January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
For the first time since the development of modern Chinese script more than 16 centuries ago, a way has been found to copy quickly all of the language’s thousands of complex characters. It is the unique “Mingkwai” (clear and quick) typewriter, invented by Lin Yutang, Chinese author.
Reducing a day’s hand copying to an hour’s typing, the electrically driven machine can print 90,000 characters and reproduce every known Chinese word. Chinese writing does not use the letters of an alphabet; instead, each word is an individual symbol. Other Chinese typewriters require memorizing the position of 5,000 characters and filling in missing words by hand.
A simple, “self-evident” keyboard, the result of 30 years’ research, is the secret of Mr. Lin’s typewriter. Perhaps even more important than the typewriter itself is the adaptability of the system to typesetting and teletype machines.
The keyboard has 72 keys: 36 representing the top and 28 the bottom sections of Chinese characters, plus eight printing keys. Pressing a top and a bottom key brings the type roller into position to print a “unit” of eight possible combinations of the basic sections–eight different words.
At the same time, duplicate cylinders bring a replica of this unit to where it can be seen by the typist through a “magic viewer” window. He then selects a character by pressing the corresponding key. This turns and shifts the type roller into position and prints the character.
The printing mechanism consists of six cylinders, each having six type rollers that contain 7,000 complete characters and over 1,400 components. read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Brendan George Ko
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September 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
A 71-year-old man in Gifu Prefecture made headlines recently when he attempted to initiate a lawsuit against broadcaster NHK. Through its excessive use of foreign derived words, the man claimed, NHK had caused him 精神的苦痛 (seishinteki kutsū, psychological pain). He demanded ¥1.41 million in 慰謝料 (isharyō, damages).
The local court refused to hear the case. But Nikkan Gendai newspaper (July 5) rose to the man’s defense, saying その気持ち、よく分かる (sono kimochi, yoku wakaru, that feeling is well understood), adding 政治もビジネスも、今やカタカナ語だらけ (seiji mo bijinesu mo ima ya katakana-go darake, now more than ever, politics and business are full of katakana loanwords).
だらけ(darake) is a useful descriptive suffix implying, negatively, that something is full of, or crawling with, whatever.
The term カタカナ語 (katakana-go) is used alternatively with 外来語 (gairaigo, words that come from outside, i.e., of foreign origin), but differentiates such words specifically as being written using the katakana syllabary, as opposed to borrowings from Chinese written in kanji.
Nikkan Gendai’s writer recalls that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his first-term inaugural speech back in 2006, had used such awkward expressions as イノベーションの創造 (inobēshon no sōzō, creation of innovation) and テレワーク人口の倍増 (terewāku jinkō no baizō, doubling the number of teleworkers, i.e., telecommuters). These terms, said the writer, resulted in 多くの国民がチンプンカンプンだった (ōku no kokumin ga chinpun-kanpun datta, came across as gibberish to many citizens). チンプンカンプン (chinpun-kanpun, gibberish) is of indeterminate origin, although its close resemblance to the Mandarin Chinese phrase 聽不懂,看不懂 ting bu dong, kan bu dong, (literally “hear-not-understand, see-not-understand”) has not escaped notice. read more
ART: Maija Luutonen
June 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
On Twitter, a friend asked “Twenty years from now, how many Chinese words will be common parlance in English?” I replied that we’ve already had 35 years since Deng Xiaoping began opening China’s economy, resulting in its stratospheric rise—but almost no recent Chinese borrowings in English.
Many purported experts are willing to explain China to curious (and anxious) westerners. And yet I can’t think of even one Chinese word or phrase that has become “common parlance in English” recently. The only word that comes close might be guanxi, the personal connections and relationships critical to getting things done in China. Plenty of articles can be found discussing the importance of guanxi, but the word isn’t “common in English” by any stretch.
Most Chinese words now part of English show, in their spelling and meaning, to have been borrowed a long time ago, often from non-Mandarin Chinese varieties like Cantonese. Kowtow, gung ho and to shanghai are now impeccably English words we use with no reference to China itself. Kung fu, tai chi, feng shui and the like are Chinese concepts and practices westerners are aware of. And of course bok choy, chow mein and others are merely Chinese foods that westerners eat; I would say we borrowed the foods, and their Chinese names merely hitched a ride into English.
Given China’s rocket-ride to prominence, why so little borrowing? read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Mariya Kozhanova