On Reducing TMD Syntactic Ambiguity

TMD

One of our teachers at AllSet Learning introduced a hilarious Chinese article to me on the grammatical usage of the phrase 他妈的 (often abbreviated as “TMD”). The most appropriate translation of 他妈的 in English is usually “fucking” (in the emphatic sense), so if that offends you, stop reading now.

The origin of this article is unclear to me, but it dates back to at least 2009 (here’s a copy). Anyway, I found the article both funny and instructional, so I’ve translated it below. This is the kind of thing that has tons of translation options, though, so suggestions for more skillful translations are always welcome!


The grammatically correct use of “TMD” (“fucking”)

In this article, I will offer some simple explanations and examples regarding this expression.

  1. Consider the following sentence:

    今年的考题跟课后题一样

    This year’s test questions were the same as the exercise questions.

    There’s ambiguity here: are we saying that that the questions on the test were really the same as the exercise questions, or are we just metaphorically stating that the test questions simply resembled the exercise questions? At this time, “fucking” becomes useful. We can insert “fucking” into this sentence to make the distinction:

    今年的考题跟课后题他妈的一样

    “This year’s test questions were the fucking same as the exercise questions.” (indicating identical to the exercise questions)

    今年的考题跟他妈的课后题一样

    “This year’s test questions were the same as the fucking exercise questions.” (suggesting that the test questions were too simple)

  2. There are many similar cases, for example:

    [Translator’s note: I don’t think there’s any way to preserve this ambiguity in English translation, so I’m forced to translate it twice in English.]

    这个解释不清楚

    “This explanation is unclear.” / “This cannot be explained clearly.”

    There are two meanings here: that the explanation itself is not lucid, or that the matter is difficult to explain. However, once we add “fucking,” the ambiguity immediately disappears:

    这个解释他妈的不清楚

    “This explanation is fucking unclear.” (the explanation itself is not helpful)

    这个他妈的解释不清楚

    “This cannot be fucking explained clearly.” (the issue is difficult to explain)

  3. Another example:

    没有一次看完

    “Didn’t finish reading it once.” / “Didn’t finish reading it all at once.”

    This sentence has two meanings: did not finish reading it a single time, or didn’t finish reading it all at once. If we insert “fucking” in different positions, the ambiguity can also be removed:

    没有他妈的一次看完

    “Didn’t fucking finish reading it all at once” (didn’t finish reading it all in one go)

    没有一次他妈的看完

    “Didn’t finish reading it fucking once”

    (simply has not ever finished reading it)

Therefore, our fucking conclusion is that we should advocate the fucking inclusion of “fucking,” which can fucking assist in the clarity of fucking sentence structure, reduce fucking syntactic ambiguity, and make possible obstacle-free fucking communication.

Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar

Edited by Qin Xue Herzberg & Larry Herzberg (Stone Bridge Press, 2011)

Review by: John Pasden

I quite enjoyed this book on Chinese grammar, but the student would do well to be clear on exactly what this book is and what it is not. Right on the cover are two huge clues:

A quick study handbook with over 75 key constructions for reference and practice

A Student’s Guide to Correct Structures and Common Errors

In case it’s not obvious, this book is not the place to start learning Chinese grammar. Sure, it’s packed full of great information and important side notes, but it’s going to be most valuable as a reference material, such as a handbook for a student who’s studied Mandarin for a year, then plans to go to China, but doesn’t want to take his old textbooks.

Read the rest of this entry »

China Lite

As someone who’s taken up residence in China long-term, I’ve had quite a few visitors over the years. One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to do a little “visitor profiling” if you want your guest to have a good time. Two of my own personal “case studies”:

  1. My sister Grace visited me in Hangzhou in 2001. I hadn’t been in China long, and had spent a lot more time studying Chinese than trying to get comfortable. I fed Grace the 5 RMB local cafeteria food I was used to eating. When we went from Hangzhou to Beijing, I screwed up on the sleeper “ticket upgrade,” so it was 17 hours on the train in hard seats. In Beijing, we went everywhere on foot, by subway, or by bus. Poor Grace didn’t adapt too well to Chinese food; I think she might have had western food a few times, but she also shed quite a few pounds during her two weeks in China.

  2. My parents visited China in 2007. We toured West Lake in Hangzhou, and went on a Bund cruise in Shanghai. We flew to Beijing and saw the sights there, assisted by a driver. We took the cable car up to the top of the Great Wall. We sampled the local food everywhere, while also getting some western food when it felt “necessary.” My parents had a very pleasant stay (but probably didn’t lose any weight).

Fortunately, by the time my parents had visited, I was a bit more compassionate about the needs of my less hardcore visitors (and had had a chance to practice this “kinder, gentler version of China” when my other sister Amy visited in 2004). Grace actually had a really good attitude about the whole ordeal, though. She felt that she had had a taste of “the real China,” and referred to what my sister Amy had experienced as “China Lite.”

China Lite

I’m not trying to be a China snob here; this “China Lite” concept is useful. With my parents planning another visit, I’m working on perfecting the China Lite experience (without resorting to a tour group, if possible). While the whole “Real China” vs. “China Lite” thing is more of a continuum than a black or white issue, I’ve found it useful to compare the two.

