Archive for Language and politics

Diplolingo: "stern representations"

This is a typical headline emanating from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC:

Furious mainland China slams Taiwanese leader’s ‘blatant’ call for independence

People’s Daily commentary blasts William Lai Ching-te’s inauguration speech for ‘inciting hatred against the Chinese people’
Beijing also objects to US secretary of state’s congratulations to Lai

Xinlu Liang in Beijing
Published: 2:05pm, 21 May 2024

During the last decade or so, the Chinese foreign ministry has developed such a distinctive, confrontational brand of diplomatic jargon that I thought it deserved a neologistic portmanteau designation of its own, though I think the expression could be used for different styles of diplomatic language that are quite different from the harsh rhetoric of the current Chinese approach.

Overall, contemporary Chinese diplomats are instructed by their government to adopt a "wolf warrior" approach.

Wolf warrior diplomacy is a form of public diplomacy involving compellence adopted by Chinese diplomats in the late 2010s. The term was coined from the title of the Chinese action film Wolf Warrior 2 (2017). This approach is in contrast to the prior diplomatic practices of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Jintao, which had emphasized the use of cooperative rhetoric and the avoidance of controversy.

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AI based on Xi Jinping Thought

It's hard to believe they're serious about this:

China rolls out large language model based on Xi Jinping Thought

    Country’s top internet regulator promises ‘secure and reliable’ system that is not open-sourced
    Model is still undergoing internal testing and is not yet available for public use

Sylvie Zhuang in Beijing
Published: 7:57pm, 21 May 2024

It's the antithesis of open-sourced, i.e., it's close-sourced.  What are the implications of that for a vibrant, powerful system of thought?

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Political bias in economics

Zubin Jelveh, Bruce Kogut, and Suresh Naidu, "Political language in economics", The Economic Journal:

Abstract: Does academic writing in economics reflect the political orientation of economists? We use machine learning to measure partisanship in academic economics articles. We predict observed political behavior of a subset of economists using the phrases from their academic articles, show good out-of-sample predictive accuracy, and then predict partisanship for all economists. We then use these predictions to examine patterns of political language in economics. We estimate journal-specific effects on predicted ideology, controlling for author and year fixed effects, that accord with existing survey-based measures. We show considerable sorting of economists into fields of research by predicted partisanship. We also show that partisanship is detectable even within fields, even across those estimating the same theoretical parameter. Using policy-relevant parameters collected from previous meta-analyses, we then show that imputed partisanship is correlated with estimated parameters, such that the implied policy prescription is consistent with partisan leaning. For example, we find that going from the most left-wing authored estimate of the taxable top income elasticity to the most right-wing authored estimate decreases the optimal tax rate from 84% to 58%.

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Maltese Arabic: Correction?

In Victor's recent post "Arabic and the vernaculars, part 6", he wrote that "I do not include Maltese because of the Romance superstrata". A more elaborate version of this idea can be found in the Wikipedia article, which tells us that

Maltese […] is a Semitic language derived from late medieval Sicilian Arabic with Romance superstrata spoken by the Maltese people. […] Maltese is a Latinized variety of spoken historical Arabic through its descent from Siculo-Arabic, which developed as a Maghrebi Arabic dialect in the Emirate of Sicily between 831 and 1091. As a result of the Norman invasion of Malta and the subsequent re-Christianization of the islands, Maltese evolved independently of Classical Arabic in a gradual process of latinization. It is therefore exceptional as a variety of historical Arabic that has no diglossic relationship with Classical or Modern Standard Arabic. Maltese is thus classified separately from the 30 varieties constituting the modern Arabic macrolanguage.

Both Victor and Wikipedia are somewhat wrong, or at least misleading — and my main evidence for this is an amusing anecdote. So onwards…

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Aggressive Chinese toponymy

According to the CCP, India's northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is now part of the PRC's "South Tibet", in other words, of China, so is to be named "Zangnan" — says nobody except the PRC.

India rejected China's renaming of about 30 places in its northeastern Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday, calling the move "senseless" and reaffirming that the border province is an "integral" part of India.

Beijing says Arunachal Pradesh, which its calls Zangnan, is a part of South Tibet – a claim New Delhi has repeatedly dismissed. China similarly ratcheted up tensions a year ago by giving Chinese names to 11 locations in the state.

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"Gentle onsets" are everywhere

President Joe Biden is known for having overcome a serious stuttering problem as a child — see e.g. "Biden’s Stutter: How a Childhood Battle Shaped His Approach to Life & Politics", or "Joe Biden's history of stuttering sheds light on the condition". It also seems clear that the techniques that he developed to overcome the problem are still present in his speech today, as I discussed in "Calling all linguists", 10/21/2023. My conclusion in that article, agreeing with others more knowledgeable than I am, was that the main effect is selective lenition, probably related to what are called "gentle onset" techniques.

But what's less clear is whether this effect is different in kind from things that happen in (almost?) everyone's speech.

