Archive for Language and the media

Storage, transmission, whatever

Mike Ives, "Charles Kao, Nobel Laureate Who Revolutionized Fiber Optics, Dies at 84", NYT 9/24/2018 [emphasis added]:

Working in Britain in the late 1960s, Dr. Kao and a colleague played a crucial role in discovering that the fiber optic cables in use at the time were limited by impurities in their glass. They also outlined the cables’ potential capacity for storing information — one that was far superior to that of copper wires or radio waves.

As commenters on the NYT obit point out, optical fiber (like copper wires and radio waves) is used for transmitting information, not storing it.

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"Skr", the latest Chinese buzzword

Let's plunge right in:

"How ‘Skr’ Took Over the Chinese Internet:  A brief history of the meaningless hip-hop term that inspired countless viral memes", by Yin Yijun, Sixth Tone (8/7/18)

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Draconian dictionaries?

Rachel Paige King ("The Draconian Dictionary Is Back", The Atlantic 8/5/2018) suggests that lexicographers might be (re)turning to prescriptivism:

Since the 1960s, the reference book has cataloged how people actually use language, not how they should. That might be changing. […]

The standard way of describing these two approaches in lexicography is to call them “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist.” Descriptivist lexicographers, steeped in linguistic theory, eschew value judgements about so-called correct English and instead describe how people are using the language. Prescriptivists, by contrast, inform readers which usage is “right” and which is “wrong.”

King's historical sketch of lexicography's past century concludes that the descriptivists have won, but that

oddly enough, Merriam-Webster is doing a great deal to promote the idea that sounding educated and using standard—if not highbrow—English really does matter. […]

The company has a feisty blog and Twitter feed that it uses to criticize linguistic and grammatical choices. Donald Trump and his administration are regular catalysts for social-media clarifications by Merriam-Webster. The company seems bothered when Trump and his associates change the meanings of words for their own convenience, or when they debase the language more generally.

Maybe it’s not the dictionary that has become outmoded today, but descriptivism itself. I’m not implying that Merriam-Webster has or should abandon the philosophy that guides its lexicography, but it seems that the way the company has regained its relevance in the post-print era is by having a strong opinions about how people should use English.

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"Bigfeet"?

Dana Millbank, "Goodbye, Republican Party. Hello, Bigfoot Party.", WaPo 7/31/2018:

By now, there are few in the political world who have not yeti heard about what’s going on in the 5th Congressional District of Virginia.

The Republican candidate in the race, Denver Riggleman, was discovered to have posted images of “Bigfoot erotica” on Instagram, with the furry fellow’s ample nether regions obscured. The candidate is also co-author of a 2006 book about Bigfoot hunting in which he describes “serious Bigfoot research” and includes an assertion that “Bigfoots like sex, too.”

Shouldn’t that be “Bigfeet”?

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Zora Neale Hurston and Kossula

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The Economist finally comes around

From Lane Greene at The Economist, "The ban on split infinitives is an idea whose time never came," with boldfacing by yours truly:

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW was once so angry with a subeditor that he complained to the newspaper. “I ask you, sir,” Shaw wrote, “to put this man out.” The cause of his fury? The editor had insisted on “correcting” split infinitives. “Set him adrift and try an intelligent Newfoundland dog in his place,” Shaw fulminated, “without interfering with his perfect freedom of choice between ‘to suddenly go’, ‘to go suddenly’ and ‘suddenly to go’.”

This spring a new edition of The Economist’s style guide is published*. Many of its changes are of a kind only a copy-editor would notice; but on an issue that has set teeth grinding for centuries, it marks a sea-change that Shaw would have appreciated. It says infinitives may be split.

While this strikes a blow for linguistic sanity, it is not an unmixed blessing. The Economist's prohibition of split infinitives within its pages has provided a steady supply of topics for blogospheric descriptivists (especially those with the initials "GKP"), who will now have to find something else to write about.

