Tag: Mandarin

Terms of Sale

Sunday, 14 April, 2019

Haisam Hussein has produced a very entertaining map for Lapham’s Quarterly charting the flow of merchants, merchandise and words along the ancient global trade routes. As exotic goods made their way across new regions, their names mutated along the thoroughfares, goes the theory. Take tea, for example. It was transported from Mandarin-speaking Northern China via the Silk Road, with the result much of Asia has similar sounding words for tea. So, chá evolved into the chai widely consumed in India and neighbouring areas. The other major trade route for tea was through Min-speaking Southern China and this led to the spread of the pronunciation that became the standard in Europe. Think of the similarities between tea (English), thé (French), thee (Dutch), (Spanish), tee (German) and (Italian).

Terms of Sale


The seventh post of pre-Christmas 2018: July

Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Last year, China began to detain Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities extra-legally in internment camps, which are estimated to hold at least one million people now. Along with compelling the detainees to learn communist doctrine and the Mandarin language in these gulag-style camps, Beijing is building forced labour facilities in the Xinjiang region. We continue our review of the year with a post from 23 July that spells out what China is today: An Empire of Evil.

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Nothing seems to delight a certain section of the chattering class more than the vision of China replacing America as the global hegemon. Out with jeans, peanut butter and bourbon and in with…? Exactly. What will China offer its admirers in Brussels and Silicon Valley: vast markets, cheap labour, re-engineered IP? Beijing offers all these and more and the more includes “a complete and utter lack of respect for the individual or person in China.”

Says who? Says Christopher Balding, an associate professor of business and economics at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen and author of Sovereign Wealth Funds: The New Intersection of Money and Power. After teaching in China for some years, he’s now returning to the US and his parting shot is a blogpost titled Balding Out. Snippet:

“I rationalize the silent contempt for the existing rules and laws within China as people not respecting the method for creating and establishing the rules and laws. Rather than confronting the system, a superior, or try good faith attempts to change something, they choose a type of quiet subversion by just ignoring the rule or law. This quickly spreads to virtually every facet of behavior as everything can be rationalized in a myriad of ways.

Before coming to China, I had this idea that China was rigid which in some ways it is, but in reality it is brutally chaotic because there are no rules it is the pure rule of the jungle with unconstrained might imposing their will and all others ignoring laws to behave as they see fit with no sense of morality or respect for right.”

For cossetted fans of communism, such as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones, China may offer a more appealing ideology than the one that nurtured Lincoln and Ford, Rosa Parks and Jimi Hendrix, but one suspects that he’d tire very quickly of typing about the glories of the Belt and Road Initiative for the People’s Daily.

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Tomorrow, here, the eight post of pre-Christmas 2018, which is all about a warning the great JG Ballard issued regarding the fanaticism of the political correctness brigade.


New Year’s reading: CRISPR

Wednesday, 3 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re devoting time this week to the books that were the presents of Christmas past. On Monday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from Noel Donnelly, yesterday it was Five Escape Brexit Island, put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by Ian McMaster, and today it’s Change Agent by Daniel Suarez, a gift to this blogger from himself.

At the end of March last year, The Hollywood Reporter posted an “Exclusive” story titled “Netflix Options Upcoming Sci-Fi Novel ‘Change Agent’.” So, before the publisher had stocked up on ink to print the novel, its author was laughing all the way to bank. Nice one! What’s all the excitement about, then? Well, Change Agent is thriller about genetic engineering that combines CRISPR with non-stop action in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. At the centre of the story is Kenneth Durand, an Interpol agent who’s given the face and body of a scary villain, thanks to some deft in vivo gene editing that threatens to eliminate the very notion of individual identity. In telling the yarn, Suarez creates a near-future world of cryptocurrencies, drones, surveillance, AR glasses, trade and terror. Snippet:

Early evening and Durand sat in the conditioned air of a private autonomous comcar as it merged into the close coordination of rush hour. His daughter’s wrapped birthday gift sat on the seat beside him. He leaned back and felt the stress of the day leave him.

In the distance he could see the glowing logos of synbio firms on the Singapore skyline. Licensed AR video ads played across the surfaces of several skyscrapers — although they were really only being beamed into Durand’s retinas by his own LFP glasses. The contract for his LFP glasses required exposure to specific layers of public advertising. At least he’d opted out of the low-end ads, but opting out of all AR advertising was prohibitively expensive.

Just the same, Durand frowned at the shoddy data management employed by the advertisers. He was clearly not in the target demographic for an ad gliding across the neighboring buildings, alive with images of Jedis, Starfleet officers, and steampunk characters: “Singapore’s premier Star Wars, Star Trek, and steampunk cosliving communities…”

Cossetted young professionals at the big synbio firms were a more likely demo for their product — single people with a couple million to blow on living in a theme park.

But by then the ad had shifted to CRISPR Critters. Gigantic, adorable neotenic cats cavorted from building to building, pursuing a virtual ball of yarn.

Durand decided to close his eyes.

He clicked off and followed other commuters down a narrow lane between old brick buildings. This MRT crowd skewed young — twenties and early thirties. Lots of expats. Well dressed and all talking to people who weren’t there. Snatches of conversation floated past him in Hokkien, Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, English, Russian, Swahili, German, Korean — and more he didn’t recognize. They’d no doubt come to Singapore to make their killing. To work threads in a blockchain corporation or license their own cellular machinery. XNA programmers. Genetic engineers. Entrepreneurs. And they all had to have impressive CVs to get a work visa in the city.

Change Agent


Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.


Glossolalia: Singlish

Monday, 16 May, 2016 3 Comments

It’s the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things etymological, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language and we’re kicking off with Singlish, a hodgepodge dialect of Singapore’s official state languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — as well as bits of Bengali, Cantonese and Hokkien.

To “talk cock” is Singlish for “to talk nonsense” and the definition can be found in The Coxford Singlish Dictionary by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, which was published in 2002, and has sold more than 30,000 copies since. “Bo hee hae ma ho” is the Singlish equivalent of “Beggars can’t be choosers,” and means “When there’s no fish, prawns are good too.” The latter example is courtesy of Gwee Li Sui, the Singaporean poet, novelist and literary critic. “Do You Speak Singlish?” is the question he posed yesterday to readers of the New York Times. Singlish, he said, “is one of Singapore’s few unique cultural creations” and it seems to be thriving, despite official attempts to outlaw it:

“The government’s war on Singlish was doomed from the start: Even state institutions and officials have nourished it, if inadvertently. The compulsory national service, which brings together male Singaporeans from all walks of life, has only underlined that Singlish is the natural lingua franca of the grunts.”

To an outsider’s ear, Singlish sounds like verbalized text messaging: concise, energetic, abbreviated, playful, elastic. Here, Gwee Li Sui tok the tok.