Essays

The Passive Voice of Control

Linguistics of control in Hong Kong and Xinjiang – Liz Carter

In Hong Kong, millions have taken to the streets to protest the erosion of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy. In Xinjiang, over a million ethnic Uyghurs and other minorities have been separated from their families and confined in detention facilities that fit the criteria of concentration camps. But as much as these two situations are often the subject of international news coverage, something is missing.

Take the first two sentences of this article. What is missing? The active voice. Something is the agent behind the “erosion” of Hong Kong’s freedoms. Something is the force imprisoning people in Xinjiang camps. These things don’t happen by accident. But the phrasing is natural enough, grammatically correct, and not unlike what you might find in news reports or even a US government statement.

Linguistic invisibility serves many masters. Often, observers innocently leave out the active subject because it is offstage, out of sight. In some cases, journalists choose wording of this nature to avoid explicit statements of causality, letting readers draw their own conclusions (and dodging libel suits). Yet the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) use it deliberately, and often successfully, to craft a certain view of reality.

Chinese Corner

Meowing in Mandarin

Cat Memes, Cat Life – Liz Carter

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that cats meow the same in China as they do everywhere else – the onomatopoeia for their sweet siren call is miāo 喵. The word for cat practically mewls itself: it’s māo 猫, which is also a close homophone of the word for fur or hair, máo 毛, all of which is just as ubiquitous as their miāoing. In addition to meowing, cats can also cèng 蹭, which is when they headbutt/rub up against you (or a table, or a door, or anything as yet unmarked).

Chinese Corner

Love You to Death and Back

How to Romance in Mandarin – Liz Carter

Love is in the air, or at least all over social media and the candy aisles of your local convenience store. Valentine’s Day is occasion for many a confession of love or vow of faithfulness, including in most of the Mandarin-speaking world. So how do you woo in Mandarin?

The answer is, in much the same cliché way as in English. You can fall in love at first sight (yí jiàn zhōng qíng 一见钟情) or come to love someone over time (rì jǐu shēng qíng 日久生情). You can love for someone for the rest of your life (yī shēng yī shì 一生一世) or even to death and back (sǐ qù huó lái 死去活来).

Chinese Corner

Animal Associations

An introduction to the Mandarin menagerie – Liz Carter

When you say someone’s foxy, you would expect your listener to know that you meant he or she was very good looking. But like many things, these associations don’t always translate in Mandarin, where calling a woman a total fox can get you slapped. Animal associations and metaphors, which vary from person to person and place to place, can be tricky for the language learner. To that end, here are a few fauna-related expressions to give the lay of the land in the Mandarin animal kingdom.

Reviews

Drama Roll

Liz Carter reviews Tom Mullaney’s The Chinese Typewriter

Ever since the rise of personal computers in the 1980s, the typewriter has become an object of nostalgia, and commitment to one the mark of a luddite, ranging in likeability from Frank Navasky, the eccentric reporter in You’ve Got Mail (1998), to the Unabomber, who composed his letters on a Smith Corona. The Chinese typewriter, which has been even more displaced by modern word processing, is less well known, especially to those unfamiliar with the language and script.