Melon eaters and censorship in the PRC

Because of the scandal surrounding the illicit, involuntary relationship between female tennis star, Peng Shuai 彭帅, and top CCP official, Zhang Gaoli 张高丽, which became a hot button issue around the world beginning about a month ago, the Chinese government went into overdrive to censor all trace of it from the internet (see here).  The issue was particularly sensitive and embarrassing to the Communist Party because it rekindled the Me Too / #MeToo / #Mǐtù 米兔 ("Rice Bunny") movement (which the government had only with great difficulty tamped down a few years ago), led to the cancellation of the lucrative Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments in China, and is even threatening to cause a boycott of the upcoming winter Olymics, which would be utterly disastrous for the PRC.

The gross disparity between the absence of all mention of l'affaire Peng Shuai et Zhang Gaoli in China (indeed the disappearance of the star herself) and the raging indignation over it outside China led me to inquire of my friends in China what they were hearing about it sub / sotto voce.

All responses in this post are from Chinese citizens who must remain unidentified for fear of harsh government reprisals.

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RFK's first name

Below is a guest post by Bob Ladd.

For years I’ve been puzzled – or at least struck – by the fact that my (Italian) wife always refers to “Bob Kennedy” rather than “Bobby Kennedy” whenever he comes up in a conversation (his assassination was one of the first international political events she was really aware of).  Today it came up again because Beppe Severgnini (a prominent Italian journalist) wrote a piece in the Corriere della Sera about how RFK Jr. is a prominent anti-vax person.  So I thought about it again, and it occurred to me that maybe “Bob” is simply how he’s referred to in Italian.  Sure enough, in Severgnini’s piece he is referred to as “Bob”.

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Punny cookbook

Cover page of a cookbook published in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:

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Hoklo, part 2

The following article is a lucid and linguistically sound discussion concerning the nomenclature for the main non-Mandarin language of Taiwan:

"The Problem of Naming the Most Popular Non-Mandarin Language Used in Taiwan," 6 December 2021", by Hung-yi Chien.

Considering the balanced and fair presentation of the article overall, one wonders why it scrupulously avoids one of the most common ways of referring to the language in question, namely, "Hoklo".  For some reasons why people might wish to refrain from referring to the language in question as "Hoklo", see the very extensive presentation here.

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"Bad" words

As part of their broad language policing, PRC authorities are cracking down on inappropriate monikers:

"No More ‘SissyGuy’ or ‘Douchebag1990’: Weibo Bans Usernames Containing ‘Bad’ Words:

Weibo users can clean up their usernames before December 8", Manye Koetse, What's on Weibo (12/1/21)

Weibo, which is China's version of Twitter, has a huge following and enormous influence, but, like everything on the Chinese internet, it is strictly censored and harshly controlled.  Now, in line with the recent announcement of the latest drastic language regulations, Weibo users must junk their naughty names.

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"Anybody that doesn't think…"

This was posted yesterday evening by Liz Harrington, who regularly posts Donald Trump's "statements" on Twitter:

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Japanese and Korean on a roll

There are reasons why this is so:

"Can you say Squid Game in Korean? TV show fuels demand for east Asian language learning:

Japanese and Korean are in top five choices in UK this year at online platform Duolingo"

James Tapper, The Observor (12/24/21)

The surging growth of Japanese and Korean language learning is a veritable phenomenon:

Whether it’s down to Squid Game or kawaii culture, fascination with Korea and Japan is fuelling a boom in learning east Asian languages. Japanese is the fastest growing language to be learned in the UK this year on the online platform Duolingo, and Korean is the fourth fastest.

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Should non-native students of Japanese pay close attention to pitch accent?

From a long-time learner of Japanese language:

I must say that the Japanese instructors at the Foreign Service Institute were NOT inclined to teach — or even acknowledge — pitch … and, for that matter, in all but rare cases, "bother" to correct students save on the most egregious botching of vocabulary or grammar.

Their core view, perhaps not atypical for the era, or, who knows, even for today, was "No foreigner is EVER going to learn to speak Japanese, so it is senseless to devote effort to minor things."

All that was part and parcel of the famous (=infamous) "study" by the Japanese who devised a means of determining WHY foreigners could never speak Japanese properly, and why Japanese could never speak foreign languages properly.  After wiring up his brain to gerry-rigged electrodes and electrical impulse measuring devices, he concluded (he was a dentist, I believe, and not a scientist let alone a linguist) that Japanese is a vowel-rich language, foreign tongues are consonant-rich, vowels and consonants are processed on opposite cerebral hemispheres, so "of course" it would be "impossible" for Japanese to speak foreign languages (he excluded vowel-rich Polynesian languages as inferior and unworthy of serious attention) and vice versa.  When asked how it could be, then, that Japanese diplomats so often spoke foreign languages fluently, without accents, he replied "Because they are no longer TRUE JAPANESE.  Their brains have altered."

A gentler version of that is found in this posting to a language forum, with extensive comments providing a variety of viewpoints on the subject:

"Pitch Accent? Should Learners of Japanese master it?", Ling!Q (April 2011)

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Who is brian?

Email from a colleague in computer science, listing some of the mistranscriptions in the Zoom captions of his office hours:

timing problem -> tiling problem
bulletin annually -> boolean formulae
satisfy your ability -> satisfiability
fire patterns -> tile patterns
inquisition -> position
valuables -> variables
double fines -> double prime
double poison -> ?
amen -> m, n
wine is in the continent of age -> ???
I do not want a diet climb to brian -> ???

I will stop here and I hope that you can all satisfy your ability with no double fines
and avoid inquisition.
Who is brian?

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Phonology and orthography in Ming China

New book from Columbia University Press:

The Culture of Language in Ming China:  Sound, Script, and the Redefinition of Boundaries of Knowledge

by Nathan Vedal

Pub Date: March 2022 ISBN: 9780231200752 320 Pages

$35.00  £28.00

Publisher's description:

The scholarly culture of Ming dynasty China (1368–1644) is often seen as prioritizing philosophy over concrete textual study. Nathan Vedal uncovers the preoccupation among Ming thinkers with specialized linguistic learning, a field typically associated with the intellectual revolution of the eighteenth century. He explores the collaboration of Confucian classicists and Buddhist monks, opera librettists and cosmological theorists, who joined forces in the pursuit of a universal theory of language.

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Miss Lin on "fashion"

When I first mentioned this remarkable video on Language Log nine years ago, it was buried in this post, "The Westernization of Chinese" (9/6/12), under "this phenomenal video".  I always regretted that I didn't make it more accessible (didn't know how to post YouTubes directly back then), so now here is Miss Lin in all her glory:

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(T)horny Platonists

From Bryan Van Norden:

There is a funny story about a recent publication of mine.  The Chinese translation of my essay, "Why Are Platonists So Horny? What Murdoch’s 'The Nice and the Good' Can Teach Us" just came out.  However, my hard-working translator mistakenly rendered "horny" in my original title (sèmí 色迷) as "thorny" (jíshǒu 棘手)! I told the translator, and he said that he will fix the mistake, so in case it is changed soon online, a screenshot of the original is copied below.

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