Archive for Language and politics

Porcelain bumping

I learned this term from an important article by David Bandurski in today's (10/17/18) The Guardian, "China’s new diplomacy in Europe has a name: broken porcelain:  Beijing’s message to Sweden and beyond – criticise us, and we’ll topple your agenda – won’t win it any hearts and minds".

The relevant Chinese expression is pèngcí 碰瓷, which literally means "bump porcelain" (think pèngpèngchē 碰碰车 ["bumper cars"]).  How did pèngcí 碰瓷 ("bump porcelain") become embroiled with diplomacy and international politics?

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Lexico-cultural decay?

Jonathan Merritt, "The Death of Sacred Speech", The Week 9/10/2018:

America boasts more Christians than any other country on planet Earth. But you wouldn't know it from listening to us.

According to Google Ngram Viewer data, a searchable database of millions of printed works stretching back 500 years, most of the central terms in the Christian vocabulary are rapidly declining. One 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, for example, analyzed 50 moral terms associated with Christianity and found that a whopping 74 percent were used less frequently over the course of the last century […]

"Whopping "? If the frequency of each word were following a random walk, we'd expect 50% of them to decline and 50% of them to increase. And to be confident that 74% is "whopping", or even meaningful, we'd need to do something that neither Merritt nor the cited paper do, namely verify that there's no overall bias in the data source for reasons other than changing "cultural salience", either towards decreasing frequency of certain types of words, or decreasing frequency of individual words in general, But in fact there's good reason to believe that both sorts of bias exist — see below.

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"OK Google/Siri/Alexa/Cortana, What's Next?"

Penn's School of Arts and Sciences sponsors a series of "60 Second Lectures", where

Penn Arts and Sciences faculty take a minute out by the Ben Franklin statue in front of College Hall to share their perspectives on topics ranging from human history and the knowable universe to fractions and fly-fishing.

This past week, they asked me to do it, and I chose the title

"OK Google/Siri/Alexa/Cortana, What's Next?"

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Nurses say yes and no

Question #1 on this November’s ballot in Massachusetts concerns a proposed law
to limit the number of patients that can be assigned to a nurse at any one time.
More than $15 million dollars have already been spent on campaigning about this
question. Lawn signs on both sides of the debate abound in the state:

Now, inquiring minds might wonder: what is it, do nurses say yes or do they say
no?

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Lodestar 2

Following up on the idea that the use of the word lodestar is evidence of Mike Pence's authorship

From the anonymous NYT editorial, describing McCain: "a lodestar for restoring honor to public life".

From Kissinger at McCain's funeral: "Honor was John's Lodestar".

From Holinshed, The Third volume of Chronicles, beginning at duke William the Norman, commonlie called the Conqueror; and descending by degrees of yeeres to all the kings and queenes of England in their orderlie successions  (1586), a description of Henry the Fifth at his death in 1422:

Knowen be it therefore, of person and forme was this prince rightlie representing his heroicall affects, of stature and proportion tall and manlie, rather leane than grose, somewhat long necked and blacke haired, of countenance amiable, eloquent and graue was his spéech, and of great grace and power to persuade: for conclusion, a maiestie was he that both liued & died a paterne in princehood, a lode-starre in honour, and mirrour of magnificence: the more highlie exalted in his life, the more déepelie lamented at his death, and famous to the world alwaie.

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Lodestar

Anonymous, "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration", NYT 9/5/2018:

Subhed: I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

The Times today is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.

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Explication of a scene at a labor rally

The following photograph accompanied this article:

"China's Student Activists Cast Rare Light on Brewing Labor Unrest", U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 14, 2018)


People hold banners at a demonstration in support of factory workers of Jasic Technology, outside Yanziling police station in Pingshan district, Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Sue-Lin Wong

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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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