rice pizza = ‘mizza’

advertising photo of Pizza Hut's rice pizza; the copy reads '米zza 超ㄏㄤ美味新鮮fun'Something written with three different scripts (Chinese characters, zhuyin, and the roman alphabet) is very much the sort of thing that attracts my attention, as is a product that mixes scripts in its name. So this ad for a new product from Taiwan’s Pizza Hut definitely caught my eye, though it did not inspire me to actually taste the item being touted, which is a rice pizza. (Generally, I do not care for pizzas with Taiwanese characteristics, such as those with peas, corn, or squid. For that matter, I don’t even like pineapple on pizza.)

The name for this rice pizza, “米zza” (mǐzza), is a portmanteau — using two different languages and two different scripts, no less. 米 is the Chinese character for , which is used mainly in rice- and other grain-associated words. The second part of the word comes, of course, from “pizza.”

Let’s move on to the slogan:

米zza 超ㄏㄤ美味 新鮮fun

In romanization, this is

mǐzza: chāo hāng měiwèi — xīnxiān fun

Here we have Chinese characters (zza ㄏㄤ美味新鮮fun), zhuyin (米zza 超ㄏㄤ美味新鮮fun), and the Roman alphabet (米zza 超ㄏㄤ美味新鮮fun). Three scripts in just one line! (Yes, yes, I know that a line in written Japanese will often have just as many scripts, if not more; but this is Mandarin.)

The zhuyin, ㄏㄤ, represent hāng, a new slang word that, according to several people I have asked, has appeared within the last five years at most. It means “hot” in the sense of “extremely popular right now.”

Also, there’s a possibility that the English word “fun” is meant to echo the Mandarin fàn (飯 / 饭/ “rice”). Such puns across languages are not uncommon here, especially in local Internet slang.

So, the whole slogan might be translated as “Rice pizza: the super-’hot’ delicious food — fresh, new fun.” Sorry, that’s not a very good translation; it works better in Mandarin.

I predict such portmanteaux and mixing will be increasingly common here in Taiwan, where code switching is a way of life for many people. “Mǐzza” could be the wave of the future — just not the culinary future, I hope.

source: Taiwan Pizza Hut menu page, accessed January 30, 2007

mother-bleeping X’s

Click to enlarge. Taiwanese movie poster for the Western film 'Severance' (斷頭氣). It contains the line '員工旅遊變生死遊戲 真他X的煩 Orz'

Language Log has had quite a few posts in recent months on the bleeping out of letters from obscenities. I’d like to add here an example of something bleeped out of a string of Chinese characters.

The other day I noticed an ad on the side of a bus for the forthcoming British slasher film Severance. (I didn’t get a good photo of this ad, so here I’m using an image of the poster for this movie.) In Mandarin this has the rather uninspired title of Duàntóu qì (斷頭氣: “Severed Head Qi“).

What really caught my eye, however, was the tag line in Chinese characters:

員工旅遊變生死遊戲 真他X的煩 Orz

This is interesting not just for the use of Orz, which is Net slang, but also for the bleeping out of the middle character of the obscenity tāmā de (他媽的, sometimes seen as “tamade“), rendering it 他X的. (Note too that a Roman letter rather than a Chinese character was used for this.)

There’s nothing obscene about the middle character by itself (媽). It’s used in writing words related to (“mother”). For that matter, there’s nothing in the least impolite about any of the characters by themselves or the individual morphemes they represent. The phrase as a whole literally means simply “his mother’s.” But as a whole the phrase works as something that youngsters would get into trouble for saying around their parents or elders and that would probably not be used on television (not without bleeping the subtitles, at least).

Lu Xun (Lǔ Xùn/鲁迅/魯迅) wrote a brief essay about the expression tama de. (For an English translation and notes of Lu Xun’s tama de essay, see Lu Xun on the Chinese “national swear”, an excellent post by Huichieh Loy of From a Singapore Angle.)