Economist still chicken: botches sentence rather than split infinitive (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
No-excuses split infinitive in the Economist (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
To more than justify the split infinitive (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
At last, a split infinitive in The Economist (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
Economist Sticklers trying to bug me (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
Active seeming: dumb grammar fetishism yet again (Geoff Pullum on Language Log)
Rules that Eat Your Brain (Geoff Pullum on Lingua Franca)
The Economist Should Lighten Up and Split Some Infinitives  (Geoff Pullum on Slate)
Led astray by the no-split-infinitives fetish (Gabe Doyle on Motivated Grammar)
To offensively split infinitives (Stan Carey on Sentence First)

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Year Hare Affair

That's the abbreviated title of a popular webcomic by Lin Chao 林超.  The full title in Chinese is Nà nián nà tù nàxiē shì 那年那兔那些事 (lit., "that year that rabbit those affairs"; i.e., "The story of that rabbit that happened in that year")

From the beginning of the Wikipedia article:

The comic uses animals as an allegory for nations and sovereign states to represent political and military events in history. The goal of this project was to promote nationalistic pride in young people, and focuses on appreciation for China's various achievements since the beginning of the 20th century.

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Epic eye-roll

Everybody's talking about the eye-roll of the century, the eye-roll that has gone wildly viral in China.  It's undoubtedly the most exciting thing that happened at the Two Sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) that began on March 5 and will most likely end soon.  It was a foregone conclusion that President Xi Jinping would be crowned de facto Emperor for Life and that his "thought" would be enshrined in the constitution.  What was not expected was a brief but epochal roll of the eyes on the part of one female reporter, Liang Xiangyi 梁相宜 (dressed in blue — I'll call her Ms. Blue or [Ms.] Liang), when another female reporter, Zhang Huijun 张慧君 (dressed in red — I'll call her Ms. Red or [Ms.] Zhang), went on too long and too effusively with her fawning question to a high-ranking CCP official.

You see, everything at the NPC is supposed to be scripted and orchestrated.  There aren't supposed to be any surprises.  Yet, as you can see for yourself, Ms. Liang could not hide her true emotions, which are painfully evident at 0:36 in the following 0:44 video — with an increasingly dramatic buildup to the moment of her monumental recoil:


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Dung Times

There's a roundly execrated publication of the CCP called Global Times in English.  The Chinese name is Huánqiú shíbào 环球时报.  Associated with the People's Daily, it is infamous for its extreme, provocative, anti-Indian, anti-Japanese, anti-Western (especially anti-American) editorials and articles.

Now it seems that some Indian Tweeps are referring to the Global Times as "Gobar Times", using Hindi  gobar गोबर ("cow-dung") to mimic the sound and the sentiment the name evokes. A tweet by Donald Clarke calls our attention to this fecal phenomenon.

Here it is in use.

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Candidate for careless Whorfian nonsense of the year

Earlier today, I discussed (or at least linked to) a serious econometric study arguing that the morphology of future time reference is meaningfully correlated — perhaps causally correlated — with the distribution of attitudes towards "willingness to take climate action" ("The latest on the Whorfian morphology of time"). A short time later, with the radio playing in the background as I worked, I heard an extraordinary example of (what I take to be) the sort of media-buzz nonsense that gives discussions of linguistic relativity such a bad reputation among serious people.

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Characterless future

Browser extensions sometimes can cause unexpected problems, e.g.:

"The Time of Shedding and Cold Rocks" (3/7/18).

Often, however, they can be very helpful if they do what you want them to do.

Jonathan Smith writes:

Do you use the web browser Chrome? If so try adding the extension "Convert Chinese to Pinyin (Mand)". It does a decent job converting Chinese-language web pages to word-spaced pinyin (with tone marks if desired) so one can pretend one lives in a characterless future :D

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Toward a recursive meta-pragmatics of Twitterspheric intertextuality

A few days ago, I posted a post consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a Language Log post (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet (by me) consisting of…

a screenshot of a tweet by Lynne Murphy, a linguistics professor, quote-tweeting* an earlier tweet by Benjamin Dreyer, who is (although I didn’t know it at the time) a vice president, Executive Managing Editor, and Copy Chief at Random House.
* retweeting and adding a comment

A screenshot of the post is provided below the fold—but I hasten to add that I am providing the screenshot solely as a convenience to the reader, to save them the trouble of having to leave this post in order to look at that one, should they be so inclined.

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Mistranscription of the month

"Florida school shooting: Armed deputy on duty never went inside to confront gunman", Associated Press 2/22/2018:

The sheriff said he was "devastated, sick to my stomach. There are no words. I mean these families lost their children. We lost coaches. I've been to the funerals. I've been to the homes where they sit and shiver. I've been to the vigils. It's just, ah, there are no words."

"Correction: School Shooting-Florida story", Associated Press 2/26/2018:

In a story Feb. 22 about the Florida school shooting, The Associated Press misquoted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in some versions of the story when he spoke about the families of the victims. He said, "I've been to their homes where they're sitting shiva," not "where they sit and shiver."

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