Pronouncing certain Mandarin Pinyin consonants

January 13, 2009 at 10:28 am (Languages, Mandarin)

According to the Pinyin system used to transliterate Mandarin, the following letters should be pronounced as follows:
C – ts
Z – dz
Ch – ch
Q – ch
J – j
Zh – j
Sh – sh
X – sh


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Mandarin and Tones

February 26, 2008 at 12:30 am (Languages, Mandarin)

Mandarin is known for having “tones”. We might call them intonations. They determine the pitch and “direction” of the voice of a vowel. For example, in English there is a certain intonation—pitch and direction—at the end of a sentence. A similar intonation exists in Mandarin except rather than being at the end of a question, it can be carried by any vowel in any part of a sentence.

There are five tones:
Tone 1 (example: ē) – marked by a macron, it indicates a high, flat tone.
Tone 2 (example: é) – marked by an acute accent; it indicates a rising tone (like what we use in English at the end of a question), it should end where Tone 1 rests.
Tone 3 (example: ě) – marked by a caron or hacek; it indicates a falling and rising tone, and should end where Tone 1 rests
Tone 4 (example: è) – marked by a grave accent; it indicates a sharp, falling tone.
Tone 5 (example: e) – this is unmarked and is often referred to as a neutral tone; it short and clipped.

In order to demonstrate what a difference the tone can make, let us consider the following which are differentiated only by tone:
妈: mother
麻: hemp
马: horse
骂: to scold or curse
Ma 吗: interrogative particle

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Certain letters in Mandarin transcription: how they are pronounced

February 25, 2008 at 7:29 pm (Languages, Mandarin)

In the accepted transcription of Mandarin Chinese, known as “Pīnyīn” (拼音), certain letters should be explained:
Q is pronounced like English “ch”.
Ch is also pronounced like English “ch” but is a little more emphatic than q
X is pronounced like English “sh”.
Sh is also pronounced like English “sh” but is a little more emphatic than x.
Zh is pronounced like English “j”.
J is also pronounced like English “j” but zh is a little more emphatic than j.

C is pronounced like “ts”.
Z is pronounced like “dz”.
(In other words, z is a voiced equivalent of c.)

More emphatic, respectively: sh, ch, zh
Less emphatic, respectively: x, q, j

So Zhōng guó (中国, “China”) would be roughly “jong-gwoh” and wǔxiá (武侠, “chivalry”) would be roughly “woo-shyah”.

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How to look up a Chinese character

February 21, 2008 at 12:30 am (Languages)

1. Identify the radical.
2. Look up the radical in the radical list. The radicals are listed in order of strokes. Each radical has its own column numer. The radical’s column number should be noted.
3. Count the number of strokes of the rest of the character (the number of strokes of the entire character minus the radical’s number of strokes).
4. Look up the radical’s column number. In that column, go to the portion dealing with the requisite number of strokes for the character.
5. In section, find the character being looked up. Once found, note pronunciation.
6. Look up word by pronunciation.

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And now for something different: Mandarin

February 16, 2008 at 1:15 am (Languages)

Switching gears for a second, I’d like to introduce a new topic: Mandarin Chinese.

A brief overview: Mandarin Chinese is the main language of the Chinese people. Mandarin is one of the few Chinese languages. Within Mandarin, there are a number of dialects. In order to alleviate this “problem”, standard Mandarin Chinese uses the Beijing dialect.

People often think Chinese is very difficult. It is difficult but is also easy. Once the tones are perfected, speaking Chinese should be a breeze. Grammatically, Chinese is very simple.

Characters, yes, are a challenge as well as the aforementioned tones.

More to come!

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A problem with metonymy

February 2, 2008 at 12:30 am (Arabic, Christianity, English, Hebrew, History, Islam, Judaism, Languages, Religion, Religions, Urdu/Hindi)

In the English language (and, in this specific regard, many other languages), “church” is a versatile word. It can refer to a particular building (or building style); it can refer to a particular congregation; it can refer to a particular denomination. So when someone says “the Catholic Church” (and here “says” is more important than “writes” because capitalization provides more clarity than the spoken word in this case), one can be referring to a particular building (St. Mary of the Angels Parish Church, perhaps), to a congregation (those that meet in St. John Cantius Parish Church), or to Roman Catholicism as a whole. The same applies to other denominations, almost all of which can be described as the “X Church” (the Lutheran Church; the Mormon Church; the Episcopalian or Anglican Church; the United Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church; the Church of Christ, Scientist; the Orthodox Church; the Reformed Church; perhaps even the United Church of Christ). (Obviously this does not apply for everyone: exceptions I can think of are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Pentacostals, Evangelicals, Christadelphians, Disciples of Christ. With Baptists, often “the Baptist church” refers to a specific building and/or congregation as there is no united Church of Baptists, each congregation being autonomous even in conventions or groups.)

