Archive for July, 2018

Oh, 18!

Robert Hay writes:

There's a Korean pitcher in the majors named Seung-Hwang Oh who was just traded to the Colorado Rockies. Both his previous uniform numbers, 26 and 22, were already taken, so he got number 18, leading to this realization by Sung Min Kim on Twitter:

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Spectral Sinographs

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"Misunderstand that …", "pessimistic that …"

In late June Lila Gleitman noticed a case of "A is pessimistic that S" meaning that A considers it likely that S will happen/turn out to be the case, and A considers S to be an unwanted outcome. Her example was "I am more pessimistic than I was two weeks ago about the trade war spinning out of control."

We agreed that we would both find it impossible to say "I’m pessimistic that the trade war will spin out of control", but differed on "pessimistic about": in my dialect, but not Lila’s, "A is pessimistic about a Republican victory in the fall" is OK, meaning that A fears that the outcome will be the one she doesn’t want — that there will be or that there won’t be, depending on her point of view.

Lila, by the way, said she could use “pessimistic that” in the case of losing hope in a good outcome: “I am more  pessimistic than I was two weeks ago that the prices of stocks will rise.” But I don't think I could use "pessimistic that" there either. (So the original speaker and Lila and I seem to have three different patterns of judgments about "pessimistic that".)

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Jewish uptalk?

Corey Robin, "Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?" (10/18/2017), describes a bit of fictional forensic sociolinguistics:

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist.

Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he’s been around a lot of Jews?

Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten.

Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I’m trying to find out if he’s been around Communists.

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A new kind of iron rice bowl

In the good / bad old days of Chinese communism, people talked about having a "tiě fàn wǎn 铁饭碗" ("iron rice bowl"), which meant essentially that they had a "job for life", though the pay might have been extremely meager.  With the transformation of communism to mercantilism* (in the PRC's case, we may refer to it as "neomercantilism"), the old iron rice bowl could no longer be assured, so new (and more sophistical) types of job security were devised.  One that I just heard about for the first time a few days ago is biānzhì 编制.  For the moment I'll just say that this term can normally mean "weave; plait; braid", "work out; draw up", "organizational scheme (of a group / work unit)", and so forth.  The individual morphemes of which biānzhì 编制 is composed respectively mean "knit; weave; plait; compile; edit; arrange; organize" and "make; manufacture; restrict; system; work out; establish; overpower".

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English vs. Singlish

The clearest demonstration I know of for the pronunciation differences between the two:

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The non-ineffability of "strip" as a measure word

The Guardian published an article on "10 of the best words in the world (that don't translate into English)" (7/27/18).  Calling on nine of their correspondents, they introduced a bouquet of beautiful words, each one of which I am enamored:

SPAIN: sobremesa (Sam Jones in Madrid)

PORTUGAL: esperto/esperta (Juliette Jowit)

ITALY: bella figura (Angela Giuffrida in Rome)

GERMANY: Feierabend (Philip Oltermann in Berlin)

FINLAND: sisu (Jon Henley)

IRAN: Ta’arof (Saeed Kamali Dehghan)

RUSSIA: тоска (toska) (Andrew Roth in Moscow)

JAPAN: shoganai (Justin McCurry in Tokyo)

NETHERLANDS: polderen (Jon Henley)

CHINA: tiáo 条 (Madeleine Thien)

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Sinographic taboo against Islam

Tweet by Timothy Grose, a specialist on Islam in China, especially in Xinjiang:

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Citizenship and syntax (updated, and updated again)

Last week the Washington Post published an op-ed by Michael Anton arguing that the United States should do away with birthright citizenship—the principle that anyone born in the United States is a U.S. citizen, even if their parents are foreign-born noncitizens. The op-ed has attracted a lot of attention from people on both the left and the right, and by “attention” I mean “condemnation”. (E.g., Garrett Epps at The Atlantic, Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, Dan Drezner at the Washington Post, Robert Tracinski at The Federalist, Alex Nowraseth at The American Conservative, and Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy. See also this Vox explainer.)

The criticism both on on Anton’s nativism, but also on his interpretation of the 14th Amendment, on which birthright citizenship is based. One of the interpretive moves for which Anton has been criticized is his handling of a statement made on the floor of the Senate while the proposed text of the 14th Amendment was being debated. And that dispute turns on the resolution of a syntactic ambiguity.

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Massive miswriting

"Can Chinese Write Their Own Language?" | ASIAN BOSS (7/19/18)

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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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Opening and closing necrophilia

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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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