Archive for January, 2017

Malapropism of the week

Jessica Taylor & Danielle Kurtzleben, “This week in Trump’s ‘Alternative Facts’“, NPR 1/29/2017

Less than 24 hours after White House press secretary had spouted numerous falsehoods about inauguration crowd size and more, Kellyanne Conway went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to defend him. In the process, the counselor to President Donald Trump coined a phrase that’s now deigned to follow Trump throughout his presidency — “alternative facts.”

I imagine that they meant “destined”, not “deigned”.

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Why learn Cantonese and one way to do it

Anne Henochowicz, who for years was a mainstay at China Digital Times, and whom I have often cited on Language Log, has decided to branch out from Mandarin and tackle another important Sinitic language, Cantonese.

Check out her new blog:  “I’m Learning Cantonese:  Teaching Myself a Second Chinese Language“.

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The SISSILY countries

Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen. We’re going to need an acronym, in case we forget which are the seven countries on the blacklist. And Language Log is here for you: we have prepared one. Somalia-Iran-Sudan-Syria-Iraq-Libya-Yemen: SISSILY. We can refer to them as the SISSILY countries. And to convince you of the threat they pose, I have prepared a table of the statistics for all of the terrorist murders that the evil citizens of those countries have perpetrated so far. The table is below. I warn you, the data are rather shocking.

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Why electronic machine translation services sometimes seem to fail

The inability of Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Baidu Fanyi, and other translation services to correctly render jī nián dàjí 鸡年大吉 (“may the / your year of the chicken be greatly auspicious!”) in various languages points up a vital distinction that I have long wanted to make, and now is as good a time as ever.  Namely, just as you could not expect these translation services to handle Cantonese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, etc. (unless specifically and separately programmed to do so), we should not expect them to deal with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS / CC).

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Chicken is down

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Apologetic rat

The following ghastly photographs of a rat that was caught stealing from a convenience store in Heyuan, Guangdong province have gone viral on Chinese social media.

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WARNING:  viewer discretion advised.

The photographs following the page break may be upsetting to some readers.

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In a swirl of synonyms and grammar terms, calling a noun a noun

Dan Barry’s recent article in The New York Times is headed: “In a Swirl of ‘Untruths’ and ‘Falsehoods,’ Calling a Lie a Lie.” And pretty soon, he is of course reaching for the dread allegation of writing in the “passive”. Does he know what that charge means? No. Like almost everybody who has been to college in America, he vaguely knows that passive is bad in some way that he can’t quite put his finger on, but he doesn’t actually know when it is appropriate to use the term “passive” and when it isn’t (see this paper of mine for a couple of dozen similar cases of mistaken allegations of using the passive). He says this:

To say that someone has “lied,” an active verb, or has told a “lie,” a more passive, distancing noun, is to say that the person intended to deceive.

His “active verb” is not transitive, so it doesn’t have a passive version; and his “passive, distancing” counterpart is not verbal at all, and hence has nothing to do with passive constructions. What on earth does he think these terms mean? Nouns have nothing at all to do with either the grammatical concept of passive voice or the rhetorical concept of distancing oneself from the content of a claim.

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The temperature is struggling

I commented back in 2008 on the ridiculous vagueness of some of the brief weather forecast summaries on BBC radio (“pretty miserable by and large,” and so on). I do sometimes miss the calm, scientific character of American weather forecasts, with their precise temperature range predictions and exact precipitation probabilities. In recent days, on BBC Radio 4’s morning news magazine program, I have heard an official meteorologist guy from the weather center saying not just vague things like “a weather front trying to get in from the north Atlantic,” or “heading for something a little bit warmer as we move toward the weekend,” but (more than once) a total baffler: “The temperature is going to be struggling.” What the hell is that about?

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Partial negative concord

Steven Hsieh, “Joking Around: We spoke with that Carlsbad city councilor with the sexist Facebook post“, SF Reporter 1/24/2017 [emphasis added]:

Carlsbad City Councilor JR Doporto drew widespread criticism today after KOB 4 highlighted a Facebook post he wrote mocking women who participated in Saturday’s nationwide demonstrations against President Donald Trump. […]

After angry comments rained down on his Facebook page, he doubled down on his jokes with additional posts. […]

We caught up with Doporto this afternoon on the phone to hear his thoughts. […]

Q: I don’t think anyone is disputing that you have the right to say what you want to say. I guess the question was: The march was for women’s rights. And the particular joke you made was disparaging towards women and some of the stereotypes you used were—it seemed you were thumbing your nose at what was taking place. Does that make sense to you?

A: Yeah, yeah. I was thumbing my nose at what was taking place. Enough already. Let’s get on. Women have had rights for … years that I have been alive. I don’t see no rights they don’t have that a man has. When are they going to get on and move on? I believe if a Democratic president was elected, Hillary, I don’t think we would’ve had those protests.

Karen Sumner, who sent me the link, commented: “This is likely an example of a simple and easily-recognized language thing to Language Log folks, but I scratched my head when I saw it. Still scratching, to be honest.”

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Caucasian words for tea

In Appendix C of The True History of Tea, a book that I wrote with Erling Hoh, I showed how all the words for “tea” in the world except two little-known Austro-Asiatic terms can be traced back to Sinitic.  The three main types of words for tea (infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves) may be characterized as te, cha, and chai.  I won’t repeat all of the philological and linguistic data in this post, but you may find the essentials nicely summarized here:

An evening with Victor Mair” (“Pluck Tea”, 6/1/11), also in this Wikipedia article, and in this blog post on Languages of the World by Asya Pereltsvaig:  “What will you have:  tea or chai?” (9/28/14).

Here’s a map of words for tea in European languages.

If you want more detail, go to Appendix C of the book, but — unless you have exceptionally good eyes — you’d be well advised to enlarge it on a photocopier because that part of the book is in double columns of very fine print.

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We’ve got the best wishes in the Netherlands

I’m in Groningen for the celebration of the 30-year anniversary of Alfa-Informatica.

So this is appropriate:

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Tracing lexical trends in Google searches

Google has released a fun data visualization tool that shows changes in search interest over time for a variety of trending words, particularly new slang terms. In “The Year in Language 2016,” you can see how frequently people searched for the definitions of words, in queries such as “selfie definition” or “define selfie.” By this metric, the top 10 words for 2016 are: triggered, shook, juju, broccoli, woke, holosexual, shill, gaslighting, bigly, and SJW. You can also plot the search interest for more than 50 words from 2013 to 2016.

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Significance

Slow-talking the inaugural” was just reposted in Significance, a a statistics magazine published by the American Statistical Association and the Royal Statistical Society. Or following their logo,

which I guess can be approximated via Unicode as SIGNIFICΛNC.

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