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FireflyFirefly - The Future May Belong To Those Who Speak Mandarin
By Scott Nance
Friday 25 February 2005, by Webmaster
One of the things folks have long loved to complain about when watching a science-fiction series on television is, "How come all the aliens speak English?"
The right answer, of course, probably is, "Because you’re watching an American TV show, buddy."
But can you imagine a future in which folks of all persuasions speak not entirely in English — but some other Earth language instead?
In his short-lived, space-western series, "Firefly," Joss Whedon already has. Throughout the dozen or so episodes, Whedon and his writers have his characters (none of whom are Asian) occasionally break into Chinese.
Think it’s odd for Caucasian and black characters set 500 years from now to be uttering Mandarin phrases out of the blue?
Not really, when you think about how events could likely go over the next five centuries. In fact, Whedon is prescient for weaving the rise of China, its language, and its culture into his series given that today, we only see the beginnings of how the giant nation may grow in years to come.
To be sure, English will continue to be a dominant lingua franca around the globe, reflecting the worldwide preeminence of American commerce and culture worldwide.
However, English could increasingly be challenged in that dominance by Chinese, as China becomes a world superpower on its own. And "Firefly" captures perfectly that rivalry for supremacy that may exist between the two centuries from now.
China’s increasing power on Earth is not based merely in its gigantic population, which already numbers more than 1.3 billion people.
Rather, it comes from China’s ongoing efforts to, one, expand its economy and, second, modernize its military.
You may have noticed that everything from the shirt on your back, to the computer screen you are reading this on, was likely made in China.
In one of his articles, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius likened China’s economy to the boom years of the late 1990s in the United States.
"Drive down one of [Beijing’s] broad boulevards and you’ll find billboards advertising ’Season’s Park,’ the latest fancy apartment complex that bills itself as ’Home of the Tycoons,’" Ignatius wrote. "The entrance is decorated with images of the Statue of Liberty and the Arc de Triomphe, and there’s a telephone ’hot line’ so newly wealthy Chinese can rush to buy a piece of the dream.
"The race to join the tycoons is suggested by some statistics: Investment in the Chinese steel industry grew 96.6 percent last year; in aluminum, 92.9 percent; in cement, 121.9 percent," he added.
So while the so-called communist Chinese look to out-compete the United States in the arena of capitalism, they are also working to modernize what once had been a hopelessly outdated People’s Liberation Army.
I have to add a personal note here. I am, in my day job, a journalist who writes about world security and the defense industry for a living. It’s in this capacity that I come into contact on a regular basis with the latest news of how China’s military is ever-approaching a point of being able to effectively vie with that of the United States.
In fact, just before starting this column, I wrote a piece about Chinese efforts to acquire new weapons from European nations — efforts which could, among other things, threaten U.S. power in the Pacific.
As one wag here in Washington said recently, "This is not your father’s PLA."
I say all of this to illustrate how China is very likely in coming years going to become a superpower similar to the United States today in its day-to-day worldwide power and influence.
Some 500 years from now, Chinese and English may co-exist as the two prevailing languages on planet Earth.
So, you see, in that way it’s not all that surprising that in the future, folks of any ethnicity may be running around spouting Chinese, in the same way that today people of all colors and backgrounds around the world may communicate in English.
Now, a "Firefly" fan has created a "pinyinary" of all of the Chinese words and phrases that have appeared on the series.
A pinyin is a system for transliterating Chinese characters into the English/Roman alphabet, and the "Firefly" pinyinary also translates the meanings of the Chinese words, which in "Firefly" are often vulgarities or epithets.
For instance, in the episode "Serenity," when he learns of the approach of an Alliance cruiser, Mal utters, "Ta ma duh!" which, according to the pinyinary, translates as "Fuck me blind!"
Or, in the same episode, when the cruiser scans the ship Serenity, Wash exclaims, "Ai ya, hwai leh!," or "Shit on my head!"
The "Firefly" pinyinary is a must for any serious fan of the series like myself, to help them gain an even greater understanding of how excellent this series was, and just what a shame it was that Fox killed it young.
The pinyinary is available online by clicking here.
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