Archive for July, 2011

Learning Chinese: Cantonese or Mandarin? Or…? Taishanese!

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

A few years back, I tried looking for material on Toisan (aka Taishanese). The most I found was this linguistic paper, Toisan: A Cantonese Dialect by Aaron Lee, which I thought was fairly good in terms of giving you an understanding of the pronunciation in Toisan. What I didn’t know then was that the name of the language was being changed to ‘Taishanese’ (in accordance with the town/city Toisan now being called ‘Taishan’, which is the Mandarin name) and that Toisan, which is the Cantonese name, was/is called ‘Hoisan’ by its own native speakers. I grew up with it being called ‘Toisan’ or ‘Toisan-wa’ (Toisan is also sometimes called ‘Toisan-wa’ to distinguish it from Toisan the place; ‘wa’ simply means ‘language’ used in this context). I did also find the site for Taishan itself, although I didn’t find much use for it in terms of learning Toisan/Taishanese.

Because of the lack of material for learning Toisan, I decided simply to go ahead with learning Cantonese (since it is quite similar to Toisan-wa, and since I already had exposure to Cantonese growing up, as evidenced by my use of “Toisan”). Unfortunately, whenever I speak to my mom, I automatically speak Toisan instead of Cantonese (my mom understands both although she is stronger in Toisan).

I decided recently to try looking for material on Toisan again. Searching for ‘Toisan’, I found again Toisan: A Cantonese Dialect (see above link), but also an amusing blog by Toisan Girl. In one of her recent posts, she writes:

I’m feeling rather disappointed in myself lately about how I haven’t taught much Toisanese to my children, as days and years go by ever so quickly now, and knowing sadly one day our language will die. At least in America, it likely will. Perhaps it may continue for generations in the Hoisan villages back in China. It’s been over a year since I’ve conversed with anyone in Hoisan-wah and I can feel it slipping away from me. As with anything that we value, we need to make an effort to hold onto it, it’s not easy when I have few people to speak my mother tongue with. Maybe I’ll look up the Hoisan society organizations here and check it out. I feel the need to hold on for some reason, maybe it’s simply a comfort mechanism for me to want to return to my childhood roots, to remember the contributions of our ancestry.

While I don’t have children, I can relate to her feelings that it feels like my native language may well die out. But as she points out, it may well continue to thrive back in China, specifically in Taishan where Toisan-wa originally comes from. However, in Taishan they also speak Cantonese. According to Wikipedia’s article on Taishan:

The main language of Taishan is Taishanese. While most Taishanese today use Mandarin in school or formal occasions, Taishanese is the de facto language. Taishanese is a dialect of Yue Chinese, a large group which includes, but is broader than, Cantonese spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Thus Cantonese and Taishanese are related but distinct. Before the 1980s, Taishanese was the predominant Chinese language spoken throughout North America’s Chinatowns.[9] Cantonese (Guangdonghua) is also widely known in Taishan, as it serves as lingua franca of Guangdong Province.

After reading a bit of Toisan Girl’s blog, I continued searching for learning material on Toisan. I decided to search for Aaron Lee since he wrote that linguistic paper on Toisan. I was hoping that maybe he was doing more research and work on Toisan. Well, fortune favoured me! I found Aaron Lee on Twitter, and from there, I found his blog, Four Counties, where he is writing about Taishanese.

From there I found Stephen Li’s Taishanese Language Home and Hoisanva 台山話 | Seik heng m seik gong by Gene Chin. Stephen Li is also teaching Taishanese on his blog, Toisanese Chop Suey, but the really great find is the Hoisanva English Dictionary from Gene Chin. 😀

From one of Aaron Lee’s blog post, ‘Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’, I discovered that the U.S. Defense Language Institute was teaching a course in ‘Toishan’ back in the 1960s! They have since made the text material available online. (See Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’.) From that post too, I found a link to Ben’s Cantonese Practice Journal: Toishanese (台山話) Textbook Audio, where he has provided the audio material for the Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’. 😀

Finally! I have some learning materials for Toisan-wa! Okay, it is called ‘Taishanese’ now, but remember… “You can take the girl out of Toisan, but you can’t Toisan out of the girl.” 😉 For me, it will always be ‘Toisan-wa’.

Using the Defense Language Institute’s ‘Chinese-Cantonese (Toishan) Basic Course’ and the Hoisanva English Dictionary from Gene Chin, I should hopefully be able to improve my native language, Toisan, over time. At the very least, it should give me a better understanding of the language than I had when I was growing up. Will I still be studying Cantonese off and on? Sure, but I am definitely going to try out the Toisan materials I found. (I guess I might be flip-flopping between the two, checking the Toisan with the Cantonese to note the differences or to supplement Toisan with Cantonese. Oh, this is complicated!)

