Miscellaneous Diq-dooq from Chevras HamMis-dakdekim.
"Oh no! The diqueduque geeques are here! Run for the hills!"Godol Hador, 06.29.06 2:45 pm

Languages covered so far:
•Modern Hebrew
•Tok Pisin

Monday, November 28, 2005

Brief intro to TOKPISIN

Tokpisin is a pidgin (though now a creole) spoken in Papua-New Guinea and nearby island groups, that developed as a lingua franca among natives who were in contact with English speakers, and whose native tongues were unintelligible to each other.

One of the remarkable characterisitics of the language is that it can be speedily learned, thus facilitating communication among a populus with over seven hundred native languages.

Bislama (from Beche le mer, a French term for trepang, if I'm not mistaken) is nearly the same as Tokpisin.

Both languages describe rather than invent new words, and in consequence have their own menmonic content, which is fairly transparent for the English speaker.

A few examples:
Asgras = Clothing (arse-grass).
Spakman = Drunkard (sparked person).
Wailpusi = Jungle feline (wild pussycat).
Abus = Wild animal ('bush').
Wantok = Person from the same linguistic group (one-talk).
Mipela yupela olpela (we the people).

My favourite Tokpisin demo-phrase is the not entirely hypothetical "E, yupela bosman bilong im dispela stoa, yu gatim wanpela bokis i gatim marasin bis i bilongim binatang i kaikai laplap na laplap i bagarap na binatang i dai pinis o nogat?"

Storekeeper, do you have mothballs?

[A very important question in a place with numerous insect pests.]

"Hey, you-fellow (counting word for humans and similar large things or creatures) boss-man that is connected with (bilong: general verb, to belong, connected to, related to) this particular unit of (this + fellow: counting word) store (stoa), do you have (gat+im: got him, have) a (one fellow) box which has (he got him) medicine (marasin) beads (bis) that relate to the insect (binatang) that eats cloth (he 'kai kai' 'laplap) and the cloth is destroyed (bagarap) and the insect subsequently dies (he die finish - because of the medicine beads), or not?

Pela is a general term for persons, creatures, things. Like many languages, Tokpisin functions best when numeral coefficients are used.

Bilong, bilong en, bilong im = Belong is a multi-purpose verb.

Bokis = Box, but also box-shaped things. Blakbox = A) Flying fox; B) Term for the feminine generative organ.

Marasin = Medicine, hence chemicals and chemical products, including items toxic to humans.

Binatang = Insect, from Malay animal or creature.

Kaikai = Te eat; from Malayo-Polynesian 'eat', duplicated verb form.

Laplap = Cloth; either from Dutch or German 'rag', or from Melanesian Lavalava (loin-wrap).

Bagarap = Destroyed, ruined (borrowed from the Australians).

Pinis = Completed tense post-fix (finish). Like 'stap' (stop), which indicates an ongoing action (yu mas sit stap = please remain seated. Baimbai balus i stap pinis = eventually the plane will stop moving).

They hold parlementary debates in this language (which should be a hoot to read the transcripts of; the local conservative party is aptly called the 'big-pela parti'), and the Bible has been translated into it - trust me, the Book of Revelations is over the top insanity in tokpisin.

I have to re-review the material, there is much I've grown rusty in.

Moa i kam lukim yu bihain (more later)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

מעשה רב

I posted this in a comment thread on Hirhurim a few months ago. (Ah, those were the days! DiqduqGeeks had just started, and Steg, Lipman, and I were spending about 20 hours a day pouring diqduq into the comment-threads on the big-time blogs.)

Lipman hath encouraged me to re-post this comment as a post here, so I am doing so:

Gil wrote:

>ma'aseh rav

This reminds me of two things:

1. We usually understand this phrase to mean "the action of a rav". If this is the correct understanding of the phrase, then it should be vocalized מַעֲשֵׂה רַב, with a tseire under the shin semŏlith (a letter that is more popularly known as sin, but we try to avoid sin in Judaism.) And indeed, that is how I pronounced the phrase for many years. However, I recently came across a passage of Tosofos (on `Avodha Zara 66b) where this phrase is used as an independent sentence: בלאַ בלאַ בלאַ בלאַ בלַא ומעשה רב: blah blah blah blah blah and מעשה רב. I realized at once that the phrase was to be vocalized as וּמַעֲשֶׂה רַב, with a seghol under the shin semŏlith/sin, and an ever-so-slight pause between the words. (If the Tosafistic passage had טעמי המקרא, there would be a tifhā on the word ומעשה.) The meaning of this two-word phrase, when used as a sentence, is: and an incident is great, or an incident is significant [in determining pesaq].

