Neither Minbei nor Minnan

But somewhere in between

I was checking out some of the language links from and found this site where you can look up Chinese characters and see where they came from. If you have some Chinese font installed on and English-only PC, you can copy the characters from charmap.

From this page, I find that there’s not just Minbeihua and Minnanhua, but also Fuzhouhua, which is described as “also very different [from the other two languages]”. Unfortunately, there are no further details.

(Thanks to Chris Waugh for the link.)

[05.08.14. It’s worth noting that it’s possible to get historical character dictionaries which might focus on a specific style such as lishu or seal script, or which might list characters through the ages to show how they’ve evolved from one period to another.]

Seek and ye shall find

Search me
I was having a look at my stats last night and found that someone had already hit this place via Google blogsearch because of yesterday’s link to the Guardian article by Natasha Walter.
I see I also had a hit for “Fujian dialect”, something I know next to nothing about. I assume that since I’m on the south side of the River Min that they should be speaking Minnanhua (闽南话), but if I head over the bridge into town, they should be speaking Minbeihua (闽北话). As far as I’m aware, they’re minority languages even here, although the local phonology is probably Minhua imposed on Mandarin Chinese.
Actually, in the past couple of days I’m sure I’ve heard some people speaking something that’s not the local version of Mandarin and which sounded a lot like Cantonese to my untrained ear. The two things I seemed to be picking up were the tones, and the apparent prevalence of the diphthong [oi] which I’ve always found noticeable whenever I’m in Hong Kong because the sound isn’t found in standard Mandarin.

They don’t ‘alf whiff


I appear to have six bilingual dictionaries. (Have I mentioned this before?) In the beginning, probably as many foreigners do, I bought a copy of Martin Manser’s dictionary concise dictionary. I then bought an FLTRP dictionary which was for Chinese people learning English, but that was a job-related acquisition. The English-Chinese section is quite com­pre­hen­sive. If I can’t find a word in Manser, it’s probably in this one.

About 18 months ago, I found Manser was annoying me because of the size of the characters; the limited range of meanings; and the absence of various characters. In the space of a week I’d bought two more dict­ion­aries, but liking neither of them, bit the bullet and bought a large English-Chinese dictionary.

When I got to Changzhou last year, I found that a third edition of Manser was out and bought that because it seemed more robust than my copy of the second edition which now resides in the drawer of my desk in the office.

When I got to Fuzhou, I bought a character dictionary which has been useful for finding characters which aren’t even in the big one.

(I’d also like my six copies or so of Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid to be taken into account.)

Our tale is about the FLTRP dictionary which, as I said, has a quite comprehensive English-Chinese section. As I was looking through it last night, I spotted the word “bollocking” (as in “I gave my pupils a right bollocking for using their mobile phones in class”). No sign of “bollocks”, though. The Chinese translation is 臭骂 (chòumà) “scold angrily”. But after I’d looked this up in my big dictionary, I noticed the entry 臭老九 (chòulǎojiǔ) which means “stinking ninth-category people”, the term used to label intellectuals in the Cultural Revolution.

Intellectual? You got me bang to rights there, guv. Stinky? I’d hope not.

I have pupils like this.

I’m looking through Bonner for examples of cci, especially in the adverbial sense when I come across this sentence.

La statua non cci duna cuntu “The statue doesn’t pay any attention to him”

Well, of course it wouldn’t. It’s a statue. I’ll be generous and assume the sentence has been decontextualised.

Undeserved status

Neither theory nor science.

It appears that Ironia has been busy again after my comments last week on creationism in connection with the IELTS class, and after Green Bamboo was returned as a search result for this term the next day.

Creationism is rearing its unscientific head in schools in the UK according to this article in The Guardian. Several of the statements in the article are making creationism and intelligent design sound like scientific theories, albeit slightly left field –

PR packs spread controversial theory
“neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories”
“Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum.”

While I understand the general thrust of the second and third statements, they imply that at some level creationism and intelligent design are scientific theories, but they have no official support. The statement should be something like “Neither intelligent design nor creationism are scientific theories and are not part of  the science curriculum”.

As for the first statement, the keyword there is “theory”. Why? Well, it’s because creationism and intelligent design assume that the hand of the God of the Christians is behind evolution and that aspects of religious belief can be science. But a theory is an idea that we try to prove through research and gradually refine as we attempt to approach the truth. The problem for the creationists is that their so-called theory makes them sound like agnostics because any good theory has an implicit element of doubt. The creationists shouldn’t have any doubt, because if they doubt they’re questioning the word and will of God. And the Pope isn’t going to like that.

A critique of the Theory of Evolution wouldn’t hurt, but not when there’s an ulterior, unscientific motive behind it.

Fortunately, the article includes this comment by Lewis Wolpert.