“What about Mandarin?” you may ask me.

Well, Mandarin is actually quite different from Toisan, and a lot of native Toisan speakers find Mandarin a bit difficult to pick up. It just doesn’t feel natural to us Toisan people. It’s like it’s ‘Chinese’, but not – this is kind of hard for me to explain. As difficult as it is for a native Toisan speaker to pick up Mandarin, it’s actually harder to go the other way around, that is, from Mandarin to Toisan or to Cantonese. I’d have a much easier time learning Mandarin if I go from Toisan to Cantonese to Mandarin (although that means I’d be in effect learning three languages, even if they are somewhat related; generally Toisan is considered to be a dialect of Cantonese although it’s possible it may have evolved separately).

One final Toisan link I found today for amusement’s sake (you’d have to be Toisan to get the humour or at least have some imagination): Toisan Lives (Check out the T-shirt designs. “Moh yoong” LOL.)

~~~C

Books, Novels, and Languages

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The past month has been a bit crazy. I’ve just been trying to finish some things and then started working on others.

Here is some fiction that I’ve read recently:
Knife of Dreams (book 11 of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton. (I had read the graphic novel first, then The Laughing Corpse novel. But I wanted to contrast the novel with the graphic novel, so I decided to read Guilty Pleasures before moving on in the series of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels.)
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) in comics is finally completed. :) I am waiting for the last Angel TPB from IDW. Then Buffy’s story and Angel’s story will continue under Dark Horse Comics. The new Angel series will be called Angel and Faith. (No, you aren’t imagining it, Faith’s last name was revealed to be ‘Lehane’ in the last issue of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) No, they never used a last name in the TV shows. Covers for the first issues of these two series are on Dark Horse Comics’ website already. See ‘Buffy Season Nine’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover and ‘Angel and Faith’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover’.

And now, my ‘to read’ list:
A Feast for Crows (book four of A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin
Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Stormqueen! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Stolen by Kelley Armstrong
Moon of 3 Rings by Andre Norton
Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

I am currently reading A Feast for Crows now that HBO’s Game of Thrones is finished. It’s a bit confusing to be reading book four of A Song of Ice and Fire while watching the events of book one on-screen. I rather liked the adaptation to screen of the book, A Game of Thrones. They are preparing for season two of Game of Thrones, which is based on the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. I seriously think HBO should rename the series, but whatever. Hopefully, they do just as good a job with book two as they did with book one. But yay! Back to A Feast for Crows. Book five, A Dance with Dragons, will be released soon, so I’m trying to catch up. At some point, I will re-watch all of Game of Thrones.

I’ve been in a bit of a studying mood. I decided to get back to studying languages.

I started studying Cantonese a few years back more out of a sense that I should know it, but tonal languages are hard if you don’t have a good ear for pitch. I am a native Taishanese speaker.  (Taishan is on the southern coast of China. Once a small town, it is now a city. Taishan was once called ‘Toisan’, so you may hear some Chinese people say they speak ‘Toisan’.) Taishanese is very similar to Cantonese which is why I decided to study Cantonese first and then Mandarin.

However, I don’t have much use for Cantonese or Mandarin right now. I can use Cantonese with my mom, but it often turns into Cantonese mixed with Toisan mixed with English – a very strange version of ‘Chinglish’. My mom does not speak Mandarin. I like the Chinese writing system though, but you really have to use that nearly every day to be even remotely good at it. So, I decided to put the Cantonese aside for a while. The written language for Cantonese is the same as they use for Mandarin, one of the reasons I like the Chinese writing system. Even if two Chinese people don’t speak the same language/dialect, the writing system would still allow them to communicate. If I ever get some more time, I think I will be more likely to get back to the Chinese writing than the Cantonese.

