Eventually I’ll also issue versions in Pinyin and English.
In 2012 China revised its official guidelines for writing Pinyin.
These are the Hanyu Pinyin Zhengcifa Jiben Guize (official translation: “Basic Rules of the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet Orthography”), promulgated as GB/T 16159-2012.
Among the changes are that some alternate forms are now allowed, for example “wo de” (my) may also be written as “wode”. I’m not thrilled about that; but I know some people will welcome this.
I’ve added a few notes, such as for errors in the original document.
So far I have made only a version in so-called simplified Chinese characters. But eventually I’ll add one in traditional Chinese characters and an English translation.
The New York Times has just published a profile of Zhou Youguang, who is often called “the father of Pinyin” (though he modestly prefers to stress that others worked with him): A Chinese Voice of Dissent That Took Its Time.
This profile focuses not only on Zhou’s role in the creation of Hanyu Pinyin but also on his political views, which he has become increasingly public with.
About Mao, he said in an interview: “I deny he did any good.” About the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre: “I am sure one day justice will be done.” About popular support for the Communist Party: “The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know.”
As for fostering creativity in the Communist system, Mr. Zhou had this to say, in a 2010 book of essays: “Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders.”
No sooner had the first batch of copies been printed than the book was banned in China.
Although the reporter’s assertion, following the PRC’s official figures, that “China all but stamp[ed] out illiteracy” is well wide of the mark, there is no denying Pinyin’s crucial role in this area. I recommend reading the whole article.
17 December 1891 — 24 February 1962
Today, on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Hu Shih (Hú Shì/??/??), I’d like to say a few things in his memory. This is, after all, someone I regard as a hero in many ways. I even keep a photo of him in my office.
The opening of the preface to a splendid new biography of Hu Shih covers the basics:
Hu Shi (1891–1962), “the Father of the Chinese Renaissance,” towered over China’s intellectual landscape in the first half of the twentieth century. Among other achievements, he is credited with having made everyday speech respectable as a medium of written communication. Groomed as a traditional scholar-bureaucrat in his father’s footsteps, he had already turned into an iconoclastic renegade by the time he left Shanghai at the age of eighteen to study in the United States. In John Dewey, whose approach to philosophy was to treat all doctrines as working hypotheses, Hu felt he found “the proper way to think.” He and his associates who studied with Dewey at Columbia University established the framework of China’s modern educational system. A dedicated humanist, social reformer and promoter of women rights, he was, at different periods of his life, president of Peking University, president of the Academia Sinica, and ambassador to Washington.
To return to the most important point, at least in terms of the focus of this site, it was he, more than anyone else, who helped break the stranglehold of Literary Sinitic (a.k.a. classical Chinese). The vernacular movement he spearheaded is of far greater significance and has had a much greater impact on Chinese culture and people’s lives than so-called character simplification. Yet it receives relatively little attention, perhaps because many do not understand — or do not want to admit — how very different Literary Sinitic is from modern standard Mandarin.
Hu Shih is also the one who, more than anyone else, popularized the use of modern punctuation in Chinese texts, such as through his book Zh?ngguó Zhéxuésh? Dàg?ng and his editions of earlier works. That alone should be enough to earn him the eternal gratitude of all who read texts written in Chinese characters.
There’s so much more to the man than this, though most of it falls outside the bounds of this site. So rather than go into it here I will just encourage people to read more by and about him.
Shortly after Hu Shih’s death his son wrote:
father passed away during a cocktail party in honor of the members of the Academia Sinica after the completion of the members’ meeting. He passed away without any pain, and from every one present at the party, I gathered that he died happy, for the last words he said was, “Let’s have some drinks!”
I lift my glass.
- Hú Shì, Chángshì jí (?????)
- Hu Shih Memorial Hall
- the biography mentioned above: A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit——The Half-Century Romance of Hu Shi and Edith Clifford Williams, by Susan Chan Egan & Chih-p’ing Chou (Google Books)
- another link to the same book: A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit on Amazon
Last week, on the same day President Ma Ying-jeou accepted the resignation of a minister who made some drunken lewd remarks at a w?iyá (year-end office party), Ma was joking to the media about blow jobs.
