Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Undoubtedly Trashy: Goats Eating in Jieyang

I thought I might be on my way to a goat-free day, but, of course, this afternoon I came across some goats yet again in Jieyang. A older man had just bought some fresh goat milk and appeared amused when I photographed the goats. We spoke briefly and thinking about the ambiguity of the Chinese character 羊 (yáng) regarding sheep, goats, and other Caprinae I inquired about the name of these fine animals. Not to my surprise, he went with 羊 (yáng) on its own.

What most caught my attention about these particular goats wasn't their number (only two) or their mode of transportation (walking with their human). I earlier mentioned that while buyers like the man I met today could be assured of the source and freshness of their goat milk, there were still unanswered questions which could be of concern such as those pertaining to the goats' diets. So I watched silently as one of the goats munched on . . . something.

goat eating trash on the ground in Jieyang, China

And with that food for thought, I think it can be said not only has the recent goats-on-wheels series come to a close for the time being but now the broader goat series as well.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Signs of Goat Meat in Jieyang

As was evident with the previous lunar year's zodiac symbol, the Chinese character 羊 (yáng) can refer to sheep, goats, rams, and other related animals. Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Victor Mair uses the term "ovicaprid" when translating instances of 羊 (yáng) which are ambiguous. "Caprinae" may work as well. My earlier idea to go with "Year of the Yang" never took off.

Although adding a preceding Chinese character provides more clarity, it is still common in China to see 羊 (yáng) without one. For example, a man I recently saw selling goat milk in Chaozhou evidently felt that no additional character was needed. But at a market in Jieyang I passed through the other day, I saw several instances of 山羊 (shānyáng), which typically refers to goats.

sign for goat meat (山羊肉) in Jieyang, China

sign for goat meat (山羊肉) in Jieyang, China

They weren't selling milk like the vendors with goats on tricycle carts I saw nearby. The third character in these signs means "meat".

Elsewhere in Jieyang, I saw a restaurant sign which used 羊 (yáng) alone, once again with the meat character following. During my earlier days in China I would have assumed this meant sheep meat was on the menu. Given how I have seen the character used elsewhere in this region, though, I wasn't shocked to see a picture of a goat below.

restaurant sign with goat meat (羊肉) mentioned in Jieyang, China

So what do they write in Jieyang when referring to sheep? I haven't explored this fascinating issue, but I did see one man selling sheep meat who didn't write anything at all. The head and skin did seem to communicate enough on their own though.

meat for sale hanging above a sheep head and a sheep skin nearby

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Minnight" Movie Horrors in Shaoguan

In addition to the two movie posters I previously saw at the Fengdu Road Pedestrian Street in Shaoguan, another poster there more recently caught my eye.

movie poster for Midnight Whispers (半夜叫你别回头) which misspells "midnight" as "minnight"

More than the warm poses, the word "minnight" is remarkable. An online version of this poster at Douban uses the same word as well. However, all of the other posters for the same movie use "midnight", which makes sense since it is part of the Chinese name of the movie (半夜叫你别回头). While English language errors are common in China, misspelling the name of a movie on a poster which presumably was distributed nationwide seems to include a bit of extra unintended horror. Maybe that was the point though. Midnight Whispers opened today in China, just in time for the Halloween weekend.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What to Do About China's New Year Yang?

Confusion surrounds the identity of this year's Chinese zodiac symbol. Chris Buckley succinctly explained why:
The reason is that the word for the eighth animal in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of creatures, yang in Mandarin, does not make the distinction found in English between goats and sheep and other members of the caprinae subfamily. Without further qualifiers, yang might mean any such hoofed animal that eats grass and bleats. And so Chinese news media outlets have butted heads for days on what to call this year in English, recruiting experts to pass judgment.
Some claim the answer can be found in which animal was bred or eaten first in China. I am not clear what that logic says about other Zodiac creatures such as the monkey or dragon.

Others believe the answer depends on region:
Fang Binggui, a folklorist based in southeast China's Fuzhou City, says the image of the zodiac Yang is open to regional interpretation. "People depict the zodiac animal based on the most common Yang in their region. So it's often sheep in the north while goats in the south."
Fang's explanation matches up with another north-south regional difference: the Japanese zodiac specifies the animal to be a sheep while the Vietnamese zodiac specifies the animal to be a goat.

