There was a mistake in how applications should be submitted in the version of this job announcement I posted on Oct. 28. Please use this updated version.– Liang Luo
Open Rank Faculty in Second Language Acquisition
The Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures at the University of Kentucky invites applications for a tenure-track position in Second Language Acquisition to begin August 2017. The position is pending final approval of funding. The level of the position is open and will be determined on the basis of the candidate’s qualifications. The successful applicant’s tenure home will be in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures, a dynamic academic unit committed to interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue among faculty with diverse geographical interests, theoretical concerns, and methodological approaches. Applicants are expected to have a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition or in a related field by August 2017. We seek a candidate who has expertise in Chinese. Experience in teacher education is mandatory. Experience building international collaborative programs is a plus. Continue reading →
My writing day starts in the night, with midnight or early morning dreams. When I wake up in my east London flat, I ponder on them while making coffee. In one recurrent dream, my dead Chinese grandmother speaks in my hometown dialect to my western boyfriend, and my western boyfriend responds to her in his language. Both seem to understand each other perfectly without a translator. I must have been using a hidden language to narrate the dream – neither Chinese nor English. It is a dreaming language. I desperately want to capture it, and write in it. Continue reading →
China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Sept. 4, 2016.
Censors in China are working overtime to scrub the Internet and social media of any mention of a slip-up made by Chinese President Xi Jinping made during a speech in Hangzhou before the Group of 20 Nations leaders’ summit.
In a speech Saturday to the Business 20 (B20) summit, which advises the G-20 leaders on policy decisions, Xi talked about the global economy and quoted an ancient Chinese phrase: “Make the tariff light and the road smooth, promote trade and ease agricultural policy.” [轻关易道，通商宽农]
But because the last character in the phrase for agriculture is very similar to the one for clothes, he ended up saying “taking one’s clothes off” [宽衣] instead of “ease agricultural policy.” [宽农] Continue reading →
BEIJING — At a chaotic conference in Beijing in 1913 led by the Chinese linguist and political anarchist Wu Zhihui, the teacups flew, as well as the words, as participants tried to work out: What was the Chinese language?
It was an urgent task. Two years before, the last imperial dynasty had fallen in a republican revolution led by Sun Yat-sen. Reformers like Mr. Wu knew that China had to become a modern nation if it was to survive. But China was home to hundreds of spoken languages and dialects and a “fantastically hard” writing system that only a few highly educated people and officials were familiar with, according to David Moser, the author of “A Billion Voices,” a new book recounting the creation of modern Chinese. Continue reading →
Yesterday The New Yorker published an essay entitled “Bad Character” (www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/if-chinese-were-phonetic) by the brilliant speculative fiction writer Ted Chiang. Chiang’s fiction often hinges on a deep appreciation for the complexities of foreign languages (both human and alien), and in this piece he takes on what many believe to be the earth’s greatest exophonic writing system, Chinese characters. Chiang lays out a case for why Chinese characters can be seen as a historical hindrance to literacy, and he briefly ponders what the world would have been like had China adopted an alphabetic script like Bopomofo or Pinyin early on. He ends the piece by pointing out how the “non-phonetic” nature of characters enabled a limited but significant degree of legibility to ancient writings that far surpasses those written in the phonetic orthographies of other ancient languages. While I think it is almost always good news when mainstream media pays attention to issues of language, phonology, or orthography, it is disheartening to see another popular work painting Chinese characters as a non-phonetic writing system.
