Archive for Language and politics

Spanish or Catalan?

An article in BBC News (7/21/16), "Former Barcelona star Carles Puyol in 'Spanish' row", begins thus:

While promoting popular online platform Tencent Sports, Puyol said "Soy Carles Puyol y soy espanol" ("I am Carles Puyol and I am Spanish"), prompting an angry reaction from many Catalans, Spanish sports website reports. Although technically correct – Puyol won the World Cup playing for Spain in 2010 – it's been seen as an insult to his native Catalonia region, which has ambitions to become independent.

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The extent of Melania's plagiarism

The Trump campaign officially maintains that there was no plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech at the Republican convention. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort was astonishingly disingenuous: "These were common words and values"; "To think that she'd be cribbing Michelle Obama's words is crazy"; "There's no cribbing. What she did was use words that are common words"; "Care and respect and passion, those are not extraordinary words"; "50 words, and that includes and’s and the’s and things like that." But it is not words we are talking about, is it? It's word sequences. And you do not need to look at many word sequences, even quite short ones, before you start finding phrases that have apparently never occurred before in the entire history of the world (if we can judge by the sample of it that the web knows about).

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Intersecting hypocrisies

Tuesday's political news was dominated by the discovery that Melania Trump's Monday-night convention speech copied a couple of paragraphs from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech (see here, here, here, here, and here for some background and discussion — Update: the latest explanation is here.).

And today, we learn that Donald Trump Jr.'s Tuesday-night speech borrowed some phrases from a 2015 article in The American Conservative. But there's a wrinkle: it turns out that Trump Jr.'s speech was written by Frank Buckley, the same guy who wrote the earlier article.

I'll leave the issues of political ethics, public relations, and campaign management to the experts in those areas, except to note that such stories seem to be a distraction at best from the speakers' goals, and that there are good plagiarism-detection programs out there that can be used to detect potential problems and prevent such issues from arising.

Instead I want to focus on two pervasive hypocrisies infecting the whole discussion.

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Freedom of speech vs. speaking rights

Bill Holmes, who is familiar with the language of Chinese law, writes:

With greater frequency over the past ten-odd years, I have run across the phrase “话语权", typically in commentary on (more or less sophisticated) mainland websites. This phrase can be put into English, clumsily, as “speaking rights” — though I believe it extends to written as well as oral communication. I have wondered whether this is a Chinese neologism, or an import — it doesn’t seem to resemble (older) Chinese usages with which I am familiar. Insights appreciated.

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Suspicious null objects in the news

Below is a guest post by Jason Merchant.

There is an interesting grammatical point in an article in today's New York Times exploring some of the strands of support for Donald Trump, who has repeatedly been endorsed by racists, neo-Nazis, and their fellow travelers. In prior campaigns, such endorsements were typically followed by immediate and explicit disavowals by the Republican candidates, who would often take pains to express inclusionist ideas (compare the 1980 primary debate between Bush and Reagan here for the very different tone the Republican primaries had in the past, for example).

Trump has charted a different course. He has contented himself with what the Times calls 'a vague refrain': when pressed about these endorsements, as for example after onetime KKK member David Duke spoke in Trump's favor, Trump's response was merely "David Duke endorsed me? O.K. All right. I disavow, O.K.?"

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Hillary's "sigh"

Eric Garland of The Hill shares a video of Hillary Clinton at a June 22 campaign appearance in North Carolina, and it provides ammunition those who would like to portray her as a soulless automaton vainly trying to seem like an authentic human being.

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Britannia waives the rules

"'Britannia waives the rules': The EU Brexit in quotes", BBC News 6/28/2016:

Martina Anderson, MEP for Irish republican party Sinn Fein

Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the EU. The vote could mean major changes to security on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"If English votes drag us out of the EU that would be like Britannia waives the rules. There was a democratic vote. We voted to remain. I tell you that the last thing that the people of Ireland need is an EU border with 27 member states stuck right in the middle of it."

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L'état, c'est lui

Khorri Atkinson, "Trump on Texit: Texas ‘will never’ secede", Texas Tribune 6/25/2016:

Asked what he would do as president if Texas seceded from the United States, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on Saturday said he did not think that would happen.

“Texas will never do that because Texas loves me,” Trump told reporters in Scotland.

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Transformer Trump

From an anonymous colleague:

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"Ask the gays"

In a speech yesterday, Donald Trump reacted to the Orlando massacre by suggesting that his audience should "ask the gays, and ask the people, ask the gays what they think and what they do":

The predictable reaction was a twitter storm of memetic responses, of which this is one of the milder examples:

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Coulter: "Hispanics" and "Mandarins" at a Trump rally

From an anonymous correspondent:

Here’s an article about how Ann Coulter described the audience at a Trump rally as "a melting pot full of 'Hispanics' and 'Mandarins.’” (Her actual words seem to be, “They have Mandarins in the audience. They have Hispanics in the audience.”)

"Ann Coulter brags about the large number of 'Mandarins' at California pro-Trump rally" (shanghaiist, 6/1/16)

This is interesting (and weird) in itself—I’ve not heard this usage before—but I’m mainly sending this along because (not that I mean to defend Ann Coulter), after she justified herself by saying, "They are Mandarins. It is written in Mandarin”, one of the statements the article uses to criticize her is the very silly "Written Mandarin Chinese doesn't exist.”

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Anne Amnesia, "Unnecessariat", More Crows than Eagles, 5/10/2016:

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

The article starts by comparing the rise in suicide and overdose deaths to the history of AIDS deaths in the 1980s, and her punchline is this:

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

Since this is Language Log and not Political Analysis Log, I'll let you digest the article on your own, and turn my attention to the word formation principles behind unnecessariat.

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June 4, 198brew

A tweet from Cherie Chan:

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