reviews of books related to China and linguistics

Sino-Platonic Papers has just released online its first compilation of book reviews. Here is a list of the books discussed. (Note: The links below do not lead to the reviews but to other material.)

Invited Reviews

  • J. Marshall Unger, The Fifth Generation Fallacy. Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • Rejoinder by J. Marshall Unger
  • Hashimoto Mantaro, Suzuki Takao, and Yamada Hisao. A Decision for the Chinese NationsToward the Future of Kanji (Kanji minzoku no ketsudanKanji no mirai ni mukete). Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • S. Robert Ramsey. The Languages of China. Reviewed by Wm. C. Hannas
  • James H. Cole, Shaohsing. Reviewed by Mark A. Allee
  • Henry Hung-Yeh Tiee, A Reference Grammar of Chinese Sentences. Reviewed by Jerome L. Packard

Reviews by the Editor

  • David Pollack, The Fracture of Meaning
  • Jerry Norman, Chinese
  • N. H. Leon, Character Indexes of Modern Chinese
  • Shiu-ying Hu, comp., An Enumeration of Chinese Materia Medico
  • Donald M. Ayers, English Words from Latin and Greek Elements
  • Chen Gang, comp., A Dictionary of Peking Colloquialisms (Beijing Fangyan Cidian)
  • Dominic Cheung, ed. and tr., The Isle Full of Noises
  • Jonathan Chaves, ed. and tr., The Columbia Book of Later Chinese Poetry
  • Philip R. Bilancia, Dictionary of Chinese Law and Government
  • Charles O. Hucker, A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China
  • Robert K. Logan, The Alphabet Effect
  • Liu Zhengtan, Gao Mingkai, et al., comp., A Dictionary of Loan Words and Hybrid Words in Chinese (Hanyu Wailai Cidian)
  • The Mandarin Daily Dictionary of Loan Words (Guoyu Ribao Wailaiyu Cidian)
  • Shao Xiantu, Zhou Dingguo, et al., comp., A Dictionary of the Origins of Foreign Place Names (Waiguo Diming Yuyuan Cidian)
  • Tsung-tung Chang, Metaphysik, Erkenntnis und Praktische Philosophie um Chuang-Tzu
  • Irene Bloom, trans, ed., and intro., Knowledge Painfully Acquired: The K’un-chih chi of Lo Ch’in-shun
  • Research Institute for Language Pedagogy of the Peking College of Languages, comp., Frequency Dictionary of Words in Modern Chinese (Xiandai Hanyu Pinlyu Cidian)
  • Liu Yuan, chief compiler, Word List of Modern Mandarin (Xianhi Hanyu Cibiao)
  • The Editing Group of A New English-Chinese Dictionary, comp., A New English-Chinese Dictionary
  • BBC External Business and Development Group, Everyday Mandarin

This is SPP no. 8, from February 1988. The entire text is now online as a 4.2 MB PDF.

Mandarin’s ‘four languages’

Another back issue of Sino-Platonic Papers has been released: The Four Languages of “Mandarin”, by Robert M. Sanders of the University of Hawaii.

Here’s how it begins:

Many hours have been spent at scholarly meetings and many pages of academic writing have been expended discussing what is to be considered acceptable Mandarin. Very often these discussions degenerate into simplistic and narrow-minded statements such as “That’s not the way we say it in …!” or “We had better ask someone from Peking.” Objectively speaking, these disagreements on style reflect a less-than-rigorous definition of which type of Mandarin each party is referring to. Because there has been a failure by all concerned to define fully the linguistic and socio-linguistic parameters of their assumed language(s), Mandarin oranges are often unwittingly being compared with Mandarin apples. This paper is a preliminary attempt to articulate the fundamental differences distinguishing four major language types subsumed under the single English heading ‘Mandarin’. Though the Chinese terms putonghua/guoyu, guanhua, and difanghua help to accentuate the conceptual distinctions distinguishing our four types of Mandarin, it is arguable that even Chinese scholars are not immune from confusing one language with another.