Those of us who have had an opportunity to learn more about Chinese linguistics know that there are phonetically oriented categories of characters like phonetic loans (假借) or more importantly phono-semantic compounds (形聲) which constitute over 90% of characters. But more importantly the public has little if any knowledge about the rime table（韻書）culture where characters were used as a phonetic script by parsing their corresponding speech sounds into front and back (top and bottom) components or what we can roughly consider their initial consonant and tonally categorized vowel + finals (a method known as fanqie, 反切). If the definition of a phonetic script comes down to its ability to use graphemes (written symbols) to correspond to phonemes, then this method employed in well-known works like the “Book of Mirror Rimes” (韵镜) should qualify. Of course, Chiang and countless others would be right to point out that special uses of characters in dictionaries or etymological arguments like those above fall far short of a true alphabetic orthography. Still after centuries of perpetuating Chinese as the quintessential “other” of global writing systems, it would be nice to see a more nuanced acknowledgement of the phonetic vectors of Sinophone scripts. Continue reading →
Straight Talks: Chinese Social Discourses from 1978-2012, compiled by Liu Qingsong. [Photo provided to China Daily]
For readers like Zhang Qin, born in the 1990s, it’s news that in 1978 there was a movement against flared trousers. Teachers would then catch the offenders and cut off the “extra” cloth in an effort to keep the young away from “bourgeois corruption”, symbolized by such “weird” fashion.
And till March that year, quotes by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong had to be printed in bold while published in newspapers.
It was Deng Xiaoping who put a stop to the practice.
“I know how dramatic the changes were in 1978, the start of the reforms and the opening up, but there were so many details about our recent history that I did not know,” says Zhang.
Zhang’s comments were in relation to a 346-page book, Straight Talks: Chinese Social Discourses from 1978-2012, which has grabbed her attention. Continue reading →
A scene from Dream of the Red Chamber is depicted at a wedding in Beijing. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA
When I was a graduate student in Oxford many years ago I shared a house with a brilliant German sinologist who used to push translations my way, stroking his beard with a teasing smile: “Try this – you’ll really enjoy it.” Many visitors popped into our terraced house on Abingdon Road, and one night around the kitchen table I met a fascinating character, rangy with white hair and beard, and a twinkly eye. His name was David Hawkes.
A gifted linguist, he had directed Japanese codebreakers in his early 20s, during the second world war. As a student at Peking University, he had been in Tiananmen Square in 1949 when Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Later, as a teacher, he had done a wonderful translation of the Songs of the South, part of a poetic tradition earlier than anything that has survived in the west. Then he became professor of Chinese in Oxford, but, as he put it, “I resigned in order to devote my time to translating a Chinese novel … well, the Chinese novel”. Continue reading →
Activism can take many forms. In the case of Women’s Words, it takes the form of a little red dictionary. The tiny book is the work of Karmen Hui, Tan Sueh Li, and Tan Zi Hao of Malaysian design collective TypoKaki. On its pages you’ll find made-up words and phrases—Chinese characters that, through their unusual arrangement and alteration, subvert the sexism ingrained in Mandarin.
One entry combines the female radical nǚ 女 on the left with máo 毛 (“hair”) on the right, while adding an extra stroke to the latter component. “It indicates that a woman can be hairy, which is a word that doesn’t exist in the Chinese vocabulary,” Tan says.
Another newly invented character has the designers inserting a female radical in tòng 痛 (“pain”), whereby they mean to indicate the pain of menstruation. “We are now gendering the word pain itself,” Tan explains. “We wanted to create words related to a woman’s experience.” Continue reading →
It is “interesting” to also note that this script of “hurting the Chinese peoples’ feelings” is not the one forced onto Chinese people who have chosen another citizenship: The bookseller Gui Minhai (and old friend of mine) who is a Swedish citizen, instead was instructed to renounce legal aid from his adopted country and union (my country, my Union — Sweden is a Member State), in his staged, extra-legal show-trial styled “confession” televised in January, after he was first mysteriously disappeared from Thailand in October, three months before. Swedish and European Union authorities have protested and have demanded to see him, but have been denied by the regime so far which as outrageous as anything else they do.
ps. F Y I, a related event here at Cornell day after tomorrow:
The Word of the Week comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens or encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
shānghài Zhōngguórén de gǎnqíng 伤害中国人民的感情
China squeezes a confession out of Peter Dahlin. (Artist: Badiucao 巴丢草)
Invocation used by Chinese authorities when another country, organization, or individual offends Party officials. Also heard in Swedish activist Peter Dahlin’s televised confession in January 2016, which colleagues said appeared to be coerced.