But leading scientists argue that ID is not science because it invokes super­natural causes. “There is just no evidence for intelligent design, it is pure religion and has nothing to do with science. It should be banned from science classes,” said Lewis Wolpert, a developmental biologist at the University of London and vice-president of the British Humanist Association.

Actually, I think I ought to have the IELTS class read the article. It’ll be good practice for them. Does Uncle Angel have an ulterior motive? Perish the thought. As if I would. I mean, what sort of devious scoundrel d’you think I am? [Do you really want us to answer that? –ed.]

Sicilian Grammar (again)

No Mafia-related pun was left unconsidered as a sub-heading.

J.K. “Kirk” Bonner’s (2001) Introduction to Sicilian Grammar. Ed. by Gaetano Cipolla. Legas: New York.

Bonner’s book can be best described as a discursive grammar by a knowledgible amateur. It confirms and clarifies most of the questions my previous contact with a grammar of Sicilian had raised, but left one major one unanswered – what’s the deal with cci and verbs of motion? In the chapter on pronouns (p. 69), Bonner says

nni and cci are also used as adverbs of place; nni = of here, of there and cci = here, there… Spell nni with two ns when it is a conjunctive adverb.

As a pronoun, ni is the direct object (dO), indirect object (iO), or reflexive form of the 1st person plural. Cci is the iO form of the 3rd person singular and plural (e.g. Cci arrobbanu i sordi “They stole the money from him“). Part of the answer I’m looking for may be on page 72 in a section on the repetition of conjunctive pronouns with noun objects. In this construction, if the dO precedes the verb, the pronoun corresponding to the noun will also be used. For example,

A la me zita la viu nna la chiazza cu nautru omu “I see my fiancée in the town square with another man”
[a la me zita] “my fiancée” [la] “her” [viu] “I see” [nna la chiazza] “in the town square” [cu nautru omu] “with another man”

(The particle a [called Personal a; p. 56] at the start of the sentence above is used to mark a human dO in Sicilian.) As Bonner’s examples show, this construction extends beyond the dO.

Un iornu l’omu cci dici a so mugghieri ca la voli beni assai “One day the man says to his wife that he loves her a lot”
[un iornu] “one day” [l’omu] “the man” [cci] “to her” [dici] “says” [a so mugghieri] “to his wife” [ca] “that” [la] “her” [voli] “he loves” [beni assai] “a lot”

In other words, if the conjunctive pronoun corresponds to a prepositional phrase (PP) functioning as the complement of a verb, the same construction can be used. In addition to the example above, note the following:

Lu poviru omu cci aviria datu la so arma a lu diavulu pi du sordi “The poor man would have his soul to the devil for two cents”
[lu poviru omu] “the poor man” [cci] “it” [aviria datu] “would have given” [la so arma] “his soul” [a lu diavulu] “to the devil”

I assume that cci here refers to la so arma rather than a lu diavulu. Possibly the use of cci with verbs of motion belongs in the same class as this last example so that “I’m going to the house” might be (literally) “I there (cci) go to the house” (Cci vaiu a la casa ??). I’m not sure whether cci in such a construction is optional or not. The first example above is Viu a la me zita nna chiazza cu nautru omu when the dO is in a post-verbal position. Here the otiose use of the pronoun is absent. I guess the pronoun is all part of topicalisation in Sicilian and perhaps intended to eliminate the ambiguity from some sentences where the fronted dO might be interpreted as the subject. However, this is no more than idle speculation on my part.

Possessive specifiers/determiners can be pre- or post-head modifiers in the NP; thus

È lu me libbru or È lu libbru miu or È lu libbru me “It’s my book”

With singular kinship nouns and parts of the body the definite article is omitted, but is found with the plural of kinship nouns.

Because of the potential ambiguity of so “his; her; their”, di + iddu “him”, idda “her”, iddi “them” may be used for clarity, hence lu libbru d’iddu “his book”, lu libbru d’idda “her book”, and li libbra d’iddi “their books”. (In the book, the last is lu libbru d’iddi and translated “their books”, but must be “their book”).

Syntax. It’s all a bit quodlibet

Ancient myths about language

We start with Language Log and from there go to Tenser, said the Tensor. That then takes us to Eigodaigaku where we find this comment:

Many languages have flexible word order and the trend in language evolution is that word order tightens. Classical Latin, and I believe Greek, don’t have a defined word order, yet most modern languages have one albeit loosely enforced.

This is a piece of mythology that has been around in grammars of Greek and Latin probably since Priscian (or insert name of early Greek or Latin grammar).