2. On Shabbos (July 30th), I was having a conversation with my good friend TK. At one point, TK mentioned that he had heard stories of rabbis in 19th-century Europe who could not determine the proper blessing for sugar, and therefore refrained from eating it. TK did not like this attitude; he said: "In halakha, we have an answer to the question of what you don't when you don't know the proper berakha for a certain food. The answer is NOT don't eat the food; rather, the answer is say She-hakkol. I said: "Well, I'm not so sure that their action was so bad, after all. Haven't you ever seen pictures of some of these rabbis? It would probably do them good to avoid sugar."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This has been pointed out periodically by others "in the know", but let me just cross-post to Hall of the Goblin King an educational kvetš about the word אלוה.

is pronounced
and not

The letter ה with a mapiq dot in the middle and a patahh underneath at the end of a word works exactly the same as a ח or ע at the end of a word with a patahh underneath.

So just like ״נֹחַ״ is pronounced NÓAHH
and ״שָׂמֵחַ״ is pronounced SAMÉIAHH,
״לִשְׁמוֹעַ״ is pronounced LISHMÓA‘

(not LISHMO‘Á)
and ״גָּבוֹהַּ״ is pronounced GAVÓAH
(and ״גְּבוֹהָה״ is GEVOHÁ in comparison)

Therefore, be aware:
when you say "ELOHÁ",
you are not saying ״אֱלוֹהַּ״ —
you are actually saying ״אֱלוֹהָה״!
(assuming you're using a dialect that doesn't distinguish patahh and qomatz)

Now, addressing the Creator of Worlds as "Goddess" instead of "God" may be fine if you're an iber-feminist or a Shekhina-worshipper, but I'm pretty sure that most people doing so don't actually know what they're doing. So be careful with pronunciation so that you don't accidentally make a theological statement you're not willing to stand behind.

Third-Declenſion Nouns in Italian

Here's ſomething that hath been bothering me for years. (Howeuer, if you add up all the time that I haue ſpent pondering it, it hath probably amounted to leſs than half an hour per year.)

It is well known that vnlike Latin, which hath fiue declenſions, its deſcendant Modern (Florentine) Italian hath but three, for it wanteth the fourth (-U-) and fifth (-E-) declenſions. Italian hath only the firſt (-A-), ſecond (-O-), and third (-I- or conſonant) declenſions. Thus, all fourth- or fifth-declenſion nouns in Claſsical Latin (I don't know how it worked in the ancient vulgar Latins) muſt either diſsappear*, or deuelop into a form conſiſtent with one of the other declenſions. (E.g. Classical Lat. manū --> It. mano.) The diſsappearance* of the fourth and fifth declenſions needs to be explained (perhaps in the comments); howeuer, once this diſsapearance* is taken for granted, it is clear why the remaining fourth- and fifth-declension nouns muſt be conuerted into nouns of one of the first three declenſions. (Vnleſs, of courſe, the conuersion of the indiuidual forms be the cauſe of the diſsappearance of the declenſions.)

Howeuer, there is another phænomenon that must be explained, and it is this phænomenon that giueth its name to the title of this poſt. Why is it there inconſiſtency in the deuelopment of 3rd-declenſion nouns with ſtems ending in -ōn-? Some ſuch nouns remain in the 3rd declenſion (e.g. leō, leōnis --> It. leone), whereas others are conuerted into ſecond-declenſion nouns (e.g. latrō, latrōnis --> It. ladro)? Is this ſhift to the ſecond-declenſion due to the ſuperficial ſimilarity between the nominatiue form of these nouns to the Grundform of the ſecond declenſion (with -ō-)? I'm afraid I can't anſwer this queſtion. Does anyone haue any ideas?