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"The Three Body Problem" as rendered by Netflix: vinegar and dumplings

Basic background, from Wikipedia:

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; lit. 'Three-Body') is a story by Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin which became the first novel in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy—though the series as a whole is often referred to as The Three-Body Problem, or simply as Three-Body. The series portrays a fictional past, present and future wherein Earth encounters an alien civilization from a nearby system of three sun-like stars orbiting one another, a representative example of the three-body problem in orbital mechanics.

Nectar Gan, "Netflix blockbuster ‘3 Body Problem’ divides opinion and sparks nationalist anger in China", CNN 3/22/2024:

A Netflix adaptation of wildly popular Chinese sci-fi novel “The Three-Body Problem has split opinions in China and sparked online nationalist anger over scenes depicting a violent and tumultuous period in the country’s modern history.

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"Languages nobody speaks"

This recent Donald Trump speech has prompted a lot of discussion on both traditional and social media:

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Thought panzers

Vacillating Chinese terminology for think tanks

Mark Metcalf wrote to tell me:

Global Times*just ran an article that might be of interest regarding PRC think tanks and a new book related to this topic: “Researchers, scholars explore methods to boost China’s influence of thoughts”.

*an appendage of People's Daily

I was caught up short by the clumsy expression "influence of thoughts".  But something else about this new development bothered me much more.  Mark tracked down the title of the book in question:

《Sīxiǎng tǎnkè: Zhōngguó zhìkù de guòqù, xiànzhuàng yǔ wèilái 思想坦克:中国智库的过去、现状与未来》("Thought tanks [armored vehicles]: the past, present, and future of China's wisdom warehouses"]) [VHM — intentionally awkward translation for special effect, to be explained below]

What jumped out at me in the title was the use of tǎnkè 坦克 for (think) tank. In my Chinese studies, I learned that tǎnkè 坦克 was a military weapon and not a repository. And when you Google images of tǎnkè 坦克, all you see are images of tracked vehicles. That's how all my Pleco dictionaries translate the term, as well. However, when you put the term into Google Translate, it provides both the tracked vehicle and an alternative translation: "a large receptacle or storage chamber, especially for liquid or gas" with yóuxiāng 油箱 ("oil / gas[oline] / fuel tank") as a synonym. Yet GT can't translate the term sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克.  [VHM:  And well it should not.  See more below.]

Going out on a limb, could the expression sīxiǎng tǎnkè 思想坦克 have the dual meaning (i.e., a pun) for an offensive organization ("vehicle") that is used to control / defend the narrative of the CCP?

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Political drumbeat: cultural confidence

Yesterday, the hypernationalistic CCP government propaganda organ, Global Times, published the following article:

"China shows cultural confidence as world shares Spring Festival’s spirit, legacy, joy", by Ai Peng, Global Times (2/18/24)

Mark Metcalf called the conspicuous expression "cultural confidence" to my attention:

It's appeared in LL twice. 

Apparently it has propaganda 'legs' and, of course, the blessing of Xi Dada – see the articles below. It has even showed up in numerous Jiěfàngjūn 解放军报 (People's Liberation Army Daily) articles in recent months.
 
Is it just another throwaway term or is it being used to push CCP members toward a particular goal?
Considered from another perspective, all this talk about instilling confidence could easily be interpreted to mean that CCP members don't have the desired level of cultural confidence ("Party" confidence?).

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Pinyin nomenclature as an instrument of diplomacy

Ever since China began aggressively to assert territorial claims over the seas south of its southernmost border all the way to Indonesia, disregarding the arbitral ruling of the international tribunal in favor of the Philippines on July 12, 2016, it has increasingly resorted to Pinyin naming practices to stake its claims to specific geographical features.

Alyssa Chen, "South China Sea: how Beijing uses pinyin translations to double down on territorial claims", SCMP (2/4/24):

  • Chinese foreign ministry and state media articles have increased their use of pinyin for place names in the contested area
  • It follows a growing number of flare-ups between Beijing and Manila, including one run-in just a week ago

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Viral pushback against the imperial dragon in a dragon year

A sarcastic song for the new year by the awesome Namewee (Huáng Míngzhì 黃明志), featuring Winnie Poohpooh (aka Xi Dada) clad in imperial dragon robe:

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The politics of dried mango in Taiwan

No sooner have we addressed "The politics of frozen garlic in Taiwan" (1/11/24) than we now must look at the implications of dried mango for the current election in that island nation.  Here we will not be studying the obscene usage (gàn) that "dry" (gān) often gets mixed up with.  For those who are interested in that topic, which Language Log has been following since 2006), check out the last two items in "Selected readings") below.

Today's mango excitement derives from a pun based on the expression "dried mango" (mángguǒ gān 芒果乾); it has nothing to do with "$%#@!" mango.  The near pun is for "wángguó gǎn 亡國感" ("sense of national subjugation"), where wáng 亡 means "perish; death; die", though in this phrase, "subjugation" has become the usual translation.  Of course, guó 國, means "nation; state", and note that the "K" of KMT (Kuomintang [Wade-Giles romanization of 國民黨] "Nationalist Party") or the "G" of GMD (Guómíndǎng [Pinyin romanization of the same name]) is that same word, guó 國 ("nation; state").

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