Sunday, June 22, 2014

Remix: This is how culture changes, East Asian edition

Language Log's Victor Mair has recently been to Macau and Hong Kong, both multi-lingual treasure troves. An example from Hong Kong:
Pui Ling then showed me records of some chats between her and her sister, who works at the counter of an airline at the Hong Kong airport. I was stunned by the long exchanges between them which consisted of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English all mixed together in the same sentences. That is to say, it was natural for them to shift among the three languages in the same sentence. Furthermore, when they resorted to Cantonese, it was written in a mixture of standard characters, special characters used only for Cantonese, and Roman letters. I remember clearly a Cantonese final particle, lu (written just like that in Romanization), at the end of a sentence that was mostly made up of English words.

My next experience with Chinese in computers in Hong Kong was when I observed a woman at a Starbucks that I frequented writing characters on the glass of her cell phone. I noticed that she was flailing away at the screen in a way similar to what I have earlier described (though not quite so demonstratively), and that after each frantic flailing at the screen, she would pause to pick — from a list of characters that the program suggested she was trying to write — the one that she really wanted. This was something that I witnessed several times in Hong Kong during this visit. The people who seemed to be fairly good at this method of entering characters attacked the glass with less vehemence and tended to spend less time pausing between characters entered.

After watching the woman for several minutes, I asked her if she sometimes used other methods for writing on her cell phone. She said, "Oh, yes. There are this handwriting method, Cangjie (character components), bopomofo (Mandarin phonetic symbols), Hanyu Pinyin (official PRC Romanization), and several others, and I use them all depending upon circumstances." When I asked her which method she preferred above all others, her response floored me, "English," she said, without the slightest hesitation.
Mair concludes:
In sum, I believe that Hong Kong functions as a sort of language lab for the Sinosphere. The trends that I witnessed there on this trip and during many previous visits to the city are a harbinger of things that are spreading throughout the Mainland.

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