Written by Julen Madariaga on May 3rd, 2010
Here is the post I promised analyzing the fate of our friend Michael in the Tianya BBS. Michael (卖抠) is the main character in the little Chinese story I wrote last week. I didn’t write the story particularly for this purpose, but once it was there I thought it would be a good idea to repost it to the Chinese BBS forums. Most of my readers here are not Chinese speakers, and I was curious to see how it fared among natives.
Many of us visit forums like Tianya or Mop to read the hottest topics and get a feel of what is trending on the Chinese internet. However, we don’t usually take an actively role, at least I had never tried posting before. This experience with Michael has taught me a few things about how these forums work, and in particular one of the biggest, Tianya. I know many people out there are interested in this, so here are the points I noted for your info: Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on May 3rd, 2010
A little update on the Oriental Morning Post. I know nobody is interested because nobody actually reads this paper (not even its editors), but for the sake of consistency I have to inform of their new exploits. Follow me in this new chapter of their fascinating spiral to hell.
The weekend’s Oriental had the following breakthroughs:
A front page headline stating that the “200,000 people at the EXPO opening day were all high”. I have no idea why they wrote that “high” in English, but it looks like a silly eye-catcher in the wake of the English Letters debate. I suspect the editor didn’t intend any double meaning, in spite of the photograph. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 30th, 2010
This week I have little time to do the Language post, partly because I have been busy writing a short story, partly because I have already discussed a good deal about language in other blogs. I take advantage of this to do the post with my final views on Shanghainese after the long discussion we had on the Wu blog.
The discussion started with an unrelated comment on a language learning site. But what really got me heated up is the painful realization that many Shanghainese speakers – or more precisely Wu speakers – not only don’t protect their beautiful language, but they are in fact actively destroying their rich cultural heritage out of pure ignorance.
If you have been reading me for a while, you probably know that I feel very strongly about languages, and particularly about disappearing ones. Perhaps part of the reason is that I come from a culture where we spend a significant amount of our resources to promote a minority language, so small and useless that it has about 1% of the speakers of Shanghainese. Stupid perhaps, but it is our language. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 29th, 2010
Here is my first short story in Chinese. The title is “Lost in Translation”, and it illustrates the potential consequences of bad mandarin pronunciation. If you don’t read Chinese I left a little summary in comments, or else use G Translator to get the enhanced experience.
UPDATE: I have reposted this on Tianya to give it some air time among Chinese readers. By now the post has stabilized at around 3000 reads and 50 comments, I don’t think it will go much further. It was a nice experiment in Chinese BBS propagation, I will analyze the results soon.
他写的让我太诧异了。更奇怪的是，居然我发现他会中文。我迫不及待的要他说这是怎么一回事。他说一年前，在我们美国的老家，因为那个金融风暴他的公司倒闭了。他失业了不知道该怎么办，有一天在路上看到了一个广告说“学会中文掌握未来！”就决定了报名上中文课。谁想到卖抠爱上了他的老师曹晓琳，一个来自江西的留学生。不到三个月他们就谈了恋爱。 Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 23rd, 2010
Today I just wanted to comment on the mysterious world of Chinese punctuation. It is a fascinating field in these times when everyone accuses Chinese of discriminating against our foreign symbols. In fact, there is a kind of foreign symbols that are used in practically every sentence of modern Chinese: the points, the commas, and all the rest of punctuation signs.
As is natural in any language, when the Chinese decided to adopt these signs to clarify their script, they set their own rules for using them. There are many examples of punctuation marks that are apparently identical in Chinese and in Western languages but in fact have different meanings and uses. This is not the main point of the post, but I will stop slightly on one of the example that I think is fun.
The sighing mark
For some reason the (!) that is known in the West as exclamation mark got translated in to Chinese as 叹号, that is, the 叹 mark. This 叹 character is most commonly used today in expressions like 叹气, and its meaning is closer to sigh or acclaim than to exclaim. My theory is this is the reason behind that quirk of the Chinese netizens who write “!” marks on every second sentence. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 20th, 2010
Saturday there was some alarming movement down the road. Starting early morning masses of unidentified individuals concentrated near the intersection, partially blocking the traffic. They were visibly nervous, but their expression was firm, clearly they intended to hold the position. They had been there for almost 2 hours when I arrived with the camera.
When I approached, I saw they were parents waiting for their children. It was the “Shanghai City Common English for Children Stars Level Exam“, an official certification of English level for children in 小学 (6-11 yo). From what I understood, it is organized by some bureau of the City of Shanghai one of many private companies. The levels are given in stars: 1 star, 2 stars, 3 stars, and the exam emphasizes oral communication. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 17th, 2010
Today I just wanted to share this picture, taken by one of the brave reporters in the Oriental toilet paper, who were first on the scene:
This is a brand new sculpture called “communication”, just arrived from the US to Shanghai to commemorate the 30 years of the opening of relations between the two countries. It is a great initiative, following the old tradition initiated in Troy and continued with the Statue of Liberty…
Except that, wait a second! Who are these guys? Do they represent Nixon and Mao? And why are they dressed up as two grannies getting ready for tea? Perverts! Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 15th, 2010
This little piece by historian Hong Zhenkuai has been taken down from the Southern Metropolis, but it has managed to escape the censors on some other sites. I liked the subtle way Hong criticizes the reigning CCP dynasty, and the cool Chinese rendering of “L’Etat c’est moi” as “朕即国家“.
