Archive for Language and politics

Abduweli Ayup

"Uyghur linguist sentenced to 18-month prison term in China", LSA News 8/28/2014:

The LSA has learned from news reports published this week that Abduweli Ayup has been ordered to pay a large fine and continue his detention in a Chinese prison for the next six months. The LSA had sent a letter earlier this year to government officials in China and the U.S., seeking details about Abduweli's alleged crimes, and legal intervention on his behalf, consistent with international covenants on human rights. Friends of Abduweli's have established a fundraising page on the YouCaring website to assist in raising a portion of the $13,000 (USD) fine imposed by the Chinese government.

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Sanskrit resurgent

When I was studying Buddhism at the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1967-68, there were about ten students in my first-year Sanskrit course for Buddhologists and Indologists.  What intrigued me greatly was that there was another beginning Sanskrit course being offered at the same time.  It had many more students than the class I was in and was offered by the Linguistics Department.  The rationale for encouraging (I can't remember if it was actually required) linguistics students to take Sanskrit was that the foundations of the scientific study of language had been laid by Panini, Patanjali, and other ancient Sanskrit grammarians around two and a half millennia ago, so that it would be good to have at least a basic understanding of the roots of the tradition.

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Newspaper alleges passive voice correctly!

Today I came upon something truly rare: a newspaper article about a passive-voice apology that (i) is correct about the apology containing a passive clause, but (ii) stresses that the oft-misdiagnosed passive should not be the thing we focus on and attempt to discourage, and (iii) cites actual linguists in support of the latter view! What's going on? Is Language Log beginning to break through? Are journalists waking up to the fact that there actually is a definition of the notion 'passive voice' (though hardly anybody seems to know what it is)? The article is by Tristin Hopper of the National Post in Canada (August 8, 2014); you can read it here. Kudos to Tristin.

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Orient(al[ism]) in East Asian languages

Cortney Chaffin writes:

Today I've been corresponding over email with a colleague of mine at XYUniversity who organized an exhibition of Korean art to open tomorrow. Yesterday he sent out a description of the exhibit in which he used the phrases "oriental landscape painting" (in contrast to Western painting) and "oriental sensitivity" to describe the aim of the artist (to demonstrate "oriental sensitivity" in painting). I don't allow my students to use the term "oriental" in my art history classes, not only because it is a complex and loaded term, but I have first-hand experience of it being used as a racial slur in the U.S., so it makes me uncomfortable.

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"The temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here"

Jonathan Meador, "Kentucky Lawmakers Attack Climate Change Science In Discussion on Carbon Regulations", WFPL 89.3 FM:

State lawmakers' discussion Thursday of the effect of new EPA carbon emission regulations on Kentucky focused more on political attacks than hard science.  [...]

“I won’t get into the debate about climate change," said Sen. Brandon Smith, a Hazard Republican. “But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”

Smith  owns a coal company on Earth.

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Happy. Fourth.

In anticipation of the 4th of July weekend, I was compelled to read this very interesting (July 1 draft) manuscript: "Punctuating Happiness", by UPS Foundation Professor Danielle S. Allen of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. A political theorist friend's Facebook post led me both to the article and to this front-page NYT piece on it: "If Only Thomas Jefferson Could Settle the Issue: A Period is Questioned in the Declaration of Independence", by Jennifer Schuessler (July 2 online, July 3 print).

Professor Allen makes a thorough and compelling case for her claim that the second sentence of the actual Declaration of Independence parchment has a comma after the well-known phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" — and not a period, as the most frequently reproduced version of the document, an engraving made by printer William J. Stone in 1823, would lead one to believe. The matter can't be resolved via visual inspection; the parchment is extremely faded, and Allen presents some evidence — suggestive but not conclusive, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there — that it may have already been sufficiently faded at the time of Stone's engraving. Allen thus "advocate[s] for the use of hyper-spectral imaging to re-visit the question of what is on the parchment".

For everyone's reference, here is the relevant "second sentence" of the Declaration of Independence, as transcribed on pp. 2-3 of Allen's manuscript, with the "errant period" highlighted in green.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. — That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

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Comments

A recent story in a Las Vegas newspaper ("Shooters in Metro ambush that left five dead spoke of white supremacy and a desire to kill police", Las Vegas Review-Journal 6/8/2014) now has 15,793 comments. Reading through a small sample of them, I wasn't surprised by the usual teabugger vs. libturd name-calling.

