Archive for December, 2018

Sino-Sanskritic "devil"

One of the most curious and fascinating words I learned during the first or second year of Mandarin study was móguǐ 魔鬼 ("devil; demon; fiend").  Somehow it just sounded right as the designation for what it signified:

Tā shìgè móguǐ 他是個魔鬼 ("He's a devil")

Even the characters, which I have always deemphasized since I began learning Mandarin, seemed appropriate. Guǐ 鬼 ("ghost; spirit; apparition; deuce"), the representation of a bogeyman that goes all the way back to the oracle bone inscriptions more than three millennia ago, was the thing itself.  Although I didn't know the exact meaning of mó 魔, it too had the guǐ 鬼 radical, so I thought of móguǐ 魔鬼 as a "mó 魔 type guǐ 鬼", and I just took it on faith that it meant "devil".

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Who's the sponsor?

A few weeks ago I attended the last afternoon of Scale By The Bay 2018 ("So much for Big Data", 11/18/2018), and as a result, this arrived today by email:

We had a blast at Scale by the Bay. We hope you did, too. As a sponsor, the organizer has shared your email with us. If you would like to receive messages from Xxxxxxxxx, please opt-in to our mailing list.

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On pronoun typology and economic measures

Below is a guest post by Bob Kennedy.


This post is adapted from a letter I wrote to the editors of the journal Kyklos, in response to the recent publication of “Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital? The Case of Pronoun Drop”, by Prof Horst Feldmann of the University of Bath.

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Really weird sinographs, part 4

A video introducing 70 obscure Chinese characters (shēngpì zì 生僻字):

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Guilty gloves

There was some discussion earlier this morning ("Editors without judgment") about editorial culpability for misreadings due to the ambiguity of post-modifier attachment. In that headline (…a space for women without judgment), the problem the problem was a PP modifier (without judgment) that should attach "high", i.e. to an earlier NP (a space … without judgment), and creates an unfortunate misreading if attached "low" (women without judgment). I implicitly blamed this on the inattentive sub-editor who wrote the headline. But really, it's the fault of the English language, for having no good way to indicate where post-modifiers should attach.

Here's an example where the problem goes in the opposite direction — Hannah Ellis-Petersen, "NHS rubber gloves made in Malaysian factories accused of forced labour", Guardian 12/9/2018.

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Editors without judgment

The headline: Sean O'Hagan, "Photographer Hannah Starkey: 'I want to create a space for women without judgment'", The Observer 12/8/2018.

The quotation: “That graduate show set me up,” says Starkey. “Suddenly I was in demand and simultaneously I became very aware of the different space that women occupy in the photography world, both as practitioners and subjects. I have been acutely aware of that ever since, the ways in which women are constantly evaluated and judged. My gaze is not directed in that way. A lot of what I do is about creating a different level of engagement with women, a different space for them without that judgment or scrutiny.”

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Please vomit here

Here we go again.  With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coming up, China aims to eliminate Chinglish, and all sorts of negative examples are adduced.  We've covered scores of them on Language Log, but here's one I hadn't seen before:

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English as an official language in Taiwan

I could see this coming years ago.  The writing was on the wall:

"Some subjects in Taiwan's schools to be taught in English:  As part of the goal of making Taiwan a bilingual country by 2030, some subjects in schools will be taught entirely in English", by Keoni Everington, Taiwan News, Staff Writer (2018/12/6/18)

That's quite an ambitious goal (a bilingual country by 2030), is it not?  Especially since English will be one half of the bilingual equation, while a mixture of Sinitic and Austronesian languages will together constitute the other half, though Mandarin will doubtless be the main component of the latter, at least initially.

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Taking shit from the chancellor

Well, shitstorm, anyway: Melissa Eddy, "Some Words Defy Translation. Angela Merkel Showed Why." NYT 12/6/2018:

Some words can’t be translated easily. But they can cross national borders, lose their original context along the journey, assume different meanings and crop up in unlikely places.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany proved that point — memorably.

Speaking at a technology conference on Tuesday, Ms. Merkel, known as a staid, no-drama politician, told a self-deprecating anecdote about being widely mocked online five years ago after she described the internet as some mysterious expanse of “uncharted territory.”

She chuckled at the memory of the digital blowback.

“It generated quite a shitstorm,” she said, using the English term — because Germans, it turns out, do not have one of their own.

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Metaphor mixture of the week

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Deep learning stumbles again

At least I think that's what happened here. Gita Jackson, "Tumblr's New Algorithm Thinks Garfield Is Explicit Content", Kotaku 12/4/2018:

Yesterday, Tumblr announced that it will ban all adult content starting December 17th. As users logged into their accounts, they have seen that some of their posts now have a red banner across them, marking them as flagged for explicit content. The problem is, a lot of these posts are hilariously far from being pornographic.

It’s pretty clear that these flags are being done based on an algorithm, and the algorithm is finding false positives. Here’s a list of things that got flagged: a fully clothed woman, a drawing of a dragon, fan-art of of characters from the anime Haikyu!!, art from the children’s book The Princess Who Saved Herself that the author of said book posted, a drawing of a bowl of fruit with mouths, a video of abstract blurs, Garfield.

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Japanese buzzwords

The buzzwords of the year (Shingo/Ryūkōgo Taishō 新語・流行語大賞) have been announced.  As Nathan Hopson, who called the results to my attention, puts it:

With the caveat that this is a contest run by a private company that publishes an annual collection of new and important words, and that there's a lot of peripheral annoyance around the biases this seems to create, there are always a few interesting terms.

This year's winner was "sodane〜 そだね〜" ("that's right〜" ), the kawaii (the culture of cuteness) shortened form of sōdesune そうですね ("I agree; that's right; that's so, isn't it; hmm"), one of my favorite Japanese expressions, popularized during the Pyeongchang Olympics broadcasts of the Japanese women's curling team.

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A new Sinograph

On being ugly and poor, with an added note on consumerism.

Every so often, for one reason or another, somebody creates a completely new Chinese character.  Here's the latest:

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