*See the comment thread for a diſcuſsion of this ſpelling. We're ſtill waiting for Lipman's deraſh.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another excerpt from 'The Chinese Language - Fact and Fantasy' by John DeFrancis

Note for those newly cruising in: This is further to a question by Mar Gavriel during a discussion of the Kanji used on Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)’s blog in connection with a Haiku, and the comments which were appended thereto. That entire exchange can be read here: http://boroparkpyro.blogspot.com/2005/11/back-time-solar-haiku.html.

Mar Gavriel asked “Does anyone remember the title of the book of Chinese characters than begins with a fake story about how General Tojo wanted to create a Sino-English?”

I remembered. Hence this.

Chapter Three - Idiolects, Regionalects, and Languages

[Note: I am temporarily skipping ahead to chapter three in order to clarify some of the points hinted at in the previously posted excerpt (here: http://mis-dakdek.blogspot.com/2005/11/re-chinese-language-fact-and-fantasy.html) from this book about differences between the term dialect, and the term idiolect, and also because the following passage brings up some interesting material.]

In round figures there are about a billion people who are considered to be speakers of Chinese. Each person within this huge linguistic community has his own idiolect or particular way of speaking that distinguishes him in certain details from every other speaker. STRICTLY speaking, therefore, there are about a billion idiolects in China. It is not too difficult a matter to isolate and describe a specific idiolect.
In effect just this was done in the course of developing the official norm that is basically represented by the speech of educated natives of Peking. In the 1920s Y. R. Chao, a phonetician and all-around linguist of note, as a member of a group of scholars concerned with language standardization made some phonograph recordings of his own speech as a help in fixing the norm. As he himself was only semi facetiously fond of saying, he was for a while the only speaker of the Chinese national language.

[It could be said that standard language is partly (or, largely) defined by the speech of the literate classes, rather than by dominant colloquial usages. This can at times lead to situations where the populace does not speak what is claimed to be their own national language – Turkey during the twenties comes to mind, when the educated classes spoke Osmaliça, a coine which incorporated huge numbers of Arabic and Persian borrowings, plus literary forms, while the common Turk spoke a patois that had scarce changed since their ancestors came into Asia minor, and did not understand official Turkish any better than the book-Arabic some of them memorized in medresses.

In the case of Chinese, the language used by country-folk, urbanites, and elites, even if they speak the same “regionalect”, can be so divergent that sometimes they cannot understand each other.
This is the problem that many students of Chinese run into when they try to speak the language. Textbooks seek to inculcate a civilized mode of speech, unconsciously assuming that the reader either has already or will easily absorb the rustic and street version of the language. Nor do textbooks take into account that all classes will have been exposed to fairly standard urban modes of expression through radio, television, movies, magazines and so forth, without relinquishing their own peculiarities, in consequence of which communication may not be equal in both directions between people speaking the same regionalects.

Example: I have no problem talking to ‘fatty’ behind the counter at the San Kam Po while ordering half a roast duck and a soy sauce chicken to go – but his rustic speech is harder to understand than the Hong Kong slang of the teenager behind me in line.]

Once we get beyond what might be called the Chao idiolect, which was more or less the basis of the sketch of spoken Chinese presented in the preceding chapter, or any other specific idiolect, a problem arises: How do we categorize the huge number of Chinese idiolects? Upon examination the differences among these idiolects turn out to extend over an enormously wide range. Some differences are so minor that they are barely perceptible. Others are more readily apparent but still do not depart very far from the norm. Still others are of such a degree as to raise the question whether the different forms of speech should even be grouped together.

There is no easy way to measure the degree of difference among the Chinese idiolects. A rough and ready yardstick might be to differentiate between "minor" differences defined as those not large enough to impair intelligibility and "major" differences defined as those so great that people cannot understand each other. On this basis the billion idiolects of spoken Chinese must be divided into a number of groups. Within each group thee are minor differences but between groups there are major differences of such magnitude that they produce mutual unintelligibility.


There is considerable controversy over what to call these different varieties of spoken Chinese, a matter that forms part of the global problem of the relationship between dialect and language (Haugen 1966). In English the varieties of spoken Chinese are usually referred to as "dialects". Many linguists, however, prefer to apply the term dialect only to mutually intelligible forms of speech and to designate mutually unintelligible forms as "languages". In their view, as expressed by the American descriptive linguist Leonard Bloomfield (1933:44), Chinese is not a single language but a family of languages made up of a variety of mutually unintelligible languages.