I studied French for eleven years continuously throughout school. A few years ago, I did a fairly thorough review of French grammar because there were a few things I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of yet. I was intending to increase my French vocabulary, but I’ve since decided that I don’t like the way French sounds all that much. I also don’t have much use for it, unless I visit France or somewhere else where they are speaking French. If that’s the case, it’s a bit of a review and adding some vocabulary – not too difficult to do.

There are other languages that I actually like and want to learn rather than Chinese or French. They are Korean (which I have been studying off and on for about a year or so), Spanish, Irish, and Dutch (which I did study consistently for a little bit – I need to do a review before moving on with it).

I like Korean because the language seems lively and fun without it feeling like a constant pop song as in Cantonese. I also like the writing system, called han’gul in Korean. Korean used to use the Chinese writing system, but then a new system was created to use with the language. The han’gul makes a whole lot of sense for Korean. Korean is however still a hard language to learn if English is your dominant language. (See “Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers”.)

For a while, I was switching between studying Korean and Cantonese – two very hard languages for an English speaker to pick up (although I probably have a slight edge since I grew up speaking Taishanese with my parents; note that Korean does have some words that are cognate to Cantonese, for example, “chung gwok” in Cantonese and “chunguk” in Korean for ‘China’). There are different reasons why Korean and Cantonese are difficult. Korean uses the subject-object-verb (SOV) construction which is different than the subject-verb-object (SVO) construction in English. For example, in Korean you’d say “I (subject) school-to (object) go (verb)” while in English, you’d say “I (subject) go (verb) to school (object).” Also, Korean has their own writing system. Cantonese is hard simply because it’s a tonal language. Some grammar points are different than English and some things are done in Cantonese that aren’t in English, but Cantonese is pretty much SVO. You can learn to speak and understand Cantonese without learning to write Chinese.

Since Korean is a pretty hard language to learn, I decided that I should just start studying an easier language on top of Korean. Since I’m not studying Cantonese as much, I’m really only focused on one hard language (Korean, and I’m starting to get used to the writing system and the SOV construction!), so why not just start an easier language? Sometimes, you can get your fill of one language for a bit. For me, it takes a day or two for new vocabulary to settle in before I can move on in that language. You also don’t ever ‘finish’ studying a language (I still learn new words in English sometimes), so there’s no point in waiting to learn another language. Since I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish, I decided to do a little bit of Spanish the other day. I don’t think this will be too hard to do on top of the Korean since I spent years studying French. (French and Spanish are both Romance languages.) Of course, there’s vocabulary to learn, but some words are cognate between languages.

I really want to learn Irish, but it seems much harder than Spanish or Dutch, so I will wait until I have a firmer grasp on Korean before I start Irish. As I mentioned earlier, I need to do a review of Dutch before I move on in it. Once I have a better grasp of Korean, maybe I’ll review Dutch and then start studying Irish or vice versa.

There are two languages I’d like to study from a purely academic perspective – Sanskrit and Latin. I started the Sanskrit a while back. Got past the pronunciation and learning the writing system, but I need to review those before moving on. Also since I’m only studying Sanskrit from an academic perspective regarding languages, I’m in no real rush with it.

For now, I’ll be busy enough with Korean and Spanish – and trying to catch up on my reading list above. :)

안녕히 가세요!
(‘Annyǒnghi kaseyo!’ is the English romanization. It’s “Goodbye” for when someone is leaving.)

¡Adiós, chao!

