Archive for Language and culture

Reality v. Brooks

David Zweig, "The facts vs. David Brooks: Startling inaccuracies raise questions about his latest book", Salon 6/15/2015 ("Factual discrepancies in the NYT columnist's new book raise some alarming questions about his research & methods"):

For at least the past four years David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, TV pundit, bestselling author and lecture-circuit thought leader, has been publicly talking and writing about humility. Central to his thesis is the idea that humility has waned among Americans in recent years, and he wants us to harken to an earlier, better time.  

One of the key talking points (if not the key talking point) cited by Brooks in lectures, interviews, and in the opening chapter of his current bestseller, “The Road to Character,” is a particular set of statistics — one so resonant that in the wake of the book’s release this spring, it has been seized upon by a seemingly endless number of reviewers and talking heads. There’s just one problem: Nearly every detail in this passage – which Brooks has repeated relentlessly, and which the media has echoed, also relentlessly — is wrong.

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More on Dior's "Quiproquo" cocktail dress

Last week (6/5/15), we examined the fantastic calligraphy on a dress created by the great French fashion designer, Christian Dior (1905-1957), that is currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

"Christian Dior's 'Quiproquo' cocktail dress and the florid rhubarb prescription written on it"

During the course of the discussion carried on in the comments to the post, many fascinating details about the dress and its former owner were brought to light.

I am pleased to report that two members of the staff at the Met have kindly provided additional information that sheds further light on this most impressive cultural artifact.

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"Double Happiness": symbol of Confucianism as a religion

An image composed of a circle of fourteen symbols of major world religions has been circulating on the web:

The example pictured here is from this site.

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Shakespeare's formless plays and the degenerate 18th century in France

Following up on the grammar published in 1780 by C.F. Lhomond, I took a look at the La Grammarie Genérale et Raisonée de Port-Royal, Par Arnauld et Lancelot. But the edition that Gallica steered me to turned out to be preceded by an "Essai sur l'origine et les progrès de la Langue françoise", by Claude Bernard Petitot (1772-1825).

This introductory essay is 246 pages long, so it took me a while to page through it to find the actual Port-Royal grammar. And as it scrolled by, it revealed itself as a curious screed, with essentially no connection with the grammar that it introduces. In the guise of a history of French literature, M. Petitot argues that French language, literature and culture became sadly degenerate in the 18th century. And apparently it was all the fault of the barbaric English, aided by those villains Voltaire and Rousseau.

[Warning: I found this interesting, as a reflection of one influential intellectual bureaucrat's thinking in the France of 1803 — the year of the Louisiana Purchase, the Haitian Revolution, and the start of the Napoleonic Wars. It's surprising that in 1803, just 14 years after the French revolution, the man in charge of public education in the Paris area is pining in print for the perfect politeness of Louis XIV's court, and railing against the "empty theories" of 18th-century political philosophy. Petitot's opinions about socio-culture degeneration strike me as analogous, mutatis mutandis, to those of some figures on the current American political scene. But you may well disagree, certainly about the interest and perhaps also about the analogy.]

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The kitchen sink

Randy Alexander asks:

How do you say this in Chinese?

This seems to be another one of those things where there is no standard name for it. Almost everyone I ask has a different name for it, and they have to think for a moment when I ask then how to say it in Chinese.

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Cassia Forest

Chilin Shih is spending the summer doing fieldwork in China, and she has started a weblog, Cassia Forest, to document her journey.

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Arirang

"Arirang" (Hangul:  아리랑) is arguably the most famous Korean folk song.  Indeed, "Arirang" is so well-known that it is often considered to be Korea's unofficial national anthem.  Yet no one is sure when the song arose nor what the title means.

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An Eighteenth-Century Japanese Language Reformer

In his "Reflections on the Meaning of Our Country:  Kamo no Mabuchi's Kokuikô," Monumenta Nipponica, 63.2 (2008), 211-263, Peter Flueckiger presents "a utopian vision of ancient Japan as a society governed in accordance with nature, which was then corrupted by the introduction of foreign philosophies, especially Confucianism."

Mabuchi (1697-1769) looks at a wide range of social, political, and cultural manifestations, but the aspect of his work that intrigues me most is his sharply critical stance with regard to Chinese characters.

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Linguistic dominance in House of Cards

You may have seen "The Ascent: Political Destiny and the Makings of a First Couple", now featured on the e-front-cover of The Atlantic magazine:

If you click on the link, the top left of the resulting page bears a little tag telling you that you're reading "sponsored content" — and if you mouseover that tag, you'll learn that

This content was created by Atlantic Re:think, The Atlantic's creative marketing group, and made possible by our Sponsor. It does not necessarily reflect the views of The Atlantic's editorial staff.

One piece of that "The Ascent" page, down at the bottom under the heading "Frank and Claire: Patterns of Power", presents a bit of computational psycholinguistics:

We can tell a lot about ourselves by the words we use. But not the big words. The small ones: you, we, I, me, can’t, don’t, won’t. In fact, if we pan back far enough, we can see broader traits, like dominance and submissiveness. Which is exactly what we did by analyzing all of Frank and Claire Underwood’s private dialogue throughout House of Cards Seasons 2-3, using a special language-processing software. The results were fascinating.

This post gives a bit of the background of that segment, including my own small role in its genesis. The main point is to prepare the ground for a discussion of the ideas involved, which I think are interesting and important; but maybe a description of the process will also be interesting.

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Tribes

Bob Bauer writes:

Yesterday I discovered that the concept 'person who is continuously looking at or obsessively interacting with his/her smartphone or other type of electronic handheld device' has been lexicalized in Cantonese as 低頭族 dai1 tau4 zuk6 (literally, 'head-down tribe') (according to an article by Mark Sharp in the South China Morning Post).

[VHM:  See "Beware the smartphone zombies blindly wandering around Hong Kong" (3/2/15)]

Have you heard of this word?  It may have originated in Taiwan Mandarin.

"低頭族" 853,000 Ghits (on March 4, 2015)

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Year of the ovicaprid

According to the Chinese zodiac, the coming New Year is referred to as yángnián 羊年, but there's a problem:  what animal are they referring to?  Is it the "year of the ram", the "year of the sheep", the "year of the goat", or something else?

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The humanities in an alternate universe

A couple of months ago, I got a copy of The Chronicle Review with a cover story by Arthur Krystal called "Neuroscience is ruining the humanities".

Actually there are two semi-falsehoods in that sentence.

In the first place, I actually got the physical publication in the mail about a week ago, even though the issue is dated November 28, and the online article is dated November 21. That's because I live in a university residence, and my university apparently picks up the mail from the post office from time to time, sends it somewhere to be sorted at leisure, and then delivers it to its various destinations by occasional caravan.

The second misleading statement concerns the article's title: the online version is now called "The shrinking world of ideas". Since the URL is still "https://chronicle.com/article/Neuroscience-Is-Ruining-the/150141/", we can guess that the online article's title was changed after the fact. Thereby hangs a tale, though I can only guess what it is.

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Predictable structure in songs, faces, words, & roles

From Gregory "Sir Mashalot" Todd, proof that all Country songs released in 2014 were underlyingly the same:

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