And I expected a smattering of various sorts of conspiracy theories. But I wasn't expecting the sheer volume of (hundreds and hundreds of) comments insisting that this event was a "false flag" or "psyops" hoax. For example:

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Banned in Beijing

Everyone knows that the Chinese government goes to extraordinary lengths to police the internet (see: "Blocked on Weibo").

And most sentient beings are aware of the awesome fame of the Grass-Mud Horse, the notorious Franco-Croatian Squid, and and the mysterious River Crab.  You can find all of them in "Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon Classics".

Sometimes, the censors begin to look pretty ridiculous, as when they outlawed the word "jasmine" in 2011, particularly since it refers not just to the Jasmine Revolution, but also to a favorite flower, tea, and folk song.

mòlì 茉莉 ("jasmine")

mòlì chá 茉莉茶 ("jasmine tea") OR mòlìhuā chá 茉莉花茶 ("jasmine tea") OR xiāngpiàn 香片 ("scented [usually with jasmine] tea")

mòlìhuā 茉莉花 ("jasmine flower", name of a popular folk song; presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were both excessively fond of this song, and there are videos of them singing it, so it becomes especially awkward to try to forbid citizens to use the word mòlì 茉莉 ("jasmine")

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Not taking shit from the president?

In Politico's Playbook, Mike Allen notes that the slogan "Don't Do Stupid Shit" has worked its way into numerous journalistic descriptions of the "Obama Doctrine." "Playbook rarely prints a four-letter word — our nephews are loyal readers," Allen writes. "But we are, in this case, because that is the precise phrase President Obama and his aides are using in their off-the-record chats with journalists."

The New York Times, on the other hand, has only printed the slogan in expurgated fashion — this despite the fact that late Times editor Abe Rosenthal created a presidential exemption from the ban on printing "shit" in the Nixon era. As Rosenthal reportedly said after including "shit" in quotes of Watergate tape transcripts, "We'll only take shit from the President."

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A 'World without Thieves' world

Tom Mazanec came across a poster that was located at a bus stop at one of Princeton's graduate housing complexes, and is an advertisement for a Chinese-language Christian fellowship. Here's a photograph of the poster:


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Separated at Birth

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Territorial rights for languages

I had been waiting for the world's media to notice the extraordinarily anomalous character of Vladimir Putin's notion that he can annex pieces of land simply because speakers of the Russian language live there and are feeling aggrieved or imperilled. And now The Economist has done the job very nicely. See this page for an article about what the world map would look like under a generalization of Putin's doctrine.

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La trahison des Xs

Paul Krugman, "Why Economics Failed", 5/1/2014 (emphasis added):

Meanwhile, powerful political factions find that bad economic analysis serves their objectives. Most obviously, people whose real goal is dismantling the social safety net have found promoting deficit panic an effective way to push their agenda. And such people have been aided and abetted by what I’ve come to think of as the trahison des nerds — the willingness of some economists to come up with analyses that tell powerful people what they want to hear, whether it’s that slashing government spending is actually expansionary, because of confidence, or that government debt somehow has dire effects on economic growth even if interest rates stay low.

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"Ustam" + "k" = 10 months in jail

In Turkey, outspoken newspaper columnist Önder Aytaç has received a 10-month jail sentence over an errant "k" on Twitter.

Here is how the situation is explained in Zeynep Tufekci's widely cited Medium post:

Meet “k”, the character that got newspaper columnist and academic Önder Aytaç a 10 month jail sentence in Turkey. Aytaç is a columnist for a newspaper affiliated with the Gulenist movement, followers of Fettulah Gulen, the self-exiled cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and was once the AKP government’s closest ally, but now is among its bitterest enemies. The fight between the former allies surfaced over the closing of “private schools,” or “dershaneler,” which the Gulen movement operates in dozens of countries around the world, including the United States. These dershaneler are crucial to the movement as they are the source of both recruits and money. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, announced in late 2013 that he would be shutting them down.

During the bitter fight, Onder Aytaç tweeted this:

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Character amnesia in 1793-1794

The first British envoy to China was George Macartney; his mission is referred to in the historical literature as the Macartney Embassy.  The basic purpose of the embassy was to open up trade between Great Britain and China, which theretofore has been greatly restricted in various ways by the Chinese authorities.

Naturally, Macartney would have needed translation assistance to communicate with Chinese officials.  However, due to some peculiar circumstances that will be related below, translators were not easy to come by, as is detailed in this passage from the Wikipedia article on the Macartney Embassy:

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