But it was all for a good cause, of course. You see, the Mandarin expression chu? l?ba, when not referring to the literal playing of a trumpet, is usually taken in Taiwan to refer to a blow job. But in China, Ma explained, chu? l?ba means the same thing as the idiom p?i m?pì (pat/kiss the horse’s ass — i.e., flatter). And now that we have the handy-dandy Zh?nghuá Y?wén Zh?shikù (Chinese Language Database), which Ma was announcing, we can look up how Mandarin differs in Taiwan and China, and thus not get tripped up by such misunderstandings. Or at least that’s supposed to be the idea.
It’s clear that a lot of money has been spent on this. For example, many entries are accompanied by well-documented, precise explanations by distinguished lexicographers. Ha! Just kidding! Many entries are really accompanied by videos — some two hundred of them — of cutesy puppets gabbing about cross-strait differences in Mandarin expressions. But if there’s a video in there of the panda in the skirt explaining to the sheep in the vest that a useful skill for getting ahead in Chinese society is chu? l?ba, I haven’t found it yet. Will NMA will take up the challenge?
Much of the site emphasizes not so much language as Chinese characters. For example, another expensively produced video feeds the ideographic myth by showing off obscure Hanzi, such as the one for ch?ng.
WARNING: The screenshot below links to a video that contains scenes with intense wawa-ing and thus may not be suitable for anyone who thinks it’s not really cute for grown women to try to sound like they’re only thwee-and-a-half years old.
In a welcome bit of synchronicity, Victor Mair posted on Language Log earlier the same week on the unpredictability of Chinese character formation and pronunciation, briefly discussing just such patterns of duplication, triplication, etc.
Most of these characters are of relatively low frequency and, except for a few of them, neither their meanings nor their pronunciations are known by persons of average literacy.
Many more such characters consisting or two, three, or four repetitions of the same character exist, and their sounds and meanings are in most cases equally or more opaque.
The Hanzi for ch?ng (which looks like ??? run together as one character) in the video above is sufficiently obscure that it likely won’t be shown correctly in many browsers on most systems when written in real text: ????. But never fear: It’s already in Unicode and so should be appearing one of these years in a massively bloated system font.
Further reinforcing the impression that the focus is on Chinese characters, Liú Zhàoxuán, who is the head of the association in charge of the project on the Taiwan side, equated traditional Chinese characters with Chinese culture itself and declared that getting the masses in China to recognize them is an important mission. (Liu really needs to read Lü Shuxiang’s “Comparing Chinese Characters and a Chinese Spelling Script — an evening conversation on the reform of Chinese characters.”)
Then he went on about how Chinese characters are a great system because, supposedly, they have a one-to-one correspondence with language that other scripts cannot match and people can know what they mean by looking at them (!) and that they therefore have a high degree of artistic quality (g?odù de yìshùxìng). Basically, the person in charge of this project seems to have a bad case of the Like Wow syndrome, which is not a reassuring trait for someone in charge of producing a dictionary.
The same cooperation that built the Web sites led to a new book, Li?ng’àn M?irì Y? Cí (???????? / Roughly: Cross-Strait Term-a-Day Book), which was also touted at the press conference.
The book contains Hanyu Pinyin, as well as zhuyin fuhao. But, alas, the book makes the Pinyin look ugly and fails completely at the first rule of Pinyin: use word parsing. (In the online images from the book, such as the one below, all of the words are se pa ra ted in to syl la bles.)
The Web site also has ugly Pinyin, with the CSS file for the Taiwan site calling for Pinyin to be shown in SimSun, which is one of the fonts it’s better not to use for Pinyin. But the word parsing on the Web site is at least not always wrong. Here are a few examples.
- “???” is given as p?oshénr (good).
- And apostrophes appear to be used correctly: e.g., fàn’?n (??), ch?n’?n (??), and f?i’?n (??).
- But “???” is run together as “dìèrch?n” (no hyphen) rather than as shown correctly as dì-èr ch?n.
