Mis-Dakdek

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:
•Chinese
•Modern Hebrew
•Italian
•Latin
•Yiddish
•English
•Icelandic
•Tok Pisin

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.


JAPANESE

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

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

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.]


A PECULIARITY OF CHARACTERS

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).


DIALECTS, REGIONALECTS, WHATEVERALECTS, SLANGALECTS

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.


WRITING 'OTHER' VERSIONS OF CHINESE

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.

6 Comments:

Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Did you type this in, or scan it in?

(And would a single "in" be abel to serve double duty as separable prefix for both of the verbs in the previous sentence?)

11/12/2005 5:32 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Note that Back of The Hill (B.O.T.H.-- Both?) has written a post on his own blog, explaining some of the terms in this post.

11/12/2005 6:20 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Did you type this in, or scan it in? [...] single "in"

Sure - that's what commas are for:

Did you type this, or scan it, in?

The problem is, I wouldn't have used one in the first place in the first place. I mean, in your original wording. My limited sprachgefuehl expects

- Q: "Did you type this in or scan it in?" A: "I typed it."/"I scanned it."
- Q: "Did you type this in, or scan it in?" A: "Yes."/"No, not yet."

The in-saving version is a variant of the second meaning only, I'm afraid.
If, as I suspect (I didn't check), the going rules prescribe no commas in both meanings, as there's no second subject involved, the in-saving version would cover both meanings, of course.

11/13/2005 4:02 AM  
Blogger Lipman said...

Back of The Hill (B.O.T.H.-- Both?)

I'd think so. Back of the Hill and Back of the Hevel.

11/13/2005 4:04 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Frantic typing at the tale-end of a late lunch. Frantic, because the days are getting shorter.

11/13/2005 3:34 PM  
Blogger The Observer said...

It should also be noted that it is impossible to speak Cantonese quietly, or so it seemed from a month once spent on one of the smaller Hong Kong islands.

11/15/2005 11:41 AM  

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