Based on what I have seen during the past month, though, it doesn't appear there is universal agreement on what to use even within individual cities in southern China. While not necessarily representative, photos I took in four Chinese cities — Chongqing in the southwest and Macau, Zhuhai, and Zhongshan in the southeast — at least provide a taste of the variety which can be found there. The photos include Lunar New Year displays, signs, or artwork I happened to notice, most often in shopping areas, public squares, or parks. After the photos, I will share brief thoughts on how I will be handling the zodiacal challenge.

Sometimes the choice of animal is expressed in English. Some of the animals are easy to identify. Other are more challenging. One has wings.

A bit of the new year spirit in Chongqing:

Alongside the Jiefangbei Pedestrian Street

A pedestrian bridge in Yangjiaping

Inside the SML Central Square shopping center

Outside the Sunshine Mall

Above the Guanyinqiao Pedestrian Street

Door at Shenghui Plaza

At Haitang Yanyu Park

Also at Haitang Yanyu Park

Across the street from the Chongqing Zoo

Inside the SM City shopping mall

Inside the Starlight 68 Plaza shopping mall


In Taipa Village

Also in Taipa Village

Inside the Shoppes at Venetian

At Largo do Senado (Senate Square)

At the Portas do Cerco (border crossing point with Zhuhai)

A lobby inside the Galaxy Macau resort

In Coloane Village

Also in Coloane Village


In front of Gongbei Port (border crossing point with Macau)

At the New Yuan Ming Palace

Also at the New Yuan Ming Palace

At the underground Port Plaza shopping center

Inside the Vanguard supermarket in Gongbei

In Zhongshan:

Outside Yu Yip Plaza

Outside of the Central Power Plaza shopping mall

My take? If people are using all these different animals in China, and they all count as yangs, why not just go along with it? The trick then is what to say in English. Perhaps it is time, as the earlier sentence suggests, for another loanword in English — "yang". Yes, there is already "yin and yang", but English is comfortable with homonyms, and it would help address English's "trade imbalance" with loanwords.

But if I have to choose an animal more specific than all yangs, although I am tempted by the Tibetan antelope, I have decided to go with the goat if for no other reason than I have seen several live goats recently.

Goat near a familiar-looking statue at Foreigner's Street in Chongqing

Goats at the New Yuan Ming Palace in Zhuhai

Now I just need to figure out which type of goat.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Chinese Hair Accessory Brand With a Genuine Name

Like the Chinese clothing brand Weles, a Chinese brand of hair accessories with stores in a number of Chinese cities indicates its products are also sold outside of China in places such as Europe and the U.S. Unlike Weles, what attracted me to the brand was not a slogan. Instead, my interest in puns caused me to appreciate the non-Chinese name of 斐卡瑞 (Fěikǎruì) when I passed one of its stores in Shanghai.

storefront signs with the hair accessory brand name "Fayekerry"

Whether or not the pun was intended, if any of their products appeal to you, a list of their stores should help you find a genuine Fayekerry in China.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Numerical Bart Simpson Snack Store in Hengyang

A local chain store with a notable sign in Hengyang, Hunan, sells a variety of snack foods, many imported.

527 零食汇 store sign with image of Bart Simpson's head

The use of Bart Simpson's image on the sign raises the common issue of trademark and copyright infringement in China. And the store's name, 527 零食汇, highlights how technology has influenced the use of numbers in Chinese language. In Chinese, the numbers 5-2-7 are a near-homophone for the phrase "I love to eat". Combined with the first two Chinese characters, the sign reads "I love to eat snacks". For more about how technology has influenced the adoption of numbers for expressing Chinese language, see the piece "The Secret Messages Inside Chinese URLs".

I took a quick look inside the store. I didn't see any snacks I wanted at the time, but due to the hot weather I was especially happy to pick up a brand of bottled water I would not expect to find in Hengyang.

Bottle of Vita pure distilled water

Vita bottled water is from Hong Kong and, like other products from the Special Administrative Region, would typically be considered an import. I doubt I could distinguish it in a taste test, but, like the image of Bart Simpson, the branding connected me to a far away place.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fried Enema at a Restaurant in Beijing

Yesterday, I saw a response to this tweet:

In my travels across China, I usually don't see many menu mistranslations. One reason for this is simple: many restaurants in the locations I visit don't even have a non-Chinese language menu. However, in cities such as Beijing there are many more English language menus available, probably in no small part due to its large number of foreign residents and visitors (there can be other motivating factors though).