But this is something only in Christianity. Read the rest of this entry »

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De “Libertad Digital”

October 19, 2007 at 4:07 am (Languages, Personal, The Internet, The Media)

Part of my new job involves translating to and from Spanish. So, I had been looking for something online — a magazine or newspaper — in Spanish which I could use to brush up on my Spanish and practice my reading and comprehension skills. Most of what is online disappointed me: the usual Leftist or anti-American garbage.

But I did find something interesting and unique: Libertad Digital. It an online-only “publication”, free of charge. It is in Spanish and is based in Spain. What makes this unique is that it is libertarian and conservative, much like the rising wing in the Republican Party in The United States. They are also pro-American. Quite refreshing indeed.

Si sabes español y quieres leer algo interesante en español sobre la Red, por favor vaya allá. Su dirección es: Ese publicación tiene opiniónistas de todo el mundo incluyendo los EEUU. (Tiene, por ejemplo, una traducción español de artículos de varios escritores americanos.) Hablaré sobre algunos artículos en los siguientes días. Este periódico tiene información y perspectivas que no he leído o visto aquí en los EEUU.

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Abdul – the imposter

July 6, 2007 at 5:10 am (Arabic, Islam, Languages)

Contrary to popular perception, “Abdul” is not a word or name in Arabic. In Arabic, “Abdul” is completely nonsensical.

Now, there is a word (عبد; ‛abd; “servant” or, more precisely, “slave”). This is a very common element in Muslim names, where one would use “‛abd” paired with one of the Islamic names of God, if not “God” itself. The most common of such names is (عبدالله; ‛abdullāh; slave of Allāh/God).

Now, a little explanation on how such names are formed so as to explain where “Abdul” comes from and why it is wrong (in the opposite order). Read the rest of this entry »

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“Dört” is pronouced like the English “dirt”

July 5, 2007 at 9:20 pm (Languages)

I stand corrected: in Turkish, “dört” is “four”, not “üç”, which is “three”.


So, to all: a belated İyi dört Temmuz günü!

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Why Turkish?

July 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm (Languages, Personal)

S. Weasel asks:

Turkish seems an odd sort of language to learn. It’s difficult (I count any language with a specialized alphabet especially difficult) and essentially only applicable to Turkey, yes? Do you have a specific reason for choosing Turkish, or are you simply a language junkie?

Although Turkish (“Türkçe”) is used mainly in Turkey and by its people (who have a significant diaspora in Europe), Turkish is one of a number of Turkic languages – which include Tajik, Turkmen, Uzbek, among others – which exists in a large swath from the Bosphorus in the west to China and Mongolia in the east. Although each Turkic language is different (that is, different and separate languages rather than dialects of one language), each shares a lot in common with the others; some are such that the user of one Turkic language might be able to understand another Turkic language. So, Turkish takes its place in the large area of Turkic languages.

Turkic languages are also related to Mongol languages (two examples of which are Mongol and Uighur). Indeed, both types belong to the same family: Altaic languages (named after the Altai mountains, which are the birthplace of Turkic and Mongol peoples), which has two main branches: namely, Turkic languages and Mongol languages.

So, in actuality, Turkish is not so isolated.

But it cannot be denied that Turkish is still a language of little consequence. Turkey may have a large rôle to play – larger than that of any other Altaic state, Mongolia included – yet certainly not one that is readily perceptible. There are no dreams of reestablishing the Ottoman Empire, nor of creating a Türkistan. So I cannot be interested in Turkish for strategic reasons. (Languages to learn for strategic reasons would be Mandarin, Russian, Arabic, Pashto, or Spanish.)

To be honest, I want to become familiar with Turkish because, as you said, I’m a language junkie: and Turkish is entirely different from any other language I have come across (although certain elements remind me of German). I think it is a fascinating language. And certainly it is easier to get material on and in Turkish than in, say, Mongolian.