[There is a remarkable sameness of vocabulary within these “languages” because while pronunciation varies from region to region, they all read much the same literature, and “borrow” the same words from the same classical sources. It is often said that while educated people at opposite ends of the country can read each other’s correspondence, the common man in Peking would scarcely be able to figure out what his Hong King cousin wrote. But this is an oversimplification – both read newspapers which use the same journalistic prose style, both will have absorbed stock phrases and expressions drawn from classical and literary sources, both will have been educated with the much the same materials and textbooks, both will have a substantial overlap as far as their frames of reference, and, most importantly (for a Chinese), both can read each other’s restaurant menus with ease. The phonetic differences suggest a greater divergence than is actually the case.]

The criterion of intelligibility as the dividing line between "dialect" and "language" is not as clear-cut as might appear at first thought. In a situation of geographic proximity it often happens that there is a continuum of speech with only minor differences between neighboring speakers but major differences between those at the extremities. If we represent the continuum by the letters of the alphabet ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, there is mutual intelligibility between A and B, between B and C,... between M and N, ... between X and Y, and between Y and Z, et A and Z cannot communicate with each other. This is the situation, for example, between Paris and Rome and between Peking and Shanghai.

[However, in the case of Shanghai, because of its importance as a business hub, there have always been substantial numbers of bilingualists and multilingualists, speaking all of the major and many of the minor regionalects of China. In the thirties, as the movie and record capital, it dominated the rest of China – in Mandarin.

It can be said that Mandarin has for generations been the glib show-off language of the Shanghainese, used with facility and fluency (though not necessarily as a Pekinese would speak it), often to subtly demonstrate superiority over everybody else from everywhere else, while Shanghainese itself was assumed to be the language “among ourselves” (and, indicative of a sense of inferiority perhaps, Soochow speech habits in Shanghainese were considered classy and refined, whereas unvarnished Shanghainese was not really a show-pony to trot out).

Personally, I’ve always thought that two Shanghainese in heated conversation with each other sounded like battling soda water siphons, but that’s probably because I don’t understand more than one word in five of Shanghainese. At best.]

Yet this frequently cited analogy can be quite misleading. It suggests a steady progression of differences and some sort of numerical equivalence among the groups represented by the letters A to Z. In actual fact, at some points in the progression the differences tend to be greater than others. And the number of speakers who can be placed at the two extremes of A and Z on the basis of their ability to converse with members of one or the other group far exceeds those in the intermediary groups. The number of people who can converse with speakers from Peking may be over 700 million. The number of speakers who can converse with speakers from Shanghai is about 85 million. Neither group can converse with each other, and the speakers who can serve as linguistic intermediaries between the two represent a relatively insignificant number.

[Peking Mandarin is often taken to be the standard, but that is not quite the case, as the true Peking accent is furry and slurred, given to rolled ‘R’s out the wazzoo, and contains a fair number of words which have not been taken up into the national language. It would be more accurate to say that the standard version of the language would be best understood in Peking, but attempts to be a middle ground between the divergent pronunciations and vocabularies of the entire Mandarin speaking belt.

Educated Taiwanese Mandarin is, oddly, often closer to the Peking standard than much mainland Mandarin, and anybody affecting a Pekingese sound stands as much chance of being asked if they studied in Taipei as Peking.]

More later.

PS. I apologize if my notes come across as somewhat pompous - I've not had nearly enough sleep, and in consequence my mind is a wee bit constipated.

Lashon Yisre'elit vs. American Hebrew

Please help out! Note that most speakers of American Hebrew are in their fifties or older, though some younger speakers exist. (The problem is that after a certain point, Israeli teachers started being hired in American institutions that taught spoken "Hebrew".)

BiblicalRabbinicAmerican HebrewYisre'elit

•American R

•Initial hei obligatorily retained (as /h/).

•Some speakers may preserve the Ashkenazzi qomets, at least as an optional variant.

•No gemination (except among certain hypercareful speakers, especially in university or on the radio).

•Guttural Ashkenazzi R (Ashkenazzim) or trilled R (Mizrahim)

•Initial hei obligatorily (?) dropped.

