Archive for Language and the law

Further mystification of the Japanese writing system

"Baby Pikachu? Japan panel weighs accepting unconventional readings of kanji for names"

KYODO, STAFF REPORT
The Japan Times (May 19, 2022)

What’s in a name? In Japanese, that’s complicated.  [VHM:  You can say that again!  One of the hardest tasks in my graduate training as a Sinologist was learning how to pronounce Japanese proper nouns correctly.  This is one of the reasons I wrote the dictionary described in this post.]

An advisory body to the justice minister has compiled a draft proposal on whether and how to accept — and record on the family register — unconventional kanji readings of names for newborns and naturalized citizens. In one cited example of so-called kirakira (sparkly) names, it would be acceptable for the kanji characters 光宙 read as pikachū, which could be a hit for fans of the Pokemon universe.

The proposal is part of the ministry’s push for digitalization of the family register, an effort that would be better facilitated by adding hiragana and katakana readings to kanji names.

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Human rights implications of a Korean word for "child"

"Newly coined word 'rini' demeans children: rights watchdog", by Park Han-na, The Korea Herald (May 4, 2022)

Popular internet slang words derived from the Korean word “eorini,” which means children, may promote negative stereotypes and discrimination against children, the country’s human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea urged related government bodies to find ways for the public to refrain from using the newly coined words that compare a beginner in a certain field to a child, saying it can demean children.

“Eorini” is a formal way of referring to children, according to the National Institute of Korean Language dictionary.

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Is Korean diverging into two languages?, part 2

To make sense of the story that follows, one must understand that the Korean word "agassi 아가씨" used to refer to a young lady from the upper class, but now in North Korea means “slave of feudal society” and has a very negative connotation there.

"Hidden meaning of Korean term 'agassi' leads to murder", by Choi Jae-hee, The Korea Herald (5/3/22)

Because the linguistic psychology that lies behind the tragic crime recounted in this article is intricate and subtle, it is necessary to recount it at some length:

An error in a mobile translation application recently prompted a 35-year-old Chinese man in Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, to murder a Korean resident.

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Foreign devil froth and foam

The term “gweilo” is widely used in Hong Kong, with the word even adopted for a local beer brand:


Photo: Dickson Lee (SCMP [2/11/22])

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Bezoar

Yesterday I went to Philadelphia's famed Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians.  I hadn't been there for about 35 years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with some favored old exhibits (human beings with long horns growing out of their forehead, fetuses at all stages of formation and deformation, bodies with extra heads and limbs, gigantic tumors and colons, etc.), though a few of the most famous items had disappeared (e.g., shrunken heads, apparently because they had been "unethically procured").

One of the most striking exhibits — for me, since most people probably would not pay much, if any attention to it — was the one about bezoars.  They are nondescript objects that look like stony balls.  Even in section, they are not very exciting to look at, because they are basically a hard, indigestible mass of material such as hair, plant fibers, or seeds that form in the stomach or intestines of animals, especially ruminants, sometimes also humans.

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Scammers and swindlers with accents

The focus of this post is the nature and modus operandi of the piànzi 騙子 ("swindler; scammer").

According to this article in Chinese, scammers do not speak good Mandarin because having an "accent" enables them to carry out target screening.  Such an argument may seem like a bit of a stretch, but let's see how this supposedly works out through the eyes of two Mandarin speaking PRC citizens who have been the intended victims of the schemes of such piànzi 騙子, who pose as representing banks and other financial institutions, public security bureaus, and so forth.

I

The article suggests that there are three reasons why phone scammers speak in strong topolect accents rather than standard Mandarin:1. Accent serves as a "mechanism of filtration", because those who are not sensitive enough to non-Mandarin accents and who can't recognize what is or is not Mandarin are more prone to fraud. 2. The scammers are simply not capable of speaking standard Mandarin given the current situation of Mandarin popularization in China. The scammers are more likely to be unschooled, and they usually share the same accent. 3. It is because of the high illiteracy rate in China that many people can't tell frauds from reliable phone calls made by authentic institutions.

