Weaponized Tibetan Pinyin

Jichang Lulu has just posted a very interesting article titled  “the clash of romanisations” (5/12/17).  It begins:

Last month the Ministry of Civil Affairs (民政部) published a list of six ‘standardised’ place names in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a large part of which the PRC claims as part of South Tibet (藏南). This generated the predictable Indian protests, media brouhaha and mandatory Globule sovereignty-reaffirming blather. Analysis of what’s being called a “renaming” of Arunachal “districts” sees it as retaliation for the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the region. All these hit-back-at-the-DL-to-“re”affirm-sovereignty readings are surely plausible, but I don’t think it’s very clear in which sense these ministerial coinages are ‘renaming’ or ‘standardising’ anything.

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Priming the pump: a cartoon history

As Mark Liberman noted, Donald Trump seemed to imply in his recent interview with The Economist that he coined the phrase “priming the pump,” or at least the financial use of it: “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.” Was this just some sort of peculiar joke, especially considering that Trump himself has used the phrase several times in the past? We may never know, but I thought it would be worth delving into the history of “priming the pump” in a way that even our reading-averse president might appreciate: through cartoons. The financial metaphor of “priming the pump” was frequently depicted by editorial cartoonists in the 1920s and ’30s, so much so that it became something of a visual cliché.

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Priming the pump

Transcript: Interview with Donald Trump“, The Economist 5/11/2017:

That all goes into tax reduction. Tremendous savings.

But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?

It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”?

Yes.

We have to prime the pump.

It’s very Keynesian.

We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

Priming the pump?

Yeah, have you heard it? Yes. Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.

It’s…

Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.

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When intonation overrides tone, part 2

Richard Warmington has a deep interest in the relationship between tone and intonation, especially in Mandarin.  He has made a number of penetrating observations and asked a series of probing questions on this phenomenon.  Since this is also a subject that has come up numerous times on Language Log (see below for a several previous posts), I will list here a few of Richard’s remarks about tones and intonation, with an eye toward encouraging further discussion.

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Similes for quality of computer code

I must admit to having enjoyed the series of savage similes about quality of computer program code presented in three xkcd comic strips. They show a female character, known to aficionados as Ponytail, reluctantly agreeing to take a critical look at some code that the male character Cueball has written. Almost at first sight, she begins to describe it using utterly brutal similes. In the first strip (at http://xkcd.com/1513) she announces that reading it is “like being in a house built by a child using nothing but a hatchet and a picture of a house.” But Ponytail is not done: there is more bile and contempt where that came from.

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Draconic nomenclature

Madeline K. Sofia, “‘Baby Dragon’ Found In China Is The Newest Species Of Dinosaur” (NPR, 5/9/17) clarifies the origin of Beibeilong sinensis, the newest dinosaur species:

In 1993, farmers in China found a Beibeilong embryo and eggs in Henan province. The fossils were sold to an American fossil company called The Stone Co. and brought to the United States. A model of an embryo curled inside an egg was famously featured on the May 1996 cover of National Geographic and was nicknamed “Baby Louie.”

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Funerarily lost

BIYI has written a very clever article titled “The Culture of sàng: a Generation Lying-down?” in China Buzz Report (Elephant Room, 5/7/17).  It begins with a little Mandarin lesson:

The character 丧 is a polyphone in mandarin Chinese. When it is pronounced sāng, it loosely translates to funeral or mourning. When as sàng, it could be referring to either losing certain things or people (“丧失”), or a conglomeration of negative emotions such as feeling depressed, angry, disappointed and vexed.

And the sàng culture we are talking about here really takes both meanings: it is, very vaguely, the idea that you’ve lost something and are feeling horrible about it.

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Found in Translation

Found in Translation” is the latest in the PBS video series Articulate, exploring how “scholarly translations are a constant battle between literal accuracy and literary interpretation.”

Connoisseurs of automated translation follies will appreciate the bit about 4 minutes in when Peter Cole copies some Hebrew into Google Translate and gets the English output, “ui on Lbbc stopped Heather.” (“Lbbc” is in the Hebrew original for some reason, so this might not be the best translational task.)

(h/t Grant Barrett)

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Annals of helpful surveillance

Early one evening last week, I was feeling sleepy, and said so. And a little later, I said “OK, I’m cashing in my threat to take a nap”, and went into my bedroom to do so.

As usual, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and plugged it in to charge, which made the screen light up. On it I saw this:

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Machine translation bug of the week

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Lunch order

Today’s xkcd:

Mouseover title: “GO FOR LUNCH, REPEAT, GO FOR LUNCH.”

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Which, close enough

John Herrman, “The Online Marketplace That’s a Portal to the Future of Capitalism“, New York Times Magazine, 5/3/2017:

Among the items I sent to my friend, on our modest budget: a laser pointer; 100-count “super strong” small magnets; a functioning violin; a spare part for the window mechanism on an Audi A6; a deep-V-neck sweater; and of course, the self-stirring mug. Shipping was often free, or only a dollar. The items were extraordinarily well reviewed, often by thousands of customers. The deals seemed, if not exactly too good to be true, at least economically unfeasible — which, close enough.

Michael Glazer, who sent in the link, commented:

Because, why not?

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Wetware lives in meatspace

I missed Heather McHugh’s poem “Hackers can sidejack cookies” — a collage of fragments from the Jargon File — when the New Yorker published the text in 2009. Here’s the author reading it at B.U. on 4/17/2010:


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