•Ashkenazzi qomets is at best taboo, and at worst unheard of.

•No gemination (but possible as a variant, since the language, nobody's exclusively native one, is somewhat "loose"-- whatever that means).


•תִּכְתֹּבְנָה is a very rare variant for the feminine of יִכְתְּבוּ.

•תִּכְתֹּבְנָה is somewhat more common than in Yisre'elit.


•Yesh li et a-beged. (Mis-analysis of the yesh li as "ego habeo", rather than as "est mihi".

•Yesh li ha-beged.

LexiconThe little apostrophe marking an abbreviation (among other uses) is known as a "shmitchik".

•Suppletion between the verbs אָמַר (for past and present) and לְהַגִּיד (for infinitive and future).

•The little apostrophe is known as a "tship-tship".

•אָמַר = to say; הִגִּיד = to tell, narrate, recount. Each verb has a full set of conjugations.


Friday, November 11, 2005

RE: 'The Chinese Language - Fact and Fantasy' by John DeFrancis.

Published by University of Hawaii Press.

Introduction - The Singlish Affair.

It starts "This is a report on my discovery of material exposing what has since come to be called The Singlish Affair. The discovery came about when I chanced upon a forgotten carton of wartime documents in the Toyo Bunko Library in Japan while pursuing research on the fate of the Chinese writing system in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
The material consists of a hodgepodge of manuscript documents and notes prepared by a small secret group of scholars with the innocuous name of the committee on English Language Planning. Attached directly to the office of General Tojo, the supreme commander of the Japanese armed forces, the committee was headed by his close personal friend, Prof. Ono Kanji, and included only three other members, all collaborationists from the lands occupied by the Japanese -- a Chinese, Li Yilian; a Korean, Kim Mun-yi; and a Vietnamese, Phi De Giua. Information is lacking on how these four scholars came to be selected for membership in the committee, a point of considerable interest, for it would be hard to imagine a less harmonious group of coworkers. The documents reveal that they were continuously involved in ethnocentric bickering on what to an outsider seem to be quite trivial points of detail"

Hmmm, sounds somewhat familiar.

He continues: "On only one thing were they fully agreed. This was the astonishing notion that, in anticipation that first Hawaii, then Australia and New Zealand, and eventually the continental United States itself would be conquered and incorporated within the Japanese empire as part of an expanded East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, it was necessary to plan for the day when policy would be implemented for reforming the writing systems of these English-speaking countries by forcing them to abandon their traditional orthography based on the Latin alphabet and to adopt instead a system based on Chinese characters."

[More excerpts to follow]

So, this then is the author's set-up. He proceeds, in this introduction, to describe the possible ways that the Chinese writing system can be adapted for use by non-speakers of that language to write for themselves.

It should be mentioned that the choice of a Korean and a Vietnamese in addition to the Japanese chairman and the necessary Chinese scholar is apt, as the Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese languages have all struggled to adapt Chinese or bend a Chinese-style writing system to their own purposes.


The case of Japanese should probably mentioned first, as they have both made the most headway, and wrestled more thoroughly with the beast. Japanese is particularly unsuited to the Chinese writing system, being polysyllabic, non-tonal, and having a grammar quite different (it is in fact not even in the slightest related to Chinese). The Japanese have coped with this situation by developing the two kana scripts for phonetic writing, while keeping the Chinese characters for rootwords - thus allowing agglutination (am I using that word correctly?) and a reasonable sense of pronunciation (leaving the key syllable to be more or less stabbed in the dark), while also, by thus scattering the Kanji (Chinese style characters) throughout, cutting any sense of Chinese grammar or sentence-form. In essence, the Chinese characters float in a sea of Japanese syllabic script, cut loose from the grammatical moorings and bashed into a Japanese context. There are now 1850 Toyo Kanji, down from an all-time high of nearly five thousand borrowings.


Korean, like Japanese, is polysyllabic and agglutinative, but has incorporated more mono-syllabic words (not all necessarily from Chinese - languages borrow also from their immediate surroundings, and there are a few languages in between Korea and the Zhongyuan (Central Plain)). Additionally, Korean developed a script which allows representation of complete syllables by means of script parts put together into square-ish units that stand by themselves, so that an entire text in Korean could be written either across, or vertically, without odd breaks or confusion over what the words are. The Chinese words are used where appropriate, especially classical and literary terms, and given a non-tonal pronunciation based on Chinese.

