Archive for Language and culture

Balkan-Chinese rock, with a Turkish twist

From Charles Belov:

This song turned up on my Apple Music new music playlist. Imagine my surprise when, in the middle of this Balkan-language (Croatian, I think, the page mentions "hrvatsko") pop/rock song, Mandarin hip-hop turned up.

"Mladen Burnać (feat. Rock) – Džaba Džaba"

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"I'm here to be told"

In a production of Hapgood last night at the Lantern Theater, I was struck by a phrase that the character Elizabeth Hapgood uses four times. In fact, it caught my attention the first time she used it — as I've noted, a word or short phrase can be contextually salient even at a frequency of one (See e.g. "And yet", 3/28/2004).

Hapgood is the complex, not to say baffling, story of double (and triple and quadruple) agents, in which literal and fictional twins play a key role in complex espionage and counter-espionage operations. If  you're interested, you can find a plot summary here.

The phrase in question is "I'm here to be told", meaning something like "There's some information that I'm expecting from you, but not immediately, so I'm here standing by until you can tell me". The first three times that Hapgood uses it are in the context of radio communication with field agents during an operation, where it's clear to them what she wants to know or what she wants done, and "I'm here to be told" is essentially an instruction to them to do their job and report back. Her final use of the phrase is in a telephone conversation with her son, in which he's due to give her details about a rugby match that he'll be playing in. McKenna Kerrigan, the actor playing Elizabeth Hapgood, produced all four examples crisply, seriously, and without hesitation.

Although it's obvious in context what the phrase means, I don't recall ever having heard it before.  A search in Google Books comes up empty. A general web search turns up a few example with a complement to told and a rather different sort of meaning, for example "I’m not here to be told my pictures aren’t good. I’m here to be told why they weren’t good so I can improve."

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Pronouns: identification by paradigm?

A graduate student in classics expresses appreciation for the new norm of academic staff announcing their pronoun preferences, but wonders why everyone gives their preferences as three-element paradigm: she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/their. It's not like anyone is going to mix and match, she/him/their or whatever.

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The geo-, socio-, ethno-, and politicolinguistics of Taiwan

I've had guests from Taiwan for the past few days.  Two of them are mother and daughter, both primary school teachers.  The mother is a nationally known teacher of Taiwanese language who received special awards from two presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian.  She is very proud of the beauty of the Taiwanese language and is honored to be able to teach it to her students.  She refers to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) as "Huáyǔ 華語", as is done in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and refuses to call it 國語 ("National Language"), because, as she says, "It is not the language of our nation".

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Language and politics in an Inner Mongolian post office

[This is a guest post by Bathrobe.]

Recently I travelled in Inner Mongolia (China) where I picked up a few books in Chinese, Mongolian (traditional script), and English. As the books were getting heavy, I decided to offload them by posting them to Beijing for later pick up.

The lady at the post office was very apologetic, but they had just the day before received strong instructions to look out for books about Mao Tse-tung or the Cultural Revolution. They could accept only books written in Chinese characters; any others would first require clearance from the local office of the Bureau of Cultural Affairs.

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"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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