Archive for Language and politics

Nepal, Naple(s), Naipul, nipple, whatever

We at Language Log are no strangers to Nepal:

"'Bāphre bāph!' — my favorite Nepali expression" (8/12/18)

"Learn Nepali" (9/21/16)

"Dung Times" (3/14/18)

"Royal language" (9/29/15)

"Oli ko goli" (10/13/15)

"Unknown Language #7" (2/27/13)

"Unknown Language #7: update" (5/12/13)

Being linguists and language specialists, we know how to pronounce this deceptively simple name, right?

"Nepal":  /nəˈpɔːl/ (About this sound listen); Nepali: नेपाल About this sound Nepāl [neˈpal]

But the general public is not so sure.

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Hot words

It is my solemn duty to call the attention of Language Log readers to a seriously deficient BBC article:

"China's rebel generation and the rise of 'hot words'", by Kerry Allen with additional reporting from Stuart Lau (8/10/18). 

Language Matters is a new column from BBC Capital exploring how evolving language will influence the way we work and live.

Even though the article annoyed me greatly, I probably wouldn't have written a post about it on the basis of the flimsy substance of the last 23 paragraphs were it not for the outrageous first paragraph, which really requires refutation.

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A new kind of iron rice bowl

In the good / bad old days of Chinese communism, people talked about having a "tiě fàn wǎn 铁饭碗" ("iron rice bowl"), which meant essentially that they had a "job for life", though the pay might have been extremely meager.  With the transformation of communism to mercantilism* (in the PRC's case, we may refer to it as "neomercantilism"), the old iron rice bowl could no longer be assured, so new (and more sophistical) types of job security were devised.  One that I just heard about for the first time a few days ago is biānzhì 编制.  For the moment I'll just say that this term can normally mean "weave; plait; braid", "work out; draw up", "organizational scheme (of a group / work unit)", and so forth.  The individual morphemes of which biānzhì 编制 is composed respectively mean "knit; weave; plait; compile; edit; arrange; organize" and "make; manufacture; restrict; system; work out; establish; overpower".

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Sinographic taboo against Islam

Tweet by Timothy Grose, a specialist on Islam in China, especially in Xinjiang:

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The geo-, socio-, ethno-, and politicolinguistics of Taiwan

I've had guests from Taiwan for the past few days.  Two of them are mother and daughter, both primary school teachers.  The mother is a nationally known teacher of Taiwanese language who received special awards from two presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian.  She is very proud of the beauty of the Taiwanese language and is honored to be able to teach it to her students.  She refers to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) as "Huáyǔ 華語", as is done in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and refuses to call it 國語 ("National Language"), because, as she says, "It is not the language of our nation".

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Language and politics in an Inner Mongolian post office

[This is a guest post by Bathrobe.]

Recently I travelled in Inner Mongolia (China) where I picked up a few books in Chinese, Mongolian (traditional script), and English. As the books were getting heavy, I decided to offload them by posting them to Beijing for later pick up.

The lady at the post office was very apologetic, but they had just the day before received strong instructions to look out for books about Mao Tse-tung or the Cultural Revolution. They could accept only books written in Chinese characters; any others would first require clearance from the local office of the Bureau of Cultural Affairs.

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Yet more double negative jokes

Following up on "Clarification by misnegation" and "More double negative jokes", here are some tweets I missed:

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"I love you too"

Dave Holmes, "To Whom Did Donald Trump Say 'I Love You, Too' During Wednesday's Cabinet Meeting?", Esquire 7/18/2018:

Listen: the crazy bullshit is coming fast and furious these days. Weird moments that would have permanently stained whole careers only years ago are allowed to sail right past, because we lack the mental bandwidth to really process them. […]

I bring this up because on Wednesday, a gorgeously awkward moment unfolded in front of us, and it would be a crime on the level of treason if I didn’t allow you to savor it the way I have. It was from Wednesday afternoon’s cabinet meeting, after our president was asked whether Russia was still targeting the United States, as our country’s entire intelligence apparatus has concluded that it is, and he replied “No.” […]

The weird thing happens right when he starts talking about how well we are doing with Russia: both very well and very well, probably as well as anyone has ever done, […]

You guys, just after disavowing the findings of his own government’s intelligence community, the President of the United States says, to nobody in particular, “I love you, too.” Seriously.

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40% of Republicans consider Russia anally?

Brad Bannon, "Trump effect: Republican support for Russia has doubled", The Hill 7/18/2018 [emphasis added]:

Times have changed and so have Republican attitudes towards Russia.

The GOP is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. The Grand Old Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump Organization. NBC News just released a survey that illustrates the transition. Only 10 percent of Republican partisans saw Russia as the greatest immediate threat to the United States. Five times as many Democrats (47 percent) saw Russia as the biggest threat to American national security.

The results of a recent Gallup Poll make the same point. Since 2014, the percentage of Republicans who consider Russia anally has almost doubled from 22 percent to 40 percent. 

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Clarification by misnegation: The view from pragmatics (updated and semi-retracted)

In a comment on Mark Liberman's post "Clarification by misnegation", Stephen Hart makes a point that the rest of us have missed (or at least haven't raised), and that deserves wider attention:

I may be missing something here.

Slightly restated, Trump said, originally:
US Intelligence says it is Russia. Putin says it isn't Russia.
I don't see any reason why it would be Russia.
(What would Russia have to gain?)

The new statement seems to be:

US Intelligence says it is Russia. Putin says it isn't Russia.
I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.
(Everybody does it.)

Update: Now that I think about this, I may have misinterpreted the point of this comment, in which case the point it makes was not something others have missed and that deserves wider attention, but rather was something of a restatement of the obvious. My initial impulse was to delete the post, but on reflection I'm leaving it up, as an object lesson in the way that this multiple-negation stuff can make your head spin.

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More double negative jokes

I think this one is the funniest:

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Clarification by misnegation

There were several aspects of President Donald Trump's recent news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki that sparked strong negative reactions, for example leading former CIA director John Brennan to call Trump's performance "nothing short of treasonous". One of the controversial parts of Trump's remarks was this answer to a question about whether he would denounce the Russians' role in the 2016 election, and warn Putin never to do it again:

All I can do is ask the question
My people came to me
Dan Coats came to me and
some others, they said they think it's Russia —
uh I have uh President Putin
uh he just said it's not Russia.
I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.
I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful
in his denial today […]

So in a 7/17/2018 meeting with congressional Republicans, the president laid out an unusual explanation for the fuss — it was that old devil misnegation, which caused him to seem to say the opposite of what he now says he meant:

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Seismic solecism

Tangshan, in Hebei Province, was the epicenter of what is considered to the deadliest earthquake of the 20th century, with more than 650,000 of its million inhabitants perishing as a result of this July 28, 1976 disaster.  I still remember clearly the day that it happened, because the news came when I was attending a conference on Chinese philosophy at Harvard University, and many of the participants volunteered to assist the people of Tangshan one way or another (our offers were spurned by the Chinese government).

Two days ago, a linguistic upheaval jolted Tangshan, and the tremors were felt throughout the whole of China.

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