Archive for Language and politics

Class war skirmishes in England

Several manifestations of verbal and visual class warfare have recently hit the mass media in Britain. The subtlest example, least transparent to outsiders, is the affair of the white van in Rochester — William James, "In class obsessed Britain, tweet of 'white van' man hits nerve", Reuters 11/21/2014:

Posting a picture on Twitter of a two-storey house, displaying three English flags of St. George and with a white tradesman's van outside, might seem innocuous to a foreign eye.

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Xi Jinping: "when a car breaks down…"

Via Twitter, Matthew Leavitt asks Language Log what we think of the translation of Xi Jinping's metaphor:  “when a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to step down and see what the problem is.”

This was spoken at a news conference during the Beijing summit between President Obama and Chairman Xi and quoted in the New York Times.  After avoiding the issue for awhile, Xi used this expression in response to a question about restrictions on visas for foreign journalists that was posed by Mark Landler, a reporter for the New York Times.

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Is Korean diverging into two languages?

Fearful that the languages of their countries are becoming mutually unintelligible, linguists from North Korea and South Korea are joining forces to create a common dictionary, as described in this article from the South China Morning Post:  "Academics try to get North and South Korea to speak same language" (11/3/14)

In a comment on a recent Language Log post concerning another subject, ThomasH opined that he'd like to see a discussion concerning the prescriptiveness/descriptiveness of the article just cited:  "Personally it seems both futile — without more actual language transactions between the two countries — and pointless, with bonus points for the complaint about English loan words being part of the 'problem'."

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Cantonese protest slogans

We've been following the tumultuous Hong Kong democracy protests closely, e.g., "'Cantonese' song" (10/24/14), "The umbrella in Hong Kong" (10/19/14) and "Translating the Umbrella Revolution" (10/3/14), with plenty of additional material in the comments to these posts.

Now there is a new article in Quartz that focuses on the most popular slogans used by the protesters: "The backstory to seven of the most popular protest slogans in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement" (10/23/14).

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"Cantonese" song

This hauntingly beautiful song is the unofficial anthem of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement:


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Buzzfeed linguistics, presidential pronouns, and narcissism revisited

John Templon, "No, Obama’s Pronouns Don’t Make Him A Narcissist", BuzzFeed News 10/19/2014:

Conservative commentators are fond of pointing to Barack Obama’s excessive use of the word “I” as evidence of the president’s narcissism. (“For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor Napoleon,” Charles Krauthammer complained recently.) But there’s one tiny problem with this line of reasoning. If you’re counting pronouns, Obama is maybe the least narcissistic president since 1945.

BuzzFeed News analyzed more than 2,000 presidential news conferences since 1929, looking for usage of first-person singular pronouns — “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine,” and “myself.” Just 2.5 percent of Obama’s total news-conference words fell into this category. Only Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt used them less often.

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The umbrella in Hong Kong

The whole world knows that, just as there was a "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world during the spring of 2011 and a "Sunflower Revolution" in Taiwan during the spring of this year, there is currently an "Umbrella Revolution" going on in Hong Kong.

The most visually evident aspect of the Hong Kong democracy protest movement is the widespread use of the umbrella, not only to shade against sun and rain, but more importantly to block tear gas and pepper spray.

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Colbert on Krauthammer

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"Free, white, and twenty one"

Sometimes I think that Philip K. Dick is passing the time in purgatory by ghostwriting news stories like this one —  "Atlantic City's Revel Casino reimagined as elite school", Reuters 9/22/2014:

A Florida developer who made a $90 million offer for Atlantic City's shuttered Revel Casino wants to use the site to help end world hunger, cancer, and resolve other pressing issues like nuclear waste storage.

Glenn Straub's plan is ambitious as it is high-minded. First, he would add a second tower to the 57-story structure, completing the original vision of the casino-hotel's developers. The businessman, who owns the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club, would then convert the complex into a university where the best and brightest young minds from across the world could work on the big issues of the day.

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Another casual lie from Charles Krauthammer

"Krauthammer: 'Obama Clearly a Narcissist,' 'Lives In a Cocoon Surrounded By Sycophants'", Fox News 9/16/2014:

"This is all because, I mean, count the number of times he uses the word I in any speech, and compare that to any other president. Remember when he announced the killing of bin Laden? That speech I believe had 29 references to I – on my command, I ordered, as commander-in-chief, I was then told, I this. You’d think he’d pulled the trigger out there in Abbottabad. You know, this is a guy, you look at every one of his speeches, even the way he introduces high officials – I’d like to introduce my secretary of State. He once referred to ‘my intelligence community’. And in one speech, I no longer remember it, ‘my military’. For God’s sake, he talks like the emperor, Napoleon."

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The grammar of "Better Together"

The official name of the organization campaigning for a No vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is "Better Together." That phrase was originally the campaign's main slogan. Much has been written in recent days about the campaign's evident signs of panic, but no one has commented on the stupidity of "Better Together" as a slogan. (It was actually ditched by the campaign in June, and replaced by an even more pathetic slogan: "No Thanks.")

Better together is an adjective phrase. Used on its own, without any logical subject or other accompanying noun phrases, it is apparently supposed to affirm that something will go better in some way for someone than something else if something is together with something else, but it doesn't specify any of these someones or somethings. Yet the cui bono issue (who benefits) is absolutely crucial to the debate. The ineptness of the sloganeering is almost unbelievable.

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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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