Archive for Language and culture

"Chinese light"

In the comments to "The ethnopolitics of National Language in China" (7/2/18), "Uyghur basketball player" (6/24/18), and other posts, there has been a vigorous debate on the relationship between national language on the one hand and local and "minority" / ethnic languages on the other hand.

In the course of the debate, many interesting political, linguistic, and cultural issues have been raised, but in the last paragraph of his latest comment, Bathrobe said something that really caught my attention:

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Chinese characters in the 21st century

We've been having a vigorous debate on the nature of Sinograms:  "Character crises".  It started on June 15, but it is still going on quite actively in the comments section.  A new reader of Language Log, a scholar of late medieval Chinese literature from Beijing was prompted by her reading of this lively discussion and other LL posts to which it led her to send in the following remarks:

Thanks to your blogs, I begin to be aware of some amusing aspects of Chinese languages, though I am still struggling with the terminology.

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A Philadelphian who doesn't like cheesesteaks and hoagies

[*cheesesteak; hoagie]

Recently, a new phrase has swept through the internet in China:  dìyù tuōyóupíng 地域拖油瓶.

People who introduced me to this expression told me that it refers to somebody who is not good at or who is unfamiliar with things associated with the place where he / she is from.  Of course, I had no problem with dìyù 地域, which means "region(al)", but I couldn't quite grasp the nuances of 拖油瓶 in this phrase.

Originally a Wu topolecticism, syllable by syllable it literally means "drag (along) oil bottle", but as a whole it signifies "children from the previous marriage of a woman who is about to remarry" (Wiktionary); "(derog.) (of a woman) to bring one's children into a second marriage / children by a previous marriage" (MDBG).

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Makudonarudo

Here's an amusing Japanglish song by a Malaysian Chinese hip hop recording artist who is called Namewee:

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"Despacito" transcribed with Mandarin, Taiwanese, and English syllables

This amazing song from Taiwan seems to have been inspired by some Japanese cultural practices, which we will explore later in this post.

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Racial stereotypes in China's gaming community

Article by Orange Wang in the South China Morning Post (5/29/18):

"In China’s gaming world, lucky ‘Europeans’ and unlucky ‘Africans’ expose racial stereotypes: While players say popular descriptors are not intended to cause offence, critics see them as ‘verbal microaggression’ and inappropriate"

Complete with photographs of players in blackface and a "popular video [that] shows several gamers in leopard print costumes with dark make-up and tattooed faces doing a tribal dance and singing about being 'African tribal chiefs'".

“African tribal chief” is used to describe the unluckiest players, while “European emperor” refers to the most fortunate.

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No word for rape, Australian edition

Tiger Webb writes to point out what he calls "a particularly toxic variant of the 'no word for X' meme" — from Paul Toohey, "The fight to protect indigenous children from abuse and neglect", News Corporation Australia 5/28/2018:

NO WORD FOR RAPE

Youth workers who spend time with roaming kids say they would never ask them if they’ve been abused and, even after trust is built, never hear children volunteering stories.

Like many cultures, parents don’t discuss it; abusers are likely family; talking to authority figures is difficult; there may be different understandings of right and wrong; and kids may have poor English.

In the Warlpiri language, there is not even a word for “rape” — they use “kanyi”, which means take.

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Ninth heaven

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Wolf's milk, a slime mold attractive to young Chinese?

"Growing up on wolf's milk" — when I first encountered this expression, which was applied to youth who had survived the multiple catastrophes of the first quarter-century of the PRC, I took it literally because I thought that they didn't have much of anything else to eat.  Naturally, though, I did wonder how they would be able to obtain a significant amount of milk from she-wolves to make a difference.

For a moment I thought that maybe starving children were going out into the woods and scavenging for Lycogala epidendrum, commonly known as wolf's milk or groening's slime, which grows on damp, rotten logs from June through November. It wasn't long, however, before I realized that the expression "growing up on wolf's milk", as it occurred in PRC parlance from the 70s and later, was being used metaphorically to describe the hardships experienced by those who endured the privations of early communist rule in China.

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Awful offal

The following YouTube presents "25 Crazy Things You’ll Only Find In Chinese Walmarts".  If you have 4:14 to spare and want to know what special sorts of things are sold in Chinese Walmarts, you can watch the whole video.  If you're pressed for time, then skip to 3:13, which is what I'll be discussing in this post.

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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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The latest on the Whorfian morphology of time

Take a look at Astghik Mavisakalyan, Clas Weber, and Yashar Tarverdi, "Future tense: how the language you speak influences your willingness to take climate action", The Conversation 3/7/2018, which is a re-presentation for a general intellectual audience of a technical paper by the same authors that appeared a month earlier,:Astghik Mavisakalyan, Yashar Tarverdi, and Clas Weber, "Talking in the Present, Caring for the Future: Language and Environment", Journal of Comparative Economics February 2018.

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Using riddles to circumvent censorship in China

We are thoroughly familiar with the use of puns to foil and irritate the censors in China:

"Punning banned in China" (11/29/14)

"It's not just puns that are being banned in China" (12/7/14) — with links to earlier posts on puns in China

"Fun bun pun" (4/9/17)

And many others, including the most recent post on puns and censorship, which focused squarely on the heated controversy over the abolition of term limits for the presidency:

"The letter * has bee* ba**ed in Chi*a" (2/26/18 — the day after the announcement of the constitutional change)

Another means of evading the censors, and more difficult to detect than puns because they speak through indirection (the answers are not given), are riddles.

"Lantern Festival riddles outwit and enrage Chinese censors", by Oiwan Lam, Hong Kong Free Press (3/6/18)

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