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Archive for December, 2009

Danwei translates from book planner Zhen Yufei’s Sina microblog:

Famous Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin — remember, he’s a science fiction writer. A science fiction writer writes science fiction. When we sent this author’s work to the publisher for review and approval, they rejected it. The reason they gave for rejecting it was that China no longer existed in the world he depicted in the novel!

Danwei got the message through a blogger named Pan Haitian, who added his own remark under the title “Harmonious Society, Harmonious Society.” I’ll see if I can do it justice:

大刘还是不够成熟呀,看看我,奥运前写过一篇一万年后的北京,奥运场馆都已经被浣熊和狒狒占领,四环路变成森林狼和麋鹿的乐园,但是,伟大的北京人民通过全息摄影依然坚持活在鸟巢里,他们载歌载舞,高呼亚克西,让前来考察的外星人深感震惊,谁都不敢乱说乱动。这就没问题了,一点都没被审查。

Big Liu is not mature enough.  Look at me.  Before the Olympic games I wrote about Beijing in 10,000 years.  The Olympic venues have been occupied by raccoons and baboons.  The Fourth Ring Road has become a paradise for the timberwolves and elk, but the great [me: not sure on this next part] Beijing People’s Communications and News Hologram continues live in the Bird’s Nest, singing, dancing, shouting that Asia will overcome the West [me: I assume there are people in the holograms doing this].  The first aliens who come here to study are deeply shocked, and no one dare make irresponsible remarks or actions. This was no problem, and has not been investigated.

So, one way people can get banned in China: write science fiction where China doesn’t exist.  (Granted, 2012 destroyed China along with most of the rest of the world and it made it in.)

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So apparently MIT scientists have made a special bike wheel that stores breaking energy in a battery, then uses that for an assist motor.  Interesting, but the fact is there are already electric bikes, and they never caught on in the US.  They’re all over China, though — you can’t cross the street in Hangzhou without almost getting hit by one.

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So, just as the Internet has had a major democratization globally, China steps in with another ham-handed attempt at restricting it.  Authorities in China have banned individuals from registering .cn domains. (via Shanghaiist):

According to the latest report published by CNNIC, users who want to apply for domain names should provide written application materials to domain name registration service providers while submitting applications online. The application materials include a domain name registration application form with official seal (original); an enterprise business license or organization code certificate (copy); and the identification of registration contact (copy).

Not sure how much it matters, there’s nothing that prevents you from going through a commercial registrar to get an international .com, .org, or .net domain.  I don’t know exactly what authorities attempt to accomplish with this ban, maybe someone who knows more about domain names can help me out.  I suppose individual countries have the right to put whatever restrictions they want on their country code domains, but letting businesses and organizations register but not individuals seems odd to me.  If I were to restrict a country code, I would restrict it to government sites.

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I recently got into an interesting discussion at Ben Ross’ Blog about language competency and Huaqiao*.  The original post topic was on how to get a job using one’s Chinese skills, and the main point of it I am in total agreement on:  Unless you are specifically interested in something like translation, knowing a foreign language is not enough to get you a job.  Plenty of people have told me that my languages (English, Chinese, and Spanish) would make me a good candidate for companies that do international business and they will be valuable in getting a job, but as I approach graduation I have got to thinking that, while speaking more that one language is definitely an advantage and I would encourage anyone to learn a foreign language, I haven’t quite learned any skills that I can apply that language too.

But that’s for another post, what sparked the discussion was this:

What this means is that not even counting the hundreds of thousands of American currently studying Chinese as a second language, there are already over two million Americans, who by virtue of growing up speaking Chinese, speak the language better than you ever will, regardless of how much you study.

Myself and another commenter took issue with that statement.  While there are a large number of people in the United States who speak Chinese at home, their children are not necessarily going to be that good at Chinese.  Here’s a basic sample of what I put in:

I’m here at a special language program at Zhejiang University and have met several huaqiao here studying Chinese for one of two reasons:

1) They spoke a fangyan at home and had little or no exposure to Mandarin.
2) They can speak Mandarin, but never learned to read.

I think as more Mandarin-speakers move out into the diaspora and more Mandarin-language schools start popping up, there will gradually be more huaqiao that are competent in Mandarin, but it won’t necessarily mean they will all be better than a non-native. Language loss happens in a lot of immigrant groups — I also speak Spanish and I have met a few Hispanics with limited vocabulary or who never really learned Spanish at all (at home, that is), in the US the general rule is that immigrants lose their “mother language” in the third generation.

To expand a bit, I have met Huaqiao here who have no literacy in Chinese to speak of, and others who had noticable foreign accents or who spoke no Chinese at all.  Back in the states I have met Hispanics with very good Spanish ability, but also a Mexican American who did not learn Spanish until college and now speaks Spanish with a very noticeable West Virginia accent.  So, while there are definitely people back home that speak either of those languages natively, they wouldn’t represent the whole of the immigrant group, and even those who do speak natively may not have any professional vocabulary to speak of.  A native speaker of Mandarin would definitely have an edge on me — my Mandarin is still no where near it would need to be to actually do any kind of serious professional work.  A native Spanish speaker would to, if he has the professional vocabulary to back it up (and that still might not take much, as my Spanish is slipping through lack of exposure.