Back to the bleeping. As the results of Google searches show, 他媽的 and 他X的 are both common, though the original form is much more so.

  total of all domains within .cn domains within .tw domains
他X的 98,100 22,700 6,960
他媽的 1,910,000 173,000 903,000

Note that .cn (PRC) domains have 23.14% of the total 他X的s but only 9.06% of the total 他媽的s. This difference is probably a result of China’s Net nanny culture. On the other hand, specifically PRC domains still have a lot of 他媽的s. (Or rather 他妈的s, using the so-called simplified form of 媽.) Taiwan domains, however, have more than five times as many, which in the spirit of this post I should probably call a fucking lot of 他媽的s.

Out of curiousity I also ran searches for the other letters of the alphabet and found a spike for the 他M的. The letter M serves here as an abbreviation for the ma of tama de. Accordingly, it’s no surprise to see that 他ma的 is also found and that both 他M的 and 他ma的 are relatively rare in .tw domains (since people in Taiwan aren’t taught romanization).

  total of all domains within .cn domains within .tw domains
他M的 21,200 4,220 128
他ma的 12,400 2,620 168

To my surprise, I also came across a lesser spike for the use of the letter Y: 他Y的

  total of all domains within .cn domains within .tw domains
他Y的 8,450 1,520 14

The 他Y的s are mainly referring to a sadistic Flash game Pìpì chōu tā Y de (屁屁抽他Y的).

But it appears this isn’t really intended to be the letter Y from the Roman alphabet. Instead, Y appears to be used in place of zhuyin fuhao’s similar-looking ㄚ, which represents the sound that Hanyu Pinyin assigns to the Roman letter A. Thus, 他Y的 is not read “ta Y de” but more like “taaa de.” (See Some Things Chinese Characters Can’t Do-Be-Do-Be-Do.) Oddly enough, there are thousands of pages with 他Y的 (Roman letter Y) but just a handful with 他ㄚ的 (bopo mofo ㄚ). This may be from the relative ease of typing the letter Y instead of zhuyin’s ㄚ. Another odd result is that many of the 他ㄚ的s are within .cn domains but in traditional Chinese characters. [Later addition: See the comments for clarification on this.]

Since the subject of zhuyin fuhao came up, I made some additional searches:

  total of all domains within .cn domains within .tw domains
ㄊㄚㄇㄚㄉㄜ 0 0 0
他ㄇㄚ的 142 0 55
他ㄇ的 3,820 16 1,410
ㄊㄇㄉ 408 0 2

“TMD” is another extremely common way to indicate tama de. But too many unrelated results turn up in searches for me to give useful numbers for this.

OK, I’m finally finished with this tama de post.

ensure zhuyin is taught thoroughly: education official

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education is worried that with so many students entering first grade already knowing zhuyin fuhao, having learned it from their parents or at a buxiban (cram school) or preschool, some teachers are neglecting to ensure that all their students have a thorough grounding in this script. Since zhuyin is used to help teach students Chinese characters, a lack of proficiency in reading zhuyin could severely hamper a child’s ability to perform well in school.

I’ve seen reports from China of related worries there — but regarding Pinyin, not zhuyin, of course.

The original article in Chinese characters is no longer online, so I’m supplying the full text in Pinyin (which is all I have now).

Kāixué le, duì xiǎo yī xīnshēng láishuō, zhùyīn fúhào shì yǔwén lǐngyù de zhòngdiǎn, yuē xū shàngkè 10 zhōu, què yīn bùshǎo yòuzhìyuán yǐ tíqián jiāo guò, bùfen xiǎo yī lǎoshī yǐ duōshù xuésheng yǐ xuéhuì, lüèguò bù jiāo. Jiàoyùbù zuótiān zhǐchū, rúguǒ yǒu zhèizhǒng qíngxing, jiāzhǎng yīnggāi xiàng lǎoshī hé xuéxiào fǎnyìng.

