonghua Duibi Qutan [Interesting Parallels between Cantonese and Mandarin].
  • Luciana Bressan. La Determinazione delle Norme Ortografiche del Pinyin.
  • JIANG Shaoyu and XU Changhua, tr. Zhongguoyu Lishi Wenfa [A Historical Grammar of Modern Chinese] by OTA Tatsuo.
  • McMahon, et al. Expository Writing in Chinese.
  • P. C. T’ung and D. E. Pollard. Colloquial Chinese.
  • Li Sijing, Hanyu “er” Yin Shih Yanjiu [Studies on the History of the “er” Sound in Sinitic].
  • Maurice Coyaud, Les langues dans le monde chinois.
  • Patricia Herbert and Anthony Milner, eds., South-East Asia: Languages and Literatures; A Select Guide.
  • Andrew Large, The Artificial Language Movement.
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt, On Language: The Diversity of Hunan Language-Structure and Its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind.
  • Vitaly Shevoroshkin, ed., Reconstructing Languages and Cultures.
  • Jan Wind, et al., eds., Studies in Language Origins.

Short Notices

  • A. Kondratov, Sounds and Signs.
  • Jeremy Campbell, Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life.
  • Pitfalls of the Tetragraphic Script.

Lexicography and Lexicology

  • MIN Jiaji, et al., comp., Hanyu Xinci Cidian [A Dictionary of New Sinitic Terms]
  • LYU Caizhen, et al., comp., Xiandai Hanyu Nanci Cidian [A Dictionary of Difficult Terms in Modern Sinitic].
  • Tom McArthur, Worlds of Reference: Lexicography, learning and language from the clay tablet to the computer.

A Bouquet of Pekingese Lexicons

  • JIN Shoushen, comp., Beijinghua Yuhui [Pekingese Vocabulary].
  • SONG Xiaocai and MA Xinhua, comp., Beijinghua Ciyu Lishi [Pekingese Expressions with Examples and Explanations] .
  • SONG Xiaocai and MA Xinhua, comp., Beijinghua Yuci Huishi [Pekingese Words and Phrases with Explanations] .
  • FU Min and GAO Aijun, comp., Beijinghua Ciyu (Dialectical Words and Phrases in Beijing).

A Bibliographical Trilogy

  • Paul Fu-mien Yang, comp., Chinese Linguistics: A Selected and Classified Bibliography.
  • Paul Fu-mien Yang, comp., Chinese Dialectology: A Selected and Classified Bibliography.
  • Paul Fu-mien Yang, comp., Chinese Lexicology and Lexicography: A Selected and Classified Bibliography.

Orality and Literacy

  • Jack Goody. The interface between the written and the oral.
  • Jack Goody. The logic of writing and the organization of society.
  • Deborah Tannen, ed., Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy.

Society and Culture

  • Scott Simmie and Bob Nixon, Tiananmen Square.
  • Thomas H. C. Lee, Government Education and Examinations in Sung China.
  • ZHANG Zhishan, tr. and ed., Zhongguo zhi Xing [Record of a Journey to China].
  • LIN Wushu, Monijiao ji Qi Dongjian [Manichaeism and Its Eastward Expansion].
  • E. N. Anderson, The Food of China.
  • K. C. Chang, ed., Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives.
  • Jacques Gemet, China and the Christian Impact: A Conflict of Cultures.
  • D. E. Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology.

Short Notice

  • Roben Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe.

In Memoriam
Chang-chen HSU
August 6, 1957 – June 27, 1989

  • Hsu Chang-chen, ed., and tr., Yin-tu hsien-tai hsiao-shuo hsüan [A Selection of Contemporary Indian Fiction].
  • Hsu Chang-chen, T’o-fu tzu-huiyen-chiu (Mastering TOEFL Vocabulary).
  • Hsu Chang-chen, Tsui-chung-yao-te i pai ke Ying-wen tzu-shou tzu-ken (100 English Prefixes and Word Roots).
  • Hsu Chang-chen, Fa-wen tzu-hui chieh-koufen-hsi — tzu-shou yü tzu-ken (Les préfixes et les racines de la langue française).
  • Hsu Chang-chen, comp. and tr., Hsi-yü yü Fo-chiao wen-shih lun-chi (Collection of Articles on Studies of Central Asia, India, and Buddhism).

This is SPP no. 14, from December 1989. The entire text is now online as a 7.3 MB PDF.