Nonetheless, mistranslations in Chinese menus are not surprising to me, and usually I would not give them a lot of attention. However, recently in Beijing I saw a menu deserving a photo. So I was able to add to the responses to Chao's tweet with the following example:

Chinese menu with 'fried enema', 'fried pseudosciaena polyactis', and 'Bean. Focus ring each set'

Mmm... fried enema. And it even comes with a garnish.

I am not the first to have noted this exceptional dish. And for those not familiar with Chinese (or English), the translation has already been explained by Victor Mair on the Language Log:
The Chinese name of the dish in question is zhá guànchang 炸灌腸, which is a kind of sausage made of wheat flour stuffed into hog casings and fried. The last two characters, pronounced guàncháng, also have a completely different meaning, viz., "enema" or "give an enema" (literally, "to irrigate the intestine").

This is a good example of the spoken language being clearer than the written language — at least when one is relying on not-very-good machine translation.

Google Translate renders 炸灌腸 correctly as "fried sausage".
Mair apparently discounted the possibility that restaurants do indeed fry up enemas and serve them to customers. Seems reasonable to me.

Despite being tempted by the fried enema, I ended up choosing another dish. The sauce somewhat reminded me of a Chinese-style sweet and sour microwavable meal from my youth. It was a bit too sweet for my tastes.

So if I visit the restaurant again I will try the fried enema... and maybe the pseuodosciaena polyactis too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Even More Edacious and Potatory Post

Some readers may feel most of my posts including "edacious and potatory views" are missing a key detail: the food or drink that accompanied the view. I'm not sure if I have suitable photos for all of the examples. I'll leave sorting that out for another day (maybe). Instead, I will start afresh and share the view from where I had a late lunch today in Ho Chi Minh City:

view from a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City

And here is what I ate and drank:

I hope this was sufficiently edacious and potatory.

And now for a few notes:

1. Not only was the previous post a chance to revisit some old scenes, but it proved to be a learning experience as well. I find it curious that the words "edacious" and "potatory" capture such seemingly common and useful concepts, yet neither were familiar to me (and I suspect to most readers) and I couldn't find any other suitable single-word options. My use of the word "edacious" is even considered "archaic". I would appreciate hearing any insights readers may have about these two wonderful words.

2. Readers who follow this blog through an RSS reader may have been puzzled by a post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia". While working on the previous post, Blogger provided a strange error message when I tried adding a location tag. After I recovered, I discovered the post had been prematurely published. I'll avoid getting into all the technical details, but when recovering from an accidental publishing, simply deleting a post doesn't necessarily remove it from RSS readers. I think this is something which could be better addressed by blogging platforms (and possibly RSS readers as well), but that's another issue. Anyways, the easiest thing for me to do was to "update" the post with an empty content area and then delete it from my blog.

So if you saw a blank post titled "Riverside View in Kampot, Cambodia", no worries. If you saw that post and it included some content, congratulations--you probably had an inside look at the early stages of a post's creation. Now please feel free to discard it at the nearest incinerator.


3. Returning to the word-usage theme, I can say with no small pride that I was recently offered compensation for a pun I wrote. Especially with the recent online debate about people being asked to write for free, I found it a most encouraging sign. I eagerly look forward to my next trip to Beijing so I can collect my beer from Anthony Tao. Maybe Señor Tao can offer me some tips on how to drink it while wearing a face mask. With his experience in Beijing, he should have a leg up on me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Case for Not Reading

Tennis player Andy Murray responded to a number of questions posed by readers of The New York Times. One answer in particular:
Q. Last book you read? (Nimmi Matthew from Calgary)

A. I never read. The paper or anything. I watch a lot of movies, and TV series and stuff. But I never, never read.
caught the attention of James Fallows:
Andy! Say it isn't so! I speak for all your fellow Scots* in saying, Well done at the Olympics, but this is not a plus for ethnic pride. Scots are supposed to be thrifty, freckled, somewhat ornery, and literary. Or at least literate.
Fallows also urged Andy Murray "to hit the books".

