Cantonese tones

If you ask Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM — Guóyǔ 國語 / Pǔtōnghuà 普通话) speakers how many tones there are in their language, most of them will tell you without much hesitation that there are four tones (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th) plus a neutral tone.

Chances are, however, if you ask a Cantonese speaker how many tones there are in their language, they will not give you a clear answer, or if they do, it will differ from what other Cantonese speakers claim.  That has always been my experience over the years, but I just did a little survey to reconfirm my earlier impressions.  The results are rather more amazing than I expected them to be:

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Iron Crotch

Here on Language Log, we have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the terminology related to kungfu:

"Kung-fu (Gongfu) Tea" (7/20/11)

See also Ben Zimmer's masterful article on Visual Thesaurus:

"How 'Kung Fu' Entered the Popular Lexicon" (1/17/14)

Now we have documentation for another type of kungfu that has hitherto eluded us:

(YouTube video here.)

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Wenzhounese in Italy

Commonly referred to as "Devil's language" (èmó zhī yǔ 恶魔之语), because it is considered by outsiders to be extraordinarily difficult, Wenzhounese (Wēnzhōu huà 温州话), the language of the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province 230 air miles south of the Yangtze estuary, has been a topic of discussion on Language Log before:

"Devilishly difficult 'dialect" (8/20/15)

"Mutual unintelligibility among Sinitic lects" (10/5/14)

"Devil-language" (5/25/14)

"The enigmatic language of the new Windows 8 ads" (5/14/13)

"Mutual intelligibility" (5/28/14)

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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two:

Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate anything specific.  If used as a verb, it is better to describe exactly what happens.  As a noun, ‘effect’ (or similar) would suffice.  For example, “The impact on quality of life…” could be rendered as “The reduction in quality of life…” […]

Be clear and direct; avoid the passive voice.

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New Yorker copy editors (probably) moving adverbs around

In an article called "The increasingly lonely hope of Barack Obama," the The New Yorker showed that it belongs to the increasingly lonely class of educated people who still imagine that if they ever allowed an adjunct to separate infinitival to from the plain-form verb of the infinitival complement that it introduces, demons would break through the walls and floor and drag them down to hell. The article, by Vinson Cunningham, contained this passage:

The President thanked his Vice-President, Joe Biden, and the rest of the people who had made possible his time in office. And here, too, was a contrast with Trump, who has yet to demonstrate an ability ardently and earnestly to praise a person other than himself.

To demonstrate an ability ardently and earnestly? Vinson, are you quite sure you didn't mean that what Trump hasn't yet demonstrated is that he can ardently and earnestly praise a person other than himself?

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Patton Oswalt on Trump, Obama, David Lee Roth, and Rutgers linguistics

At the Writers Guild of America Awards on Sunday night, host Patton Oswalt predictably made some Trump jokes in his opening monologue. What wasn't so predictable was an extended analogy involving '80s hard rocker David Lee Roth and the linguistics department at Rutgers University. The key line: "Donald Trump taking Obama's job would be like if the head of linguistics at Rutgers made fun of David Lee Roth, and David Lee Roth was like, 'I'm gonna take his job.'" A shout-out to Bruce Tesar, chair of the Rutgers linguistics department?

Oswalt's bit starts around 5 minutes into the monologue, after some banter with James Woods, who was in the audience.

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Homophonous phrase of the week

Wondermark for 1/24/2017, In which a Run is made:

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Last night in Sweden

One of the most widely noted aspects of Donald Trump's campaign rally yesterday in Florida was his reference to a terrorist incident the night before in Sweden:

You look at what's happening in Germany,
you look at what's happening last night in Sweden —
Sweden!
Who would believe this? Sweden!
They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.
You look at what's happening in Brussels,
you look at what's happening all over the world, take a look at Nice,
take a look at Paris.

Since no plausibly relevant incident actually occurred the previous evening in Sweden, some people have suggested that the president's remark might refer to a documentary mentioned the night before on Fox. (See also here.) But most of the reaction took the form of jokes, many of them available on Twitter as #LastNightInSweden.

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Marg bar ___

This is a guest post by Reza Mirsajadi, who previously published a version on Facebook.


For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the "Death to America" argument. This more or less amounts to "They [Iranians] want to kill us, they said so!" I am so fed up with these misconceptions, and the news media and translators need to take responsibility for their part in it.

As someone who does a lot of translating, I understand that there is an ethical component to the craft. People rely on your work to understand the Other. For this reason, cultural context is absolutely imperative. The "Death to ___" chant commonly heard in Iranian political protests for well over sixty years, is a mistranslation. Yes, the Farsi word "marg" can translate to "death," but "marg bar ___" translates to "Down with ___", as you can see in the lead photo for the Guardian article "Iranians turn out in force for rallies after call for Trump response", 2/10/2017:

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All Trumped Up

Adam Wren, "'I'm Still All Trumped Up'", Politico Magazine 2/13/2017:

On the first Saturday of Donald Trump’s presidency, as protesters and marchers stormed the nation’s capital and cities around the country, Dick and Jane Ames threw a party. […]

“Oh, Trump—I’m still all Trumped up,” Jane, a retired insurance broker, told me, reveling in the memory of that night […]. Across the table, her husband Dick, 73, a former air traffic controller, smiled and nodded. 

I've assumed that it was the strong positive sense of trump as in "trump card" that led Donald Trump's ancestor to change his name from Drumpf to Trump, and the "trump card" sense clearly bolsters the branding value of the name. So why, I wondered, is "trumped up" normally a bad thing to be?

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"Poop"

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

Yes, the following image from the most recent Weekly Playboy (週刊プレイボーイ Shūkan Pureibōi; not a regional edition of Hugh Hefner's Playboy), is labeled "Poop":

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Gambling Disturb Terrible

A friend of Anne Henochowicz spotted this T-shirt in an Akihabara, Tokyo shop:

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More than cat videos

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