See my earlier post for the contents of the first SPP volume of reviews and a link to the full volume.

some character-input methods ‘Westernizing’ Chinese culture and making it ‘degenerate': PRC official

Many of the stories I come across in my searches for news about Pinyin are related to input methods for Chinese characters. But I seldom find anything of interest in these. They tend to follow the same template: someone is touting a great new character-input method that is just so much better than Pinyin and everything else. It’s going to save Chinese characters and thus Chinese civilization and all that is good in the universe, etc. Blah, blah, blah. I just get bored.

But I recently came across one widely reprinted article that’s a bit more interesting and amusing/alarming/absurd. It has the additional advantage of being about the claims of a member of the PRC’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Here’s the key paragraph:

Chén Duó w?iyuán shu?: “Sh?uj? Hànzì sh?rù jìshù y?lài wàiguó g?ngs? zhìsh?o zàochéng s?n dà wèntí. Sh?uxi?n, wàiguó g?ngs? de Hànzì sh?rùf? pòhuài le w?men sh?yòng Hàny? Hànzì de chuánt?ng s?wéi xíguàn, d?ozhì Hànwén huà yánghuà, yìhuà, tuìhuà; qícì, wàiguó g?ngs? bù zhíxíng w?guó 27,484 gè zì de qiángzhìxìng bi?ozh?n, bi?nm? zì liáng zh?y?u 6,763 gè zì, zàochéng Hànzì sh?yòng hùnluàn, Hànzì wénb?n xìnx? sh?zh?n, y?ngxi?ng guóji? xìnx? ?nquán; hái y?u, Zh?ngguó m?inián hu? j? yì yuán gòum?i wàiguó g?ngs? de Hànzì sh?rù ru?njiàn, yèjiè li?nmiàn hézài? Hànzì wénhuà de z?nyán, quánw?i bèi zhìyú hédì?”

Committee member Chen Duo said: “The reliance of mobile phones on foreign corporations’ Chinese character input technology creates at least three major problems. First, foreign corporation’s Chinese character input methods are destroying the traditional patterns for thinking about using Chinese characters and are Westernizing Chinese culture, [causing it to be] alienated and degenerate. Next, foreign corporations are not complying with our country’s compulsory standard of 27,484 characters, using instead only 6,763 characters, which wreaks chaos in the use of Chinese characters, distorts Chinese character text messages, and affects national information security. Also, China spends hundreds of millions of yuan every year on Chinese character input software. Where is the self respect of the [domestic] industry? The dignity and prestige of the culture of Chinese characters — where have they been put?

About a week later Liu Naiqiang (???), another member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was touting the “fool” (sh?gu?) character-input method, whatever that is, and warning against Pinyin.

Here is the whole article about Chen Duo:

“W?guó y?u ch?oguò 4.6 yì sh?uj? yònghù, j? quánqiú dìy?, dàn y?u ji?chéng yònghù sh?rù Hànzì shí, sh?yòng de shì wàiguó jìshù!” láizì x?nwén ch?b?njiè de quánguó Zhèngxié w?iyuán Chén Duó zài quánguó Zhèngxié shí jiè w? cì huìyì g?nggang k?ish? shí, biàn tíji?o le y? fèn zh?nbèi h?n ji? de tí’àn, jiànyì j?nkuài shísh? shùzì jiànpán Hànzì sh?rù guóji? bi?ozh?n, ni?zhu?n w?guó sh?uj? Hànzì sh?rù jìshù shòukòng yú wàiguó g?ngs? de júmiàn.

Chén Duó w?iyuán shu?: “sh?uj? Hànzì sh?rù jìshù y?lài wàiguó g?ngs? zhìsh?o zàochéng s?n dà wèntí. Sh?uxi?n, wàiguó g?ngs? de Hànzì sh?rùf? pòhuài le w?men sh?yòng Hàny? Hànzì de chuánt?ng s?wéi xíguàn, d?ozhì Hànwén huà yánghuà, yìhuà, tuìhuà; qícì, wàiguó g?ngs? bù zhíxíng w?guó 27,484 gè zì de qiángzhìxìng bi?ozh?n, bi?nm? zì liáng zh?y?u 6,763 gè zì, zàochéng Hànzì sh?yòng hùnluàn, Hànzì wénb?n xìnx? sh?zh?n, y?ngxi?ng guóji? xìnx? ‘?nquán; hái y?u, Zh?ngguó m?inián hu? j? yì yuán gòum?i wàiguó g?ngs? de Hànzì sh?rù ru?njiàn, yèjiè li?nmiàn hézài? Hànzì wénhuà de z?nyán, quánw?i bèi zhìyú hédì?”

