Archive for Language and politics

A quick exit for Cantonese

On his blog, "Throwing Pebbles", the journalist Yuen Chan describes how hard it is nowadays to find a decent elementary school in Hong Kong that offers instruction in Cantonese, rather than in Mandarin:

"Mother-tongue Squeezed Out of the Chinese Classroom in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong" (7/22/15)

This despite the fact that Cantonese is the mother tongue of around 90% of the population of Hong Kong.

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Annals of LID

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Expletive deficits

Josh Marshall, "Obama on the Hoofbeats of History", TPM 7/17/2015 (emphasis added):

As the budget deficit has receded from public view, Obama's fucks deficit has come to the forefront. After six and a half years in office, he may have a small stockpile of fucks left. But he has none left to give. He is increasingly indifferent to the complaints and anger of his political foes and focused on what he can do on his own or with reliable political supporters. You can see it too in the more frequent lean-in-on-the-lectern moments during press conferences and speeches. He's truly out of fucks to give. 

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Shibboleth and perejil

A recent NYT editorial described the immigration/citizenship/deportation crisis on the divided island of Hispaniola ("Stateless in the Dominican Republic", 7/11/2015):

In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s highest court issued an unconscionable ruling that rendered tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent effectively stateless. Last year, the Dominican government, responding to international criticism, established a process that ostensibly offered them a path to be recognized as citizens. But because the application process was so onerous and poorly administered, tens of thousands of people remain in limbo, shunned in their homeland and unwelcome in neighboring Haiti.

Almost 80 years ago, the Dominicans were more overtly brutal — Abby Phillip, "The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians", WaPo 6/17/2015:

[T]he 1937 Parsley Massacre is widely regarded as a turning point in Haitian-Dominican relations. The slaughter, carried out by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, targeted Haitians along with Dominicans who looked dark enough to be Haitian — or whose inability to roll the "r" in perejil, the Spanish word for parsley, gave them away. 

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The stock market warrior-desperado's last-ditch fight

Chǎogǔ 炒股 (lit., "stir-fry stock") means playing with stocks and bonds (stock market speculation). This is probably THE hottest term in the PRC vocabulary today. The term itself is not in the following widely circulating cartoon, but the spirit of the term is very much present:

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Another passive-hating Orwell wannabe

I'm grateful to Peter Howard and S. P. O'Grady, who within an hour or so both mailed me a link to this extraordinarily dumb article by James Gingell in The Guardian. As Howard and O'Grady pointed out, Gingell's wildly overstated rant illustrates a point I have made on Language Log many times before: that when language is the topic you can pother at will in a national daily despite visibly having no knowledge or understanding of your subject, and failing to get your facts right, and lacking any defensible point. No editor of a national newspaper would let drivel of this sort get by if it were about politics or sport; but on the topic of language they all will.

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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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