Archive for Language and culture

K-pop English

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I've been following the Kpop scene for a bit, and I noticed that there is a special flavour of English being used on websites and the like. This is different from the English being used in the songs themselves, which is also worthy of study. In the major websites (Koreaboo, Allkpop…) the English is basically OK. However, there are obviously specific Korean terms (oppa, maknae, aegyo), and English words that are used in a specific Kpop sense (visual, bias, schedule, stage…). This makes this English slightly strange, though not actually weird.

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Sex, drugs, and cognitive psychology

Recently, two strands of idle thought and reading came unexpectedly together: a paper about the psychology of free recall, published in 1944, and a 2007 book on the history of experimental psychology. I learned a couple of things, which I'll share with any of you who are interested.

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Mere wrongness

From China Miéville's Embassytown, the start of the relationship between Avice and Scile:

He’d finished the bulk of his research. It was a comparative study of a particular set of phonemes, in several different languages— and not all of one species, or one world, which made little sense to me.

“What are you looking for?” I said.

“Oh, secrets,” he said. “You know. Essences. Inherentnesses.”

“Bravo on that ugly word. And?”

“And there aren’t any.”

“Mmm,” I said. “Awkward.”

“That’s defeatist talk. I’ll cobble something together. A scholar can never let mere wrongness get in the way of the theory.”

“Bravo again.” I toasted him.

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"…not simply Mandarin Chinese pronounced in a different way"

Chuin-Wei Yap has an interesting article about the southern conurbation known as Chaoshan in China Real Time:  "Underground Banks Trace Roots to the Sicily of China" (WSJ, 10/27/15).

Chaoshan is a portmanteau name composed of the first syllables of the two main cities that it encompasses:  Chaozhou (Teochew) and Shantou (Swatow).

I have long been intrigued by Chaoshan because of its rich history and the abundance of outstanding people who came from this area, including Li Ka-shing (the richest man in Asia; b. July 29, 1928) and my old friend, Jao Tsung-I 饒宗頤 (b. August 9, 1917), whom I consider to be the greatest living Chinese scholar, with a phenomenal breadth of learning and talent, despite the fact that he is basically an autodidact.  I am also partial to Chaozhou because it is the home of one of China's most distinguished operatic traditions and gongfu tea, about which I wrote this very long blog post.

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Oral history to be exempt from IRB review?

Donald Ritchie, "Good news for scholars doing oral history! The federal government is preparing to grant them a right to be excluded from IRBs", History News Network 10/13/2015:

Here are the details according to an announcement on the website of the Oral History Association: "On September 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a set of recommended revisions to the regulations concerning human subject research. Specifically, it recommended that oral history be explicitly excluded from review by institutional review boards, or IRBs, and alluded to the fact that oral history already has its own code of ethics, including the principle of informed consent."

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Monkey wrench

Peter Reitan, previously involved in "Solving the mystery of 'off the cuff'" (2/21/2015), has now pointed us to an improved history of monkey wrench. His email:

Your Language Log post of March 22, 2009 about "Monkey Wrench" mentioned the traditional folk-etymology associated with the term; namely that it was widely believed to have been invented by a "London Blacksmith who invented an adjustable wrench."  All of the early recitations of that folk-etymology (early 1880s), however, attribute the wrench to Charles Moncky, said to have sold his invention for $2000 and to then be living in a small cottage in Brooklyn, New York.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the 1880 census for Brooklyn, New York reports a man named Charles Monk – "tool-maker "- living on Sixteenth Street in Brooklyn.  He may have inspired the folk-etymology; but he does not appear to have invented, inspired, or coined the "monkey wrench."  He was only twelve years old when the earliest-known, date-certain references for "monkey wrench" were published in 1840: See Peter Jensen Brown, "Charles Monk, Monkey Wrenches and 'Monkey on a Stick' – a Gripping History and Etymology of 'Monkey Wrench'", 10/14/2015.