Chén Duó j?ngguò diàoyán huòx?, yóu Zh?ngguórén zìzh? k?if? de guó b? sh?rù jìshù zì liáng 27,484 gè, p?ny?n sh?rù sùdù B?guó wài sh?rùf? kuàiji?ng jìn sì chéng, b?huà sh?rù B?guó wài sh?rùf? kuài y?bàn, y?n xíng z?hé sh?rù B?guó wài p?ny?n sh?rùf? kuài jìn q?chéng. T? rènwéi, “guó b? c?ijí jìsuàn le shù b?iyì zì de Zh?ngguó b?ixìng xíguàn yòngy? yòng cí, y?ngy?u gèxìng huà de zhìnéng tiáopín wénzì sh?rù f?ng’àn, yínghé le Zh?ngguó b?ixìng sh?yòng Hàny? Hànzì de chuánt?ng s?wéi guànxìng, sh? wénzì sh?rù gèng liúchàng, f?ngbiàn, shíyòng. “2006 nián 10 yuè, xìnx? ch?nyè bù zhàok?i le y? guó b? sh?rùf? wéizh? d?o de guóji? bi?ozh?n ?xìnx? jìshù shùzì jiànpán Hànzì sh?rù t?ngyòng y?oqiú? zh?ngqiú yìjiàn huì, chàngyì quánguó gè dàsh?u j? shèjì sh?ng, zhìzàosh?ng d?ng c?iyòng w?guó zìzh? chuàngx?n de Hànzì sh?rùf?.

Chén Duó w?iyuán shu?, j?ngu?n guó b? sh?rù jìshù y? qiànrù le k?ng ji?, j?n lì, y? lóng, TCL d?ng zh?ngdu?n ch?np?n, d?k?i le shìch?ng de qu?k?u, dàn yóuyú sh?rù jìshù shìy? qiànrù jìshù de f?ngshì jìnrù shìch?ng, zh?nrù ménk?n g?o, zh?uq? cháng; zhàn w?guó 60% y?shàng sh?uj? shìch?ng de j? dàguó wài p?npái sh?ng, cúnzài c?igòu wàiguó g?ngs? ru?njiàn de guànxìng, y?ude guónèi sh?uj? ch?ngsh?ng y? mángmù chóngbài guówài ch?np?n; ji?shàng shu?huò sh?uj? jí sh?o fùfèi d?ng yuány?n, guónèi de Hànzì sh?rù jìshù yào y?guó wài y?jing xíngchéng l?ngduàn de g?ngs? jìngzh?ng, nándù f?icháng dà; ji?zh? zhè xiàng jìshù de ménk?n jiàog?o, jísh? qi?ndìng le hézuò xiéyì, cóngx?n sh?uj? yánf? dào chéngshú de ch?np?n ch?ch?ng zhìsh?o x?yào 9 ge yuè de shíji?n, zhège guòchéng rúgu? méiy?u h?n h?ode jìshù b?ozhàng hédà liáng z?j?n zh?chí, h?n nán wéichí xiaqu.

Wèic?, Chén Duó jiànyì guóji? y?ugu?n bùmén c?iq? qièshí cuòsh? tu?dòng shùzì jiànpán Hànzì sh?rù guóji? bi?ozh?n de shísh?, ji?nd? hé y?nd?o y?ugu?n sh?ngch?n sh?ng zhíxíng guóji? bi?ozh?n, tu?jìn guóch?n sh?uj? Hànzì sh?rù jìshù ch?nyèhuà, bìng cóng fúzhí zìzh? chuàngx?n de ji?odù ch?f?, duì qí j?y? zhèngcèxìng zh?chí.

sources:

“?????????????????????????????????????‘?????’?????????????????????‘?????’?????”???????????

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Festschrift for John DeFrancis now available for free

Most readers of Pinyin News will already know of John DeFrancis, editor of the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary and author of The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy and many other important works. (If you haven’t read The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy yet, order it now.)

In recognition of the 95th(!) birthday today of Professor DeFrancis, Sino-Platonic Papers is rereleasing Schriftfestschrift: Essays in Honor of John DeFrancis on His Eightieth Birthday. Previously, this important compilation, which runs more than 250 pages, was available only in a printed edition priced at US$35. The fifteenth-anniversary edition, however, is being released for free as a PDF (15 MB — so have a fast Internet connection, or a lot of patience).

