Indispensable condiment

Valerie Hansen gave me the following package:

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Putin in Russian, Mandarin, and English

I'm at Yale University attending a workshop on Tangut.  So you ask, "What is 'Tangut'?"  Relevant Wikipedia articles:

  • Tangut people, an ancient ethnic group in Northwest China, not Tibetan people.
  • Tangut language, the extinct language spoken by the Tangut people, not Tibetan language.
  • Tangut script, the writing system used to write the Tangut language
  • Western Xia (1038–1227), also known as the Tangut Empire, a state founded by the Tangut people

Enough of Tangut for now.  I will write a separate post on Tangut language and script later on.  Meanwhile, since the majority of specialists on Tangut are Russian, and several Russians are participating in this workshop, I've heard them refer to the president of their country with a pronunciation that is rather different from what we say it in English, but more nearly resembles the way his surname is spoken in Mandarin.

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Decreasing definiteness in crime novels

In a series of posts over the last few years, I've documented gradual declines in the frequency of the English definite determiner "the" in a wide variety of text sources: State of the Union addresses, Medline abstracts, the Corpus of Historical American English, Google Books (from both American and British sources), and so on. Both in conversational speech and in informal writing, we see the kind of correlation with sex and age that we expect for a language change in progress; and there are surprisingly systematic geographical differences. (See the links below for details.)

For reasons discussed in a couple of recent posts ("Proportion of dialogue in novels", 12/29/2017; "Ross Macdonald: lexical diversity over the lifespan", 1/13/2018), Yves Schabes and I have been analyzing variation over time in the writing of some prolific 20th-century authors, so this morning I thought I'd take the opportunity to look at longitudinal changes in "the" usage in the two authors whose books I've processed so far, Agatha Christie and Ross Macdonald.

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Using Chinese nonstandard characters to talk cute

Nikita Kuzmin told me about a trend among young Chinese to exchange certain characters with other phonetically close characters in their Internet writings, so that the words sound more "cute".

Here are some examples of such substitutions:

jiègè 介個 —  zhège 這個 ("this")
pényǒu 盆友 — péngyǒu 朋友 ("friend")
nánpiào 男票 — nán péngyǒu 男朋友 ("boyfriend")
xièxiè 蟹蟹 — xièxiè 謝謝 ("thanks")
kāisēn 開森 — kāixīn 開心 ("happy")
suìjué/jiào 碎觉 — shuìjiào 睡覺 ("sleep")

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The quasi-compositionality of English compounds

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Further evidence of mixed script writing in Chinese

Michael Cannings relayed this tweet by Dave Flynn:

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Questionable Sino-Mongolian toponymy

News article from Xinhua (1/16/18, by Quan Xiaoshu, Qu Ting, Cao Pengyuan):

"Ancient tripartite-city of Xiongnu a special religious and meeting site: archaeologists"

It starts:

The ruins of an ancient tripartite-city, known as Sanlian City, in midwest Mongolia's Khermental City, demonstrates that the Xiongnu tribe used to perform religious ceremonies and hold alliance meetings there.

Bathrobe comments:

Now, it may be due to my poor web research skills, but I'm having considerable difficulty finding any Sanlian city or even a Khermental city in Mongolia outside of the Xinhua news article.

Is this another mangled news story where Chinese news reporters are too incompetent (or maybe arrogant) to check the names of geographical places outside of China? I'm also wondering at the thickskinned-ness of calling the archaeological site of a non-Chinese culture in a foreign country by a name so transparently Chinese as "Sanlian".

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Doubletalk challenge

Malia Wollan, "How to Speak Gibberish", NYT Magazine 1/5/2018:

Strive for linguistic plausibility. In 2014, Sara Maria Forsberg was a recent high-school graduate in Finland when she posted “What Languages Sound Like to Foreigners,” a video of herself speaking gibberish versions of 15 languages and dialects. Incorporate actual phonology to make a realistic-sounding gibberish. “Expose yourself to lots of different languages,” says Forsberg, now 23, who grew up speaking Finnish, Swedish and English.

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Apostrophosis

According to Andrew Higgins ("Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes", NYT 1/15/2018), the pending turn to a Latin alphabet for Kazakh has run into a pothole: the 77-year-old dictator Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who apparently has not yet been informed about Unicode, or the possibility of varied computer keyboard layouts.

Mr. Higgins also seems to be in the dark about such arcana — he refers to characters (or maybe diacritics) as "markers", for some reason, and apparently thinks that the Latin alphabet is nothing but good old US ASCII, with none of those furrin umlauts and accents and cedillas and such:

Because Kazakh features many sounds that are not easily rendered into either the Cyrillic or Latin alphabets without additional markers, a decision needed to be made whether to follow Turkish, which uses the Latin script but includes cedillas, tildes, breves, dots and other markers to clarify pronunciation, or invent alternative phonetic pointers.

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Not, only, unless, if, whatever . . .

The morning mail brings an apparent instance of misnegation — Daniel Boffey, "May faces tougher transition stance from EU amid Norway pressure", The Guardian 1/16/2018:

The EU also insists that the UK will only continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries unless “authorised” by Brussels.

Given the context, English grammar, and general principles of rational interpretation, the author must have meant either

  1. the UK will not continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries unless “authorised” by Brussels
  2. the UK will only continue to enjoy the benefits of trade agreements with non-EU countries if “authorised” by Brussels

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There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes come from a speech he delivered at a retreat attended by staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in South Carolina, one year before he was assassinated:

“We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.” (King 1967)

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Trump: To 'd or not to 'd?

Louise Radnofsky, "White House Disputes Trump Quote in Journal Interview: The Wall Street Journal stands by what it reported and releases audio of disputed portion of interview", WSJ 1/14/2018:

The White House disputed that President Donald Trump told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Thursday that “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea,” saying that Mr. Trump had instead said “I’d probably have a very good relationship” with the North Korean leader.

The Journal stands by what it reported. The Journal and White House agreed before the interview that audiotape taken by White House officials and reporters would be used for transcription purposes only. After the White House challenged the Journal’s transcription and accuracy of the quote in a story, The Journal decided to release the relevant portion of the audio. The White House then released its audio version of the contested segment.

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Ask Language Log: Are East Asian first names gendered?

The question comes from George Amis:

I wonder– are first names gendered in Mandarin?  That is, is it possible to tell that Tse-tung or Wai-wai are masculine names? Given the extraordinary proliferation of Chinese first names, I rather doubt it. And what is the case with Japanese first names? Here, I suspect that the names are gendered, although of course I don't know.

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