Did you know that the first Moghul emperors of South Asia spoke Turkish (specifically, Chaghatai Turkish)? Later, as they become more immersed in that region and began assimilating, losing their Turkic elements, they began using Persian as the imperial tongue. Emperor Babar, who essentially established the South Asian Moghul dynasty, claimed descent from Timur-Lenk on one side and Genghis Khan (Jingez Khan) on the other. “Moghul” is actually a corruption of “Mongol” (and exists as “Moğol” in Turkish, which is used to refer to both Moghuls and Mongols), revealing the Moghul dynasty’s Altaic (actually, Turkic) origins.

Also, “ordu”, from which the language Urdu gets its name, means “army” in Turkish. The same word means “army camp” in Persian. The Persians probably borrowed the word from the Turks and used it with a modified meaning, and is an excellent choice for the name of the language that arose from the army camps, being a mish-mash of languages.

So, em, did that sort of answer your question?

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Let us learn Turkish!

July 4, 2007 at 7:43 pm (Languages, The United States)

İyi üç Temmuz günü!
İyi istiklâl günü!

İyi – means “good”

Üç – means “four”

Temmuz – the Turkish name for the month known in English as “July”

Günü“gün” means “day”; “ü” is, here, the third person singular possessive suffix, attributing “gün” to “üç Temmuz” and “istiklâl” where applicable: the suffix is “i” following the rules for i-vowel harmony (and so may be “i”, “ı”, “ü”, or “u” depending on the last vowel of the word)

İstiklâl – means “independence”; this word is from Arabic. Another word, from Turkish origins, is “bağımsızlık”. Another word, also from Arabic origins, is “hürriyet”.

Amerika Birleşik Devletleri – is the Turkish translation for the “United States of America”

Birleşik – means “united”

Devlet“devlet” means “state”; “ler” is the plural suffix, which follows a/e-vowel harmony (and so may be “lar” or “ler” depending on the last vowel of the word); “i” is the third person singular possessive suffix following i-vowel harmony.

(A Fourth of July gift for my language-loving readers, especially S. Weasel.)

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a test post

July 1, 2007 at 4:11 am (Blogs, Languages)

Değil mi?

Atatürkün Cumhuriyeti Türkiye var. Altı tane cami. Pakistanın hükümetin camisi Şâh Faysal Camisi var. Bir İki dört beş altı yedi sekiz dokuz on.

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Of the power of words

April 13, 2007 at 7:16 pm (Languages, Personal, The Media)

De potentatis verborum (in probably incorrect Latin: “of the power of words”)

The whole issue with Imus demonstrates one thing: words (or, rather the choice thereof) are powerful things. As such, each word has three components:t its definition (what it means), its connotation (what it is taken to mean, and in what sense or tone or attitude it is used), and its weight (how heavy or potent it is). The classic example is the dread “n-word” (which is so potent that even I, who does not usually shy from offending, will not use because I don’t want anyone to take offense, not because it is in itself offensive).

Whereas a word’s definition is fixed by the language (especially through dictionaries and language pundits) and its connotation is a matter of history and public use and public perception, its weight is something determined by its recipient: the user uses its based on the estimated weight that may be assigned by its audience and based on the user’s motives. In fact, weight has two components to itself: what is assigned by the audience and what the user’s intentions are.

I am of the school of thought that no word has an intrinsic value to itself, and that a word’s value or weight is partly in its recipient’s control. Read the rest of this entry »

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Proof that pizza is divine

February 27, 2007 at 3:17 pm (Amusement, Christianity, Languages, Religion)

From the invitatory* in Latin: “Veníte, exsultémus Dómino” (Psalm 95:1), which means, “Come, let us exult in Domino[‘s pizza]” although the Vatican, in its usual traditional, old-fashioned, conspiratorial, and literalist way, says that its translation is “Come, let us exult in the Lord” (and this is, quite technically, the literal translation), but we know the real interpretation.

*The invitatory is a psalm, usually Psalm 95, that is recited before the day’s first office in the Liturgy of the Hours.

(For Tuesday, February 27, anno Domini 2007; Tuesday of the First Week of Lent, the 7th day in Lent, the 6th day of penitence of Lent.)

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Of mujahidun and Crusaders

February 1, 2007 at 2:33 am (Arabic, Languages, World War III)

Eric says:

Wouldn’t the English word Crusader have the same meaning as mujāhid?

Excellent comment.

The word “Crusader” comes to us from Latin, and is derived ultimately from the Latin word “crux”, meaning “cross” as in the symbol of Christianity. This is because the “Crusades” were called the “wars of the Cross”, fought in behalf of and for Christ’s endangered people in the East.

