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Dawei3

Can you write non-Mandarin Chinese dialects/Chinese languages in Chinese characters?

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Dawei3

Is it possible to write Shanghainese in Chinese characters in an intelligible way?  Fujianese?  And all other Chinese dialects/languages? 

 

Friends from Hong Kong mentioned how Cantonese is written with characters.  From what they said, it sounds like when this is done, they generally use a Mandarin structure, not Cantonese structure to the sentences.  (One told me that when she had to speak Mandarin, she would think how she wrote it and pick the Mandarin words to say.  She said she could only speak slowly.  It's hard for me to envision thinking like this).  

 

(I'm using the terms "dialects/languages" because I know that calling Shanghainese, Cantonese, Fujianese, etc a "language" can trigger much anger in some Chinese).  

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Lu

Anonymoose says it well.

 

In Taiwan, the situation is similar but a bit better. Since the early 2000s, there has been more official and public attention for Taiwanese as a language, mixed with national pride and a strengthening of the idea of Taiwan as a country. (I'm not trying to start a discussion on that here, just stating that the idea has grown increasingly strong in Taiwan since Chen Shui-bian came to power). In 2008 (I think it was) the government compiled an official list of characters to use for various Taiwanese words and someone who has been paying attention recently told me that by now those characters have been fairly widely adopted.

 

At the same time, more and more parents speak Mandarin and not Taiwanese to their children, since it is perceived to give them better opportunities later in life, so use of Taiwanese is still slowly decreasing (to my knowledge). But that is a different matter than whether it can be written.

 

For more information on the Taiwanese situation, you might want to look up Written Taiwanese by Henning Klöter, who goes into the subject very extensively.

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Tomsima

similar situation in Hubei, things can work both ways just as anonymoose demonstrates with writing shanghainese above.

The idea of 'go' could be written as 去 but pronounced using dialect pronounciation 'ke'. Here the character only conveys meaning. Alternatively it could be written using '克' which borrows the mandarin prounciation 'ke'; here the character only conveys pronounciation.

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Publius

Very well summarized, Anonymoose!

 

Lu's comment reminds me of a recent post I saw on Language Log about 台灣ㄟ皮蛋.

 

I only know a little Cantonese. To my knowledge, of all varieties of Chinese (see how to avoid unnecessary fuss? :D or use the term 'topolect' coined by Victor Mair), written Cantonese is the most standardized aside from standard Mandarin. To supplement the Big5 standard which at the time had about 11,000 characters, Hong Kong government created a Cantonese-specific extension HKSCS with nearly 5000 characters (including some really really vulgar terms such as 𨳍, 閪 -- so that the exact spoken testimony of a, say, triad gang member can be faithfully written down and shared among different government branches). But written Cantonese is still not fully standardized. Some scholars dispute the government's choices. A large part of the public isn't aware of the existence of these characters. Plus non-Big5 encodings may not be supported on all electronic devices. So in reality people write as they want. For example, '啲', 'o的', 'D' all mean the same word pronounced 'di1' (Mandarin 些).

 

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Lu
4 hours ago, Publius said:

Lu's comment reminds me of a recent post I saw on Language Log about 台灣ㄟ皮蛋.

I guess I would be more intrigued by that LL post if I hadn't seen big billboards with '阮ㄟ台灣 阮ㄟ啤酒' as early as 2007, which probably existed well before that.

 

4 hours ago, Publius said:

(including some really really vulgar terms such as 𨳍, 閪 -- so that the exact spoken testimony of a, say, triad gang member can be faithfully written down and shared among different government branches)

I find this very cool. That they had those characters and that they had them for that reason.

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Dawei3

多谢 for all of the replies.  It's a topic I had wondered about.  It was great to hear about the different topolects.  (Before joining this forum, I had always wondered who I could ask about this topic).  

 

Some of my Cantonese speaking friends would criticize Cantonese saying "it's a slang language."  However, this is overly harsh.  All languages change & evolve.  What is considered "correct" or "standard" changes overtime.  In Switzerland, there was an attempt to save Romansh by teaching it in schools.  However, the "standard Romansh" chosen was different than how it was spoken from the 3 regions in which it is spoken and the attempt faced much resistance (e.g., likely similar to that noted by Publius regarding attempts to standardize Cantonese).  

