Archive for Language and art

Scripts in Google International Women's Day doodle

For International Women's Day, Google made one of its doodles — this one with quotations from various women from around the world. Each is given its own distinctive typography. Several languages and scripts appear.

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"Rondle it!"

I recently became aware of a viral new meme in China, but didn't know what it meant or even how to pronounce it.  The characters are 盘他, which superficially, literally would seem to mean "plate him / her / it".  Of course, that doesn't make sense, so 盘他 flummoxed me for quite a while.

Since the expression seemed so alien and odd, I thought that maybe the second character had a special topolectal pronunciation and would have pronounced the whole expression as pán tuō, but that was just a wild guess, and it wasn't long before I learned that the term should be pronounced "pán tā", the usual way for those two characters.

I still didn't know what "pán tā 盘他" meant.

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"Hong Kong is (not) China"

From the Los Angeles Loyolan, the student newspaper of Loyola Marymount University:

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Porcelain bumping

I learned this term from an important article by David Bandurski in today's (10/17/18) The Guardian, "China’s new diplomacy in Europe has a name: broken porcelain:  Beijing’s message to Sweden and beyond – criticise us, and we’ll topple your agenda – won’t win it any hearts and minds".

The relevant Chinese expression is pèngcí 碰瓷, which literally means "bump porcelain" (think pèngpèngchē 碰碰车 ["bumper cars"]).  How did pèngcí 碰瓷 ("bump porcelain") become embroiled with diplomacy and international politics?

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Chaotic calligraphy

In the middle of last month, I participated in a double book launch by Cambria Press in Singapore (links here, here, and here).  The event was held at one of Singapore's most outstanding art galleries, called iPreciation (links here and here).  This is what I saw as soon as I walked in the door:

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Artsy-fartsy

Japanese artists depicted almost anything imaginable concerning humans, animals, and the natural world, and they did so with great skill and emotional power.  One sub-genre of Japanese painting that I recently became aware of is that of the fart battle (hōhi gassen 放屁合戦):

"21 Classic Images Of Japanese Fart Battles From The 19th Century", by Wyatt Redd, ati (7/23/18)

As soon as I perused this astonishing scroll, I could not get the expression "artsy-fartsy" out of my mind, and I wondered how and when English acquired such a peculiar term.  Merriam-Webster says that it's a rhyming compound based on "artsy" and "fart", and that its first known use is 1962.

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An experiment with echoing Echos

Henry Cooke (aka "prehensile" on GitHub) has hatched a fascinating techno-artistic experiment. He set up two Amazon Echos to talk back and forth, each repeating a text to the other, with every iteration introducing new errors. His initial inspiration was "I Am Sitting in a Room," a 1969 work of acoustic art by Alvin Lucier, in which a text is recorded and re-recorded until all that is left is the hum of resonant frequencies in the room. (You can watch a 2014 performance with Lucier here.) Rather than replicate Lucier's text, Cooke created new ones for the two Echos to vocalize, with an added wrinkle: iterations of the texts follow the Oulipo S+7 constraint, in which each noun is replaced by another noun appearing seven steps away in the dictionary. You can see the first ten iterations (using Amazon Polly to synthesize different voices) in this video.

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Tangut workshop at Yale

On the weekend of January 19-20, 2018, there was a Tangut Workshop at Yale University.  Organized by Valerie Hansen and sponsored by the Yale Council of East Asian Studies, this was an intense, exciting learning experience for the 35 or so people who were in the room most of the time.

Many readers may be scratching their heads and asking, "Tangut?  What's that?  And why should we at Language Log be concerned with it?"

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Mistranscribed character

Zhao Mengfu 趙孟頫 (1254-1322) is one of the most famous painters in the history of Chinese art.  Many of his priceless works still exist, and he was even honored by having a 167 kilometer-diameter feature on Mercury (132.4° west, 87.3° south), the "Chao Meng-Fu crater", named after him.

When Zhao Mengfu's name came up in a discussion on connoisseurship in one of my classes a few days ago, I almost fell off my chair upon hearing a graduate student from mainland China pronounce it as "Zhao Mengtiao".  Where did she learn that strange pronunciation for this ultrafamous artist's name?  Did she hear it from her teachers?  Her classmates?  Or was she just making a wild guess based on what she thought the ostensible phonophore, zhào 兆, would yield?  However she came up with "Zhao Mengtiao", the effect upon hearing it would be akin to hearing someone say "Michelanjump" or "Leonardo da Jump".

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What does your tattoo mean?

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Lin Tianmiao's "Protruding Patterns": sexism in Chinese characters

Article by Sarah Cascone in Artnet (October 16, 2017):

This Artist Gathered 2,000 Words for Women—and Now, She Wants You to Walk All Over Them:  Lin Tianmiao's installation at Galerie Lelong puts contemporary language on top of antique carpets."

Here's an example of Lin's work:

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Bad Chinese handwriting or just another style?

Lisa Chang took this photo of two paintings at an antique store in 2015 (the store was either in Maryland or Pennsylvania):

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"National backbone"

I. J. Khanewala writes:

While visiting the tomb of the first emperor, I saw a sign in Mandarin which read minzu jiliang and translated as "National backbone". It left me quite mystified.  Here's a photo of the sign:

Source ("Utterly lost in translation").  Any idea what it could mean?

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