interviews with Y.R. Chao

I’ve just stumbled across a book-length series of interviews with Y.R. Chao (Zhao Yuanren / Zhào Yuánrèn / ??? / ???). Even better: The complete text is available for free on the Web!

China Scholars Series: Chinese linguist, phonologist, composer and author, Yuen Ren Chao. An Interview Conducted by Rosemany Levenson, with an introduction by Mary Haas.

Wow. This is absolutely fabulous. The Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley, deserves praise for this. Other works of interest to readers of Pinyin News are also available; but more about those later, in separate posts.

In case any readers are not familiar with Chao (1892-1982), he was the finest linguist ever to come out of China. He was also a supporter of romanization; he was even the lead creator of an ingenious if somewhat complicated romanization system for Mandarin: Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But there’s no way a few short sentences could do justice to the depth and breadth of Chao’s learning. To get a better idea of the man, read the introduction to the work linked to above — and then read the rest!


Further reading: Y.R. Chao’s translation into Gwoyeu Romatzyh of the Humpty Dumpty section of Through the Looking-Glass, with Hanyu Pinyin and English

Courage… Cabnap… Grunplitk: zhuyin and the movie Fearless

Many Westerners are so attracted by Chinese characters, which tend to be absurdly exoticized as symbols [sic] or ideograms [sic] of deep meaning, that they place them here and there as if they were some sort of pixie dust that bestows coolness upon any object (or body). Often when they do so, they write these characters incorrectly or are mistaken about their meaning, as Tian of Hanzi Smatter continues to note. But you’d think that at least those who make trailers for Chinese movies would be a little better informed.

Fearless (Mandarin title: Huò Yuánji? / ???), which is billed as Jet Li’s final martial-arts movie, has been out in Asia since January but won’t reach the States until later this year. (I have no plans to see this movie, which appears from the trailer to be a string of the usual clichés. And, anyway, I have yet to forgive Jet Li for appearing in Hero, which is probably the biggest cinematic valentine to totalitarianism since Triumph of the Will.) One of the trailers for Fearless features a number of Chinese characters. They’re even written correctly. But, oddly enough, interspersed with the Chinese characters are zhuyin fuhao, also known as bopo mofo, a semi-syllabic script used in Taiwan mainly to help teach children to read. Odder still, the zhuyin make absolutely no sense.

Here’s how Taiwanonymous, on whose site I found this story, puts it:

Intercut with scenes from the movie was a burnt-yellow background, suggesting aged parchment, with Chinese characters flying past. Along with the Chinese characters were some Mandarin phonetic symbols (zhuyin fuhao ????). It’s bad enough that they included phonetic symbols (which are mainly used in Children’s books) in the flying sea of what wanted to be an ancient Chinese text, but the symbols flew past in strings of gibberish! Imagine the following text dramatically moving across the screen, “Integrity… Peace… Courage… Cabnap… Grunplitk… Uwsugls.” Gives you chills just thinking about it.

Here’s a screenshot from the trailer:
gibberish zhuyin in the background

Just below COMING SOON is a giant ?. For something written in English this would be the equivalent of putting a large letter G on the screen.

Along the right side of the screen is the following, in zhuyin fuhao: ?????. This, in Hanyu Pinyin, would be “maixrici,” which is complete gibberish. The other vertical lines of text are also nonsense in zhuyin fuhao.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with how these are written. It’s just that they’re no more meaningful than a random string of letters.

Here’s one more shot:
gibberish zhuyin in the background
The zhuyin fuhao on the left read, from top to bottom, ?????, which would be “chjktp” in Hanyu Pinyin. As I think should be obvious even to those who don’t know Mandarin or any other Sinitic language, this is simply nonsense.