The Encyclopaedia Britannica has begun to refer to Hong Kong as Xianggang, the Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) pronunciation of the name.
Archive for Language and politics
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the prime minister of Turkey for 11 years. On Monday, someone posted on YouTube what purports to be recordings of a series of phone conversations between Erdoğan and his son, discussing how to hide a billion dollars or so in cash: "Başçalan Erdoğan'ın Yalanlarının ve Yolsuzluklarının Kaydı"= "Recording of Erdogan's lying and corruption". Here's an acted version of an English translation, from "Full transcript of voice recording purportedly of Erdoğan and his son", Today's Zaman 2/26/2014:
Eric Zorn, "The 'gubernatorial' war", Chicago Tribune 2/12/2014:
Does your eye stop and and stumble, as mine does, on such phrases as "the four Republican governor candidates"? Or "Governor candidate Bill Brady"?
If so, you are a fellow casualty of the war on the word "gubernatorial," an admittedly odd, Latinate word that every four years I feel duty bound to remind readers comes from the Latin verb "gubernare" means to steer or lead.
Consistency would demand that the state leader be the gubernor, not governor (from the Old French "governer"), or that we refer to the "governatorial race," but we don't.
Instead we are adopting "governor candidate" and even — horrors! — "governor race" ("governor's race" seems OK, though) in order to avoid the goober.
Whether Cantonese is a language or a dialect is a subject that we have touched upon many times on Language Log, e.g., "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" (see especially the remarks in the second half of the original post) and "English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage ."
But now it has become a hot-button issue in China, especially in Hong Kong, where the government's Education Bureau recently made a monumental gaffe by declaring that Cantonese was not an official language of the Special Administrative Region: "Education Bureau rapped over Cantonese 'not an official language' gaffe: Claim Cantonese 'not an official language' leaves public lost for words."
Below is a guest post by Yuval Pinter.
Reading Mark Liberman's analysis of Obama's SOTU addresses versus other presidents', my thirst remained unquenched. Word-counts are fun, sure, but the real fun comes in when looking at longer phrases – two (bigrams) or three (trigrams) words long.
After waiting for it to be breakfast time in Philadelphia, I engaged in an experiment (Legal has advised me against explicit use of MYL's trademark phrase) to analyze the 228 addresses (found here) and see what Obama's favorite (and least-favorite) phrases are.
Dylan Byers, "Bush speechwriter: Obama plagiarized Bush", Politico 1/29/2014:
President George W. Bush's former speech writer said that President Barack Obama plagiarized his former boss in Tuesday's State of the Union address.
Speaking to Fox News's Megyn Kelly, Marc Thiessen, the lead writer on Bush's 2007 State of the Union address, said he found Obama's speech Tuesday night "eerily familiar."
"Barack Obama has gone from blaming George W. Bush to plagiarizing George W. Bush," Thiessen said.
Thiessen then read phrases from the 2007 speech which focused on the theme "hope and opportunity."
"It was eerily familiar. There were lines like 'Our job is to help Americans build a future of hope and opportunity, a future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy, a future of hope and opportunity requires that all citizens have affordable and available healthcare, extending opportunity and hope depends on a stable supply of energy,' all of that came from the 2007 State of the Union from George W. Bush," Thiessen said.
Lane asked "It would be great if someone had time to find some truly Obama signature phrases, doing the math properly. I'd be curious to know what words he actually does use unusually often."
I have two classes to prepare for today, and a student study break to get ready for (bread and cheese, fruits and nuts, chips and dips, cakes and candies etc., but mostly cleaning up the living room…). So I don't have time to work on the "truly signature phrases" problem — that's a hard problem to solve on the basis of a sample as small as a few years of SOTU messages, anyhow. But there's one thing that I do have time for: calculating the words (or rather, the lexical tokens) that are characteristic of Obama's SOTU messages in contrast to the other post-war SOTUs, against the background of all SOTUs since 1790.
Following up on Sunday's "SOTU evolution" post, here's a quick glance at changes over time in the relative frequency of some classes of pronouns in State of the Union messages. Over the course of the 20th century, there's been a clear upward trend in the frequency of first and second person pronouns:
In preparation for Tuesday's State of the Union address, I thought I'd take a look at the language of these addresses over the years. Texts are available at UCSB's American Presidency Project – I downloaded their texts and removed irrelevant mark-up .(Or rather, I wrote scripts to do all of this automatically — I believe that the results are generally correct but there are probably a few uncaught errors.)
