Category Archive 'Chinese'

11 Jan 2012

You, Too, Can Throw Around Lines in Mandarin Like Jon Huntsman (or Jayne)

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Jon Huntsman baffled Mitt Romney (and the viewing audience) by offering a rejoinder in Mandarin last Saturday, which provoked Topless Robot to improve all our conversational skills by teaching us the 15 best Chinese phrases from Joss Wheedon’s 14-episode TV series Firefly.

25 Jan 2007

Chinglish Humor

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Daniel Feng had an alarming experience.

A short two months after getting my Chinese driver’s license, I was about to lose it again. I drove the Jetta into a garage with this insane Chinglish (Chinese-English) sign warning me about crafty slipperies: “TO TAKE NOTICE OF SAFE. THE SLIPPERY ARE VERY CRAFTY.” As I remarked, I nearly dented the car (and the sign), having nearly spontaneously combusted in the worst laughing fit ever.

And he has been on a crusade since to memorialize, and rebuke, public signs in Beijing featuring unsatisfactory English translations of Chinese idioms.

16 Mar 2006

Chinese Menus Translated

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Somebody took some typical Chinese restaurant menus and ran the radicals through a translating program, one very much like Google’s language tools or Alta Vista’s Babelfish, producing predictably comedic results.

07 Jan 2006

Cantonese Losing out to Mandarin in US Communities

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A Los Angeles Times story sees Mandarin winning out over Cantonese in American Chinese communities.

over the last three decades, waves of Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants have diluted the influence of both the Cantonese language and the pioneering Cantonese families who ran Chinatowns for years.

The surging Chinese economy today has challenged Cantonese further. Because Mandarin is China’s official language, entrepreneurs like Hom have been forced to adapt, often learning the hard way that business can’t be done with Cantonese alone.

Many Cantonese speakers are racing to learn Mandarin any way they can — by watching Chinese soap operas, attending schools, paying for expensive immersion courses and even making more Mandarin-speaking friends. This is no cinch. Although Cantonese and Mandarin share the same written language, they are spoken as differently as English and French.

At the same time, few people are learning Cantonese…

With the changes, some are lamenting — in ways they can do only in Cantonese — the end of an era. Mandarin is now the vernacular of choice, and they say it doesn’t come close to the colorful and brash banter of Cantonese.

“You might be saying, ‘I love you’ to your girlfriend in Cantonese, but it will still sound like you’re fighting,” said Howard Lee, a talk show host on Cantonese language KMRB-AM (1430). “It’s just our tone. We always sound like we’re in a shouting match. Mandarin is so mellow. Cantonese is strong and edgy.”

Cantonese is said to be closer than Mandarin to ancient Chinese. It is also more complicated. Mandarin has four tones, so a character can be intonated four ways with four meanings. Cantonese has nine tones.

Beginning in the 1950s, the Chinese government tried to make Mandarin the national language in an effort to bridge the myriad dialects across the country. Since then, the government has been working to simplify the language, renamed Putonghua, and give it a proletarian spin. To die-hard Cantonese, no fans of the Communist government, this is one more reason to look down on Mandarin.

Many say it is far more difficult to learn Cantonese than Mandarin because the former does not always adhere to rules and formulas. Image-rich slang litters the lexicon and can leave anyone ignorant of the vernacular out of touch.

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