Cat and mouse on the Chinese internet

Yesterday in the Washington Post, there was an enticing article by Anna Fifield:  "These are the secret code words that let you criticize the Chinese government" (7/29/15).

Fifield states that she is drawing on "Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang," by authors Perry Link and Xiao Qiang.  Comment by Perry Link:  "This is good work, and I am happy to have my name associated, but it is not my work.  Ms Fifield somehow made a mistake."

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What the fingers want

Whole-word substitutions are a common type of speech error: "Italy" for "Israel", "competent" for "confident", "restaurant" for "rhapsody", "drink" for "breathe". The substituted word is often associated with the target word or with its context, often starts with sounds similar to the target word, and often has similar syllable counts and stress patterns. An even stronger regularity is the syntactic category rule — the substituted word is almost always the same part of speech as the target word. Thus in the speech-error corpus examined by David Fay and Anne Cutler in their 1977 work "Malapropisms and the structure of the mental lexicon", this syntactic category rule held for 95% of all word-substitution errors.

Therefore substitutions like "They provider very good care" for "They provide very good care", or "He resignation yesterday" for "He resigned yesterday", are quite unlikely — in speech. In typing, in contrast, such slips of the finger are very common. I make errors like this all the time, with -ing or -ed or -s or -er or nothing appearing where one of the other choices would be correct. I haven't counted, but I think that my lapsus digitorum of this kind are an order of magnitude more common than the confident-for-competent variety.

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Recursive philosophy of science

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Recursive romantics

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "And on the pedestal these words appear: "And on the pedestal these words appear: "And on the pedestal these words appear: "And …"

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The great creak-off of 1969

In a comment on yesterday's post about Noam Chomsky's use of creaky voice ("And we have a winner…", 7/26/2015), Tara wrote

At the risk of sounding like I missed the joke: creakiness in a speaker Chomsky's age is much more likely to be physiological in origin than stylistic. I checked older footage of Chomsky, and he does seem to have been quite a bit less creaky in the 60s than today. But more importantly, listen to William F. Buckley in the same recording! I suspect that Noam has been out-creaked.

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And we have a winner…

Back in February, Arika Okrent asked "What is vocal fry?", in her column at Mental Floss. And she pointed out that

People’s voices naturally drop in pitch at the end of phrases, and in many speakers, it will drop into the fry zone at that point. The evidence that it’s a female thing is also anecdotal. Plenty of men fall into vocal fry. For instance, Noam Chomsky has it pretty bad.

As an example, she embedded Ali G's interview with Prof. Chomsky a decade ago, which we linked to back in 2006 ("Ali G in the land of colorless green ideas", 4/21/2006):

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Cameron v. Wolf

Naomi Wolf, "Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice", The Guardian 7/24/2015:

What’s heartbreaking about the trend for destructive speech patterns is that yours is the most transformational generation – you’re disowning your power.
[…]
[T]he most empowered generation of women ever – today’s twentysomethings in North America and Britain – is being hobbled in some important ways by something as basic as a new fashion in how they use their voices.

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Where the curses are

Jack Grieve on cussing GIS (Lorenzo Ligato, "Which Curse Words Are Popular In Your State?", HuffPost 7/17/2015) — it's not a big surprise that darn is popular in the upper midwest:

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Sino-Nipponica

Back in mid-December, 2013, I started assembling materials for a post about the differences between Chinese and Japanese writing.  I think that someone (I forget who) sent me a couple of links that stimulated me to think about this topic, and then I added some things of my own.  That was about as far as I got, though, so the would-be post was filed away in my drafts folder until I stumbled upon it today.

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More Pinker peace creak

Yesterday ("Pinker peace creak") I followed up on Breffni's reference to vocal fry/creak  in the speech of the young woman who introduces Steven Pinker's talk at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. And indeed, in her first 40 words (16 seconds of audio, 8.3 seconds of voiced speech, 1,653 f0 estimate) I found three clear examples of phrase-final period-doubling.

But then, for a bit of balance, I took a look at the start of Pinker's talk — and found three clear examples of phrase-final period doubling in his first 21 words (12 seconds of audio, 5.2 seconds of voiced speech, 1048 f0 estimates).

Since the introducer does seem to exhibit the period-doubling phenomenon in a more striking way, I ended by wondering what the source of this perceptual difference is. But instead, I should have looked at a little more data, which would have clarified the situation, and suggested a way forward.

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Learning 100 characters at age 100

Xinhua / New China informs us:

After attending a 10-day literacy course, Zhao Shunjin, who had never learned to read or write, mastered over 100 Chinese characters at the age of 100.

Zhao, a former vegetable vendor from Hangzhou City in east China's Zhejiang Province, had never been to school and knew no characters except her own name before taking the course, part of a government-funded program.

Most people who applied for the community literacy classes were aged 70 to 80.

…..

A census in 2010 found China's illiteracy rate was 4.88 percent, compared with 80 percent after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, thanks to a campaign that began in the 1950s.

"Across China: Centenarian learns to read and write" (7/21/15)

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Pinker peace creak

As Breffni noted yesterday in a comment on "Male vocal fry", the young woman introducing Steven Pinker's speech at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Forum frequently exhibits lots of period-doubling — what the popular press generally calls "vocal fry", though "creaky voice due to period-doubling" would be a more correct description.

Here's the start of the introduction, with red boldface used to mark the syllables that show period doubling:

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is thrilled to have with us today doctor Steven Pinker, a Canadian-born U.S. experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and popular science author.

Doctor Pinker is a professor at Harvard, in the department of psychology, …

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Communication

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