Since I don’t have the time for Language Thursdays today, I have done this bit of translation work:
The French Bourbon king Louis XIV reportedly said “L’etat c’est moi”. Even if all the World’s sovereigns love autocracy, few of them would say it so openly. Louis XIV ruled from 1643 to 1715, the same period as China’s Kangxi. Kangxi’s thought was probably not unlike “L’etat c’est moi”, but clearly he had more “wisdom with Chinese characteristics” than Louis XIV – he did a lot of “humane actions”, thus earning a reputation of humane Lord while still ruling as a dictator.
In the ideas of the Sovereign People, the sovereignty belongs to the people and it is not “L’Etat c’est moi” but rather “L’Etat is us“. Of course this kind of ideas only appeared after Louis XIV’s death. In his age there were not many in the World who could tell the difference between the notions of sovereign, government and State. In China, even if the pre-Qin philosopher Mencius said: “first the people, then the State then the monarch”, in fact in the 2000+ years since the Qin and the Han, Patriotism has meant Loyalty to the Monarch, and these two concepts are muddled. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 12th, 2010
Here is an update to yesterday’s review of Han Han, with some additional info about the Time nomination, which might be more important than it appears at first sight.
Then, if you stay till the end of this chapter, we will put on the yellow socks to analyze a bit more that terrible scourge of our times: the Ulterior Motives. This is for the benefit of all the puppet journalists and researchers who enjoy using that phrase, please pay attention.
The comments today come in the form of title-paragraphs, to allow for easy skimming:
1- The rules of the Time 100 are often misunderstood and heavily criticized, especially after internet star moot hacked the online poll last year and turned it into a joke. However, what you should keep in mind is that the internet poll only selects one of the members of the Time 100 list. That is, only the top person in the online poll makes it into the final official list, and in the position that Time editors decide. To be fair, it does make sense to include at least this one person from the poll, as it is representative of online mobilization power (when it is not hacked). Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 10th, 2010
Han Han has been nominated for the Time’s most Influential People, and pushed by the millions of Chinese netizens, he is quickly ascending to a likely Number 1. Xujun Eberlein has done a good analysis of the situation, particularly the disgusting way that the People’s Daily and the Shanghai Daily are trying to downplay and oppose Han Han’s election - and ironically helping him to get more votes.
I found the article on Shanghai Daily revolting. The one on the PD is so obviously unprofessional that it’s harmless, after all this is not a real newspaper. But the ShD, what is wrong with these people? What orders are they following from above, to cast Han in this light? The critique by R. Zhou we commented last year was at least intelligent and it had a point, but this clown writing on the ShD sounds like a clueless mouthpiece at the service of the party.
First of all, regarding the books, everybody knows that Han is not doing great literature. For the outside World, his work is largely untranslatable and devoid of meaning, which explains why he is not known in the West. But even for the Chinese readers he has little to offer today. His most successful novel is a juvenile rant packed with High School inside jokes that are only funny for spotty teenagers. His initial critique of the education system was sharp and well-aimed, but since then he has failed to develop into an adult author. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 9th, 2010
I never thought of this before, but when I was asked this week which was my favourite province in China, I naturally answered Zhejiang. I have been travelling there again on QingMing holidays and I have been reflecting what a remarkable place it is.
Zhejiang is the smallest province in the mainland, just a bit larger than the Chongqing municipality. But in this small area it contains some of the most beautiful places to visit in China. From the imperial gardens in Hangzhou to the islands off Ningbo or the beautiful cloudy peaks, it is like a whole China in miniature has been condensed there for the traveler to visit conveniently.
But it is for people watchers that Zhejiang is most remarkable. The almost 50 million people packed there have managed to get the highest GDP per capita of any Chinese province, something even more impressive considering it contains no major cities, and it is usually taken as an example of development through local initiative as opposed to the models in Shenzhen, Shanghai or Tianjin. Click to continue »
Written by Julen Madariaga on April 8th, 2010
In this week’s language post I want to speak about language protectionism. I am not sure this is the word I am looking for, but if you have been following the blogs for the last couple of weeks you probably know what I mean. It all started with this proposal last month to ban English words from the media in order to preserve the “purity of Chinese language”. Now it looks like the authorities have taken it seriously, and yesterday the TV channels were officially notified of the new language policies.
I am of the opinion that the blogosphere, including some respected linguist sites, have made a lot of noise for no reason. Or rather, for two reasons: one is the old problem of Chinese messing up their PR (the word “purity” is a particularly bad choice in the context of culture). The other one is that the China blogging scene is overwhelmingly American, and it is difficult for Americans to understand the problem of language colonization.
I am a big admirer of the openness and flexibility of the English language. Reading blogs like the Language Log I learnt to appreciate the descriptivist approach to linguistics (to study how a language is, instead of vainly dictating how it should be), and I believe this laissez-faire attitude has helped to make English the richest language in the World. Click to continue »