Archive for Language and politics

Incrimination by presupposition? The Goldstone e-mail

Paul Kay offered the following item for discussion around the water cooler at Language Log central:

Here's an excerpt from the initial email from Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump, Jr.:

​"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its  government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin."​

Is it worth noting the use of the possessive determiner​? I guess it's generally accepted that possessive determiners involve  some kind of existence presupposition, though I'm aware that there's a lot more to that subject than I know. In the current instance, the presupposition would be that there is in fact Russian government support for Trump. …

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North America on the Belt and Road?

I've spent the past couple of days at the "Belt and Road Forum for Language Resources", organized by the "Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Language Resources". There are other recently-founded Beijing Advanced Innovation Centers for "Future Education", "Genomics", "Soft Matter Science and Engineering", "Intelligent Robots and Systems", "Big Data and Brain Computing", "Future Visual Entertainment", and no doubt many others.

As for the "Belt and Road Forum" part, this is part of the "Belt and Road Initiative" (discussion e.g. here), which Christine Lagarde said "is about connecting cultures, communities, economies, and people, and about adding new economic flavors by creating infrastructure projects that are based on 21st-century expertise and governance standards". The "Belt" seems to be a set of land-based transportation projects, while the "Road" is the "Maritime Silkroad", all centered on China as illustrated here:

One thing that puzzled me about this workshop was its thematic image of an artistically pixelated globe  centered over the North Atlantic, roughly at the latitude of Philadelphia.

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The N-word Yet Again

The following is a guest post by Tony Thorne of King's College London, originally appearing on his blog. It provides an alternative view to that expressed by Geoff Pullum in his post, "Tory uses N-word… not."


On July 10 Samir Dathi tweeted: "Anne Marie Morris suspended for using N-word. Good. But why is someone who called black people 'picaninnies' our foreign secretary?"

Morris, the Conservative MP for Newton Abbot's use of the phrase 'nigger in the woodpile' provoked widespread condemnation and resulted in her suspension and an abject public apology, but the UK public and media have a very short memory. It was far from an isolated instance of this crass archaism being invoked by British politicians, as this website records.

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Tory uses N-word… not

"Tory MP suspended for racist remark" says the Financial Times headline, just two hours ago as I write this. A Conservative member of parliament suspended from the party within hours after being recorded making a racist remark in a public meeting! A remark involving "the N-word", too! As an anti-racist with no love for the Tories, I was eager to find out the details of this latest embarrassment. But in seconds after I turned to the first newspaper account I realized I was in for a disappointment. It turns out to be fake news. Anne Marie Morris, the very successful Conservative MP for Newton Abbot in the southwestern county of Devon, did not call anyone a nigger.

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"The eye of the needle … is being tried to be threaded…"

Adam Cancryn, "Why a GOP senator from Trump country opposes the Senate health bill", Politico 7/9/2017:

“Collaborating with Democrats on the other side, to me, is not an exercise in futility,” Capito said, noting that she has spoken with Manchin and other Democrats about tackling health care together. “That may be where we end up, and so be it.”

Speculating further than that, she added, is premature. Senate Republicans could quickly strike a deal, pass a bill and follow through on their seven-year repeal pledge before the month is out.

“I think that remains to be seen,” Capito said. “That’s the eye of the needle, and I think it’s being tried to be threaded. But I’m not sure.”

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Orange Guard

Created by Jonathan Smith:

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Grammatical analysis versus accuracy of translation in international affairs

In this widely cited article, "China says Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong no longer has meaning", Reuters  (6/30/17) quoted PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman, Lu Kang, as follows:

Now Hong Kong has returned to the motherland's embrace for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government's management over Hong Kong. The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover.

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Defense counsel for the victim?

A truly Freudian slip in a story in the UK conservative newspaper the Daily Telegraph, speaking volumes about what goes wrong with so many rape and sexual assault prosecutions:

Camille Cosby, wife of the entertainer, issued a statement, read out by an associate on the court steps in a dramatically-delivered speech.

She attacked the judge as biased, and said the defence were "totally unethical."

The defense? Andrea Constand and the other brave women who have accused Bill Cosby (they say he drugged them so he could enjoy sexual gratification without their consent) were not in the dock, and the lawyers arguing their case were not the defense team, but the prosecutors. The Telegraph journalist, Harriet Alexander, has apparently reversed the roles of the accused's defense and the district attorney.

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The hot potato of interpretive responsibility

Below is a guest post by Elisabeth Camp.


Mark posted part of a particularly linguistically juicy exchange from James Comey’s recent Senate testimony, in which Senator Risch “drilled down” on the “exact words” attributed by Comey to Trump, noting that Trump merely expressed his “hope” that Comey could “can see [his] way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Risch then went on to suggest, without saying, that speakers can only be held legally accountable for what they explicitly threaten or claim, and not for mere expressions of hope:

Risch: He said, ‘I hope’. Now, like me, you probably did hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, charging people with criminal offenses and, of course, you have knowledge of the thousands of cases out there where people have been charged. Do you know of any case where a person has been charged for obstruction of justice or, for that matter, any other criminal offense, where they said or thought they hoped for an outcome?

Comey: I don’t know well enough to answer. And the reason I keep saying ‘his words’ is I took it as a direction.

In a follow-up post, Mark linked to a discussion of a 1995 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, which though not a criminal statute, held that the mere statement of an employer’s “hopes” can indeed have a “chilling effect” and “interfere with [an employee’s] exercise of rights.” But there are further grounds for challenge as well, including workplace law on sexual harassment.

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On the short periods of Trumpian time

On Friday, at a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Donald Trump begrudgingly took questions from Jon Karl of ABC News. Karl asked whether there are indeed recordings of Trump's conversations with former FBI director James Comey, as Trump once suggested on Twitter. Here is how he replied (emphasis mine):

KARL: And you seem to be hinting that there are recordings of those conversations.
TRUMP: I'm not hinting anything. I'll tell you about it over a very short period of time. Okay. Do you have a question here?
KARL: When will you tell us about the recordings?
TRUMP: Over a fairly short period of time.

In his response, Trump used "over a very/fairly short period of time" to mean "soon." It's a peculiar choice of preposition — why over rather than in?

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Implicatures on Capitol Hill

Those of us who teach introductory Linguistics courses owe a special debt to James Comey's testimony yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

This two-hour exchange offers us a broad and deep source of evocative and consequential real-world examples of the ways that what is said, what is meant, and what is communicated may be different.

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"This is a whole new life for me now"

Following up on yesterday's post about Rona Barrett's 10/6/1980 interview with Donald Trump, here's a sample from Lesley Stahl's 12/13/2016 interview:

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"I think it's a very mean life"

Rona Barrett interviews Donald Trump in 1980:

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