There are lots of ways to approach this question. In today's post, I'll set the stage and look at a couple of simple word-frequency features, with more (and maybe more interesting) explorations to come later on.
It is time for Language Log to set things straight about the Right Honourable Andrew John Bower Mitchell MP. The story of what everyone thought had happened in London on 19 September 2012 was reported here (by yours truly) in this post and this follow-up. It involved (we all thought) a snooty and arrogant Conservative government minister and member of the House of Commons snarling words of class prejudice, in front of shocked independent bystanders, at an honest cop who was merely trying to enforce the laws that Parliament had ordained. The linguistic point of interest was that the nastiest of those words was alleged to be the noun pleb. Not the expressive expletive fucking: Mitchell never denied muttering something like I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us when the police told him to push his bike out of Downing Street through a small pedestrian gate rather than ride it through the big one. No, the scandal was that a minister of the crown had used a contemptuous upper-class snob's term for the common people.
Language Log repeated the story that the British newspapers gloried in; but after 15 months of glacially slow police investigation costing around a quarter of a million dollars, yielding one prosecution, the story now looks very different. It appears the Right Honourable Andrew Mitchell was both right and honorable. He was framed by lying cops, and deserves an apology.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Tristin Hopper, "Rob Ford’s drunken, Jamaican English-laced rant translated", National Post 1/21/2014:
On Monday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was videotaped in a bizarre exchange at a Toronto fast food restaurant that is notable not only for the mayor’s drunkenness, but for his liberal use of Jamaican English.
Through careful analysis of the audio — and translation via sources in Jamaica — the National Post presents this approximate transcript of Mr. Ford’s exchange with an unknown citizen, along with explanations.
Peter Hamby, "Crist controversy resurfaces in new Netflix film", CNN 1/21/2014:
These days, Crist is considered persona non grata within the GOP. From top party officials on down to grassroots conservative activists, he is seen as a self-interested flip-flopper who left his party when it suited him politically in 2010.
In Romney-world, the aversion to Crist dates back even earlier, to that January evening in 2008 when campaign officials said he broke his word.
“Dem or Republican, I’ll do whatever I can to bury that iguana,” said Will Ritter, a former Romney aide and GOP consultant. “For as long as I live. For free.”
Most people don't understand statistical ideas like distribution, correlation, and regression. And even if they understand these concepts, they often find them too complicated for everyday thinking, or impractical for everyday communication. So instead they fall back on essentialist beliefs and generic statements.
For example, "The lower classes are not merely unfortunate, according to the upper classes; they are genetically inferior". This statement attributes a belief about one generic category ("the lower classes") to another generic category ("the upper classes"). It might be someone's subjective assessment based on personal experience, but in this case it's a journalist's description of the results of a series of psychological experiments, describing the fact there was a significant correlation (and a significant multiple-regression coefficient) between a "social class rank" variable and an "essentialist beliefs about class" variable. And as generic statements often do, it risks leaving readers with misleading ideas about the experiment and about the attitudes that it tested.
Yesterday on the American Dialect Society listserv, JSB wrote:
In his news conference on the GWB (that is, Bridge) scandal, Gov.
Christe used the word "I" or first person singular pronouns 273 times
[Slate]. After some "teasing" about it, in his State of the Union
message yesterday he used "we" or "we've" 97 times [NYTimes, today].
(1) "We['ve] is the new euphemism for "I['ve].
(2) Christie's ego has apparently diminished a bit. The frequency
of the first person (singular) in his 110-minute news conference was
2.48 I's/minute. The frequency of the first person (plural) in his
45-minute State speech was 2.15 We's/minute. (Do we have a term for
a new measure of egotism?) A decrease of about 13% — approximately
equal to the percent of persons recently polled whose opinion of
Christie had decreased (16%).
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, "The Narcissistic Drama of Chris Christie’s Apology", NY Magazine 1/9/2014:
"What does it make me ask about me?" the governor of New Jersey said about halfway through his press conference today, paraphrasing a reporter's inquiry, and even though the event continued long afterward, this question seemed to contain its essence, and in some way the essence of Chris Christie too.
Frank Bruni, "The ‘I’ in Christie’s Storm", NYT 1/12/2014:
POLITICS boils down to three pronouns: I, you, we. The politician who has them in balance goes a long way. [...]
In his news conference on Thursday [Chris Christie] found a way to spell apology with a thousand I’s.