No way to curse in Japanese?

John Berenberg writes:

An article by Joan Acocella in the February 9, 2017 issue of The New York Review of Books makes a 'no word for X' claim about Japanese and goes even further by quoting a native speaker who happily reports that learning to swear in English and Spanish allows him to say things he otherwise can't.  The full article is here.

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Creeping English in Chinese

Many years ago, I predicted that — due to the exigencies of technological change and the increasing tempo of life — China would willy-nilly gravitate either toward romanization of Mandarin (and the other Sinitic languages) or the gradual adoption of English for many aspects of written communication (e.g., business, science, medicine) because they are perceived as faster and more efficient.  In truth, I thought, and still do think, that there would be a transitional period during which both processes transpired, though naturally Chinese characters would continue to be used as well.  The evidence with which we are daily confronted, much of it presented in Language Log posts, confirms that my suspicions are being borne out.

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A Japanese English portmanteau that failed

Sign on a store front in Nagasaki:

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Editing wars at London Bridge Street

As of the time of writing, you only get one hit if you ask Google to show you all the pages on the web containing the word sequence in order legally to minimise. That lone hit leads you to an anonymous leader in The Times (there is a paywall) in which this sentence occurs:

Companies are gaming the system in order legally to minimise their tax liability.

The highly unnatural syntax has the hallmark of having been created or edited by someone who would rather poison a puppy than allow an adverb to intrude between infinitival to and its following plain-form verb. But in this case there is more to the story.

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Inaugural embedding again

"Inaugural Embedding", 9/9/2005:

0
1
2
3
4
Mean
Sentence
Length
Washington1789
629
(44%)
554
(39%)
206
(14%)
36
(3%)
5
(<1%)
60
Lincoln1865
440
(63%)
222
(32%)
38
(5%)
0
0
26
Bush2005
1842
(88%)
244
(12%)
4
(<1%)
0
0
22
Trump2017
1264
(87%)
178
(12%)
15
(1%)
0
0
15

"The evolution of disornamentation", 3/1/2005

"Elaborate interiors and plain language", 6/3/2016.

 

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n't is the new not

[h/t Larry Horn]

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Nguyen: the most common Vietnamese surname

Dave Cragin writes:

I have a brother-in-law who is originally from Hong Kong and his last name is Yuen.  I learned from John McWhorter’s superb series on linguistics that this Chinese name is of Turkic origin.  I asked my brother-in-law about this and he said “Yes, family lore is that we originally came from North-West China” (i.e., where Turkic people had settled.)

According to Wikipedia, the Mandarin equivalent of Yuen is Ruan (阮) and the Vietnamese is Nguyễn.  Wikipedia further notes an estimated 40% of Vietnamese share this name.

I wonder if readers have information that contradicts the above – or is it correct?  (I’d like to know that our family story is accurate).  Is there a Turkish/Turkic equivalent of Yuen or did it remain Yuen?

Also, are there any other common last names that cover such a wide geographic, linguistic, and cultural span, particularly from such ancient times? (obviously, in modern times, people move everywhere).

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Only America First

A question asked on Facebook:

Okay, linguists who work on focus sensitive particles – can you tell me what on earth this means? "From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first" I couldn't bear to listen so I don't know where the focal accent was, but no possibility makes sense. 'only AMERICA first'? since there's only one thing first, isn't the 'only' redundant? 'only America FIRST'? as opposed to second? please do enlighten…. Of course this is hardly the most important thing to be worried about today….

I listened, and even transcribed, so here's the quote:


From this day forward,
it's going to be only
America First.
America First.

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American freedoms

It's probably not an accident that yesterday's inaugural address, compared to the previous half-century or so, has the highest frequency of the morpheme america (= America, American, Americans) and the lowest frequency of the morpheme freedom (= freedom, freedoms):

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Slow-talking the inaugural

Before Donald Trump's speech yesterday, I wondered whether he would turn the political world upside down by delivering a high-energy improvised riff in the style of his campaign rallies. But no — his speech was scripted and read verbatim as written, although it did feature several of the signature lines from his rallies, as well as the first use of the word "carnage" in a presidential inaugural. But content aside, the performance seemed to me to feature unusually short phrases with unusually long pauses, resonating with the rather negative tone of the event as a whole. This struck me as very different from Mr. Trump's spontaneous style, and also unusual by the standard of other recent inaugurals.

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Sensory century

I am at UC Davis to participate in a Global Tea Initiative.  The first event yesterday morning was to go to a tea tasting presided over by Master Wing-Chi Ip.  A taxi came to our hotel to drive us over to a building bearing the name of Robert Mondavi (1913-2008), a giant in the California wine industry.  It turns out that there are two buildings on campus bearing his name, a mammoth Center for the Performing Arts and an Institute for Wine and Food Science.

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One last (?) piece of nonsense

Callum Borchers, "Count Obama’s references to ‘I’ and ‘me’ while you can, conservative media", WaPo 1/18/2017:

For eight years, tracking Obama's use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" has been a cherished ritual in the conservative media — one small way to promote the idea that the president is self-centered and therefore out of touch with all the decent, hard-working folks out there. […]

Last week, the Daily Caller dinged Obama for referring to himself 75 times in his farewell address.

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Japanese hi-tech toilet instructions

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