The Arabic equivalent, which is used quite commonly, is (singular: صليبي, Salībī; nominative plural: صليبيون, Salībiyyūn; oblique plural: صليبيين, Salībiyyīn) — derived from (صليب, Salīb, “cross”) — and meaning “of or pertaining to the (Christian) cross”. In other words, Cross-ites or Cross-ians, as it were. Which is quite close to “Crusader” on a variety of levels.

Both words refer, originally, to one or to those who fight(s) for Christianity.

Now, the root for (مجاهد, mujāhid) is (جهد, jahada), meaning (to) “struggle”. Now, the common active form would be (مجهد, mujahid), but (جهد, jahad) is different from the IIIrd form thereof, (جهاد, jihād), and the IIIrd form’s corresponding active form is (مجاهد, mujāhid). Thus, (مجاهد, mujāhid) does not mean “one who struggles” but rather “one who wages religious war”.

(Sidenote: So, note this: the fact that (جهاد, jihād, “to wage religious war”) is derived from (جهد, jahad, “to struggle”) means nothing. In fact, so central is this concept that the root has a special form that means specifically “religious war”. And so if someone is taking about (جهاد, jihād) and not (جهد, jahad), one is talking solely about religious war. None of this spiritual stuff that is taken for the normative interpretation.)

As such, “Crusader” and “mujāhid” mean different things semantically and etymologically. In a sense, it is possible to call Crusaders mujāhidun but, because of the word’s origin in “cross” one cannot call a Muslim of any sort a Crusader. It is, properly, an exclusively Christian term. (Similarly, one cannot or ought not to apply the word “Crusader” to any non-Christian.) It’s a logical issue: why would a non-Christian fight for the Cross?

Now, their connotation in the native languages is similar: both refer to holy warriors; both words have a positive and, indeed, even reverential connotation. However, when Christians use “mujāhid“, it is in a derogatory sense, just as when Muslims use “Crusader”. And so, as far as words are concerned, it’s still a mess.

In other words: “mujāhid” (“one who wages religious war”) does not mean the same thing as “Crusader” (“one who fights for the cross”) — at least explicitly. And while Crusaders can be said to be mujāhidūn of sorts, not all mujāhidūn are Crusaders or can be called such. However, there is something to be said about connotation.

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What to call these fighters of jihad

January 31, 2007 at 2:17 am (Arabic, Islam, Islamism, Languages, World War III)

There does not exist a word in English that can serve as an equivalent to the Arabic word (مجاهد, mujāhid; nominative plural: مجاهدون, mujāhidūn; oblique plural: مجاهدين, mujāhidīn).

Who or what is a mujāhid? I’m glad you asked. It means, literally, one who performs (جهاد, jihād), especially what is termed (جهاد بالسيف, jihād bi-s-sayf, jihad with/by the sword) or (جهاد في سبيل الله, jihād fi sabīlillāh, or jihad in the path of God). This means, in other words, one who fights for God/Islam. And this fighting is not of the spiritual sort but, rather, of the military and armed sort.

Some have taken to calling these people “jihadis”. This is not incorrect or inaccurate: in Arabic (as well as other languages, such as Persian and Urdu), (جهادي, jihādī) means not only “of or pertaining to jihad” but also “supportive of or belonging to jihad”, which can be used to describe the many sorts of people who conduct jihad or support it. But how much of this do the normal people know? To how many would it be a strange word or one devoid of meaning or connotation?

Despite the many parallels drawn between the two, mujāhidūn or jihad-fighters or jihadis are not Crusaders or even like them. Jihad-fighters wage war unprovoked. Or, rather, one’s infidel-hood is sufficient provocation to cause them to wage war. (A completely different issue, of course, is why we in the West continue to condemn the Crusades while failing to condemn or, even worse, overlooking the Islamic/Islamist wars of conquest.)

The round-about descriptive way is to refer to such people as “militant Islamist terrorists” (while their supporters are “militant Islamists” or somesuch). But this becomes a mouthful. But it does preserve an element I believe is key: putting this terrorism issue in the context of Islamism. Terrorism is but a manifestation of Islamism, not the other way around. And yet I fear that using such terms can only open the door for endless symantic debates as well as seeming to be fearful of offending someone. (“Islamo-fascists” is quite more assertive and strident than “militant Islamist terrorist networks et cetera“.)

Of course Arabic would have the perfect word, what with its hundreds of permutations for a single root. Applying its own rules in the same manner, so would Hebrew. But then none of us speak Hebrew, so that would not help us.