Syntax is more than just word order. In fact, it would probably be better to talk about constituent order within phrases and clauses when talking about the ordering of elements. In English phrases, the head is usually on the left and the modifier on the right. The former is obligatory; the latter isn’t. Phrase order is typically SVO with adverbials (A) having a degree of mob­ility (which seems mostly peripheral at least in English; e.g. The student bought a book yesterday ~ Yesterday the student bought a book).

Because English lacks inflectional endings (outside personal pronouns) marking categories such as subject and object, the order of elements is vital for understanding the meaning. English speakers would prob­ab­ly interpret “A book bought the student” as “The student bought a book”, but regard the sentence as affected. Highly inflected languages themselves are not necessarily laissez faire with respect to constituent ordering. The sentences

discipulus emit librum
discipulus librum emit
librum discipulus emit
librum emit discipulus
emit discipulus librum
emit librum discipulus

all convey the same fundamental information because the inflections indicate the subject (discipulus) and the object (librum). However, if you could show these sentences to a native speaker of 1st century Latin and ask them to rank the sentences according to their naturalness, there’d be one which was unexceptional (probably the second) after which the rest would deviate increasingly from the norm and might need to be placed in context for such an order to make any sense.

There is some variety in the ordering of constituents in inflected languages, but it’s not usually the quodlibet which the writer of the comment above appears to be assuming. And outside of configurational languages (e.g. Warlpiri; Hungarian) “loose enforcement” doesn’t happen.

The rites

Obsequies for the dead.
It seems that they didn’t hold the funeral when I thought. I was going down the hill through Yiyuan when I heard the clang of cymbals. I noticed there were some tarpaulins over the ally where the garages are just near the gate. (We had some heavy rain earlier today.) As I passed, I could see there were some altars and some monks (Buddhist or Daoist; I don’t know which) were performing some rites outside the garage where I believe the coffin was kept.
When I was heading home later, I noticed that there were a couple of large funeral rosettes outside one of the houses on the narrow alley that runs down the hill just behind No. 1 Aiguo Lu.

Why did they think it was right?

The necessity of a close reading.

This afternoon I was getting the IELTS class to practise multiple choice questions. One of the questions was “What did Darwin discover?”. The answer which the class chose was A. “Human beings were a unique creation of God”. That stunned me a little, particularly because of the obsession with science in China. Pictures of famous scientists, including Darwin, seem to be a feature of Chinese high schools, and you’re not going to find creationism or intelligent design as part of the science curriculum.

The sentence which beguiled the IELTS class was “The Darwinian revolution removed us from our position as a unique creation of God.” Clearly they’d spotted the phrase in the answer and decided that A. must be right without bothering to read the rest of the sentence. It also suggests that they didn’t bother thinking about the answer because it should be contrary to what they’ve been taught. But there’s something else as well.

As regular readers [Ah, there’s wishful thinking. –ed.] will know, I like to deride hacks and their sub-editors now and then for their failure to think first and write/edit later. Think about the sentence from the text. It should say something like “The Darwinian revolution dispelled the belief that humans were created by a divine being”. The sentence implies to me that before Darwin belief in this was fact. In truth, it was never anything but belief.

It should be said that quite a few of the texts that are to be found in IELTS textbooks in China are pretty dreadful when you look closely at them. They’re good for a single, unconsidered reading, but beyond that, their flaws are often all too obvious.

If you’re wondering why I’m getting wound up about this [No, but don’t let the indifference of the rest of humanity stop you. –ed.], it’s because I’ve seen a number of advertisements in the past for jobs writing for websites. In many cases, I’ve thought that it’s a job I could do, but one of the requirements is a background in journalism, as if that makes some journalist competent to write in the first place. I’ve probably dropped a few clangers here in my time, but I don’t believe that I’m any less competent at scribbling than some Grub Street hack.

The Great Chinese Character Survey

Even I underestimate myself.

For the past couple of years I’ve been telling people that I estimate that I know about 200 characters. I thought I’d do a survey of Patrick Lin’s (1999) 500 Basic Chinese Characters. A speedy elementary course published by Sinolingua to see how many I knew; how many I didn’t know at all; how many I half-remembered; and how many I knew I’d forgotten. The results are

Characters I know for certain: 222
Characters I don’t know at all: 164
Characters I’ve seen before and may have some idea of their meaning: 69
Characters I’ve learnt, but have forgotten: 45

I certainly know more than the 222 in Lin’s book, so anything up to 240+ would be more accurate. The characters in the third and fourth groups are a little fuzzy. Some in the fourth group might just scrape into the first, but it’s easy to learn a character and then forget it; and some of the characters in the fourth group are ones that I get confused such as 真 (zhēn) “true; real” and 直 (zhí) “straight” which, because I remembered these off the top of my head this time, ought to be added to the first group. But ten minutes from now, I will’ve forgotten them, although I use the latter quite a bit with taxi drivers.