Jiǔ nián yīguàn kèchéng guīdìng, xiǎo yī shàng xuéqī jiùyào shúxí, rèn dú, zhèngquè shūxiě zhùyīn fúhào yǐjí pīnyīn fāngfǎ, Jiàoyùbù guójiào sī guānyuán biǎoshì, wǎngnián dōu yǒu bùshǎo jiāzhǎng tóusù, bàoyuàn xiǎo yī de lǎoshī yīnwèi bān shàng duōshù xuésheng yǐjing xuéhuì zhùyīn fúhào, shěnglüè bù jiāo, yǐngxiǎng qítā xuésheng de shòujiào quán.

Jiàoyùbù zhōngyāng kèchéng yǔ jiāoxué yǔwén kē fǔdǎo zīxún lǎoshī Wú Huì-huā zhǐchū, shàngxué qīyuē yǒu 21 dào 22 zhōu, gēnjù kèchéng ānpái, xiǎo yī zhùyīn fúhào yào shàng 10 zhōu, zhīhòu lǎoshī huì kāishǐ jiāo guózì.

Wú Huì-huā shuō, gè bǎnběn kèběn yǒuguān zhùyīn fúhào jiàofǎ bùtóng, xiànzài yǐ hěn shǎo ànzhào zìmǔ shùnxù, yǒude zhào mǔyīn, yǒude zé ànzhào kèběn nèiróng, rú “xiǎo bái’é, ài chànggē” zhōng, huì xiān jiāo bǐjiào jiǎndān de “ㄅ” “ㄍ” děng, bùshǎo lǎoshī dàgài lìyòng 8, 9 zhōu shàng wán, jiēzhe tì xuésheng fùxí.

Wú Huì-huā shuō, bùshǎo jiāzhǎng pà lǎoshī bù jiāo zhùyīn fúhào, háizi shū zài qǐpǎoxiàn shàng, yīncǐ shàng yòuzhìyuán shí, huò xiǎo yī rùxué qián, jiùràng háizi xiān xué, huò qù bǔxí.

Gēnjù guānchá, xiǎo yīshēng yuē yǒu 6, 7 chéng yǐ huì zhùyīn fúhào, dàn chéngdu luòchā hěn dà, bùshǎo xuésheng kàn le huì niàn, dàn pīnxiě bù chūlai.

Wú Huì-huā biǎoshì, jíshǐ bān shàng yībàn yǐshàng xuésheng dōu yǐ xuéhuì zhùyīn fúhào, lǎoshī háishi yīnggāi ànzhào kèbiǎo shàngkè, yóuqí bùnéng fàngqì hái bù huì de xuésheng, gèng yào zhùyì chéngdu shàng de luòchā.

Zhùyīn fúhào jí pīnzì shì guówén zhòngyào jīchǔ, Wú Huì-huā shuō, jiāzhǎng měitiān kě huā yīdiǎn shíjiān, yào háizi lǎngdú shàngkè de nèiróng, tì háizi fùxí, duì háizi xuéxíhuì yǒu bāngzhù, dàn bùbì tài jiāolǜ, bùxū wéixué zhùyīn fúhào qù bǔxí.

source: Xiǎo yī bù jiāo zhùyīn — jiāzhǎng kě fǎnyìng (小一不教注音 家長可反映), September 1, 2006

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.


bopomofo: the band

I suppose it was inevitable: a Taiwan band named after bopomofo (a.k.a. zhuyin fuhao), the semi-syllabic script still used in Taiwan schools in place of a romanization system. I need to remember to ask Poagao or Sandy of David Chen and the Muddy Basin Ramblers if the band is any good.

So, does anyone know if anyone in China or elsewhere has named a band after Pinyin? So-and-so and the Hanyu Pinyins might work for a doo-wop group; but I’m guessing that particular musical style has never really taken off in China. So there’s probably not much hope either for “Y.R. Chao and the Gwoyeu Romatzyhs.” But maybe a punk or metal band could name itself Tongyong.

via The Real Taiwan blog

campaign poster, zhuyin, and the color purple

closeup of banner, showing zhuyin for two characters

campaign banner with zhuyin to help people read the candidate's nameI’ve already written some about campaign banners and literacy. But it’s campaign season again in Taiwan, with elections for neighborhood chiefs to be held this Saturday, and Taffy of Taiwanease.com and Tailingua has sent me a photo of a campaign banner that features zhuyin fuhao (also known as bopo mofo) alongside the characters for the candidate’s given name. That’s the sort of thing I can’t resist.