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Gun oil

In "The Stress and Structure of Modified Noun  Phrases in English" (Sag & Szabolsci, Eds., Lexical Matters, 1992), Richard Sproat and I discussed the semantic ambiguity or vagueness of English noun compounds:

We now turn to N0 compounds where a paraphrase links the two words in the compound with a predicate not implicit in either one. We are limiting this category to endocentric compounds, so that their English paraphrase will be something like 'an N1 N2 is an N2 relative-clause-containing-N1,' e.g., 'an ankle bracelet is a bracelet that is worn on the ankle,' or 'rubbing alcohol is alcohol that is used for rubbing'. The range of predicates implied by such paraphrases is very large. Since this type of compound-formation can be used for new coinages, any particular compound will in principle be multiply ambiguous (or vague) among a set of possible predicates.

Consider hair oil versus olive oil. Ordinarily hair oil is oil for use on hair, and olive oil is oil derived from olives. But if the world were a different way, olive oil might be a petroleum derivative used to shine olives for added consumer appeal, and hair oil might be a lubricant produced by recycling barbershop floor sweepings.

We go on to discuss the wide range of relationships involved in such cases, and the difficulty of automating their analysis.

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Fox redux

Melvin Jules Bukiet, "What's Your Pronoun?", The Chronicle Review 9/21/2015:

[H]aving learned to adapt to unexpected or previously unknown pronouns, I am confronted by a new wrinkle in the language of identification. As one of the staff members at the college where I teach recently informed the faculty, "Some of the students will prefer to be referred to as ‘they.’ "  

Really? Or rather, no, because here my problem is practical. Specifically, it’s what verb to use in those pesky evaluations. I cannot bring myself to write, "They is a good student." Nor can I write, "They are a good student." And I simply won’t write about an individual, "They are good students," because "they" are not Walt Whitman. "They" do not contain multitudes. They are entitled to their own identity, but not to their own grammar. Therefore, in lieu of any pronoun, I will use whatever name a student provides. This will lead to a stilted paragraph, but it won’t be wrong.

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Japanese nuances (nyuansu ニュ アンス) of "nuisance"

From Bruce Balden:

The link below (dated 1/29/15) concerns apparently incomprehensible behavior on the part of the father of a young Japanese man taken hostage and killed by ISIS recently.

The link contains the key phrase "for lack of a better translation", but I wonder how hard they tried to translate it. I'd be interested to know what exactly Haruna Yukawa's father said and if it's really so incomprehensible when taken in context.

The phrase in question was uttered by Yukawa’s father when he formally apologized to the people of Japan for his son “causing a nuisance”.

"Chinese netizens left reeling after father of slain Japanese hostage apologizes to the public" (1/29/15)

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Vanessa Ruiz

Fernanda Santos and Christine Hauser, "Arizona News Anchor Is Drawn Into Debate on Her Accent and the Use of Spanish", NYT 9/3/2015:

An Arizona news anchor defended her pronunciation of Spanish words during English broadcasts, saying she delivers them the way the language is intended to be spoken. […]

Ms. Ruiz, who was raised in a bilingual household, said some viewers had questioned her way of pronouncing Spanish words. Sandra Kotzambasis, the station’s news director, said viewers were asking why Ms. Ruiz “rolled her Rs.”

The most striking thing about this controversy is how small the issue really is, at least in terms of the number and type of words whose pronunciation is contested.

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Typical options like “he� and “she�

Collin Binkley, "He? She? Ze? Colleges add gender-free pronouns, alter policy", AP 9/18/2015

Welcome to Harvard. Feel free to pick a pronoun on this form: __ He. __ She. __ Ze. __ E. __ They.

During the registration process at Harvard University, students are now allowed to indicate which pronouns they use, with suggested gender-neutral options like "ze" or "they." Harvard isn't the first college to embrace gender-neutral pronouns, but it's among a wave of major institutions that are widening their policies and pronouns to acknowledge transgender students, as well as "genderqueer" students, who don't identify as male or female.

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Walmart China talk

Don't think that a Walmart in China is like a Walmart in America.  Far from it.  Chinese Walmarts carry many products tailored for the local market that you would never find in an American Walmart.

Here are "20 Things You'll Only See in Chinese Walmarts".

I won't go through all 20 of these curious items in detail, but will focus mainly on a few that are linguistically or otherwise of particular interest.

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The bearded barbarian

Ben Zimmer mentioned to me that he was on the Slate podcast Lexicon Valley talking about the origins of the word "gringo":

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