Modern Korean usage has largely dispensed with the greater number of borrowings, retaining only words (such as surnames and personal names !) which are essential, unlike Japanese which often choses a Chinese character to express a Japanese word, or uses Chinese (pronounced as a Japanese word) despite being able to write the word in kana.

[As a side track, I once had a delightful argument with a very stubborn Korean lady here in SF, who insisted that Li Po was Korean - because she had learned several of his poems in school! Nothing I said could convince her otherwise. In point of fact, he wasn't strictly Chinese, as his grandfather or great-grandfather had taken his family west from the wall into Tartary and settled among the Turks. Li Po, like many T'ang dynasty glitterati, represented a Turkic glaze over a Chinese base - something which most Chinese neither realize nor are comfortable with.]


Vietnamese, being like Chinese monosyllabic (meaning, in both cases, NOT that each word is only one syllable, but that each unit IS one syllable) and tonal (there is still argument over whether this was inherent in the language, or developed by proximity to Thai and Chinese - tho' bear in mind that there is also evidence that tonalism in Chinese developed from the reduction of agglutes, and elision of intermediary consonants), took perhaps the most drastic route, by borrowing wholesale, often adding or substituting a phonetic element for the Vietnamese pronunciation in lieu of the Chinese phonetic element, OR composing an entirely new Vietnamese 'Kanji' (Chinese characters often contain a meaning element, and a phonetic element. Both elements are clues, some more useful than others). This script, Chinese at first glance, but nearly unintelligible to a Chinese eye, eventually almost entirely replaced classical Chinese outside of scholarly circles.
Popular romances were written in it, as well as retellings in Vietnamese of Chinese popular romances (Water Margin, Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, etc.) and plays based on Chinese originals (Peach Blossom Fan, Two Immortals at the Moon Pavilion, Butterfly Lovers, etc.). All of this came to an end when the French took over, and developed a transcription system based on Latin characters, which though disliked by the literati, put literacy within the grasp of nearly everyone. By the early part of the twentieth century, Sino-Vietnamese and classical Chinese were only used by old-fashioned scholar gentry families (or people with pretensions to that status) and archaicists, while books were being published in the Latin script in ever greater numbers for a populace hungry for literature and knowledge. Vietnamese still, occasionally, use Chinese characters for lucky phrases and charms pasted on doors.

[I'm not sure, but I believe that 'The Tale of Kieu' was written in Sino-Vietnamese originally. It became one of the early run-away best-sellers in Latin script, and probably did more to popularize the new way of writing than any number of Monkish missionaries or French bureaucrats. It is the story of a harlot - or rather, of a good girl for whom things go disastrously wrong in unsettled times, who tries to maintain a proper Confucian approach despite everything that happens. And a tale of tragic love. Whatever. Tried to read it once, couldn't quite get into it.]


One thing I should also mention at this point is that Chinese characters individually do not always have specific meanings. Quite a few exist merely as one-half of a bisyllabic word, others serve a grammatical function or act to clarify the sentence. Nor are words which do have specific meanings always used with that meaning (example: lao ren jia - the literal meaning is old person family, it actually means simply old person. The word 'family' (jia) as a postfix indicating a member of a class is used as a sound-transcription; four centuries ago 'she' (agent; one who embodies or exemplifies) was used in the same way, and shows where the postfix came from).


That some characters don't actually mean anything, or do not mean what you would think (based on a dictionary entry) they should mean, is especially noticeable when reading dialect texts. Cantonese (Kwantunghwa, Ywet yu, 'Yueh') uses more standard characters purely phonetically than many other urban speeches, and has freely 'borrowed' characters from the classic vocabulary as stand-ins for words which have no character of their own, in addition to creating characters which are only used to transcribe the speech of Canton and its hinterlands (and thus acquire any possible meaning only because of the sound associated with them).