Sanders goes on to indentify and discuss what he calls

  1. Idealized Mandarin
  2. Imperial Mandarin
  3. Geographical Mandarin
  4. Local Mandarin

The entire text is now online for free in both HTML and PDF (875 KB) formats.

Professor Sanders is also one of the associate editors of the excellent ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary.

Why ‘Beijing’ was spelled ‘Peking’

Sino-Platonic Papers has just released one of its popular back issues as a free PDF. This one, no. 19 (June 1990), deals with the common question of What’s up with that “Peking” spelling, anyway?

As Bosat Man explains in “Backhill / Peking / Beijing”:

The three main contributing factors to the discrepancy between Peking and Beijing are:

  1. a plethora of romanizations
  2. a welter of local pronunciations, and
  3. phonological change over time.

He then goes into detail, especially about the third point. The whole work is just six pages, single spaced. Here it is: “Backhill / Peking / Beijing” (1 MB PDF).

Beijing to turn some textbook readings into cartoons

Portions of some textbooks in the PRC are being turned into animated cartoons for primary- and secondary-school students.

Wang Ying, the general manager of the Children’s Art and Play Theater Co. and chief organizer of the activity, described this as “an innovative move to further develop cultural products for 367 million people in China aged under 18.”

The scripts for the screenplays are being selected through a nationwide competition.

The cartoons will cover such subjects as ancient poems, fairy tales, and foreign novels.

For more information, see the official website.

source: Chinese youngsters to enjoy cartoon plays based on textbooks, Xinhua, October 13, 2005

Beijing subway signage — some photos

Sonarchic sent in photos of some signs in the Beijing subway system.

The typography for English and Pinyin is generally poor, as is common in China.

There are several things in general I’d like to draw attention to:

  • Everything is in a boring sans-serif.
  • The letters are often set too close together and occasionally too far apart.
  • The size of the English/romanization relative to the Chinese characters varies, with the English text often too small. (The latter is increasingly a problem in Taiwan.)

OK, now to the photos.

column-mounted list of station names along one particular Beijing subway line

  • very tight tracking between most of the Roman letters, except around the letter I
  • enormous (and incorrect) space after the apostrophes in “Tian’anmen” (which is, correctly, written with an apostrophe, BTW) and “Yong’anli” (which should perhaps be written “Yong’an Li”)
  • yet the apostrophes in the time-to-station markings are not followed by enormous spaces
  • failure to parse many words correctly, e.g., “Lù” (“Road” / ?) should be written apart from the name of the road: G?chéng Lù (???), not GUCHENGLU, etc.

sign hanging from the ceiling of a Beijing subway station, with arrows showing which way to different lines

  • note different word spacing between “TO” and “LINE” than between “LINE” and the number

click for larger image

  • This should almost certainly be “Changchun Jie” (jie means “street”), not “CHANGCHUNJIE”.

click for larger image

  • only Chinese characters identify this as the northeast exit (??? D?ngb?i k?u)
  • uneven left margin for the English/romanization
  • very small English in relation to the Chinese characters
  • clumsy letterspacing around capital I’s
  • too much space after the period in JRJ.COM
  • uneven spacing, as can be seen in the two uses of the word “insurance” comparison of the sizes of the word 'insurance' on the same sign

stylized image of a person sitting on a stair, with the caption 'no loitering' in English and Mandarin

further reading:

English tips from the school formerly known as Peking University

old logo of Peking UniversityPeking University, China’s most prestigious school, has announced that it is planning a change. First, the school’s logo will be redesigned. The original was made by Lu Xun, who was apparently not just a great writer and an impassioned advocate of romanization and critic of Chinese characters but also an artist.

Significantly, the new logo design will feature a different English name: the University of Beijing. This is especially interesting because “Peking University” had officially remained as such in English despite China’s official adoption of Hanyu Pinyin.