Although I am not aware of any Scottish blood in my family, I share the sentiment in encouraging Murray to change his habits. However, my feelings are tempered by wondering why Murray never reads.

During my days of cognitive science research, my main quest was to better understand the functioning of the typical human brain. In this pursuit, I tested a number of people with cognitive deficits -- in short, seeing how something can break can provide clues about how it operates when not broken. Some of the deficits I studied made reading, which requires a complex set of processes, difficult or impossible for a person regardless of any training or level of interest. So it is almost a reflex for me to question whether Murray does not read because he has a cognitive deficit. It is even possible that a deficit exists which has not been identified and Murray is not consciously aware anything is amiss except for lacking a desire to read.

Some may now be asking: "How could someone as talented as Murray have a reading deficit? And if he did have a reading deficit how could it have gone unnoticed, presumably by him, teachers, parents, and others?"

Instead of fully answering these questions, I will share a relevant example that can begin to address them. Michael McCloskey, a professor of cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University*, in a most unexpected manner discovered a person with a fascinating deficit:
To the casual observer, the student seemed absolutely normal. Though she often made mistakes in spelling and math, those were usually ascribed to carelessness. After all, the girl — known here as "AH" to protect her anonymity — was a top student in history at The Johns Hopkins University...

"She approached me one day after a lecture during which I was talking about a patient who had difficulty spelling after a brain-damaging stroke, and she mentioned that she wasn't a very good speller," McCloskey remembered. "I offered to give her the same spelling test I routinely use in research, and was surprised to find that this obviously bright student misspelled nearly half of the words. That was a clue that something was going on here."

McCloskey discovered exactly what was going on through further tests. He said that the student was "startled" to learn about her deficit, but that in the end, it probably helped explain certain challenges she had faced in her life.

According to McCloskey, it was AH's ability to compensate for this deficit that allowed her to be such a successful, high achiever.
More about AH's deficit can be found by visiting the link above. And a much fuller account can be found in McCloskey's book "Visual Reflections: A Perceptual Deficit and Its Implications". What McCloskey discovered about AH's deficit and how she perceived the world is simply incredible.

If Murray has a deficit there is little reason at the moment to think it would be anything nearly as dramatic as AH's. But what I want to emphasize about AH's story is that someone with a profound, yet long unidentified, cognitive deficit could function at a high level, even in some of the areas affected by the impairment. Just as amazing as how cognitive processes can go awry is how the brain can sometimes adapt to them.

Of course, Murray may not have any reading deficits at all, and I am not saying that anyone who does not read has a cognitive deficit. But although I do not advocate the press hounding Murray on this issue, if I had the opportunity I would at least ask Murray a few questions in private. After all, there might be a discovery to be made that may not only surprise me, but Murray as well.

*Disclosure: Michael McCloskey also has another important identifying characteristic: he was my graduate school advisor.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I [Kid] You Not: A Chinese Name Lost in Transcription

Although some Chinese adopt a foreign name to accomodate those who speak other languages, others stick with their Chinese name in all situations. When writing in another language such as English, mainland Chinese will typically use pinyin -- the official method in several countries to write Chinese words in a Latin script. For example, the full name of the Chinese artist 艾未未 is Ai Weiwei in pinyin, and the full name of the retired Chinese basketball player 姚明 is Yao Ming. Some Chinese names, such as Xiaoxin or Cuiping, can be particularly challenging to pronounce, write, or remember for people who are not familiar with the pinyin system. Otherwise, using the pinyin form of a Chinese name is straightforward -- usually...

Yesterday, after exchanging several emails in English with a Chinese acquaintance who prefers not to use a foreign-language name, I noticed that she would always write her family name in pinyin or her given name in Chinese characters. Not once had she ever written her given name in pinyin.

As I started to ponder whether there might be an interesting story explaining this curious pattern, I replied to her most recent email.

Her given name is 诗婷. Typing it or saying it in Chinese never previously struck me as odd in any way.

But after I finished typing her name in pinyin for the first time, I paused and stared at the result: Shiting.

Mystery apparently solved.

Although not a word in English, her name in pinyin closely resembles an English word that most people would not want as a name. I could appreciate why she might want to avoid it. But her current strategy might not be practical if she were to work in a multinational setting or live in a non-Chinese-speaking country. Such are the occasional challenges of using one's original name in a foreign language.