I agree that Prof. Pullum errs, but I do not think his error is rooted — as Prof. Hayot suggests — in silly chauvinism. Pullum’s mistake is to evaluate an organic social institution according to a rational purpose (which he feels to be self-evident) to which it is not very well suited. He is right that the Chinese writing system is difficult to learn and imposes an apparently unnecessary labor cost on the student who wishes simply to communicate. And there is nothing implausible about his assertion that this difficulty impedes the adoption of Chinese as an international language.
What he overlooks, as he marvels that the writing system wasn’t “ditched” long ago, is that it may serve multiple purposes, not all of them overt or even conscious. It connects communities whose speech is mutually unintelligible; for the mandarin class, it created a barrier to entry that kept their skills rare and therefore more valuable; and it has made possible a concision with both practical and artistic benefits. It may also have fostered an education ethic that cultivates sustained attention and accurate memory.
It is possible that changes in technology (keyboard entry to digital devices) and society (the dominance, whether evolved or imposed, of putonghua) will lead to a revolution in the writing system, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Pullum makes some good points! That’s why the Chinese have never managed to do anything of any historical consequence (run an empire, build a culture, write literature, discover scientific inventions, lift several hundred million people out of poverty, build the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, and so on).
Wait, what, they did these things? Well… that must have just been because they copied them from someone else. You know, those Chinese, they’re great imitators. Not like the English, who invented their own alphabet (that’s why it’s called the English alphabet!), their own numbers (that’s why they’re known as English numerals!), even their own word for the place you go to eat a nice dinner out (in French they call it a “restaurant,” those idiots).
… It’s good to see that Donald Trump now writes for the Chronicle language blog, and that he has such a distinguished pen name!
Is the Chinese writing system a sufficient reason on its own to guarantee that Mandarin will not become a global language like English? That’s what someone asked me after I discussed the prima facie unsuitability of English to serve as a world communication medium. And while I make no claims at all to sinological expertise, I know enough to tell you that the answer is yes. The system is a millstone round the neck of the whole sinophone world, and should have been ditched decades ago.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to be abandoned, though. We humans have a habit of getting ourselves into situations where something must be done to improve things for everyone, and it is perfectly obvious what, yet for various reasons (cultural, political, psychological, or whatever) it’s impossible to get the relevant millions of people to do it. Continue reading →
Could you please direct me to any research, report or literature related to the international schools in China? I recently had a freshman student from Shanghai talk to me about her “identity crisis.” She was born and raised in Shanghai and all her family are Shanghainese. She attended international schools in Shanghai since kindergarten and has been speaking more English than Chinese (Mandarin and Shanghainese included) in her life, even at home. At the international schools, almost all her classmates were Chinese but they spoke English to each other and followed American pop culture closely. She used the Chinese textbooks for foreigners and Chinese literature classes were optional with very few interested students. Ironically, she speaks more Chinese than before here at Purdue, which has a huge population of international students from mainland China. Now she wants to pursue a major in Asian Studies and investigate the identity issues of people like her. I find this phenomenon very interesting and also want to help her. If you could share your knowledge and/or experiences related to the international schools, it’ll be very helpful and much appreciated.
Xibe farmworkers in a cotton field near Qapqal County, China, in October. CreditAdam Dean for The New York Times
QAPQAL XIBE AUTONOMOUS COUNTY, China — Loyal to the core and prized for their horsemanship, several thousand Manchu soldiers heeded the emperor’s call and, with families and livestock in tow, embarked in 1764 on a trek that took them from northeastern China to the most distant fringes of the Qing dynasty empire, the Central Asian lands now known as Xinjiang.
It was an arduous, 18-month journey, but there was one consolation: After completing their mission of pacifying the western frontier, the troops would be allowed to take their families home. Continue reading →