Real China China Lite
Stay in hostels, crash at friends’ places, or even do some kind of homestay Stay in nice hotels or service apartments
All Chinese food, and the more street food the better Chinese food is fine as long as it’s not too weird; some western food (even KFC) is needed to buffer all that Chinese food
Baijiu (that Chinese white grain alcohol) isn’t so bad… Tsingtao is exotic enough when it comes to alcohol
As much Chinese language as possible; gotta put that phrasebook to use and communicate with the locals English if possible; translations if not
Travel by bus, train, and bike (with the people) is great Airplane preferred for long trips; other forms of transportation need to provide appropriate personal space
Pack your own TP, and study the proper squatting position in advance Never stray too far from a western-style toilet
China is big, and you don’t have much time to soak it all in, so pack that itinerary tight! China is tiring; plan the itinerary carefully and leave sufficient down time
Consider the whole trip to be “off the grid” or at least “off the beaten path” with just the occasional internet cafe Plan for internet needs, and provide a cell phone for your visitors if possible (the cost of the SIM card and phone service is negligible in China)

Got any tips to add the the list?

Some visitors are looking for “the real China,” where others are hoping to enjoy “China Lite.” They’re both here, but it’s best to be clear on what your visitors are after.


Other takes on “China Lite”:

Pleco for Android + More Dictionaries!

Pleco-Android

Pleco has announced its long-awaited Android version (screenshots here)! This is interesting to me, because one of the major reasons I switched from an Android phone back to an iPhone was Pleco. I haven’t seen the Android version in action, but looking at the screenshots, it would seem that the iPhone is getting more Love.

From the Pleco Android beta announcement:

This is an experimental release of our Android software; we’re making it available now for the sake of people who don’t want to wait any longer for the finished version, but there are quite a few bugs / ugly interfaces, the documentation is almost nonexistent (though you can get a pretty good idea of how it works from the iPhone version documentation), and there are also a few major features missing, so if you’re not very computer-savvy we’d recommend waiting for the finished version to be ready before downloading it, or at least waiting a few weeks to see what the feedback from other testers looks like in our discussion forums.

In general, though, we’re very pleased with how our Android software turned out and with how much functionality we have been able to get into this first release. OCR (see below) is working beautifully on Android (both live and still, though currently only in “Lookup Words” mode), as are full-screen handwriting recognition, audio pronunciation, stroke order, and all of our add-on dictionaries. We’ve even gotten a significant portion of our document reader module working; there are no bookmarks or web browser yet, and it’ll choke if you try to load the complete text of 红楼梦, but for short-story-sized text files and snippets of text copied in from the clipboard it works quite well.

Meanwhile, the iPhone and iPad versions forge boldly ahead as well. I’m looking forward to the upcoming UI redesign. This part of the announcement was interesting:

Central to this is a new feature we’re calling “merged multi-dictionary search”; basically, instead of typing in a word and having to flip between different dictionaries to see which matches they come up with, you’ll get all of the results from every dictionary in a single, sorted, duplicates-merged list, providing better information and doing it in a simpler way. That particular feature is actually likely to show up in an experimental form (off-by-default option) in a minor update we’ll be putting out in a few weeks; we want to make sure it’s working really well before we put it at the center of our product.

When I heard that Michael Love was looking for more dictionaries to license for Pleco, my initial reaction was, “why do you need more dictionaries? Add more dictionaries and it’s just too much hassle to navigate through them all.” And that’s a problem that this new “merged multi-dictionary search” would solve. I’m very interested to see what that ends up looking like, and how it affects the user experience.

So what are the new dictionaries being added to Pleco?

  1. “the Oxford Concise English & Chinese Dictionary (now known as the Pocket Oxford Chinese Dictionary)”
  2. “the Classical-Chinese-to-Modern-Chinese dictionary”
  3. “the Traditional Chinese Medicine dictionary”
  4. “the expanded edition of the Tuttle Chinese-English dictionary, and its companion English-Chinese title”
  5. “a really nice multifunction Chengyu dictionary (detailed explanations, usage notes, antonyms/synonyms, etc)”
  6. “a lovely little Chinese-Chinese student dictionary”
  7. “another Chinese-Chinese student dictionary that would be our first title ever to be oriented around non-mainland users (i.e., the original print version is in traditional characters)”

Wow. And Pleco is still searching for a decent Cantonese dictionary and a character etymology dictionary to license.

12 Angry (Chinese) Men

12-Angry-Men

As a result of a rather whimsical decision made by my wife, I found myself at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre for the first time last Saturday, attending a Chinese language version of the classic play Twelve Angry Men. I enjoyed it way more than I expected to.

To begin with, I was surprised by how “Chinese” the story seemed. The part about there being no air conditioning and the fan not working, and one of the guys wanting to be done with jury duty in time for a ball game (it was baseball originally, I believe), and the murder weapon being a knife rather than a gun–all just seemed to work well in the setting of Chinese society. It wasn’t until towards the end, when one of the characters started talking about how the jury’s deliberation was their duty as part of a “democratic society” and that “democracy made their country great” that the illusion sort of fell apart.