Moreover, “Beijing University,” which would match the Mandarin Chinese name of Beijing Daxue (English and Mandarin have much the same syntax), is not to be used except in informal contexts. Instead, the name is to be the “University of Beijing.” That is, according to the school, because in formal English names the place name has to come after “college” or “university”:

Běijīng Dàxué zài shuōmíng zhōng zhǐchū, gēnjù Yīngyǔ yǔfǎ guīzé, dìmíng zuòwéi xíngróngcí de xuéxiào míngzi wǎngwǎng zhǐshì yòngyú kǒuyǔ de jiǎnchēng, ér zài zhèngshì de shūmiànyǔ zhōng zé yīnggāi jiāng dìmíng zuòwéi míngcí zhìyú “xuéyuàn” huò “dàxué” zhīhòu.

Danwei, where I first spotted this story, has helpfully translated one delightfully arch reaction to this English lesson.

Evidently the professors at PKU’s English department will have to give new names to the following British and American universities according to PKU’s English grammar rules:

Princeton University, New York University, Boston University, Syracuse University, Lancaster University, Coventry University, Cranfield University, Bournemouth University, Keele University, Middlesex University, Roehampton University, Athabasca University, Brandon University….

Would the leaders of PKU please inform the leaders of those universities the next time they meet with them? Some, like like Princeton University, New York University and such, are considerably more famous than PKU. Try to have them follow PKU’s English grammar rule first, and then it can become a wordwide rule of English grammar, and PKU can have a world-leading innovation.


Before I close, here are a couple more points:

  • Peking is not the Wade-Giles spelling for what in Hanyu Pinyin is Beijing. (The Wade-Giles spelling for Beijing is Pei-ching, which never caught on in English.)
  • The correct way to write 北大 in Pinyin is Bei-Da, not Bei Da or Beida. Short forms of proper nouns take a hyphen, according to the rules for hyphens in Pinyin.


Beijing Olympics to use icons modeled after seal script

Danwei notes that Beijing’s Olympics committee has come up with its version of the icons for the sports of the games. These graphics are modeled after seal script, a style of writing that came to prominence about two thousand years ago.

images of icons for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China
Above are the icons for baseball, shooting, sailing, softball, cycling, and golf hockey.

Here’s part of how the committee describes the items:

Named “the beauty of seal characters” and with strokes of seal characters as their basic form, the Pictograms of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games integrate pictographic charm of inscriptions on bones and bronze objects in ancient China with simplified embodiment of modern graphics, making them recognizable, rememberable and easy to use.

Although seal script can still be seen on name chops (seals) and some calligraphy, few people can read it well if at all.

additional resources:

source: New Olympic Icons, Danwei, August 7, 2006

more on Beijing’s English and Pinyin signage

The plan to mix Pinyin and English on signage in Beijing is now official.

Orientations in road names should be in English, such as “MAIJIAPU East Rd.” This is unless it is part of the actual name, like “BEIWEI Rd.” [The “bei” in Beiwei means “north.”] However, road names starting with orientations should have them in initials only, for example, “E. CHANG’AN Ave.”

This regulation is the first part of a campaign to standardize English translations on public signs in Beijing. The campaign will extend to all tourist spots, commercial and cultural facilities, museums, subways, sports centers and hospitals in the city, the report said.

The use of “avenue” will be restricted for the time being to Chang’an Ave., Ping’an Ave, and Liangguang Ave.

A few terms will go untranslated: hutong (alley), li (lane), qu (district), and yuan (garden). Such terms are viewed as embodying Beijing’s culture (tǐxiàn Běijīng chéngshì wénhuà tèsè); the articles didn’t mention, however, that hutong is a loan word from Mongolian.

A few old standards will remain. “Tsinghua University” will remain as such; but road signs will read, for example, Qinghua South Rd.