The banner is interesting not only in that it gives zhuyin but also that it gives zhuyin for just some of the characters. For the name Wú Zǐ-yīng (吳紫纓) we are given:



(See detail at top right.)

That zhuyin is not used for all of the characters in the name indicates that those who created the banner regarded the zhuyin as advisable for two of the characters. Yet the only character here that is particularly uncommon is the last one: 纓. It is used for yīngzi (纓子), a word for “tassel.”

吳, used for the family name Wu, is a fairly common character and is not displayed with zhuyin.

On the other hand, 紫, which is used for zǐsè (紫色/purple), is roughly the 1,700th most common character. Thus, people of voting age in Taiwan should know this character; yet evidently that cannot be taken for granted. This rank would also mean that people living in China’s countryside, though not in the cities, could be declared “literate” even without being able to read or write this character. (This helps illustrate how standards in China are too low. And, even so, literacy figures there are greatly exaggerated.)

Please permit me to stress the obvious: There is nothing in the least bit obscure in Taiwan or China about the Mandarin word for “purple.” Zǐsè is a word that essentially all native speakers of Mandarin would know, regardless of education, just as essentially all native speakers of English would know the word “purple.” But because the powers that be continue to emphasize the exclusive use of Chinese characters, a sizable number of people are incapable of reading (much less writing) the word for “purple.” This extends even to thousands of other words within people’s vocabularies, a situation that would not exist if romanization were permitted as an orthography.

(I’m still wondering why no bloggers who focus more on Taiwan politics have picked up on what I wrote about before: Ballots in Taiwan do not identify a candidate’s political party in any way (not even a logo), except for presidential elections, which are the one election in which everyone already knows for sure the party affiliation of the major candidates. Am I the only person who thinks this is significant? But it’s off-topic for this site, so I’ll not pursue this further here.)

Oh, if anyone’s curious, the title of the Alice Walker book The Color Purple is translated in Taiwan as Zǐsè zǐ-mèihuā (紫色姊妹花).

titallative zhuyin — screenshots

click for larger image of scantily clad dancers displaying signs with zhuyin fuhaoI finally got to see the “spicy girls pronunciation class” (“là mèi zhèngyīn bān” / 辣妹正音班), which was lucky because the replay time was different than announced. The segment began about 1:15 p.m. on Sunday.

Here’s how it works. About half a dozen la mei strut out to the tune of “Dragostea Din Tei” (a.k.a. “The Numa Numa Dance”). The zhuyin fuhao and separate tone marks are affixed to cards attached to enormous, gloved hands. As they dance, the women occasionally flash the zhuyin at the contestant, who is supposed to figure out what the scrambled zhuyin spell out.

Now you see ’em.
revealing the zhuyin

Now you don’t.
hiding the zhuyin

And, of course, what’s a Taiwan variety show without an overweight man in drag thrown in for comic effect?
Taiwan TV -- man in drag

Failure to read the word or phrase in question in time results in a throrough soaking — for the contestant, not that dancers, that is.
unsuccessful TV show contestant is doused with water

titillative zhuyin

One of Taiwan’s trashy TV variety shows has found a new use for zhuyin fuhao: making a game out of men trying to read zhuyin pasted on the bodies of bouncing, gyrating, bikini-clad models.

This particular segment of the show is called “là mèi zhèngyīn bān” (spicy girls pronunciation class / 辣妹正音班).


As much as I’m curious about this, I tend to run screaming from the room if made to endure more than a few seconds of such programs. But for those of you with greater ability to stand such things, the program runs on Eastern Television (Dōng Sēn Zōnghé Tái / 東森綜合台) on Saturdays from 6 to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. Oh, how I would love a screen shot!

source: 與小潘潘交纏玩「滾滾樂」 吳宗憲:比那檔事還要累!, March 31, 2006