This isn’t to say that I think that modern day China is equivalent to the 1954 America in which the original story was set, but it’s interesting to me that it worked so well in this case.

I should also mention that the legal system of mainland China doesn’t make use of juries, so the “illusion” that it could be a mainland Chinese story was never very convincing to begin with. It did make for a good show, though.

I brushed up a little on my legal vocab before the play (ChinesePod has a fair amount), but it turned out that I didn’t need a whole lot. Some of the more difficult key vocabulary from the play:

  • 贫民窟: slum
  • 陪审团: jury
  • 陪审员: juror
  • 证词: testimony
  • 合理的怀疑: reasonable doubt

Finally, a note on the title. This version of the play was simply titled 12个人 (12 People), but the previous movie version was called 十二怒汉 (12 Enraged Men). The classic version of that film is on Tudou under that title.

Puns on the Streets of Shanghai

Recently I just happened to catch this wordplay on the streets of Shanghai around me:

不一YOUNG

年轻就是不一YOUNG / 不一样. (After reading this pun, go here.)

最高G密

最高G密 / 最高机密 (“top secret”); G = = chicken. 鸡米 is a name for little chicken nuggets (often fried).

新视界

新视界 / 新世界

New World

Not a pun; just illustrating that 新世界 is a common phrase too. This hotel is just around the corner from the eye hospital above.

碧雪公寓

碧云公寓 (traditional characters are used in the photo): not a pun either; this just amused me because we foreigners have a habit of mixing up our tones. This apartment complex could easily become “Contraception Apartment” (避孕公寓) pronounced by a careless foreigner.

Do I need a VPN for China?

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about VPNs lately. I also opined in a recent comment that, “There was a time when you could reasonably get by without a VPN in China. That time is over.”

For this post I’d like to return to the basic question which so many of my readers seem to have: do I need a VPN for China? Since each person’s situation is different, rather than just flat-out answering that question, I made up a little quiz to help you figure it out yourself.

Do I need a VPN for China? (a simple quiz)

  1. Do you need to use Facebook at all? (This includes services like Quora that require Facebook connect, and also every little “Like” button on the internet.)

  2. Do you need to be able to see YouTube (or Vimeo) videos? (Remember, it’s not just going to the YouTube site. YouTube videos are embedded in sites all over the internet.)

  3. Do you need reliable access to non-YouTube Google services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, or even Google image search?

  4. Do you need to use Twitter? (Remember, whether it’s through the site or a third party app, you’re still going to need a VPN or proxy of some kind to access Twitter.)

  5. Did you find yourself uncomfortable with at least two uses of the word “need” above, telling yourself, “well, I don’t really need it…”?

Scoring

How many times did you answer “yes” to the questions in the above quiz? If the total is 1 or higher, you will likely be much happier in China if you just shelled out the cash for a decent VPN.

Note: I don’t usually publicly share which VPN I use, but if you send me a nice email, I will probably tell you.

Xiaoli is very weird

I just discovered these bizarre videos on Youtube called iamxiaoli. They’re supposed to be for learning Chinese, but they’re a little unorthodox, to say the least. Here are two of the ones I found more interesting:

0003 How To Say “Friend” In Chinese

0005 How To Say “What is This?” & “He Doesn’t Know” In Chinese

I’m curious how effective these videos are at teaching Chinese. Can anyone voice for having learned some words or phrases from these videos?

Anyway, Xiaoli got my attention. The (sparse) website is at iamxiaoli.com.

Not in content, obviously, but in some ways this stuff reminds me of ChinesePod in its early days, trying something new and different, unafraid to explore and experiment. I’m not surprised that this particular effort came out of Beijing.

Via Study More Chinese, via Social Mandarin.

So Many Flashcard Apps…

This link was too good to not post: Flashcard apps. I really dig the graphical feature display (just mouse over the icons).

Personally, though, so many choices almost makes me want to ignore all these options altogether. So far, Anki and Pleco are a good combination. I do wonder if these 100+ apps offer anything special, though.

Link via @ajatt.

QQ Live is Awesome

I’ve not been a fan of QQ the IM client, ever since its malware phase c. 2002. I used it to practice typing Chinese with friends online, but it forced me to use “Tencent Explorer” as my default browser as long as the software was installed. I have never forgiven Tencent for that.

Still, this QQ Live application is pretty awesome. I discovered it through its iPad version (and wrote about it in my recent iPad Apps for Chinese Study post), but have heard that there’s a desktop version for Windows that works great too. Get it!

QQ Live

It’s my experience that while this app doesn’t do anything that other apps don’t do, it’s especially fast (even if you’re outside China, I hear) and easy to use. Also, its limited selection is a blessing in disguise. It offers a lot of the popular TV shows and movies (including my favorite, 非诚勿扰), and saves you the trouble of having to search on Baidu video or bittorrent sites.

Remember: this is a free app with no login required. I suspect this is all a promotional trick and that we’ll all have to log in with a QQ ID just to use the program eventually, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it while it lasts!

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