Archive for Language and politics

The Greek ballot measure

Below is a guest post by Jason Merchant.

With the eyes of the world on the developments in Greece this week, the exact form of the question that will be put to Greek voters this coming Sunday, 5 July, in the referendum that Prime Minister Tsipras announced this past weekend is of no small importance, and almost every commentator in the past two days has been wondering just what the question would be. Just released here is a photo of the ballot measure.

In my translation:

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Your country: pronominal resistance

When Westerners begin to study Chinese, Japanese, or Korean, a small obstacle that confronts them is the fact that the words for "my / our country" in these languages usually have to be translated as "China", "Japan", and "Korea" respectively in English.  As a colleague who knows all three languages put it, "I'm always struck by the oddness and even slight ungrammaticality of the English usage 'in my country' that you hear from C J K speakers."

We looked at this phenomenon in some depth a couple of years ago:

"My country" (1/23/13)

Now an extremely interesting new twist with regard to this concept of "my / our country" has arisen in China that merits another look.

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Punctuating Happiness

Today at the National Archives: "Punctuating Happiness":

In advance of its traditional Fourth of July celebration, the National Archives, in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Study, will host a free conference on the Declaration of Independence titled “Punctuating Happiness" […]

Inspired by the work of Danielle Allen, […] the conference will explore the National Archives’ work in preserving the original Declaration of Independence, the diversity of the document’s textual tradition, how this diversity affects historical research, and how it is taught in schools. […]

Ms. Allen’s research raises questions about the transcription of the Declaration taken from the 1823 Stone engraving. Specifically, that the Stone engraving uses a period after “pursuit of happiness,” whereas the 1776 manuscripts by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Secretary for the Continental Congress Charles Thomson use semicolons or commas. She argues that the question of whether a period belongs there affects whether we read a sentence with three self-evident truths, or with five. And it affects whether we take the self-evident truths to concern primarily individual rights or rather to concern the positive value of government as a tool for securing individual rights.

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Patriotes, faites plus quoi?

In the neighborhood where I'm staying in Paris, one of the most common graffiti is a blue croix de Lorraine, sometimes with associated text. The cross is of course a religious and nationalistic symbol, and the text is generally interpretable as anti-immigrant. (Click on the image to see a larger version, with more context.)

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Misleading headline

When you read this Radio Free Asia headline, what do you think?

"China Holds Two Activists Linked to Heilongjiang Shooting Death" (5/20/15)

Here's the photograph that accompanies the article:


Activist Wu Gan stages protest outside Jiangxi High Court, May 19, 2015.
Photo courtesy of Boxun.

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Water control

The exoticization of Chinese, yet again

This time it's the alleged, essential aqueousness of governance:

"The Water Book by Alok Jha review – this remarkable substance", by Rose George (5/14/15).  The first sentence:  "The Chinese symbol for 'political order' is made from the characters for river and dyke."

What a lame, wrongheaded way to begin a serious article!

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Metaphysics has ruined Chinese

In The Opinion Pages section of today's NYT, Contributing Op-Ed Writer Murong Xuecun has a provocative piece entitled "Corrupting the Chinese Language" (5/26/15).

His basic claim is that "Decades of… party blather have washed through a mighty propaganda machine straight into people’s minds and into the Chinese vernacular."  The result is that, because people are conditioned to talk using phrases ready made by the party, they are conditioned to think in ways determined by the highly politicized language in which they have been immersed their entire lives.  Even dissidents are reduced to "using the language of our propagandists, and not ironically."

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The politics of multilingualism in Hong Kong

The following article by Danny Mok appeared in today's South China Morning Post:

"Police? Jing Cha? Altered helmet may spell 'trouble' for city policeman" (5/19/15)

The article commenced with this photograph:

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"Brain fade" in Britain

Ian Preston sent a link to a recent article about slips of the tongue by David Cameron in the current election campaign in the UK (Matt Dathan, "David Cameron makes another gaffe: 'This election is all about my career… sorry, I mean country'", The Independent 5/2/2015:

David Cameron has made another gaffe on the election campaign trail – this time saying how election was a “career defining” moment when he meant to say “country defining”.


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"Elsewhere": electronic alibis

American readers may not yet have heard the recent story about the chairman of the Conservative Party in Britain, Grant Shapps MP. He has been accused of sock-puppetry: editing his own Wikipedia page to remove unfavorable references to his business life (and editing the pages about other Conservative MPs to highlight unfavorable aspects of their lives). And his response was to say that he couldn't possibly have done it, because: "A simple look in my diary shows I was elsewhere."

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Foundation and jihad

Did Osama bin Laden name Al Qaeda after Isaac Asimov's Foundation series?

Meeting Dmitri Gusev here at Text By The Bay ("Rising sun", 4/25/2015) reminded me that I'd seen his name before. The context was a 2002 article in the Guardian, "What is the origin of the name al-Qaida?"  (picked up on LLOG in "Copy-editing terrorism", 7/28/2005):

 In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov's 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.  

"This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now," wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article.

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Political pitch ranges

I don't have time for much this morning, but here's a plot of the f0 quantiles of the first minute or so of each of six speeches from the 2015 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum:

["F0", pronounced "eff zero", is a conventional designation for the fundamental frequency of the voice, which represents the rate of oscillation of the vocal folds in voiced speech, and is a physical proxy for the psychological dimension of "pitch". "Hz" is the standard abbreviation for "Hertz", the international unit of frequency (cycles per second) named after Heinrich Hertz.]

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Macaroni politics

Charlie Spiering, "Hillary Clinton touts 'macaroni and cheese' issues at Emily's List gala", Breitbart 2/4/2015:

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the importance of “macaroni and cheese” issues in the federal government, as she teased a presidential run in a speech last night.  

During her appearance at the EMILY’s List 30th anniversary gala, Clinton recognized Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who recently announced she’ll retire after 2016.  

Mikulski, she explained, helped her when she was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.  

“She knew the ropes, but she also knew how to cut through all the hot air,” Clinton said. “She understands that, yes, we have to work on macro issues and also macaroni and cheese issues, too.”

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