Ben later clarified that “expanding ones ideolect to include intelligent terminology and industry jargon is not one of the more demanding aspects of language learning.”  I tend to agree with that statement, once you know the language to a certain point, new vocabulary is not so difficult.  But native fluency is definitely not a golden ticket, just as having a second language in itself is not a golden ticket into international business.

Anyway, enough recap, if I haven’t bored you to tears and you are really interested in this stuff, read the original discussion thread.  Poke around on the other posts over there, too, Ben has a lot more experience than I have with China and Chinese learning, his stuff is a lot more informative than mine.

*Huaqiao 华侨 “Chinese diaspora” (#6 here)

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So, I’ve been invited to Google Wave, Google’s not-so-super-secret collaborative editor and communication tool that they hope will replace email.  The system gives me eight email invites, and since I don’t want to waste them on random people I’ve decided I’ll just post about it.  Anyone who wants an invite can post a comment (Facebookers, click through to the blog so all comments end up in one place), and the first eight can get the invites, if you want it.

Make sure to look at the info on it.  Not too many people are on Wave yet, so it’s not practical for most things yet, just a toy to play with for now, but I got into a Wave conversation and it’s  pretty cool.

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ChinaSMACK has a contest up to win a copy of the book In China, my name is… which focuses on the phenomenon of Chinese people choosing English names for various reasons.  All you have to do is post a comment to their contest post with a story or stories about Chinese people’s English names or foreigners’ Chinese names.  My (slightly obnoxious) posting can already be found in the comment thread (Sorry Burr, I stole your story before I thought about sharing the link, maybe you can post a more accurate version :S ).

Note: Mom I think you know this, but just to remind, ChinaSMACK is not safe for middle school (sorry, but you’ll see why pretty quick).

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If you followed President Obama’s recent trip to Asia, you may have picked up on a story about different names for Obama used in Chinese. Essentially there are two competing versions of his last name: 奥巴马 (aobama), which is the officially endorsed version used by Xinhua and other news agencies in China, and 欧巴马 (oubama), which is the version used by the US Embassy in China for press releases and other information. The embassy claims 欧巴马 should be used because it more accurately reflects the pronunciation of the name, while Xinhua and most Chinese news outlets prefer 奥巴马 because that is the form that organically occurred back when Obama was a candidate. As for which version I would use, I’m not sure yet. I’m a big believer in self-determination when it comes to names, but Obama didn’t really choose that transliteration himself, he had Chinese-speaking aides do it. And there’s something to be said for using consistent spelling forms, if for no other reason that it makes it easier on search engines if they don’t have to recognize the variant forms (or users so they don’t need to remember to search both forms at once).

But I didn’t tune in late to a discussion of Obama’s name just to opine on that. The fact is, learning Chinese, you have to learn new names for everyone and everything you might want to talk about to Chinese people. If you’ve ever studied another language you have some idea what I’m talking about. Even in European langauges, you’re likely to have to learn new country names, names of Biblical characters, and many historical figures (particularly those from the 1500’s or earlier), and maybe deal with a few mispronunciations of more recent names coming from monolinguals. In Chinese, every country, place, movie, book, or famous person has a “Chinese name”, whether that name is just a transliteration like 奥巴马 or 哈利・波特, some sort of translated name like 星际旅行, or in the case of many Chinese actors and celebrities, the actual characters of their name: such as 成龙 or 李安.

Historical figures have the same problems.  Of course, it won’t take long to learn that Mao’s full name is 毛泽东, but often figures in Chinese history are known by different pronunciation of their name from a different Chinese language (Chang Kai-shek for instance, is 蒋介石 Jiang3 Jie4shi2 in Standard Mandarin).  And of course, foreign historical names are prone to transliterations, which can be compounded by not necessarily knowing which language was the source for the Chinese phonetic pronunciation.

These things go the other way around, as well, particularly with older historical and literary figures.  You learn pretty quick that Confucious is usually called 孔子 (Kongzi) — the English name comes from an honorific title 孔夫子 (Master Kong), and you may later learn that his real name is thought to have been 孔丘 (Kong Qiu).

So what’s the best way to sort out these names.  Good dictionaries will have some of them listed, but I’ve found the best way to find the names is to use Wikipedia.  Most (if not all) people and literary works that originated in China will have their Chinese names listed in the introduction.  For those things that aren’t so closely related, look at the list of languages, hopefully you will see the a link saying 中文.  Thanks to some script magic, all Chinese Wikipedia articles are available in four versions:  Mainland, Hong Kong / Macau, Singapore, and Taiwan, so you can choose the character set that best suits your needs.  That won’t get you everywhere, but it’s a useful learning tool, or a resource you can use if you happen to be chatting online with Chinese friends and you want to know, “What do I call Obama him in Chinese?”

Anyway, hope I was helpful in some way.

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