Friday, August 17, 2007
Friday, August 03, 2007
screen shots of the new website
Still aiming to have it all finished by the end of August. I'm having trouble making my design into a wordpress template because I am not a talent when it comes to HTML and, more specifically, PHP.
Let me know what you think of the design.
Labels: quick note
back--stuff from a newspaper--wherein i ask important questions
But, I must say, the most important and exciting part of my trip was actually on the way home, on my China Air flight from San Francisco to Chengdu, when I discovered that somehow I always get aisle seats on plains. Due to the small size of my very active bladder, this quite obviously means that god both exists is intimately concerned about the quality of my life.
Anyway, China Air is actually a pretty good carrier, with pleasant staff, fairly roomy seats, and food that is both free and not awful (well, on the international flights, anyway). They also provide complimentary newspapers, including a number of Chinese papers and also USA Today, the most colorful paper in America.
With a 12 hour flight looming ahead of me, I snatched one of the USA Todays quickly and firmly, keeping it close to breast in case any fellow travelers got any smart ideas related to stealing it from me. After sitting down and losing myself in the giant full-color weather map on the back page for about three hours, I scanned the paper for any China news. I found one article and it was absolutely colorless--I mean, really, there was one picture and it was, like, only black and white. Regardless, I dove in and read the entire thing, "Hidden culprit of product scandal made in China" (online version here).
Thankfully, it was just about light and fluffy enough for me to feel like I learned something. Of course, it's the feeling of being knowledgeable on a subject that's most important to me and, thankfully, it's just this kind of feeling that American media is more than happy to provide me with. Sadly, I like to have color images so that the feelingness of my knowledge is even more intense, and this article simply failed to deliver.
I should try to be fair, however. Its contents almost took it past pure feeling into the realm of solid knowledge. The author rather bravely attempted to show China's side of the product safety scandals, and to explain how at least part of the blame ought to be placed on American companies and consumers. In fact, despite the worthless personal anecdote at the start of the story, I was actually only partially completely dissatisfied with it. That is, until I got to the last paragraph:
Recall that for a thousand years, China was the source of nearly all the world's finest products and luxuries. It is capable practically and culturally of enforcing the highest standards, so long as we are, too.Uh, what?
I guess the author received his education on world history from a mainland history textbook, because he clearly suffers from a common disorder over here, which is to distort China's history to the point where it is pre-eminent in world affairs prior to, I don't know, say 1842. That's not to say it wasn't pre-eminent at some points nor is it to say that it wasn't pre-eminent for a long time nor is it to say that it wasn't the most technically advanced country for some time; it's just that power balance back in the day is pretty tricky to quantify at present, as was the speed of progress and the proliferation of new inventions. When Europe was in its dark ages China was certainly the far more advanced of the two; but beginning with the European renaissance, that all began to change quite quickly.
I can think of a couple things that were considered luxury items and came from China--silk, porcelain, and tea; but I as far as I'm aware, many of the world's luxury items came from locations as diverse as, well, all the entire world. Did pearls orginate in China? Aged French wine? Caviar? Mink coats? Diamonds? Rolls Royce? Scotch? Lapis Lazuli? Snuff? Any of the worlds thousands of spices? Opium and its derivatives? Cashmere?
Why do writers on China, both Chinese and not, so easily fall into this trap of
skewing world history to being China-centric? Is it because for so long Western writers have unfairly skewed world history to be Western-centric, and this is some kind of unconscious correcting of the scales?
Friday, July 13, 2007
I'd also like to register and finish the design for my new site, which will hopefully be up by the end of the summer. My plans at present are to have separate sections for the blog and the fake news, and hopefully, eventually, a section with longer, article style posts.
Anyway . . .
Off the plane my first impressions are that America is sunny and full of air that is not composed mostly of solids. I like it here but I know already that I'll be very much ready to return to Chengdu by the end of the trip. Why? 1. The girlfriend 2. The food (god damn it sichuan food really is the best on the planet) 3. All that Chinese (it tires me out, but it sure is useful) 4. The job (well, really just the fact that I earn money, and actually have much more purchasing power in China than I used to in the US)
Needless to say, there will be no Sichuanhua Primer updates for the next three weeks.
Labels: quick note
Friday, July 06, 2007
sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*--part 2: pronunciation
Part 2 Pronunciation
KEY PRONOUNCIATION DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SICHUANHUA AND PUTONGHUA
This is the part where most casual readers will throw up their hands, say “what the fuck!?” and give up. Sichuanhua does, indeed, sound quite different from putonghua, with numerous consonants, vowels, and diphthongs changed, as well as a few irregularities in pronunciation and just general strangeness—even asking “what” and “how” are different.
Well, there’s no choice but to deal with it now, at the very beginning. But don’t despair. Once you have mastered the first three portions of this primer, you will find that grammar, vocabulary, and syntax are largely consistent with putonghua. Despite the rather numerous changes in pronunciation, if you are exposed to these differences on a daily basis you will very quickly adapt to them.
(Of course, if you don’t feel like putting up with the boring stuff, you can just wait for the part on swear words.)
Anyway, let’s begin with consonant, vowel, and diphthong changes. There are a whopping twelve changes in total.
NOTE: Changes in vowel pronunciation occur only in the case of terminal vowels. For instance, in the word ren, the ‘e’ is not pronounced ‘oe.’ Only a word such as he, with the ‘e’ at the end, should be pronounced ‘hoe.’
Here are samples of each sound, with an accompanying audio file.
- 川 cuáh
THE “OE” SOUND
OE is pinyin invented by me, because no adequate pinyin exists in putonghua. It is neither the same as the “ou” sound, nor is it the same as the “o” sound. I originally wanted to represent it with an umlaut (ö) because showing it as a diphthong is misleading, however there is no way I could put pinyin tone marks over an umlauted “o”.
I do want to emphasize, however, that there is no “E” sound—it is just a straight "o" sounding like the English “hoe,” “low,” “bow,” or “po’ ” (as in “we po’ folks!”)
I don’t know if Chinese language books have their own representation of this sound. If they do, please let me know, and I will change it here accordingly.
THE “VW” SOUND
THE “AH” SOUND
“AH” is distinct from the Mandarin “a”; here it sounds like the “a” in “bad,” “mad,” or “sad.”
THE “NG” SOUND
Special sound unique to
Labels: sichuanhua primer
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Also, let me just apologize for the fact that the first few portions of this will be incredibly boring. Until I start posting dialogs I will not at all be interested in making this stuff interesting or fun--there's a lot of boring rules that have to be explained first, and I'm not one for pretending that boring rules can be made interesting. I always find that language books that simply list rules of the language are, if a little bland, at least far more useful than books that try to jazz up the rules and make them cool or fun. My goal with this part of the primer is really to make it as useful as possible for those few individuals interested in learning this dialect.
Also, in other news, I'm currently giving myself a crash course in html (it's all changed a lot since I made my last web page, sometime in high school), and so I will hopefully have a flashy new real web site put up at the end of the summer.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*--part 1: tones
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TONES IN SICHUANHUA AND PUTONGHUA
There are some general rules that can be followed in the conversion of tones from putonghua to sichuanhua, although they are not always consistent. After I publish the first few parts of the primer, I will try to write up a list of exceptions to these rules and add them as an appendix; however, I think the best strategy is just to learn them as best you can, and then make a mental note whenever you hear an exception in actual speech. If you’re not in an area where you’re listening to sichuanhua on a daily basis, then I am both surprised and impressed that you’re reading this, and I’m sorry I can’t provide you with a list of exceptions at present.
Here are the rules for converting Mandarin tones into sichuanhua.
Rule #1: First tone becomes second tone.
Rule #2: Second tone becomes the special
Rule #3: Third tone becomes fourth tone.
Rule #4: Fourth tone becomes third tone.
Note: The fluctuation in pitch of the putongua third tone is, in sichuanhua, often not as extreme.
The first tone in Mandarin pops up sometimes in
Again, these rules are not always applicable. My guess is that about 85% of tones can be converted this way.
THE SPECIAL, MAGICAL
No doubt if you’ve already studied the tones in mandarin the idea of needing to pick up a new one is rather discouraging, and rightly so. Tones are a pain in the ass, and this one is not distinguished for its ease in replicating.
As noted in the introduction, this tone will be designated by an asterisk placed after the syllable.
What does the special
Here is a short sound file of the pronunciation of 麻, Mandarin “má” and sichuanhua, “ma*”
Here is a sound file for the
EXAMPLES OF SICHUANHUA TONES
Following is a table converting putongua pinyin into my own not-so-cleverly designed sichuanhua pinyin.
There is a sound file attached detailing the differences in tones in putonghua and sichuanhua. I highly recommended you download and listen to begin catching on to the differences.
AUDIO (Mandarin and
THIRD TONE PAIRS
For example, two fourth tone words in Mandarin will be pronounced as “rènshì;” but in
However, in actual speech the first third tone in a third tone pair will change to a second tone, meaning that in sichuanhua the word should be pronounced as “rénshǐ.”
(Well, actually, to be more accurate, it should be pronounced as “zrénsǐ,” but I won’t get into consonant changes until the next installment of the primer).
This isn’t confusing at all, is it? Don’t worry, it only gets easier.
Labels: sichuanhua primer
Secondly, I'm recording these files on my cranky old laptop, with a cheap Chinese microphone. Please to not expect audio of the highest quality--as I become more experienced, and get some better equipment, most problems should hopefully be fixed.
Finally, at the beginning all the files will be .wav files, because most of them don't last much longer than three seconds and I don't see much point compressing a file that's already quite small. Once I post some bigger files I will begin converting them into mp3s.
Labels: sichuanhua primer
Monday, June 18, 2007
sichuanhua primer--四川话入门--sǐcuáhhuǎ rǔmen*
Sichuanhua, also known as Sichuanese, comprises the major Mandarin dialect group of Southwestern China, spreading from Sichuan east to Chongqing, south-east to Guizhou, and south to Yunnan. Altogether, there are nearly 120 million people who speak sichuanhua or one of its variations as their primary language (so many, in fact, that if sichuanhua were classified as a language in its own right, it would rank ninth in the world in terms of the population of its primary speakers, coming just behind Japanese, with 125 million speakers, and just ahead of German, with 100 million speakers). Indeed, the province of Sichuan alone, with a land mass of 450,000 square kilometers and a populace of over 80 million, is roughly the same size—and has roughly the same population—as the entire country of Germany. Yet, despite its influence as the primary tool of communication for nearly all of South-Western China, there is not a single, easily accessible English language reference text that has been written for sichuanhua
Therefore, this guide is being written in an attempt to provide basic materials for individuals interested in learning sichuanhua. It is based entirely upon my own observations and work. Please be aware I am not a professional linguist. Descriptions and explanations of the dialect will contain no linguistic lingo and, indeed, may not even always be 100% accurate. If you are looking for an academic or professional analysis of sichuanhua you will need to search elsewhere.
Of course, because I am not a professional linguist, I also highly value thoughtful feedback, and would like to make this primer as much of a collaborative process as possible. If you would like to make suggestions or corrections, please feel free to do so. My email address is email@example.com.
THE SOUNDS OF SICHUANHUA
Sichuanhua, pervasive and thriving in this part of China, provides an exciting and almost vulgar contrast to the standard Mandarin pumped out of television sets and radio stations throughout the mainland. Native speakers here are fiercely proud of their dialect. Locals will tell you that, back in the day, when votes were cast to decide which variety of Chinese would be selected as the standard for the whole country, sichuanhua lost to its northern counterpart by only one vote. While many middle schools and high schools may use standard mandarin as the language of instruction, many do so incorrectly, infusing it with a thick sichuan accent and thus assuring that even locals brought up in the national education system speak their own variation of the language, and not the national standard.
Clearly, sichuanhua is no danger of extinction or even diminished influence. Its basics are a necessity for anyone seriously considering living in this part of the world, and certainly for anyone interested in traveling outside the major population centers.
But what does it sound like?
To someone familiar with putonghua, the most immediate and obvious differences in sichuanhua will probably be the tonal and pronunciation variations. There are three reasons for this:
Sichuanhua has a tone that does not exist in mandarin.
Certain standard tones are reversed in sichuanhua
Numerous consonants, vowels, and diphthongs are slightly different, or do not exist in Mandarin.
All these variations that exist between sichuanhua and Mandarin have given it a totally unique sound, pretty much incomparable to any other language (at least that I’ve ever heard). It’s not as harsh and sudden as putonghua; there’s something more consistent, something more of a constant music to it, rising and falling with a kind of wild, yet deliberate rhythm. There’s an explosive aspect to it as well, making it powerful, and filthy. Swear words fly out like the everyday necessities they are, with speakers holding onto the most important syllables in mid flight, waiting for the perfect moment to release and let the word come crashing down with its foul authority. In fact, it can be fairly said that when speakers of other Chinese dialects swear, it always sounds like a poor imitation of their true Sichuanese masters.
But, of course, Sichuanhua’s importance is more than as just a bunch of unique sounds—it’s also about how the local people identify with the language, and how this then affects their sense of place and significance in greater China. It has been a fundamental component of the culture and people of the Sichuan basin for thousands of years, and, as noted earlier, people here look upon it as a source of pride, a source of identity and uniqueness in a country where mass media is overwhelmingly broadcast in standard, northern Mandarin. So to understand sichuanhua is to begin to understand this amazing and little known part of the world.
And that bring us nicely to the next part:
WHY LEARN SICHUANHUA?
This is a very good question because, frankly, unless you have a passionate interest in learning Chinese, trying to learn sichuanhua would be a colossal waste of time. But, honestly, to study sichuanese—and eventually, of course, to understand it or even to speak it—is to open up a possibility of experiencing an entirely different kind of Chinese, and an entirely different kind of China.
Here are some other reasons why one might want to learn Sichuanhua:
Because you are living in Sichuan.
If that's not the case, here are some other reasons:
Most places outside of the northeast do not speak putonghua.
You ever intend to travel in southern China
Understanding one dialect helps you more quickly adapt to others.
As follows from #4, any serious student of Chinese should be familiar with at least one dialect, and that does not included northern dialects.
Beijinghua and erhua in general contain some of the ugliest sounds capable of being gurgled and spit out of the human larynx and it’s a tragedy many students only study these dialects.
Sichuanhua is a major dialect, spoken by 120 million people, which is more people than speak Korean, Dutch, Norwegian, or any number of other languages.
It is the key to unlocking all the han Chinese portions of southwestern China (also, minorities in these areas often speak mandarin with a thick sichuanhua accent)
You want to swear in Chinese but just don’t feel satisfied by the other dialects.
You want to be as much like a hard-drinking, tea guzzling, mahjong addicted native as possible.
Some Sichuan guy stole your bicycle, and you need to find him ASAP.
REPRESENTATION OF TONES IN THIS GUIDE
Because sichuanhua has a tone that does not exist in Mandarin, I cannot adequately represent the sounds of the language using traditional pinyin tone marks. Therefore, I have chosen to use the asterisk * mark after each syllable that uses the special Sichuan tone.
If you can think of a better way to do this, please do recommend something, as I think the asterisk is ugly as all hell.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR STUDY
How one chooses to go about studying sichuanhua is completely dependent on your individual needs, goals, and current level in putonghua. I should note, however, that this guide is written for people with at least some knowledge of Mandarin. It does not teach sichunhua from the ground up, but rather uses bits and pieces of Mandarin and to piece together a functional system for reading and writing a kind of sichuanhua pinyin. Therefore, students who, for example, are not familiar with standard mandarin tones, will find no explanations herein.
Also, I recommend that, if you are currently studying standard Mandarin, you first aim for listening comprehension in sichuanhua, as it is difficult to learn two different tonal sets at once (also, most people who speak sichuanhua will understand standard Mandarin).
If you do want to learn spoken sichuanhua, I imagine it eventually comes naturally, after enough time familiarizing yourself with dialect, and after a point at which your Mandarin is already quite good. But, of course, if you would like to go full steam ahead and study sichuanhua from the very beginning, at the expense of your mandarin, go right ahead. More power to you. And the locals will love you.
As a warning, the first few installments of this primer will be incredibly boring.
Once again, I am not an expert on sichuanhua but I have done my best to provide as much information on the dialect as I can. Treat this first installment of the primer like you would the beta version of a new program. It will be riddled with all manner of errors and, if you look at it wrong, might just make your computer explode. But, after enough time and feedback, it should hopefully become as accurate as possible.
Labels: sichuanhua primer