 

The linguist John McWhorter noted we like to think of "standard language" as coming from a specific part of the country (where language is perfect & unaccented).  The reality is that "standard language" (in any country) is what is chosen as standard at that time.  E.g., American newscaster English is just that.  It doesn't derive from one specific area.  Similarly, "Standard Mandarin" is supposed to be from Beijing, but the way native Beijingers speak can vary greatly, particularly as regards to how much they use 儿话. 

 

GREAT FORUM! 

 

 

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Lu
1 hour ago, Dawei3 said:

Some of my Cantonese speaking friends would criticize Cantonese saying "it's a slang language."

I've heard that too. Heard two Cantonese friends using a certain word. 'What does X mean?' I asked. 'Oh, that's how we say Y,' said one friend. That's how we say Y. Not even 'That is the Cantonese word for Y.' I felt a bit sad.

 

Also you made me think of this Language Log post, especially footnote 2.

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dwq

Here's an example of Cantonese being written down in a quote (source) :

 

Quote

【本報訊】政府去年7月開記招講解一地兩檢安排,時任律政司長袁國強說:「我們現在的理解就是內地工作人員每一天由內地到西九工作,然後在下班時會用鐵路返回內地,不會留在香港過夜。」但《南華早報》昨引述消息稱,高鐵每晚收車後會有數十名內地人員留守專責保養維修。林鄭昨解釋,內地派駐人員與港方一樣要輪班工作,「佢哋喺度返緊工,叫通宵更,可能有嘢喺度做」。

 

It is quite obvious and interesting that the first quote is in 書面語 form and probably wasn't verbatim, while the second quote was in 口語 form, probably for emphasis that it was exactly how she said it.  Hong Kong readers are used to doing the mental gymnastics to both recognize and ignore the difference.

 

This wikipedia article states that standardization of written form of other dialects/languages were discouraged in both Taiwan and Mainland?  Not sure to what degree?

 

Quote

與此同時,中國各地方語言都相繼出現了各自的口語書面化嘗試和努力。但在台灣和中國大陸,政府強制推廣基於官話制定的官方標準語(「國語」或「普通話」)及相應的現代漢語白話文,令各地方語言的口語書面化運動無疾而終。


In the thread referenced by Shelley, @renzhe said:

 

Quote

For a long time, writing a "dialect" such as Cantonese and Shanghainese has been considered wrong and lacking in prestige -- still is for the most part.

 

And I think it is true, and unfortunate that it is true.

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mungouk

With no intention of diverting from @Dawei3's question...

 

Are there any Chinese dialects which DO have a standardised Romanised transliteration, in particular for peoples' names?

The reason why I ask: I work in Singapore, where many of my students have names from Hakka, Hokkien, Teocheow and other backgrounds. Obviously we want to pronounce their names correctly (...and by the time they graduate we will have sorted it out once and for all).

 

Any clues?

 

Thanks

 

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Michaelyus

One also has to be aware that standardisation is not necessarily something that is wanted by language communities (the Romansh situation is a very pertinent example).

A lot of Chinese varieties have transliterations, but adoption is linked to how prestigious (and advantageous) that is in the eyes of the speaking community. So multi-topolectal, and officially multilingual Singapore allows people to spell their Chinese names more or less how they want. The romanisation used is (infamously) non-standardised, such that a Min Nan Hokkien speaking SIngaporean family pronouncing their surname /gɔ²⁴/, representing the character 吳, might be written Goh (most common), Go, Gor, Gorh, Gore...

Malaysia, Singapore and HK all have this lack of standardisation in names. 

 

Specific to Malaysia and Singapore is that people might have the Chinese given name in (standard) Mandarin Pinyin or Wade-Giles or neither when their surname is (per Anglophone judiciary) fixed in Hokkien, Teochew, Hockchew (Fuzhou), Hakka or Cantonese.

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Lu
3 hours ago, mungouk said:

Are there any Chinese dialects which DO have a standardised Romanised transliteration, in particular for peoples' names?

There are several standards for Cantonese and Taiwanese, all in active use. So not one true standard, but still good ways to write those fangyan.

 

But that doesn't help you with names. (Taiwanese also do this, people just spell their name however. But I suppose it's democratic to allow people to decide for themselves.) I think you only have three options: call them by their English name if they have one; find out the characters and pronounce those in a dialect you choose; or ask them how they would like to be called and do your best to mimic that.