I’d like to draw special attention to an article written in Pinyin: “Hanzi Bu Tebie Biaoyi,” by Zhang Liqing. (Zhang’s work also appears here on Pinyin Info, in her translations of The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts and of the amazing Comparing Chinese Characters and a Chinese Spelling Script — an evening conversation on the reform of Chinese characters.)

Feel free to print out a copy of the Schriftfestschrift for your own use or for inclusion in a library. Just don’t sell it.

The original publication contained several color photos. I’ll add those later. Also, the English tex is searchable to some degree, as I used OCR after scanning these pages; but the results weren’t perfect.

Here are the contents:

  • Tabula Gratulatoria
  • Introduction, by Victor H. Mair
  • Publications of John DeFrancis
  • Hanzi Bu Tebie Biaoyi, by Zhang Liqing
  • Typology of Writing Systems, by Zhou Youguang
  • Dui Hanzi de Jizhong Wujie, by Yin Binyong
  • The Information Society and Terminology, by Liu Yongquan
  • A Bilingual Mosaic, by Einar Haugen
  • The Polysemy of the Term Kokugo, by S. Robert Ramsey
  • Memorizing Kanji: Lessons from a Pro, by J. Marshall Unger
  • Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard, by David Moser
  • Ethnolinguistic Notes on the Dungan, by Lisa E. Husmann and William S-Y. Wang
  • Korean Views on Writing Reform, by Wm. C. Hannas
  • Language Policies and Linguistic Divergence in the Two Koreas, by Ho-min Sohn
  • Okinawan Writing Systems, Past, Present, and Future, by Leon A. Serafim
  • Proposal of a Comparative Study of Language Policies and Their Implementation in Singapore, Taiwan, and China (PRC), by Robert L. Cheng
  • The Topical Function of Preverbal Locatives and Temporals in Chinese, by Feng-fu Tsao
  • Yes-No Questions in Taipei and Peking Mandarin, by Robert M. Sanders
  • Patronizing Uses of the Particle ma: Bureaucratic Chinese Bids for Dominance in Personal Interactions, by Beverly Hong Fincher
  • Gender and Sexism in Chinese Language and Literature, by Angela Jung-Palandri
  • A zhezi Anagram Poem of the Song Dynasty, by John Marney
  • Some Remarks on Differing Correspondences in Old Chinese Assumed to Represent Different Chinese Dialects, by Nicholas C. Bodman
  • Can Taiwanese Recognize Simplified Characters?, by John S. Rohsenow
  • Simplified Characters and Their (Un)relatedness, by Chauncey C. Chu
  • The Teaching of Culture and the Culture of Teaching: Problems, Challenges, and Opportunities in Language Instruction, by Eugene Eoyang
  • The Culture Component of Language Teaching, by Kyoko Hijirida
  • Thinking About Prof. John DeFrancis, by Apollo Wu
  • Wo suo Renshi de De Xiansheng, by Chih-yu Ho
  • Two Poems for Professor John DeFrancis, by Richard F. S. Yang
  • Announcement, by Stephen Fleming

Happy birthday, John! And many happy returns!

toneless whispers and tonal languages

John at Sinosplice discusses how speakers of Sinitic languages, which are tonal, can understand whispered speech, which is not tonal.

It turns out that when people whisper a tonal language such as Chinese, they naturally compensate for the lack of tones. How? According to one study:

  1. the laryngeal sphincter mechanism is found to be a principal contributing physiological maneuver in the production of whisper, emphasizing the vertical rather than the horizontal component of the laryngeal source;
  2. two special behavioral maneuvers are also used in whisper: male speakers tend to lengthen vocalic duration and female speakers tend to exaggerate the amplitude contours of Tone 3 and Tone 4;
  3. these two special behavioral maneuvers and two temporal envelope parameters contribute to tone recognition in whisper, but the phonetic context is shown to be a distraction;
  4. the environments of the target tones cause perceptual differneces, and the ranking of these environments in order of increasing degree of difficulty is: isolation, sentence-final, sentence-medial and sentence-final;
  5. the ranking of the four tones in isolation, in order of increasing degree of perceptual difficulty is: Tone 3, Tone 4, Tone 1 and Tone 2.

further reading: