Archive for Language and culture

Chinese-English rap

Thorin Engeseth writes:

I am a big fan of the English musician Tricky, who recently released an album with a song on it called "Beijing to Berlin".

According to an email his marketing team sent out:

The enigmatic voice on the single's A-side, "Beijing To Berlin," belongs to the Chinese rapper and producer Ivy 艾菲. Tricky explains: "I was in Beijing for a show and I met this guy who managed her. She's so different! So raw! The strange thing is, I've had the track for a while but I only just found out that she’s not rapping in Chinese. I ain’t got a clue what language it is. I have no idea. It might be completely made up but whatever it is, it sounds wicked."

I'm attaching a link to a video of the song here. I know very little about the languages of China, and am wondering if this song (a rap song) could just be in very heavily accented English, or is she making sounds up as she goes?

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Solaar pleure carrément?

In my limited experience of French hiphop, I've gotten the impression that it's rhythmically rather "square", in the sense that the syncopations or polyrhythms that are common in the corresponding American genres are relatively rare. As a first tentative step in evaluating this (perhaps quite wrong) idea, I analyzed the word-to-beat alignments of MC Solaar's popular 2001 piece Solaar Pleure. Here's the official video on YouTube:

And there's a set of annotated lyrics at genius.com.

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N Cultures

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Aspects of the Theory of Disney Princesses

At the recent LSA annual meeting in Washington DC, Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer presented a paper with the title "A quantitative analysis of gendered compliments in Disney Princess films". The abstract:

Recent studies find that children use animated films in constructing their gender identities (e.g. DoRozario, 2004; Baker-Sperry, 2007). However, little is known about how gendered language is presented in children’s media. Data on compliments in the Disney Princess films were analyzed for gender of speaker and recipient, and for type of compliment given/received (Holmes, 1986). The proportion of compliments received by female characters declined in the more recent films, although females overall received significantly more compliments on their appearance. These results illuminate how ideologies about language and gender are packaged and presented to children.

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Geolexicography

From Jack Grieve, a map of the distribution of the word the on Twitter:

There's lots more geolexicography of common function words on Jack's Twitter feed.

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Folktale phylogeny

Over at Languagehat's place, there's been a lively discussion of Sara Graça da Silva & Jamshid J. Tehrani, "Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales", Royal Society Open Science 1/20/2016. I'm not going to summarize that discussion, so go read "Ancient Indo-European Folktales", Languagehat 1/21/2016.

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Kongish, ch. 2

In "Kongish" (8/6/15), we looked at the phenomenon of extensive mixing of English and Cantonese by young people in Hong Kong.  We also became acquainted with the Kongish Daily, a Facebook page written in and about Kongish.  Many Language Log readers thought it was a satire or parody and that it was an ephemeral fad that would swiftly fade away. But here we are, half a year later, and the movement is still going strong, and even, it would seem, gaining momentum.

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Floating world

Nicola Esposito sent in the following observations and questions:

What is the etymology of ukiyo 浮世, the "floating world" known in the West mostly thanks to its depictions by artists such as Hiroshige, Hokusai and others?

While perusing the website of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, I discovered that the origins of ukiyo lie in a homophone of 浮世 denoting the "transient world" of Buddhist tradition.  The page does not offer any other detail, but from what I gather that homophone should be ukiyo 憂世, whose literal meaning should be closer to something like "unhappy world".  Unfortunately my knowledge of Japanese is too shallow to be able to to tackle Japanese sources, and I was wondering if you could offer insight on this etymology and in particular how this substitution happened, if it indeed happened. Was it some kind of pun?

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Celebrating the Linguistic Significance of Martin Luther King Jr.

[This is a guest post by Walt Wolfram, with Caroline Myrick, Jon Forrest, and Michael J. Fox.]

Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches are without peer in their public recognition and rhetorical significance. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech is rated as the number one speech of the twentieth century and several other speeches are ranked within the top 100. Given King’s prominence as a speaker and his leadership role in the Civil Rights Movement, it’s ironic that his sociolinguistic legacy has been relatively unexamined and ignored. There are no analyses of how he systematically manipulated regional, ethnic, and stylistic language features in different situations other than a couple of limited studies of his pitch and intonation, including a Language Log post in 2007 ("Martin Luther King's rhetorical phonetics").

In a forthcoming paper ("The Sociolinguistic Significance of Martin Luther King Jr."), we analyze how King’s speech indexes his regional, social, and ethnic identity in speaking to different audiences in different situations. Our results are worth considering in terms of their broader implications for language and social inequality.

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Rooster Caponizing Competition

Sign at the Hakka Cultural Museum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan:

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Style or artefact or both?

In "Correlated lexicometrical decay", I commented on some unexpectedly strong correlations over time of the ratios of word and phrase frequencies in the Google Books English 1gram dataset:

I'm sure that these patterns mean something. But it seems a little weird that OF as a proportion of all prepositions should correlate r=0.953 with the proportion of instances of OF immediately followed by THE, and  it seems weirder that OF as a proportion of all prepositions should correlate r=0.913 with the proportion of adjective-noun sequences immediately preceded by THE.

So let's hope that what these patterns mean is that the secular decay of THE has somehow seeped into some but not all of the other counts, or that some other hidden cause is governing all of the correlated decays. The alternative hypothesis is that there's a problem with the way the underlying data was collected and processed, which would be annoying.

And in a comment on a comment, I noted that the corresponding data from the Corpus of Historical American English, which is a balanced corpus collected from sources largely or entirely distinct from the Google Books dataset, shows similar unexpected correlations.

So today I'd like to point out that much simpler data — frequencies of  a few of the commonest words — shows some equally strong correlations over time in these same datasets.

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Spoken Sanskrit

From December 13-17, 2015, I participated in an international workshop at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS) on the Edmond J. Safra campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  The title of the workshop was "A Lasting Vision: Dandin’s Mirror in the World of Asian Letters".  Here's the workshop website.

The workshop was about Sanskrit poetics, especially as detailed in the Kāvyādarśa (simplified transliteration:  Kavyadarsha; Mirror of Poetry) of Daṇḍin (circa AD 7th c.), the earliest surviving systematic treatment of poetics in Sanskrit.

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"Sherlock Holmes" and "clubfoot" in Chinese

Over at China Economic Review, Hudson Lockett has written an interesting piece worthy of the celebrated British sleuth:

"The game is afoot! Why Chinese Sherlock fans are as confused as everyone else" (1/3/16)

It's all about how the Chinese term — mǎtí nèifān zú 马蹄内翻足 — for a congenital deformity referred to in English as "clubfoot" (talipes equinovarus [CTEV]) figures in the "slaveringly awaited"

New Year’s Day special episode of the series starring Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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