 

32 minutes ago, Michaelyus said:

Specific to Malaysia and Singapore is that people might have the Chinese given name in (standard) Mandarin Pinyin or Wade-Giles or neither when their surname is (per Anglophone judiciary) fixed in Hokkien, Teochew, Hockchew (Fuzhou), Hakka or Cantonese. 

I kind of love how messy that is, how overlapping systems make for such mixes in something as personal as people's names.

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mungouk
19 hours ago, Michaelyus said:

Singapore allows people to spell their Chinese names more or less how they want.

 

Now, yes... although I was told by a colleague that the govt tried to insist that everyone had a Hanyu Pinyin version of their name at one point, but that turned out to be a very unpopular move and was abandoned.  Possibly related to the "Speak Mandarin" campaign which had tried to displace the other dialects/topolects. 

 

The campaign is still there but they seem less interested in trying to replace Hakka, Hokkien etc with only Mandarin these days.

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mungouk
19 hours ago, Lu said:

I think you only have three options: call them by their English name if they have one; find out the characters and pronounce those in a dialect you choose; or ask them how they would like to be called and do your best to mimic that.

 

Yes well our annual fun comes with our graduation ceremonies, when one lucky person has to read out everyone's full name as they walk up on stage to get their certificate... in front of their family and friends.  So you really don't want to get that wrong. 😉

 

Given that Singapore is more or less 75% ethnic Chinese (with all the various backgrounds and spellings), 15% Malay, 9% Indian (mostly Tamil) and the rest from everywhere else, there's always an interesting mix of names to get to grips with. Getting everyone's names in the right order on the certificate also keeps us busy. 

Fortunately I've managed to delegate the reading-out part to a local colleague, but when I was at a Uni in Sydney it was down to me, and boy what a mix there was there... I could manage most of them except Vietnamese and Thai. In the end I got everyone to record their name 3 times on their phone and email it to me, and I just memorised them. 

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Lu
Just now, mungouk said:

In the end I got everyone to record their name 3 times on their phone and email it to me, and I just memorised them.

I applaud that. If you have to read it out in public, there is really no way around doing all the homework. I was once at a wedding in the Netherlands between two 荷兰华侨. The officiant was all 'I hope I'm pronouncing this right haha!' And while I get it, I really do, it is hard, this is not what you want to hear on your own wedding (or graduation). An officiant does not get points for just trying here, you really have to get it right.

 

Another anecdote: I used to be on a 华侨 dragon boat team. All the other teams were Dutch-Dutch. Sometimes, at competitions, an official would check whether everyone in the boat was indeed an official team member, and would read through a list of names. This was my favourite part of those competitions, because the Dutch-Dutch official would suddenly be confronted with a 18-name long list of Chinese names in various transcriptions (mostly pretty straight-forward Cantonese though) where he wouldn't even know where the first name ended and the surname started. Most of the paddlers had shortened names, English names or nicknames, but those were not on the official list, that was all Chinese 😄

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Dawei3

Mungouk - You question is a good follow-on/natural extensive to mine.  I often struggle how best to phrase a question to gather the info I'm interested in.  Your question added depth to mine.

 

19 hours ago, Michaelyus said:

A lot of Chinese varieties have transliterations, but adoption is linked to how prestigious (and advantageous) that is in the eyes of the speaking community. So multi-topolectal, and officially multilingual Singapore allows people to spell their Chinese names more or less how they want.

 

Michaelyus:  Your answer somewhat explains the spelling of the "middle" name, Szi, of an ethnic Chinese friend from Malaysia.  She said it actually should be "Shi" and that her parents just decided to spell it Szi.  I asked why and she said "they just did" (more or less how they wanted....)   It is still pronounced it like the Chinese "shi."  (I never asked her which character the Shi represents).  (She speaks English, Mandarin & Malay).  

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ParkeNYU

I'll provide an answer that should apply to any Sinolect:

 

For a given topolectal morpheme, does a Middle Chinese cognate with an associated Literary Chinese character exist?

If so, then there is a way to write whatever it is with a Han character.

If not, then there might be a way to write whatever it is with a Han character via one of four tactics:

- phonetic loan (borrowing an existing character for its sound while ignoring its meaning)

- semantic loan (borrowing an existing character for its meaning while ignoring its sound)

- phono-semantic loan (miraculously finding a character reasonably close in both sound and meaning)

- character creation (create a new character for the morpheme using existing components to represent sound and/or meaning)

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