~~~C

How to Post a Message to One Person in Google+

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

One of the first things you will notice on Google+ is that you can’t post on someone’s stream like you can post to someone’s wall on Facebook. If all you’ve ever used is Facebook and MySpace, you’re sure to be confused.

But if you’ve used Twitter or Plurk, you might have already figured out on your own how to send a message to one person only in Google+. Actually, the way to do this is exactly like Plurk and only vaguely similar to Twitter.

Here’s part of a comment I posted on “Opinions: Google+”, which is a decent article about Google+:

In your own stream, under the post box where you can choose the Circles you want to post to, you can also just type in one person’s name and that post will show up in only that person’s stream (and yours, of course). This is also how it works in Plurk when I want to post a message to one person.

I rather like this better than having to post on someone’s wall like in Facebook – there are some issues with that, like people trolling what you posted to your friend.

I know it’s not what everyone is accustomed to, but once you get used to this way of sending a message to someone, it’s much better and way more sane. Sanity at last!

I guess I should mention that you should delete any Circles selected and make sure only the one name of the person you want to send to is listed under the post box. (It seems not everyone is paying attention to the tiny little details as I may be sometimes.)

If people are still struggling with the idea of posting a message to only one person, the best I can say is think of the very first method of communicating online – email. When you want to send an email to someone you don’t go to their email box and drop the message, you write in your email account and click ‘send’. Somehow because of MySpace and Facebook, people have gotten used to thinking in the reverse. Just think of sending a post to someone, instead of writing on their ‘wall’. The end result is the same, communication between only the two of you.

~~~C

Reason #1 Why Google+ is Still in Beta Testing and is ‘Invite Only’ For Now

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Tim Bradshaw has noticed the same thing I did last night, a flaw in Google+’s resharing option. In his article, “The first Google+ privacy flaw”, Bradshaw explains:

Say a close friend of mine posts a picture of her kids to her “friends” Circle. With the “share” option on every Google+ post, I can reshare this with absolutely anyone, from another Circle to which my friend does not belong, right through to making it completely public. The same loophole applies not just to photos but to any kind of post, as far as I can tell.

If she’d known about this risk (and how would she?), my friend could have disabled resharing using the drop-down menu on the right-hand side of every post, but it doesn’t seem to be possible to do this before she’d already published it. Google+ also, for now, lacks any way to turn off resharing of all your posts from within its privacy settings.

Personal pictures, posts and location check-ins could quickly leak into the public domain this way. The Google+ equivalent of the newsfeed updates in realtime and doing most things on the service requires admirably few clicks. These are very good attributes for a new site that’s seeking to win people over through ease of use.

But it could also lead to resharing without giving a second thought to the light-grey text that indicates a post is “limited”.

Indeed, Bradshaw is correct about this. He did, of course, send feedback to Google about this. According to Bradshaw, Google “acknowledged the loophole. It says that this is exactly the kind of issue it hopes to identify and resolve while Google+ is still in ‘field trial’ mode.”

And that is why Google+ is still in Beta testing and is ‘invite only’ for now.

This resharing flaw in Google+’s Beta testing can be compared to posting on someone else’s Facebook wall. When you post on someone’s Facebook wall, people you don’t know can or may see your post depending on the wall owner’s settings. For example, if I post on Friend A’s wall, I don’t have the option of limiting who gets to see that post since it’s not my wall. If Friend A has allowed all his/her friends to see “friends’ posts”, then people I don’t know can see what I wrote. (There is a way to limit who can see “friends’ posts”, but you don’t know what settings your friend has chosen.) Facebook isn’t even in Beta testing, and they certainly aren’t going to change their wall posting feature since that’s what’s unique about Facebook. If you’re a Facebook user, you have to live with the fact that whenever you post on someone else’s wall, others can generally see your posts whether you know them or not.

Because Google developers are keen on addressing users’ issues with Google+, I can’t help but feel that in the long-term Google+ will be better than Facebook. It already is better in many ways. For one thing, they did get the contact management and organizing right via ‘Circles’. When I write a new post, if the option to post is set to ‘Public’, it’s obvious because of the green button right under the post box (unlike Facebook which only shows a tiny lock icon and down arrow – I actually forgot about it when that option first came out on Facebook). It’s hard to miss the green ‘Public’ button so I don’t accidentally post something public. When the option is set to one of your Circles, the button is blue. A nice feature of Google+ is Hangouts, which is like Google’s version of Skype within a website. Of course, Google’s chat feature is embedded in Google+ just like in Gmail and iGoogle. Huddles is a way to group chat on your phone with others on Google+ based on who’s in your Circles. Despite all the comparisons to Facebook, Google+’s posting of content and stream is more like a combination of Twitter and Plurk.

As for resharing in Google+, I like it. It’s the part that’s like Twitter. Obviously, the solution to this is to allow each person to turn resharing on or off for each post before they publish the post or to turn resharing on or off for all posts.

I like Google+ so far. Aside from this resharing flaw, I haven’t noticed anything else to make me worried. I can live with Google+ until they sort out all the flaws – big and small.

As Bradshaw wrote “Testers are in the early-adopter crowd who can probably live with this kind of thing before Google adds a way to disable any resharing by default.”

Maybe I’m an optimist, but I trust that Google will sort things out as we go. And better to do this before Google+ is fully released to the public. Yes, a very good reason why it’s still in Beta testing and is ‘invite only’ for now.

~~~C

Previous blogs on social media and networking:
iPhone Users: Not to Worry, Google Hasn’t Forgotten You
Deleting Facebook – Here’s How
As for Facebook…
Micro-blogging, Social Networking, and a Small Rant
Time to Say Goodbye to Facebook?

iPhone Users: Not to Worry, Google Hasn’t Forgotten You

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Google has developed a Google+ app for iPhone, but apparently the delay is on Apple’s end as the app is being reviewed.

In the meantime, Google+ has a mobile site set up if you go to plus.google.com on your iPhone, you will get the mobile version of Google+. (Of course, if you don’t have an invite yet, you’ll have to wait for someone to send you one or sign up for Google+ to notify you of updates.)

See this article: While We Await The Native App, The Google+ iPhone Mobile Web App is Pretty Solid.