‘Women Only’ Languages


Yesterday my friend Kathleen had a surprise for me. Somehow she managed to get her hands on a hard copy of Opzij, the Dutch magazine that published my article on women’s languages in Asia. It was so much fun to see in print the results of a topic that I researched intensively for the past couple of months and… being able to browse through the actual magazine here in Hong Kong was awesome:)!

The article is about Nu Shu a Chinese language that was only spoken and written by women in a time when girls were not allowed to receive any education. This language was the only way in which they could express themselves and contribute to culture, history and society. It helped them escape illiteracy.

Opzij began in 1972 as a radical feminist magazine, but turned soon into a more mainstream/moderate newsmagazine for women. It’s content: women’s perspective on culture, politics, society and lifestyle. The perfect platform for an article on women’s languages. I just love how Asian women took faith in their own hands an created these beautiful monuments of resistance.


Work in progress


Yes, I still do my fair share of design-jobs during the week, but apart from that I’m also starting to do more jobs as a freelance editor lately (sorry only for Dutch magazines and newspapers;-)). There’s so much to write about and my favorite topics –China, language and consumer/design trends– merge in so many area’s these days. I feel inspired all the time!

– A couple of weeks ago, my article on how we need to use more Chinese words in our international language, got published in Trouw. It was really exciting! I got in touch with several language-experts after that and we agreed that a lot of eastern-concepts can’t be translated in a western languages like English. You can read the article here.

– Now I’m working on two stories. One is for magazine Skipr about Hong Kong’s public health care. Bloomberg put it our city on a number one spot in terms of efficiency recently. The other story is about the fascinating Chinese womans’ language Nushu. It was used secretly in times of hardship and illiteracy, by women from Hunan province in China. It’s the only exclusively ‘womans’ only’ language in the world. Nowadays it’s not a symbol of submission anymore but of empowerment instead. Woman who still speak Nushu can make more money in the tourist industry than their male relatives. Fascinating, no?!

Chinese to me: mapping mutual incomprehension

Dit is chinees voor mij

Last week I was working on an article about how we all should use correct Chinese terms over misleading English translations of those terms. As I was researching, I stumbled upon this really interesting map here. Although the design is very basic it really got my attention.

I know from living in Hong Kong that most English speaking people say: ‘It sounds like Greek to me’ when they don’t understand something. When we Dutch speakers encounter a language problem, we say ‘it’s Chinese to me’. And apparently we’re not the only ones using Chinese as an equivalent of ‘this is something way beyond understanding’. Chinese is used most often in this international phrase phenomenon, Greek comes second and Spanish third. (Original source of the map can be found here)

Chinese are the only ones who don’t refer to another earthly language to indicate that they can’t comprehend something. They say ‘This must be heavenly script’.  I admire the self-confidence of Asians;-).