Philobiblon: A parking ticket, not to be eaten

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A parking ticket, not to be eaten

China must be the part of the world where the greatest number of languages and dialects are in danger of extinction. (Although as I wrote last year Nushu, the special women's language, is going strong with the encouragement of tourism.

You might think there is only Mandarin and Cantonese, but I believe, after talking to Chinese when travelling there, that there are, or were, many many more. A man in Guilin was most insulted by the suggestion that he might speak Cantonese, or Mandarin, as his native language. Of course he spoke Guilinese.

Losing languages doesn't just mean losing sounds, but also losing world-views, as is revealed by the metaphors in different languages. We say "stop and smell the flowers". In Cantonese the equivalent is apparently "Drink a cup of tea and eat a bun."

But the language is losing out to Mandarin.

Such a pity to lose the richness. More Cantonese: "the slang for getting a parking ticket ... is 'I ate beef jerky,' probably because Chinese beef jerky is thin and rectangular, like a parking ticket. And teo bao (literally 'too full') describes someone who is uber-trendy, so hip he or she is going to explode."


Blogger AYDIN ÖRSTAN said...

This reminds me the old (I guess, they are all old now) Monty Python skit in which a Hungarian (John Cleese), visiting London, is relying on a Hungarian to English phrase book. However, all the phrases in the book were by the publisher (Michael Palin)intentionally mistranslated to give "naughty" meanings.

1/14/2006 04:56:00 pm  

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