Active vs Passive vs Ergative

Looks like it’s becoming a trend to use verbs ergatively:


Facebook: ‘This message failed to send.’ (vs ‘We failed to send your message.)
Amazon: ‘Your order has shipped.’ (vs ‘Your order has been shipped.’)

Windows: ‘Your application is installing.” (vs ‘Your application is now being installed.)


ESL teachers will have an increasingly hard time explaining the use of the Passive Voice.

Gropers as suitors

So, these hilarious translations are REAL! In the past, when I saw pictures of comical English signs in China posted on the Web, I sometimes thought those pictures might be fakes.

A former student sent me a picture of the following signs which she spotted in a recent trip to Dongguan. Now, I’m convinced those crazy English signs did exist.

I tried translating some of the Chinese dish names in the picture with Google Translate and Baidu Translate, which did not return the exact English translations that we’re seeing. This suggests the translator did not fully rely on machine translation, and he/she did exercise his/her own translation judgments. Yet, ……

BTW, for 咸豬手, Google Translate returned “Groping”, which is close to the Cantonese slang meaning, though I don’t understand why Google Translate does not give us the literal translation. Baidu Translate also gives “Groping”, but the translator for the dish name changed it to the more literary “Suitor”. So, now, ‘gropers’ are elevated to ‘suitors’. Interesting, eh?

suitors & other dish names in Dongguan

How to say ‘positive discrimination’ in Chinese?


“積極歧視”想必是英文positive discrimination 繙譯過來,positive discrimination 的確是sociology 和education 常用的術語,它的出現有其社會背景,外國人碰到positive discrimination一詞,不會有歧視的聯想,但直譯為“積極歧視”,意思卻怪怪的。雖然我也沒有好主意,但是一些意念,與其繙譯,不如嘗試在中文中,找出妥貼的說法。

Postscript: Dr June Leung responded: 有人譯作「正向差別待遇」。這個譯法不是完美,但比積極歧視好多了。

“bai san’ vs ‘bai sun’

真有點不好意思,第一反應,竟然是“新開張和拜山有什麼關係?” 再看中文版,才知他們說的是“拜神”。
(Incidentally, ‘bai san’ IS used by some English native speakers to mean ‘honouring the dead’, or like our ‘sweeping the grave’. But we know that拜神, or ‘bai sun’, is a different thing!)bai san highlighted

4G, LTE, and STEM

The other day, I admitted that I had all along had no idea that 4G meant 4th generation. Then, a FB friend asked me if I knew the meaning of LTE. Again, I didn’t have a clue. He then told me that LTE stood for ‘Long Term Evolution.’
This is interesting because since the terms came from mobile technology, I had assumed that they were highly technical jargon, and hence did not bother to figure out their meaning. It never occurred to me that they were simply abbreviations of non-technical phrases.
Now, what about the currently popular term STEM in education? Since our background knowledge tells us that it is related to curriculum development, we quickly assume that it is an abbreviation that stands for areas of knowledge, and will likely attempt to figure out what the 4 letters stand for. And indeed, that is the case. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.)

Parents’ speech

作天在談音韻覺識(phonological awareness)的家長講座中,我舉了”我要食薯ben2″, 佢叫做乜嘢men2″, “請企呢边墩”,”我好很定佢……”;”個银包係乞色”,”佢緊系食咗……”……等例;但有趣的,是原來近半家長聽不到問題所在!

After I posted the above update on my FB wall, a few friends responded with their observations. One of them mentioned the habit by some parents of reduplicating words when they talk to their infant children:

“Many parents also use repeated words to talk to their children as well like 食唔食飯飯?飲茶茶咁”

This phenomenon of reduplication is interesting. At 25-50 weeks, infants go through a stage of reduplicative babbling. Is that why many languages have reduplicated words for caretakers like ‘papa’ and ‘mama’? Is that why Chinese-speaking parents will also use reduplication when talking to their infant children, psychologically to simulate interactive talk with them? On the other hand, this is possible because Chinese (whatever dialect) is monosyllabic, hence 波波,車車 … To my knowledge, a polysyllabic language like English does not allow that, for it would create nonsensical words, other than the more formulaic reduplicated expressions like ‘wee-wee’, ‘pee-pee’, and ‘bye-bye’. An English-speaking parent wouldn’t say, ‘…car-car’. What are Chinese parents’ motivation for using reduplication when talking to their infant children? Does that facilitate or hinder language acquisition? I have yet to look up the relevant research findings.