January 13, 2008

A new way of 寫ing Mandarin

From Pinyin News: "Mandarin borrow-ing English grammatical forms", 1/4/2008 :

Putting English words in Mandarin sentences is of course extremely common in Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia, generally because this is thought to look cool and modern. But last month I was surprised to see Mandarin sentences with just English’s -ing added — and not one but two examples of this.

The image here is from a poster for the DPP’s presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh, that came out in March but which I didn’t see until a few days ago. It reads 台灣維新ing (”Táiwān wéixīn-ing“): “Taiwan is modernizing.” (Click the image to see the whole poster.)

The other example I noticed was in a newspaper headline about the Hong Kong pop diva Faye Wong: 明年拚老三 天后暫不復出 李亞鵬王菲 積極做人ING (Míngnián pīn lǎosān — tiān hòu zàn bù fùchū — Lǐ Yàpéng, Wáng Fěi jījí zuòrén-ing. “Next year work hard to produce third child — superstar temporarily not appearing — Li Yapeng and Faye Wong are energetically working on making a baby.”)

No, that's not Frank Hsieh with the pistol, or Faye Wong either -- that's (a piece of) the cover of  Mystery and Thriller magazine, showing another use of -ing in Chinese text. Here's Mr. Hsieh and his slogan:

You can see the whole 台灣維新ing political poster on the Pinyin News site.

One of the commenters at Pinyin News notes some scholarship on the topic: Jia Lou, "From English morpheme to symbol of Chinese netizenship: Exploring -ing in Chinese blogs", NWAV 34, 2005. The link leads to an abstract -- unfortunately there does not appear to be fuller version of this presentation available.

Among the other comments:

It’s certainly not uncommon. For example, the Mystery and Thrillers magazine cover here has a cover line reading “《天机》第二季火热连载ing ” (and I think they’ve used the same wording ever since the magazine launched mid-year). My guess is that it started online (or close to it, like in cutesy IM language), similar to other grammatical borrowings (的说 being another prominent example).

Students are doing it on-line all the time, I’m only surprised that this is somehow “official” use now.

Here is a music video for the song “戀愛ing” which my friend pointed out to me on Twitter. Interestingly they spell out “I … N… G…” rather than saying “ing” as in English.

I’ve seen it too. A long while back a Chinese friend of mine sent me an SMS about an event coming up: “期待ing”, or “looking forward to it”. I’ve never heard it spoken, though, either, but after seeing that message, I’ve said it a few times, and my Chinese friends take it in stride.

Based on a bigger version of the Hsieh poster here,Victor Mair wrote:

The enlarged photo allowed me, with the aid of a small magnifying glass, to see that the same -ing ending was used for a different verb (BIAN4CHENG2 ["to change"]) than the verb of the slogan of Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh: WEI2XIN1-ing ("reforming, modernizing"). The links on the right side of the poster contain lots of what I call Sino-English, such as "party" and "from." If you check out the "from" links and the pages they lead to, you'll see plenty of Sino-English all over the place.

Incidentally, it seems that "change" is going to be the political catchword of the day, not just in Taiwan. Of course, Obama is capitalizing on this magic word with a look to the future, Hillary is declaring that she's been for CHANGE for more than a quarter of a century, and -- most impressive of all -- our new mayor in Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, is proclaiming that he's for "transformative change." I guess that means that Nutter is for CHANGE that really CHANGES things, and that he's not advocating an advanced type of linguistic modification.

Well, Mandarin doesn't have very many grammatical morphemes, so this may be one area where the balance of trade remains for a while in favor of the Anglophone countries -- though we'll have to ship whole boat-loads of participial endings in order to make up for the Chinese-character tattoos documented at Hanzi smatter.

[Update -- John Cowan writes:

Well, I dunno, by my count (in Li & Thompson's reference grammar) there are a few more grammatical bound morphemes in Mandarin (I mean, not counting things like the nominal suffix -zi, which is bound but lexical) than in English. So trade is not so very unbalanced after all

I'm not about to get into an argument on this topic, about which I know almost nothing. But Jerome L. Packard, The Morphology of Chinese, Cambridge University Press, 2000 (p. 71), lists six "grammatical affixes" ("the verbal aspect markers -le, -zhe and -guo; the resultative potential 'infixes' -de and bu- and the human noun plural suffix -men"). It's true that this is roughly the same number of grammatical affixes as English -- perhaps it's even one more -- but the basis of my feeble attempt at humor was the idea that Chinese is not an especially rich area for would-be importers of grammatical affixes.

And Bob Ladd wrote to remind us that both French and Italian have been prone for some time to borrowing -ing -- or rather, adopting English words in -ing, often in meanings that are unexpected for English speakers. Examples in French include shampooing (meaning "shampoo", as a noun) and camping (meaning "campground"). Italian has lifting to mean "facelift"; both mobbing and pressing to mean something like "political pressure [on a person]"; and zapping to mean "channel surfing". Of course, as Bob observed, this apparently the derivational noun-forming -ing, not the inflectional gerund-participle -ing -- though it's hard to tell, in the cases where the words have no real English counterpart.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 13, 2008 08:55 AM