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My people

November 27, 2006 at 3:48 am (Culture, History, Islam, Judaism, Languages, Oriana Fallaci, Personal, South Asia, The Rest, The West)

This is a bit of a personal post, but I hope you’ll indulge me.

For many years, I have been confused as to who my people are. By “my people,” I mean the people to whom I owe and freely give my allegiance, whose ways and values I adopt, whose civilization I seek to prosper further.

Most often, one determines one’s people by ethnicity. For people of Chinese origin or descent, the Chinese people is their people. For people of Russian origin or descent, the Russian people is their people.

Logically, I would then say that my people are the South Asian people. But then I begin asking: who or what is the South Asian people? And I realize that “the South Asian people” is comprised of many other peoples: Tamils, Malayalis, Rajputs, Rajasthanis, Maharashtrians, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Panjabis, Kashmiris, and so on and so forth. I simply cannot call myself a South Asian. Just as there’s little in common between an Irish person and an Italian person, there is little in common between my relatives and Tamils, for example, or practically any other sub-people of the South Asian people. Read the rest of this entry »

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Token effort or something else by Pakistan?

November 25, 2006 at 4:46 am (Afghanistan, Blogs, Culture, Islamism, Languages, Pakistan, South Asia, War, Websites)

Inspired by “More token efforts by Pakistan?” by geoff of Uncommon Misconceptions, wherein he quotes a Pakistani police official:

They were real Taliban fighters.

As opposed to fake Taliban fighters? (Just being sarcasting: most likely he meant that those captured were determined to be actual members of the Taliban rather than suspected members thereof.)

They could not speak Urdu

Strange. Most people who speak Pashto can speak at least a little Urdu. I’ll grant that some mnilitant Islamist terrorists of the Taliban could have been in an isolated all-Pashto environment.

and had no knowledge where they are

Where they are or where they were? I’d imagine a Taliban terrorist to be quite aware of where he is and why. Taliban terrorists are from that region.

These statements make me quite suspicious. It seems these were more like “Arab” terrorists (that is, terrorists from around the world allied with militant Islamist terrorist networks operating in and from the northwest and far western region of South Asia). These descriptions make it sound as if those captured were completely alien to the region when, in fact, the northwest region of South Asia, where the Taliban predominate, is adjacent to Balochistan. Read the rest of this entry »

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Elder of Ziyon: Revealing the propaganda in Arab media

November 3, 2006 at 8:42 am (Arab society, Arabic, Arabs, Blogs, English, International community, Israel, Languages, Middle East, News, Palestinian Territories, The Media)

If you would like to see how deceptive the Arab media is with news and events regarding Arabs (including and especially Palestinians) and Israel, I suggest checking out Elder of Ziyon. The Elder of Ziyon does an excellent job of revealing discrepancies between reports in English and Arabic, as well as highlighting how much of Arab suffering is because of Arabs, although one would not know this if one is reading Arab media in English (or even in Arabic, in some instances).

Sidenote: “Ziyon” comes from a closer transliteration of the word usually rendered as “Zion”. This word is (ציון, tziyon) and occurs quite frequently in Jewish/Hebrew prayers.

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‘Awrah, aurat: of women in Arabic in Urdu

October 24, 2006 at 5:36 pm (Amusement, Arabic, Blogs, India, Islam, Languages, Pakistan, Religion, South Asia)

In Arabic, the word (عورة, ‛awrah) refers to, among other things, one’s private area. This is defined according to Islamic law as the area between the navel and knees for men and the entire body, except the face and hands, of women. Not only does this word refer to the private area, per se, but also to what “private area” is used euphemistically for, namely genitalia.

This is explained in a somewhat cheeky comment on a page called “neqabi”. (A (نقاب, niqāb) refers to a veil that covers the face but (usually) exposes the eyes. (نقابي, niqābī) would be an adjective form, meaning “of or pertaining to wearing a niqāb.“) I found this page via Isaac Schrödinger‘s post “100% Vagina” (which, coincidently, is a useful phrase for the paragraph below).

What also intrigues me is that when the Arabic word (عورة, ‛awrah) is rendered, according to the normal rules, into Urdu, it becomes (عورت, aurat) which, in Urdu, means “woman.” What does it mean when Urdu uses a word that in Arabic means “private area” (and, I should add, “weakness, weak spot, defectiveness, faultiness, deficiency, imperfection” and refers to female genitalia) to refer to women individually and categorically?

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