Archive for Language and politics

"Third (rate|grade)" corpus linguistics

Did Donald Trump call Nancy Pelosi a "third rate politician" or a "third grade politician"? This question has come up in the mass media recently, and we discussed some phonetic aspects of the question earlier today.

Based on a quick corpus study, I conclude that the probabilities strongly favor "third rate".

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The tweet that upended the NBA and jammed James (LeBron)

American sports fans are now familiar with the "Stand with Hong Kong" logo because it appeared in the controversial tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey:

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Xi Jinping's denunciation of splittists

During his recent trip to Nepal, Xi Jinping blasted those who aimed to split up China by saying they would have their "bodies pulverized and bones crushed" (fěnshēnsuìgǔ 粉身碎骨).  A lot of people were shocked by the harshness of the language and also wondered why he would take advantage of the first trip to Nepal by a Chinese president in more than two decades to denounce splittists back home.

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A new variant of a common Chinese character

Invented by a fledgling American calligrapher:

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"Hong Kong police" speaking Mandarin

Click on the 1:26 image to start the video:

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Should there be a Constantine Memorial Column in Istanbul?

Sign for a tram stop in Istanbul:

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Scandal titles

There's some discussion on twitter of what we should call the current American political scandal:

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Transmemo? Metascript? Memcon.

Yesterday, Merriam-Webster tweet-teased Donald Trump over a couple of glosses:

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Trump's incoherence

During the 2015 presidential campaign, Geoff Pullum wrote about "Trump's aphasia", and I responded ("Trump's eloquence") that

[I]n my opinion, he's been misled by a notorious problem: the apparent incoherence of much transcribed extemporized speech, even when the same material is completely comprehensible and even eloquent in audio or audio-visual form.

This apparent incoherence has two main causes: false starts and parentheticals. Both are effectively signaled in speaking — by prosody along with gesture, posture, and gaze — and therefore largely factored out by listeners. But in textual form, the cues are gone, and we lose the thread.

Last Friday, an Australian journalist complained about the same sort of thing (Lenore Taylor, "As a foreign reporter visiting the US I was stunned by Trump's press conference", The Guardian 9/20/2019). The sub-head: "Despite being subjected to a daily diet of Trump headlines, I was unprepared for the president's alarming incoherence."

She's talking about a recent tour of border-wall construction at Otay Mesa in California, and she summarizes her reactions this way:

In writing about this not-especially-important or unusual press conference I've run into what US reporters must encounter every day. I've edited skittering, half-finished sentences to present them in some kind of consequential order and repeated remarks that made little sense.

In most circumstances, presenting information in as intelligible a form as possible is what we are trained for. But the shock I felt hearing half an hour of unfiltered meanderings from the president of the United States made me wonder whether the editing does our readers a disservice.

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The Out of Hunan Theory

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu and Filip Jirouš]

A recent post by Mark Liberman nominated the Association for the Promotion of Research on the Origin of World Civilizations (Shìjiè Wénmíng Qǐyuán Yánjiū Cùjìn Huì 世界文明起源研究促进会) for the prestigious Becky prize, bestowed on those who make "outstanding contributions to linguistic misinformation". The award, named after Goropius Becanus, who claimed all human languages derived from his own, would be fully deserved by an Association promoting a form of Goropism: the contention that multiple languages, including English, are in fact derived from Chinese. While the recent event that triggered Liberman's nomination has been widely reported in English and other Chinese dialects, it is perhaps less known that the Association's chairman has even more Goropian ideas. Just like Goropius saw his Antwerp dialect as the language of Adam and Eve, Professor Du Gangjian of Hunan University claims these languages, and a few other things, in fact come from Hunan Province.

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Speaking Cantonese may cause nasal cancer

Guangzhou Daily printed an article discussing whether speaking Canto causes nasal cancer:

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Swot swat?

Boris Johnson called  Jeremy Corbyn a "big girl's blouse"  in parliament last Wednesday, and on Friday it was revealed that he had referred to David Cameron as a "girly swot" in a cabinet note.  For Americans not versed in British slang, the OED tells us that a swot is "one who studies hard", and explains that swot as an abstract noun refers to "Work or study at school or college; in early use spec. mathematics". The Guardian story tells us that

It is not the first time Johnson has used the insult about the former prime minister. In 2013, when he was London mayor, Johnson called Cameron and his brother, Jo, "girly swots" for gaining first-class degrees at university, when the current prime minister had to make do with a 2:1.

and links to a tweet from MP Allison McGovern asking "What is it about big smart women Boris Johnson doesn't like?"

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Hong Kong protesters' argot

The whole world is transfixed by the gutsy rebellion of Hong Kong citizens against the militarily powerful PRC imposed government under which they live.  Language — spoken, written, and gestural (see the "Readings" below for examples of all three types) — plays an important role in maintaining their solidarity and camaraderie and in emphasizing their identity as Cantonese citizens.  Their common mother tongue of Cantonese already sets them off from Mandarin speakers from the north, but their development of a unique jargon further distinguishes them from Cantonese speakers who are not part of their movement:

"Hong Kong's Protestors Have Their Own Special Slang. Here's a Glossary of Some Common Terms", Hillary Leung, Time (9/6/19):

Although many would accuse the protesters of making light of violent unrest, the use of slang "keeps people sane," argues Wee Lian Hee, a language professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. "If [protestors] talk formally all the time, I suspect the movement would soon become tiresome," he tells TIME.

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