Archive for Language and politics

Donald Trump: Cognitive decline or TDS?

Sharon Begley, “Trump wasn’t always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?“, STAT 5/23/2017:

STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.  

Research has shown that changes in speaking style can result from cognitive decline. STAT therefore asked experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists, to compare Trump’s speech from decades ago to that in 2017; they all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.

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-ist vs. -ic in Riyadh

During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump was repeatedly insistent that everyone should use the term “radical Islamic terrorism”. For example, his reaction to the Orlando massacre, from Inside Edition 7/13/2016:

Announcer: Trump spoke out about the massacre today, saying the president is afraid to call it an act of Islamic terrorism.
Donald Trump: He won’t even use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” which I think is insulting to our country and it’s insulting to everybody. And if you don’t use the term, if you don’t describe what’s happening, you’re never going to solve the problem.

So like many others, I was curious how he would handle the issue in his speech to the “Arab Islamic American Summit” yesterday in Riyadh.

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Schrödinger’s pundit

Today’s SMBC:

Mouseover title: “On second thought, let’s just leave them in the box.”

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Trends in presidential pitch II

In Trends in presidential pitch (5/19/2017), I observed that the median fundamental frequency (= “pitch”) of President Trump’s weekly addresses has increased  steadily since January, by about 30%.  As a point of comparison, I did the same calculation for President Obama’s first few months of  weekly addresses, from 1/24/2009 to 5/23/2009, in comparison to Trump’s weekly addresses from 1/28/2017 to 5/19/2017:

[I’ve omitted Trump’s three addresses from 3/3/2017, 3/25/2017, and 3/31/2017, because of the differences in recording context and production style explained in the earlier post. Because Obama seems not to have recorded any weekly addresses in February of 2009, the time span of the 13 plotted weekly addresses from the two presidencies is very nearly the same. ]

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum) 2.0

[This is a guest post by the inimitable satirist, S. Tsow]

[1.0 is this: “BARF (Belt and Road Forum)” (5/19/17)]

Xi Jinping (“Mr. Eleven” [XI]) calls his New Silk Road initiative “One Belt, One Road”  (Yidai-Yilu).  A map I have shows a land route in the north, going westward, bifurcating at Urumchi, and ending at Rotterdam and Istanbul.  OK, that’s the “belt”.  The “road” shows a sea route in the south that wanders all over the place and ends in the west at Venice.

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BARF (Belt and Road Forum)

We are currently in the midst of a massive propaganda barrage unleashed upon the world by the People’s Republic of China.  It’s all about something that started out being called “Yīdài yīlù 一帶一路” (“One Belt One Road”), at least that’s what it was named when I first heard about it a year or two ago.  The Chinese publicists writing about it in English may have just styled it “The Belt and Road”, but everybody I know spoke of it as “One Belt One Road” — “OBOR” for short, which reminded me of Über.

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“White left” — a Chinese calque in English

I had never heard of “white left” until two or three days ago when I read this article by Chenchen Zheng in openDemocracy (5/11/17):

The curious rise of the ‘white left’ as a Chinese internet insult“.

It’s an intelligent, thought-provoking piece, followed by a stimulating discussion among the commenters who come from many perspectives and venture into all sorts of relevant areas (e.g., immigration, race, social constructionism, deregulation, privatization, healthcare, and so on, but even more purely philosophical questions as well).

What I find particularly interesting about the issues swirling around “white left” is that they were initially broached in the context of China, which means that both the advocates and detractors of “white left” thinking were outsiders critiquing the West, yet wondering what implications the “white left” critique of the social, political, and economic situation in the West hold for themselves.

Here’s the epigraph:

Meet the Chinese netizens who combine a hatred for the ‘white left’ with a love of US president Donald Trump.

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Weaponized Tibetan Pinyin

Jichang Lulu has just posted a very interesting article titled  “the clash of romanisations” (5/12/17).  It begins:

Last month the Ministry of Civil Affairs (民政部) published a list of six ‘standardised’ place names in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a large part of which the PRC claims as part of South Tibet (藏南). This generated the predictable Indian protests, media brouhaha and mandatory Globule sovereignty-reaffirming blather. Analysis of what’s being called a “renaming” of Arunachal “districts” sees it as retaliation for the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the region. All these hit-back-at-the-DL-to-“re”affirm-sovereignty readings are surely plausible, but I don’t think it’s very clear in which sense these ministerial coinages are ‘renaming’ or ‘standardising’ anything.

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Priming the pump: a cartoon history

As Mark Liberman noted, Donald Trump seemed to imply in his recent interview with The Economist that he coined the phrase “priming the pump,” or at least the financial use of it: “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.” Was this just some sort of peculiar joke, especially considering that Trump himself has used the phrase several times in the past? We may never know, but I thought it would be worth delving into the history of “priming the pump” in a way that even our reading-averse president might appreciate: through cartoons. The financial metaphor of “priming the pump” was frequently depicted by editorial cartoonists in the 1920s and ’30s, so much so that it became something of a visual cliché.

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Active agent avoidance

In a long list of LLOG posts over the years, we’ve observed the widespread (and false) folk-linguistic view that the grammatical term passive means “vague about agency”. (You can learn what it really means from Geoff Pullum’s 2011 post “The passive in English“.)

This confusion arises partly because passive verbs can sometimes be used to sidestep embarrassing questions about agency, as in the famous example “Mistakes were made” — and perhaps also partly because of a broader confusion about “passive” being passive and thus somehow, well, unmanly and generally weak.

But avoiding embarrassing questions about agency is a garden of many paths. And in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN yesterday,  U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley offered a tour of several of them. For example:

Regime change is something that we think is going to happen, because
at- all of the parties are going to see that Assad’s not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.

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Fun bun pun

The case of activist Gweon Pyeong 권평 / Pyong Kwon / Quan Ping 權平 is now going to trial in China.  Gweon stands accused of wearing a t-shirt with three Xi-themed slogans printed on it:

T-shirt slogans” (11/7/16)

In this post, I would like to explore in greater depth one of the three slogans, namely “Xí bāozi 習包子” (“steamed, stuffed / filled bun Xi”).

In the earlier post, I explained how Xi Jinping acquired that curious nickname.  It’s really not that offensive, and it is by no means vulgar.  But just what does it imply to call Xi Jinping, China’s supreme leader, a “steamed, stuffed bun“?

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For want of a flack

A competent PR counsel would have advised against this wardrobe choice:

The twitterverse immediately pounced, with captions like these:

Reinforcements from the 101st Fighting Ivies Have Arrived.
From the shores of Burberry, the 82nd heir-born has arrived.
Kush Body Armor by J.Crew. “When you don’t know where you are or what you are doing.”

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Variable usages

Sign greeting Xi Jinping in Florida:


(Source)

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