John Emerson of Idiocentrism (where incidentally you will find a new section on “Frankophilia”: “All the way back to the Chrétien de Troyes and the Song of Roland, the French have had a knack for lewdness, irony, and the freedom of women”) sent me a link to a page called “A Non-Exhaustive Euro-Hannic Transcription Engine: English, French, German, and Chinese Romanisations of Chinese.” Very useful comparative charts, and as an added bonus (since it’s on a Marxist site) you get the amusement of occasional references to “comrades” and injunctions like “‘Jiang Zhongzheng’ (adopted after entering politics) is a more admiring name for Chiang Kai-shek than is ‘Jiang Jieshi’—and thus to be avoided.”


  1. Don’t tell me Mr. Emerson decided to study Chinese (and all its 100 dialects) so he can memorise The Great Leader in original!
    This is only prerogative of students of Russian (I gave you at least two living prooves in one evening).
    I will not beleive it anyway, don’t even try.

  2. John Emerson says

    My dear Tatyana, I have been studying Chinese for 30 years. I mostly study classical Chinese, but I have read the Great Leader’s poems. Which, in fact, are written in Classical Chinese.

  3. Mr. Emerson,
    may be you should start learning Russian next – you’ll be able to read original Lenin’s phrase about condescending bourgeois habit of addressing people “dear” (he called it “амикошонство”, from French)
    Length of studying subject (as well as your family history, history of Norwegians in Minnessota, number of dialects in Tibetan China, etc) is irrelevant – I talked about reasons.
    Which I truly, truly hope are not what they look like they are.
    Otherwise I myself don’t look pretty, arguing with hopeless case.

  4. Wikipedia has done a great job on Chinese romanization, although the “neutral” point of view they adopt makes it somewhat less entertaining.

  5. My very dear Tatyana, I confess that my motives for addressing you the way I just did were just as innocent than yours were in your initial post on this thread, when you called me “Mr. Emerson” and said the rest of what you said.
    You seem to be spending a lot of time studying up on me, most dear and wonderful Tatyana, but I have never said anything that I can remember about dialects in Tibet. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  6. Nice blog. Keep it up. Visit me at john

  7. That’s the strangest spam I’ve ever seen: it links only to I’ll leave it there for amusement value.
    Tat, John, knock it off, OK? This is not a political blog (and citing a link from a political site is obviously not the same as endorsing the politics of the site), and it gives me indigestion to watch people I like sniping at each other.

  8. LH: Alka-seltzer.
    To each his own amusements: you’re entertained by “comrads”, me – by American pinkos, Mr.Emerson – by classics of Chinese Poetry…

  9. Jimmy Ho says

    That’s a good find that might show very useful next time I try to explain those issues to non-Sinologists. I particularly appreciated the following paragraph:
    “Mandarin”, a word derived from Sanskrit via Malay and then Portuguese, is Putonghua on the mainland and Guoyu on Taiwan. Before 1911, and even now sometimes, it was called Guanhua, a term which unlike “Mandarin” does not connote emperors, queues or other objects of chinoiserie.
    Of course, there are differences (in speaking and writing conventions) between PRC Putonghua and “ROC” Guoyu, and guanhua (administrative language) has not always been united (during the Ming Dynasty, Southern guanhua, based on the Nanjing dialects, coexisted for some time with Northern guanhua, based on dialects from Beijing and othert areas). Nonetheless, this is a good argument for the reluctance to keep talking about “Mandarin Chinese”.

  10. Jimmy Ho says

    They say “guanhua” is used “even now sometimes” (to characterize Modern Putonghua/Guoyu, I assume). Personally, I’ve never witnessed that, as far as I can recall; did anybody else? A State’s “official language” is guanfang yuyan 官方语言.

  11. I think I heard “guanhua” used when I was living in Taiwan, but I hung out with people who were concerned with the history of the language, so it may have been used in a historical sense.

  12. In this case, there is still some room for doubt. That would fit the definition given in the Xiandai Hanyu cidian: “the old denomination of Putonghua” (普通话的旧称). Unless, of course, they used it in the still current meaning of “bureaucratic jargon” (as a synonym of guanqiang 官腔).
    The decisive evidence would be a sentence like *” his parents can speak Cantonese and Hakka, but no Guanhua, although they do understand it pretty much.

  13. caffeind says

    北方话 beifanghua “Northern speech” is another term for Mandarin and allied dialects.

  14. xiaolongnu says

    I have heard “guanhua” used in modern parlance in the PRC, but the meaning was not “Mandarin” as we call it in English. Rather, it was something like “bureaucratic language,” a dialect it also sometimes pays to be able to speak.

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