NPR has a blog called code switch now, and recently published an article called Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch. I recommend you read it in full if you’re at all interested in the linguistic phenomenon of code-switching, but for the purposes of this blog post I’ll some up the five reasons listed:
1. A certain language feels more appropriate in a “primal” state
2. To fit in to a certain linguistic environment
3. To be treated “like a local”
4. To communicate in secret
5. It helps convey a concept more “native” to a certain language
Code-switching is a well-researched linguistic phenomenon, and you can go into it way deeper than the NPR article does (just check out the references of the Wikipedia article on code-switching).
But while in Beijing over the weekend, I was reminded of another aspect of code-switching: it can be annoying. Although the act of code-switching is generally accepted as “normal,” there are still limits. People can code-switch too rapid-fire, or for “the wrong reasons.” (Alas, the Wikipedia article does not comment on “when code-switching gets annoying.”)
So assuming that non-comprehension isn’t a factor, what are the circumstances under which code-switching becomes annoying? I would guess that a flagrant violation of reason #5 above would be the most annoying… switching to another language to express a thoroughly generic concept, rather than for a “culturally justified” reason. Worse yet: doing that repeatedly. This was the one that came up in my recent conversation.
I’m curious, though, what factors might also make code-switching annoying. Some thoughts:
1. Code-switching too often, and for no discernible purpose
2. Code-switching which seems to be for the purpose of showing off
I’m pretty tolerant of code-switching, though. Maybe you readers have other reasons to add?
This post is leading up to another longer post on how the Chinese write numbers. I don’t mean the Chinese character numbers (一、二、三、四、etc.); I’m talking about the numbers we call Arabic numerals. In China, they can occasionally be written pretty differently from what an American like me is used to.
An example to prove the point:
I won’t post my own observations in this blog post. Feel free to contribute your own interpretations in the comments (and tell us where you’re from), and, more importantly, ask your Chinese friends to do it and post those results too.
I’ve done this little experiment with a number of people, Chinese and non-, and have gotten surprisingly varied replies (but with some identifiable patterns).
If you enjoy this kind of thing, be sure to check out Sinoglot’s classic Bowl, Plate, Plowl.
Over the past year or so the expression 你妹 (literally, “your little sister”) is pretty popular. You might guess that it’s kind of dirty, based on other common vulgar phrases involving mothers or grandmothers, and you’d be kind of right. It’s clearly not a polite phrase, but it seems to be more often used in a flippant way among friends rather than a vulgar way to start fights.
One of the means by which the phrase 你妹 is getting more exposure is through the crazy popular new game “找你妹” (literally, “Look for Your Little Sister,” although that’s not how the name is really understood). I first noticed this game a couple weeks ago while riding public transportation. I’m seeing it played on iPhones and iPads everywhere around Shanghai. It’s especially interesting to me because it looks so lame, despite being so popular. You basically scroll through a bunch of little drawings of objects, and click on the ones you’re told to find. Whee.
It looks like this:
There’s even a video on YouTube about how a kid played 找你妹 all night and went blind. (Well, I guess there are allegedly more embarrassing ways to go blind…) You can see footage of the game in action in parts of the clip:
As for the recent upsurge in usage of the phrase 你妹, it’s kind of interesting, and Baidu offers an explanation (in Chinese, of course). I’m not going to try to explain it because I’m not personally super familiar with all the nuances of its usage yet, but this is exactly the type of situation where having a group of young Chinese teachers on staff comes in super handy, so I’m going to have to get into this topic in the AllSet Learning office. (Anyone interested in it or have a link to an explanation as good or better than Baidu’s? The other explanations I could find were a bit lacking.)
The AllSet Learning Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app comes preloaded with several free “books.” Although I immensely enjoyed creating a story involving post-apocalyptic steam punk dinosaurs, in some ways those free books were the most interesting. That’s because the content of each book is a simple interview question which is then answered by 10 different Chinese college kids. They’re all studying in Shanghai, but they come from all over China. You get to hear each young person’s own voice, see their photo, and even read their actual handwriting (in characters), which is also accompanied by text. This is a lot more interesting than most textbooks the kids are using these days! Through this app, it’s my hope to show a diverse, modern side of China’s youth, different from other sources.
We’ve aimed for intermediate level learners in the past, but we would consider doing simpler or more difficult questions. The interview questions already included in the app are:
1. 你最喜欢吃什么？ (What do you most like to eat?)
2. 谈到美国，你第一个想到的是什么？ (When speaking of the USA, what’s the first thing you think of?)
3. 你认为幸福是什么？ (What do you think happiness is?)
And this is the part where I ask you, my readers, what types of questions you’d like us to ask for the next round of interviews. The questions need to be relatively short, and somewhat open-ended, but nothing requiring an essay to answer. It’s OK to get just a little bit into the human side of politics (One Child Policy, etc.), but we’re not going to do any particularly inflammatory topics, or topics that could get the interviewees in trouble.
So what questions would you like to see covered in the Chinese Picture Book Reader? Please share in the comments, or drop me an email if you like.