Archive for Language and culture

Barking roosters and crowing dogs

The following full-page ad was published in a Chinese daily in Malaysia:

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Justin Bieber OK infix

What's going on here?  How did Justin Bieber become an infix (more precisely tmesis) inserted between the "O" and the "K" of "OK"? 

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Kulchur wars: Literary Sinitic YES; Hip hop NO

The following article by Xiong Bingqi appeared in today's (2/1/18) China Daily, China's leading English language newspaper:  "Ancient texts not a burden on students".  Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:

The newly revised senior high school curriculum includes more ancient Chinese poems and prose for recitation, sparking a public discussion on whether it will increase the burden on students. A Ministry of Education official has said recitation should not be regarded as a burden, as it will make students more familiar with traditional culture.

Some people consider an increase in the number of subjects, texts or homework raises the students' burden, while reducing them eases their burden. But they fail to identify the real source of students' burden. By learning something they are interested in or something that is inspiring, the students will actually gain in knowledge and resolve, so such content cannot be an additional burden on them.

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Greasiness, awkwardness, slothfulness, despondency — Chinese memes of the year

The first two conditions, along with eight others, are covered in this interesting Sixth Tone article:

"An Awkward, Greasy Year: China’s Top Slang of 2017 " (12/28/17) by Kenrick Davis

Davis's presentation is excellent, so let us begin this post with two montages accompanying his article.

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Of armaments and Old Sinitic reconstructions, part 6

From March through July of 2016, we had a long-running series of posts comparing words in Indo-European and in Old Sinitic (OS),  See especially the first item in this series, and don't miss the comments to all of the posts:

Today's post is not about a sword per se, but it is about an armament for parrying sword thrusts.  It was inspired by seeing the following entry in Paul Kroll, ed., A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese (Leiden: Brill, 2015), p. 104a:  fá 瞂  pelta; small shield — Middle Sinitic bjwot.  I asked Paul where he got that beautiful word "pelta", and he replied:  "One of the benefits of my early classical studies. I got it from Vergil, but it’s originally Greek."

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CCP approved image macros

Two powerful agencies of the PRC central government, Zhōnggòng zhōngyāng jìlǜ jiǎnchá wěiyuánhuì 中共中央纪律检查委员会 ("Central Commission for Discipline Inspection") and Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó jiānchá bù 中华人民共和国监察部 ("People's Republic of China Ministry of Supervision"), have issued "bā xiàng guīdìng biǎoqíng bāo 八项规定表情包" ("emoticons for the eight provisions / stipulations / rules"); see also here.  The biǎoqíng bāo 表情包 (lit., expression packages") were announced on December 4, 2017, five years to the day after the rules themselves were promulgated.

English translations of the so-called "Eight-point austerity rules" or "Eight-point regulations" may be found here and here.  The rules were designed to instill greater discipline among Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, to bring the Party "closer to the masses", and to reduce bureaucracy, extravagance, and undesirable work habits among Party members.

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Linguists and change

In recent years, a rapid and important cultural change in the understanding of gender has been taking place in American society and beyond. A Harris poll from this year, reported in a Time Magazine cover story, found that “20% of millennials say they are something other than strictly straight and cisgender, compared to 7% of boomers”. At the University of Pennsylvania, many staff members specify preferred pronouns in their email signatures, and introductory meetings for first-year students often start by asking everyone present to specify their pronouns. Many schools, including Harvard, ask undergraduates to choose their pronouns upon registration. Several states have added the option of X as a third gender category on official government documents. At the same time, gender identity has become a polarizing issue in political debates, and gender non-conforming people are more at risk of violence and suicide. We offer this summary for readers who haven’t been in the midst of this change themselves or had a front row seat on it, as some of us have.

Cultural change, personal vulnerability, generational difference, political hostilities, and changes in language use with grammatical implications, all in play. What could possibly go wrong?

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"Beautiful" in the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party

James Wimberley notes that, among the recent additions to the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party, is this section:

The basic line of the Communist Party of China in the primary stage of socialism is to lead all the people of China together in a self-reliant and pioneering effort, making economic development the central task, upholding the Four Cardinal Principles, and remaining committed to reform and opening up, so as to see China becomes a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.

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Brain hole

Neologisms pop up so fast in China that it is almost impossible to keep abreast of them.  Furthermore, it is very hard to figure out where many of them come from.  Some of them are undoubtedly borrowed from other languages, but given such a twist that it is difficult to recognize the original source.  Others are just made up by imaginative netizens.  If they are taken up by others and catch on, they become part of contemporary vocabulary.

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Applied Quadrophobia

Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong entrepreneur, is one of the wealthiest persons in the world.  Around the beginning of this month, he sold the famous Hong Kong skyscraper known as The Center to a Chinese Communist Party-backed firm for over $5 billion, making it the most expensive commercial building ever sold.

Here's the WSJ report on the transaction:

"China’s Communist Party Has Ties to $5.15 Billion Hong Kong Property Deal:  The Center was featured in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight'", by Wenxin Fan and Natasha Khan, WSJ (11/2/17)

What's interesting is that some websites claim that The Center is a "73 story building", while others describe it as having "80 floors". Apparently they're both correct … depending on what is counted.  This blog post explains why:  "Five Billion Dollar Office Tower Missing A Few Floors", by Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ (11/8/17).

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Glamping

That's a word that was completely unknown to me until I received this note from my sister, Heidi:

Glamping is big and getting bigger all of the time. Especially as the boomers retire daily. There are even 3 sites in PA and four in Ohio… and 9 in Texas.

And it is related to the off the grid and tiny house movement… also inspired by Burning Man subculture. As you can see, it was added to the Oxford Dictionary last year.

There are glamping supplies, tents, and destinations. See the official web site.

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Sibe: a living Manchu language

While it is generally acknowledged that Manchu language is nearly extinct, with only a handful of elderly speakers in the original territory of Manchuria, a very close cousin survives in the far northwest of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of the PRC.  This language is called Sibe (MSM transcription Xíbó 锡伯), and it is spoken by about 30,000 individuals among a population of about 200,000 whose ancestors were sent by the Manchu emperor to garrison the region in 1763-1764.  They never returned to their original homeland in the northeast of the empire, but have stayed continuously in the Ili Valley area of Eastern Central Asia (ECA), especially Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County / Chapchal Sibe Autonomous County.  Although the origin of the name "Siberia" is contestedPamela Crossley suggests that the Russians who were moving toward the Pacific named that vast region after the Sibe, who were well known to them.

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La septième fonction du langage

Laurent Binet, La septième fonction du langageThe seventh function of language. This looks like an interesting book — pulp meta-fiction featuring Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Umberto Eco, Noam Chomsky, Louis Althusser, Paul de Man, Jean-François Lyotard,  Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, John Searle, Morris Zapp, Gayatri Spivak, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Julia Kristeva, Philippe Sollers, Jacques Lacan, Camille Paglia, and more. There are reviews by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post ("Who killed Roland Barthes? Maybe Umberto Eco has a clue.", 8/23/1017), by Nicholas Daves in the New York Times ("A Postmodern Buddy-Cop Novel Sends Up the World of Semiotics", 8/16/2017), by Anthony Domestico in the San Francisco Chronicle ("‘The Seventh Function of Language,’ by Laurent Binet", 817/2017), etc. And there's a play, scheduled for the Théâtre de Sartrouville in November, and various other venues in France through the spring of 2018. No doubt the movie rights have already been snapped up.

Versions in French and in English are available from the usual places.

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