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The five don'ts of novel coronavirus vaccination in Hainan, China

A notice issued in Wancheng, a town in Hainan Province on March 31 warning people of consequences if they refuse to take vaccines. (Screenshot via Weibo)

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The Scalia/Garner canons: Departures from established law

Previously:
Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner
The precursors of the Scalia/Garner canons

In my last post, I talked about the precursors of the canons from Reading Law that are the primary subject of this series of posts. As I explained there, the Last Antecedent Canon and the Nearest Reasonable Referent Canon are adapted from what is generally known as the Rule of the Last Antecedent (which you should remember not to confuse with the Last Antecedent Canon). And the Series Qualifier Canon was inspired by the pronouncement in a 1920 Supreme Court case that “that “[when] several words are followed by a clause which is applicable as much to the first and other words as to the last, the natural construction of the language demands that the clause be read as applicable to all.”

The purpose of that exercise in intellectual history was to provide the background that’s necessary in order to understand the present post, which will talk about the ways in which the three canons depart from the law as it existed before Bryan Garner and Antonin Scalia wrote Reading Law. Although those departures probably aren’t especially significant in the case of the Last Antecedent and Nearest Reasonable Referent canons (putting aside the confusion and complication they cause), the same isn’t true with respect to the Series Qualifier Canon.

As we’ll see, the default interpretation that is prescribed by the Series Qualifier Canon in a big category of cases is precisely the opposite of what would be prescribed by the Rule of the Last Antecedent. That change is, as far as I’ve been able to determine, unjustified by the caselaw (including the caselaw that was the Series Qualifier Canon’s inspiration). Nor is there any other justification I can think of.

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Conjunctivitis

Eugene Volokh writes:

A recent COVID-related decision reasons thus,

The [Kentucky Governor’s] order states: “All indoor social gatherings are limited to a maximum of (2) households and a maximum of eight (8) people.” [Exec. Order 2020-969.] What the language requires is that indoor social gatherings can only include a maximum of two households and up to eight people. The conjunctive “and” implies that the order requires both factors to be met to trigger enforcement. Thus, the rational reading of the executive order is that single families, no matter how large, are not prevented from living or dining together by this executive order.

As a purely linguistic matter, does this seem correct to you? Or would you say that “and” implies that the order requires both factors to be met to make the behavior fit within the limitation?

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Amicus, amici, whatever

Lin Wood has gotten some social-media ridicule for various aspects of a brief that he filed in support of Texas's failed attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out four other states' votes in the 2020 presidential election ("Supreme Court Rejects Texas Suit Seeking to Subvert Election", NYT 12/11/2020). The linguistically relevant issues have to do with (grammatical) number:

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The precursors of the Scalia/Garner canons (updated)

Previously: Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner

All three canons that are in play in Facebook v. Duguid (the Last Antecedent, Series Qualifier, and Nearest Reasonable Referent Canons) have precursors in U.S. and English caselaw. That’s no surprise, given that all 57 canons in Reading Law are presented as being  well established in the law. But as my last post noted, each canon departs from the previous caselaw in one respect or another. And in the case of the Series Qualifier Canon, the departure is quite substantial.

To lay the groundwork necessary in order to describe those departures, this post will summarize the prior law from which the three canons deviate.

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Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner (the first in a series)

A few weeks ago, Mark’s post “Lawyers as linguists” alerted me to Facebook v. Duguid, a case now pending before the Supreme Court, which grabbed my attention for several reasons. First, the case presents an interesting linguistic issue. Second, the parties on both sides have framed their linguistic arguments in terms of three of the canons of interpretation in Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (2012) the book coauthored Bryan Garner and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and I’ve previously criticized the canons at issue (e.g., here). Finally, Garner himself is on the legal team representing the plaintiff, Noah Duguid.

An unusual confluence of circumstances.

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"Upon information and belief"

Yesterday, I learned a new bit of legal jargon: "upon information and belief". A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit "roundly rejected the Trump campaign's appeal in its effort to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania". The opinion was written by my former colleague Stephanos Bibas, and includes this passage:

Though it alleges many conclusions, the Second Amended Complaint is light on facts. Take the nearly identical paragraphs introducing Counts One, Two, Four, and Six: “Democrats who controlled the Defendant County Election Boards engaged in a deliberate scheme of intentional and purposeful discrimination . . . by excluding Republican and Trump Campaign observers from the canvassing of the mail ballots in order to conceal their decision not to enforce [certain ballot] requirements.” Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 167, 193, 222, 252. That is conclusory. So is the claim that, “[u]pon information and belief, a substantial portion of the approximately 1.5 million absentee and mail votes in Defendant Counties should not have been counted.” Id. ¶¶ 168, 194, 223, 253. “Upon information and belief” is a lawyerly way of saying that the Campaign does not know that something is a fact but just suspects it or has heard it. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Yet the Campaign offers no specific facts to back up these claims.

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