However, even with around 240+ I’m still unable to read the bulk of written Chinese. I can pick out individual characters, but if these are merely parts of words, then I have little chance of understanding what I’m reading. At best, I might be able to understand the gist. Occasionally, I can read some or most of a phrase such as the one which went up recently on a wall near the school gate. It says “Build a green Fugao; make (?) a beautiful community”, although I’m not sure about the second verb.

[17.10.13. Almost seven years and a lot of indolence later, I doubt whether I’d do any better, and suspect I’ve probably got worse. I’ll try repeating the survey when I go home this evening.

20.10.13. I haven’t completed the survey yet, but find that most of the characters I didn’t know seven years ago are still unfamiliar to me today because they’re mostly characters I just don’t see that often if ever. Most of the Chinese to which I am exposed is on shop signs or notices stuck to the door of the building.]

A pot pourri post

No voiceless labial stop was left unalliterated

Yeah, it’s another this and that sort of post.

My name’s Uncle Angel and I’m a blogspot addict

I’ve been going a bit mad on blogspot blogs via Britblog because you never know when Nanny’s going to clench again. [13.11.13. It should be noted that britblog has long since become extinct, but not because Nanny clenched, although she did eventually.]

Do you mean “migratify”?

In recent days I’ve encountered a couple of instances of “migrate” as a (shudder) transitive verb. It seems to be Geek Speak for “move” or “transfer”, but why neither of those verbs is considered suitable I don’t know. Perhaps some stylistically retarded programmer thought “migrate (vt)” was formal. Ugh. This sort of thing makes me cringe. It’s “migrate (vi)” and takes a [+animate] subject.

In about mid-autumn, the birds migrate south to the shores of Lake Victoria.
The sysadmin transferred/moved the files to his flash drive.
*!The sysadmin migrated the files to his flash drive.
??The sysadmin migratified (= caused to migrate) the files to his flash drive.

Actually, I’m not the inventor of “migratify”, although Google only returns four hits for it. However, at some stage in the future am I going to see instances of “migratify” and regret that I may be responsible for such a travesty? [13.11.13. I never have seen the hideous “migratify” again, but I’m sure I’ve seen “migrate” grossly misused a few times in the past seven years.]

The Ashes

Everything’s going well so far – for Australia. This is why I don’t tend to mention England’s cricketing antics. Too much, “Oh bloody hell. Here we go again.” [13.11.13. Things have changed a bit since then, and although England can still make utter asses of themselves, they’ve occasionally managed to emerge from test series in (well-deserved) triumph.]

Loving you heaps, David Cameron.

You know when the Tories have a new leader because he starts talking about caring and sharing, which seem to be words the Tories only understand (vaguely) after consulting a dictionary. I hope Polly Toynbee (Leaves out of my book; If Cameron can climb on my caravan, anything is possible – these appear to be the same article) is enjoying Dave’s hot lovin’.

This latest attempt at repositioning shows that the UK really is becoming more like China. There’s not just the excessive surveillance and lack of privacy protection, but real choice in elections seems to have disappeared. Here you vote for the Party candidate of your choice. In the UK, the main parties have different names, but, well, that’s about it. [13.11.13. The country ended up with a coalition at the last election, which seems to suit no one. I can see Britain swinging back to being a two-party state at the next election, although the lunatics of the UKIP might make things a little more interesting.]

Farewell, Nick Clark.

I was sorry to hear that Nick Clark died from cancer at the age of 58. I would’ve listened to him on the World at One quite a lot when I was incarcerated in Widow Twanky’s dungeon in Cambridge. Damn Nanny for blocking R4 on line.

The perils of polytheism.

I happened to stumble across Ethics Updates at the University of Sandiego just recently. One of the essay topics under Religion and Ethics is

Many cultures, such as ancient Greek culture, are polytheistic, that is, they believe in many different gods. How would a polytheist interpret a divine command? What problems would the polytheistic divine command theorists encounter that their monotheistic counterparts do not have to confront? Is the (alleged) existence of more than one god an argument for moral relativity?

I’m not sure that the object of the exercise really turns out to be the object intended.

The only polytheistic religion I know anything about is that of Greece. The answer to the first question is that the Greeks would’ve interpreted divine commands in the same way that a monotheist would. As for the second question, I assume we’re meant to believe that a polytheistic religion may produce ethical conflicts because of contrary demands from different gods. I can’t think of a single instance of this in Greek mythology. From a Greek perspective, the answer to the third question is negative because the Greek gods conformed to Greek notions of morality (which included the maxim, “I can bonk your wife; you can’t bonk mine”).

However, perhaps there are divinely inspired ethical conflicts in other polytheistic religions, although such paradoxes would render such a religion inherently unstable.