Hokkien (Fujianese, Hokkienhwee, 'Minnanhwa') frequently writes the standard character, but gives it a pronunciation which it could by no stretch of the imagination ever have acquired or developed. And Shanghainese (Sanghehwuw, 'Wu') often uses either the character which in Mandarin usage would be correct (pronounced however a Shanghainese might speak it), or uses a character with a strong phonetic identity whose meaning does not fit into that context. Of course, all regionalects use many of the same characters, and most of the words one needs to know to read Mandarin will be seen in the writing of any of the regionalects, especially if they deviate towards a literary writing style.


For most regionalects, the development of a character-hoard started with trashy novels and local operas, as well as sometimes religious pamflets. For many, it has scarce gone beyond that stage (the standard language being easily bent to suit most purposes).

In Taiwan, regionalect characters are often used when writing for strictly local consumption, which I imagine mirrors the case across the straits in Fujian, where the dialect originated. Note that much missionary garbage makes use of regionalect characters, and in some cases simply writes down the pronunciation using an orthography developed for the Fujianese dialect three centuries ago by European priests.

In Shanghai and Suzhou, casual poetry and songs in the local speechform are printed with such characters. Again, in both cases, most of the characters will be found in a Mandarin dictionary (though dictionaries also exist which give the regionalect pronunciation).

In Hong Kong (and to a lesser extent Canton) regionalect characters are used extensively - trashy novels, gossip mags, comic strip adventures (often originally Japanese manga, nota bene!), songs, reported speech, how-to manuals, want ads, restaurant menus, etcetera. And of course, rude grafiti - absolutely baffling to the visiting bei-fang ren (Northerner).

[The Cantonese are also notorious for having the foulest curses and most inventive invective - sheer poetry, often punning, and absolutely, blisteringly, hair-raisingly filthy. Tossed out casually to punctuate conversations or describe events. Colourful does not even begin to describe it. Most of it can only be written in regionalect characters - well-bred people deny that it even exists, have not ever bothered to think it worth writing down, and stiffen visibly when they hear it. ]

- - - - - - - - -

Gratuitous note on pronouns: One especial peculiarity of Chinese regionalects is that they usually differ from each other as far as third person pronoun, often also for second person pronoun, and a few also for first person pronoun. The third person pronouns in Mandarin (ta) and Cantonese (koei) are obviously not cognates. Neither are the second person pronouns in Mandarin (ni), Shanghainese (nong), and Hokkien (lu). First person Shanghainese (Noh) is, however, a cognate of Hokkien (gua), odd though that may seem.

Pluralizing the pronouns can sometimes take bizarre forms in the country districts: Cantonese 'ngoh-te' (us) becomes Southern Toishanese ngo'k, nei-te (y'all) becomes nei-ak, etcetera. Some regionalects have a second person plural inclusive versus exclusive distinction (tza-men = usns, wo-men = you and usns), and a few dialects maintain the four different first person singulars used in archaic Chinese (I'll have to look at another U. of H. book to figger that one out - I've seen the words in poetry, but never worried about how exactly they differ in meaning).

More later. Its nearing dusk on a Friday.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

太陽 Cantonese pron.: Taai Yeung. Mandarin: Ta Yang. The first character is a simple ideograph - imagine a person with arms outstretched, saying "the fish was this big!". Now derive from it the word 'very' (an exaggeration of big), and differentiate by adding one more stroke (originally underneath, but it crept upwards).

The second character originally meant the sunny side of the valley, as it's companion 'yin' meant the shaded side. Hence, by extension of meaning, warm, masculine, bold, vibrantly alive, hotheaded, and further such. In comparison, yin came to mean also cool, moist, quiet, feminine, and so forth.

So, 太陽 literally means the utterly manly thing (in the sky).
Yang is composed of a banner on the left side (which also refers to locations or placements), and on the right a compound with a sun on top, and a phonetic element on the bottom. Yin also has the banner, but instead shows swirls of fog, the one the bottom being meant as a mirror image of the one on top.

As you may have guessed by now, one of my favourite books is "Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification and Signification", by Dr. L. Wieger. I've already worn out two copies, and am busy on my third (it is also a VERY handy reference book).

I'm taking the liberty of mirror posting this on Mis-DakDek, to fill the current void there, and perhaps start a sidetrack. It seems a good place for that.

Note: original conversation starts here: http://boroparkpyro.blogspot.com/2005/11/back-time-solar-haiku.html

Miscellaneous Diq-dooq?