Archive for Language and politics

Excessive quadrisyllabicism

Many readers of Language Log will remember the visit of China's former internet censor-in-chief, Lu Wei, to the headquarters of Facebook, Apple, and Amazon in late 2014.  Those were his glory days, but now his star has fallen in a most spectacular fashion:

"China’s ‘tyrannical’ former internet tsar Lu Wei accused of trading power for sex in long list of corruption charges: Lu accused of a range of crimes from abusing power for personal gain to disloyalty", by Frank Tang (SCMP [2/13/18])

"China's former chief of internet regulator expelled from Communist Party" (Reuters [2/13/18)

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Lepus oryzinus

Why would "rice rabbit" become a buzzword in China?

The answer is simple:  it's one of the ways that Chinese netizens try to get around the banning of #MeToo by government censors.  The CCP doesn't like #MeToo because it enables women to organize and speak out against harassment and repression.

"China Is Attempting To Muzzle #MeToo", by Leta Hong Fincher, NPR (2/1/18)

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SOTU interpolations

In "Text-as-data journalism? Highlights from a decade of SOTU speech coverage" (Online Journalism Blog 2/5/2018), Barbara Maseda surveys some of the ways that "media has used text-as-data to cover State of the Union addresses over the last decade".

When Erica Hendry asked me for thoughts about features of Donald Trump's style in last week's SOTU, the only contribution I could think to make to her article ("Trump’s language shifts from ‘I’ to ‘we’ in State of the Union address",  PBS News Hour 1/31/2018) was the thought that in a speech like that one, which the president delivered but probably didn't write, the main indications of his personal rhetorical style would be the place where what he said deviated from the RAPFD ("Remarks As Prepared for Delivery").

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One of the most widely noted aspects of last night's SOTU address was the president's pronunciation of "Obamacare" as if it were spelled "Opamacare":

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Forcing Mandarin on Hong Kong

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by the Prime Ministers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK) governments on December 19, 1984, the way of life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years from the time of its handover to the PRC in 1997. This would have left Hong Kong unchanged until 2047.  I never for a moment thought that China would adhere to this agreement, and we see in countless ways how basic rights, laws, and socio-political institutions have been changing radically since the handover in 1997, only twenty years ago.  One of the most noticeable aspects of these changes has to do with language.

Cantonese is rapidly being pushed aside in favor of Mandarin, and this is not what the people of Hong Kong would have wanted to happen.  The threat to Cantonese is manifested in many ways, such as more and more schools being required to provide classroom instruction in Mandarin instead of Cantonese.

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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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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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Horse conquers dragon

French President Emmanuel Macron presented a horse to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Vesuvius, an 8-yr old gelding from the 'Garde Republicaine'.

Now, Macron's name in Chinese is transcribed as "Mǎkèlóng 马克龙" (lit., "horse subdues / overcomes / conquers / surmounts dragon").

Make of it what you will.

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Hakka now an official language of Taiwan

In China and in the Sinophone diaspora, although Hakka may be relatively few in number, they are disproportionately influential in practically every realm of society, politics, and culture:  government, the military, literature, film, cuisine, business, academia, and so on and so forth.

"Hakka made an official language" (Taipei Times, 12/30/17)

Hakka is to be made the primary language in townships where half the people are Hakka, while some civil servants will be required to take a Hakka language test.

Hakka thus joins Taiwanese / Hokkien / Hoklo and Mandarin as an official language of Taiwan.  There are, of course, many other Sinitic and non-Sinitic languages spoken in Taiwan, including the aboriginal languages (mostly Autronesian, but some Malayo-Polynesian).  All school children in Taiwan (as in China) learn English from a young age, and Japanese is also influential, both from its having been the language of government and education during the colonial period and from its powerful contemporary cultural and commercial attraction.

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Giant Panda Xiang Xiang or Japanese diplomat Sugiyama?

A couple of weeks ago, a strange language misunderstanding occurred during the Regular Press Conference of the PRC foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, on December 19, 2017.

During the press conference, a Japanese journalist raised a question in English. He asked:  "Giant panda Xiang Xiang who has traveled to Japan made its formal debut in a Tokyo zoo today. What is your comment  on this?  What influence will this have on China-Japan relations?"

Maybe it was because of his strong Japanese accent or the noise at the time, Hua Chunying was not able to follow him, especially at the beginning of the question.  She misunderstood to whom he was referring and thought it was "Shan Shan" (杉山 — pronouncing that name à la chinoise), a Japanese official. Therefore, she answered with standard diplomatic language. Not until a Chinese journalist pointed out her misinterpretation did Hua manage to move on and make it right.

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CCP approved terms of the year

A week ago, I wrote a post on "CCP approved image macros" (12/17/17).  Being the authoritarian, totalitarian government that it is, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has the power to coin, sanction, and promote whatever forms of language use it desires.  This week, at the conclusion of 2017, we have this dazzling collection of CCP-approved expressions that encapsulate US-China ties during this year:

"Yearender: 2017 in review: 8 terms that matter in China-U.S. relations" (xinhuanews [12/23/17])

By highlighting these eight terms, the Chinese government clearly wishes us to recall 2017 according to these rubrics and hopes that they will become catchwords.  While I don't think that they will catch on, so to speak, and stick in popular discourse, they do help us understand the mind of the CCP.

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The harmonics of 'entitlement'

A lot of the most effective political keywords derive their force from a maneuver akin to what H. W. Fowler called "legerdemain with two senses," which enables you to slip from one idea to another without ever letting on that you’ve changed the subject. Values oscillates between mores (which vary from one group to another) and morals (of which some people have more than others do). The polemical uses of elite blend power (as in the industrial elite) and pretension (as in the names of bakeries and florists). Bias suggests both a disposition and an activity (as in housing bias), and ownership society conveys both material possession and having a stake in something.

And then there's entitlement, one of the seven words and phrases that the administration has instructed policy analysts at the Center for Disease Control to avoid in budget documents, presumably in an effort, as Mark put it in an earlier post, to create "a safe space where [congresspersons'] delicate sensibilities will not be affronted by such politically incorrect words and phrases." Though it's unlikely that the ideocrats who came up with the list thought it through carefully, I can see why this would lead them to discourage the use of items like diversity. But the inclusion of entitlement on the list is curious, since the right has been at pains over the years to bend that word to their own purposes.

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CCP approved image macros

Two powerful agencies of the PRC central government, Zhōnggòng zhōngyāng jìlǜ jiǎnchá wěiyuánhuì 中共中央纪律检查委员会 ("Central Commission for Discipline Inspection") and Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó jiānchá bù 中华人民共和国监察部 ("People's Republic of China Ministry of Supervision"), have issued "bā xiàng guīdìng biǎoqíng bāo 八项规定表情包" ("emoticons for the eight provisions / stipulations / rules"); see also here.  The biǎoqíng bāo 表情包 (lit., expression packages") were announced on December 4, 2017, five years to the day after the rules themselves were promulgated.

English translations of the so-called "Eight-point austerity rules" or "Eight-point regulations" may be found here and here.  The rules were designed to instill greater discipline among Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, to bring the Party "closer to the masses", and to reduce bureaucracy, extravagance, and undesirable work habits among Party members.

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