Archive for Language and politics

The politics and linguistics of bread in Taiwan and China

Taiwanese master baker Wu Pao-chun 吳寶春 with a loaf of his famous bread:

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"Hong Kong is (not) China"

From the Los Angeles Loyolan, the student newspaper of Loyola Marymount University:

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Chinese translation app with built-in censorship

What good is a translation app that automatically censors politically sensitive terms?  Well, a leading Chinese translation app is now doing exactly that.

"A Chinese translation app is censoring politically sensitive terms, report says", Zoey Chong, CNET (11/27/18)

iFlytek, a voice recognition technology provider in China, has begun censoring politically sensitive terms from its translation app, South China Morning Post reported citing a tweet by Jane Manchun Wong. Wong is a software engineer who tweets frequently about hidden features she uncovers by performing app reverse-engineering.

In the tweet, Wong shows that when she tried to translate certain phrases such as "Taiwan independence," "Tiananmen square" and "Tiananmen square massacre" from English to Chinese, the system failed to churn out results for sensitive terms or names. The same happened when she tried to translate "Taiwan independence" from Chinese to English — results showed up as an asterisk.

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"Major political error"

What was it?

Instead of writing "Xí Jìnpíng xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想" ("Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”), two Shaanxi Daily editors wrote "Xí Jìnpíng zǒng shūjì xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平总书记新时代中国特色社会主义思想 ("General Secretary Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”).

For this "major political error", the editors were respectively fined 10,000 and 5,000 yuan (US1,440 and US720).  Luckily, the proofreading team caught this gross miswording the next morning before publication.

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An immodest proposal: "Boycott the Chinese Language"

So argues Anders Corr in the Journal of Political Risk, 7.11 (November, 2018):

"Boycott the Chinese Language: Standard Mandarin is the Medium of Chinese Communist Party Expansion"

What?  Are my eyes deceiving me?  Did he really say that?

Starting right from the first paragraph, we can see that the author is serious:

China is one of history’s most dangerous countries. In August, the United Nations reported that China is holding approximately one million minority Muslims in Xinjiang concentration camps. China supports anti-democratic regimes and terrorist groups worldwide. Its military is seeking to expand its territory in: Japanese and South Korean areas of the East China Sea; Philippine, Malaysian, Bruneian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese parts of the South China Sea; and Indian and Bhutanese territory in the Himalayan mountains. President Xi Jinping has since 2013 increased military spending, hyped China’s nationalism, repressed minorities and human rights activists, eliminated term limits on his increasingly personal form of rule, and extended the geographic reach and individual depth of state surveillance.

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Sensitive words: “political background check”

Article by Mandy Zuo in today's (11/9/18) South China Morning Post, "Chinese education officials sorry for announcing Mao-style political background check on students":

Education authorities in southwest China have apologised after they hit a raw nerve by announcing students must pass a “political background check” before they can take the national university entrance exam next year.

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Ethnography of academia

ICYMI — Alexander C. Kafka, "‘Sokal Squared’: Is Huge Publishing Hoax ‘Hilarious and Delightful’ or an Ugly Example of Dishonesty and Bad Faith?", The Chronicle of Higher Education 10/3/2018:

Reactions to an elaborate academic-journal hoax, dubbed "Sokal Squared" by one observer, came fast and furious on Wednesday. Some scholars applauded the hoax for unmasking what they called academe’s leftist, victim-obsessed ideological slant and low publishing standards. Others said it had proved nothing beyond the bad faith and dishonesty of its authors.

Three scholars — Helen Pluckrose, a self-described "exile from the humanities" who studies medieval religious writings about women; James A. Lindsay, an author and mathematician; and Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy at Portland State University — spent 10 months writing 20 hoax papers that illustrate and parody what they call "grievance studies," and submitted them to "the best journals in the relevant fields." Of the 20, seven papers were accepted, four were published online, and three were in process when the authors "had to take the project public prematurely and thus stop the study, before it could be properly concluded." A skeptical Wall Street Journal editorial writer, Jillian Kay Melchior, began raising questions about some of the papers over the summer.

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"Qu'esseuh-que ça veut direuh?"

"A row over mocking non-standard French accents", The Economist 10/25/2018:

It took an outburst that went viral to introduce the French to a new word: glottophobie. […]

The episode emerged last week when Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a far-left firebrand, mocked a reporter with an accent from south-west France. “What does that mean?” he snapped, imitating the journalist’s Occitan twang; “Has anyone got a question phrased in French, and which is more or less comprehensible?” His put-down was as bizarre as it was offensive. The Paris-based Mr Mélenchon is a member of parliament for Marseille, a city known for its Provençal lilt.

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ZOG

… or more generally, "X Occupied Y",  where X is something Jewish, and Y is something governmental.

As Wikipedia explains

Zionist occupation government, Zionist occupational government, or Zionist-occupied government (abbreviated as ZOG) is an antisemitic conspiracy theory that claims "Jewish agents" secretly control the governments of Western states. Other variants such as "Jewish occupational government" are sometimes used.

The expression is used by white supremacist, far-right, nativist, or antisemitic groups in the United States and Europe, as well as by ultra-nationalists such as Pamyat in Russia, and various far-right groups including the Freemen, Identity Christians, Odinists, and Ku Klux Klan.

So Farrell's phrasing choice ("Soros occupied State Department") is not so much a dog whistle — "A political allusion or comment that only a certain audience are intended to note and recognize the significance of" — as a straight-up fascist salute.

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Passive aggressive

Anne Henochowicz, "Passive-Aggressive: Expressing misfortune, and resistance, in Mandarin", LA Review of Books, 10/23/2018:

Strunk and White’s classic textbook Elements of Style taught us to avoid the passive voice in our writing. Our verbs should take action, not a back seat, whenever possible. (This advice is not universally accepted.) In Mandarin, however, the passive voice packs a real punch. When something is done to you, the passive evokes your great misfortune.

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Exact match

JW wrote to ask about the effects of Georgia's contested "Exact Match" law on people with non-ascii characters in their name:

How does this work out for Hispanic and other Latin alphabet diacritics? My Brazilian wife's full name includes the string "Lucía Mendonça" (í,ç). Many web forms, even in Spain, do not accept the diacritics. So her name will be spelled differently in different databases, from software flaws not errors in data entry. This affects not just Hispanics but naturalized Haitians, Poles, French Canadians, Swedes, etc.

And how does this work out for transliterations of names originally spelled in non-Latin alphabets (Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, etc)?

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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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