What would you do if you were Shiting?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Discoveries Leading to Questions: "Sansumg" Computers and Bilingual Notes in Nanning

In previous posts, I've sometimes discussed or hinted at my interests in conducting research that is exploratory and opportunistic.  It certainly isn't not the only form of research I conduct or enjoy, but in the quest for new ideas and innovation I wouldn't want to work without it.  It's not just about learning more about the world, but discovering the right questions to ask about it.

The questions raised by such research can be invaluable for guiding further research not only for user-centered design and identifying opportunities where technology could play an improved or new role in people's lives, but also for impacting a variety of other pertinent issues related to the success of a technology such as marketing and sales.  Finding the right questions to ask can be just as challenging as answering them.  And finding the right questions to ask can be the difference between driving research that is meaningful and leads to an innovative success or misses the point and leads to a disastrous failure.  This leads to a key point: these questions may never be asked (or asked too late) if exploratory research is not conducted.

As an tiny example of this type of research, I'll share some of what I found when I had the opportunity to observe this graduate course on second language acquisition at Guangxi University in Nanning (photos of Nanning):

classroom in Nanning with computers in front of all the students
Class at Guangxi University

The classroom was of particular interest to me because of the computers that could be found in front of every student.  If you're wondering how I knew that I should go to Guangxi University and observe that particular class, I have a simple answer: I didn't.  The classroom was a discovery in itself.  In this case I didn't rely on kids or a dog to guide me, but instead I "followed my nose" after taking a taxi to Guangxi University.  After coming upon the classroom and discussing my research interests with the professor, I was invited to observe a class in session.

One of the "discoveries" I made regarded the computers that sat underneath the students' desks.  I noticed they had a name similar to a famous brand:

computer with the name Sansumg
A "Sansumg" desktop computer

Is this a Samsung computer?  Well, I doubt Samsung would ship computers with its name misprinted as "Sansumg" and the peculiar wording of the smaller text not far below it: "THE BRAND OF NEW TREND FOR HIGH PREFERENCE 2030 GD".  Is this computer an example of a Chinese company attempting to take advantage of the Samsung brand?  I suspect so.

Some of the questions that could now come to mind are:
  • Why was this brand of computers purchased?
  • Was the purchaser aware or concerned that the computers weren't Samsung computers?
  • Does the brand of computer suggest that any software programs on it are more likely to be unlicensed copies?
  • What is the quality/reliability of the computers?
Another "discovery" occurred while watching the students take notes:

students taking notes

Not only is it worth considering why they are taking notes with pen and paper while numerous computers remain idle, but an examination of the notes themselves reveal a key behavior:

open notebook with notes in both Chinese and English

As seen in the above photo, it was not uncommon for students' notes to be written in both English and Chinese.

In this case some of the questions that could come to mind are:
  • Why would students take notes in both Chinese and English?
  • How might the need or desire to write in multiple languages impact the design of technology to better aid students?
  • Does taking notes in two languages add a cognitive burden?  Are there ways to reduce it?
Am I able to provide answers to the sampling of questions about the computers and the note taking?  Based on what I learned in that classroom and what I know through other research there is certainly more I could say, but fully answering all of the questions would require a variety of additional research efforts that I may approach in very different manners -- whether it means focused field research, studies in a controlled laboratory setting, surveys, etc.  Most importantly, though, I gained some important insights which led to a number of key questions from just a single visit to a single classroom.  And I started that day without even knowing I'd be observing a class that afternoon.

I'll be sharing more of what I've seen, learned, or experienced in China that I think could matter for a variety of technologies.  I may not always provide my thoughts on exactly how what I've discovered could have an impact (there are things I can't or am not ready to share), but the examples will provide some more windows into life in China while also providing at the very least some more hints of the value of exploratory and opportunistic research in a broad range of environments.

Additional notes:

1.  Again, the above was just a single visit to a single classroom.  It would obviously be difficult to  make a claim based on this visit alone regarding the degree to which the findings are representative of other students or classrooms.  If determining that was important, it would be yet another research question to address.

2.  The research methods used for exploratory research can have a lot of overlap with some of the research methods for answering specific questions and for more directly driving/inspiring design.

3.  What counts as "exploratory research" is not black and white.  What most concerns me is conducting the right type of research, whatever you want to call it, for the task as hand.