- And “??????” is given as yí?e tóu li?n??e dà (for Taiwan) and y??e tóu li?n??e dà (for China). But ge is supposed to be written separately. (The variation of tone for yi is in this case useful.)
Still, my general impression from this is that we should not expect the forthcoming cross-strait dictionary to be very good.
- M? z?ngt?ng: f?zh?n li?ng’àn t?ngyòng wénzì (????????????), China Times, February 9, 2012
- Ma applauds cross-strait online Chinese dictionary, Taipei Times, February 9, 2012
- Online databases detail cross-strait languages, China Post, February 9, 2012
- Z?ngt?ng: Zh?ngguó “chu? l?ba” d?ngyú Táiw?n “p?i m?pì” (???????????????????), Yam News, February 8, 2012
From time to time I come across references by the credulous to the supposed biblical roots of some Chinese characters. I was surprised to learn, however, that that manner of interpretation has been around for many years.
Even the early Jesuit Fathers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to whom we owe so much for pioneer work in the domain of Sinology, were not without occasional lapses of the kind, due no doubt to a laudable if excessive zeal. Finding the character ?, which is the common word for “a ship,” as indicated by ?, the earlier picture-character for “boat” seen on the left-hand side, one ingenious Father proceeded to analyse it as follows: —
? “ship,” ? “eight,” ? “mouth” = eight mouths on a ship—“the Ark.”
But the right-hand portion is merely the phonetic of the character; it was originally ? “lead,” which gave the sound required; then the indicator “boat” was substituted for “metal.”
So with the word ? “to prohibit.” Because it could be analysed into two ?? “trees” and ? “a divine proclamation,” an allusion was discovered therein to the two trees and the proclamation of the Garden of Eden; whereas again the proper analysis is into indicator and phonetic.
Nor is such misplaced ingenuity confined to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1892 a Protestant missionary published and circulated broadcast what he said was “evidence in favour of the Gospels,” being nothing less than a prophecy of Christ’s coming hidden in the Chinese character ? “to come.” He pointed out that this was composed of “a cross,” with two ?? ‘men,’ one on each side, and a ‘greater man’ ? in the middle.
That analysis is all very well for the character as it stands now; but before the Christian era this same character was written and was a picture, not of men and of a cross, but of a sheaf of corn. It came to mean “come,” says the Chinese etymologist, “because corn comes from heaven.”
Even if all the character etymologies Giles cites are not necessarily in keeping with modern scholarship, his principles here are correct.
The top 10 destinations for U.S. students studying abroad were unchanged in the 2009–2010 school year compared to the year before. China remained in fifth place, with its numbers up only 1.7% over the previous year.
By far the largest gains of destinations in the top 25 were those by Israel (60.7% — up to 3,146 visiting students) and India (44.4% — up to 3,884). Though not in the top 25, Taiwan also experienced very strong growth at 42.4% (850 students) — far higher than any other country in East Asia.
In second place for growth in East Asia was Japan (6.6%), which will soon replace Costa Rica in the top 10 if trends continue.
For places of origin of international students studying in the United States, China was by far the leader, with 157,558 students, about 50% more than India’s 103,895 students in the States. Third and fourth places were held by South Korea and Canada, respectively. Taiwan was fifth with 24,818 students.
Previous posts on this subject:
Shì shíhou le
Shì shíhou le, Zh?ngguórén! Shì shíhou le
Gu?ngch?ng shì dàji? de
Ji?o shì zìj? de
Shì shíhou yòng ji?o qù gu?ngch?ng zuòch? xu?nzé
Shì shíhou le, Zh?ngguórén! Shì shíhou le
G?q? shì dàji? de
Hóu[lóng] shì zìj? de
Shì shíhou yòng hóu[lóng] chàngch? x?nd? de g?q?
Shì shíhou le, Zh?ngguórén! Shì shíhou le
Zh?ngguó shì dàji? de
Xu?nzé shì zìj? de
Shì shíhou yòng zìj? xu?nzé wèilái de Zh?ngguó
—Zh? Yúf? (??? / Zhu Yufu), recently arrested in China for just this poem
Thanks to VHM for finding the full text of this poem for me.