Archive for Language and politics

China jettisons English

So they say, but I wouldn't count on it.  We've heard this patriotic, isolationist tune sung countless times during the last thirty years or so (in fact, it happens every time preceding a national political meeting, but nothing ever comes of it).  The wealthy, privileged, elite, right up to and including Chairman Xi, keep spending a fortune to send their children to the comfort, safety, and English environment of the USA.  I know, because I've taught hundreds of them during the last twenty years and more.

"‘Reversing Gears’: China Increasingly Rejects English, and the World:

A movement against Western influence threatens to close off a nation that succeeded in part by welcoming new ideas."  By Li Yuan, NYT (9/9/21)

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"Kong Girl Phonetics"

New issue of Sino-Platonic Papers (no. 317 [August, 2021]):

“'Kong Girl Phonetics': Loose Cantonese Romanization in the 2019 Hong Kong Protest Movement,” by Ruth Wetters (free pdf)

Abstract

Cantonese in Hong Kong occupies a specific cultural and political niche, informed by the unique context of the Hong Kong identity. During the 2019 Hong Kong protests, protesters used modified Cantonese online to evade detection and cement their identity as Hong Kongers. One way in which this was achieved is through a new online vernacular, dubbed “Kong girl phonetics” Kong nui ping jam. This vernacular borrows from grassroots romanization, English phonetics, number substitutions, and bilingualism in English and Cantonese to exclude all readers except young Hong Kong people, who show high bilingualism and high tech literacy and share the vocabulary of protesters. This essay explores aspects of this protest vernacular through non-comprehensive analysis of a thread on LIHKG (Lineage: Hong Kong Golden) lin dang 連黨 that is the first recorded example of “Kong girl speech.”

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Ask Language Log: Caitlyn Jenner, Patriarch?

Julia Preseau wrote to ask about a phrase in Caitlyn Jenner's (5/5/2021) interview with Sean Hannity, where Jenner seems to say "I love this country, I'm a patriarch":

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Girlie men in the PRC, part 2

Why words matter.

Just talking about this strange locution, "niángpào 娘炮" (slang for "sissy; effeminate man"), let us hear what a necessarily anonymous PRC citizen has to say about it:

I think the CCP is widening its dictatorship under the veil of / through its social morality cultivation in various aspects these days, and that it bans "娘炮" from the entertainment industry (“boycotting being overly entertaining”) functions as one of its schemes to instill the antecedent atmosphere.

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Simplified characters defeat traditional characters in Ireland

Article by Colm Keena in The Irish Times (8/2/21):

"Decision on Mandarin Leaving Cert exam ‘outrages’ Chinese communities:
Exam subject that students can sit from 2022 will only allow for simplified Chinese script"

Here are the first four paragraphs of the article:

Chinese communities in Ireland are “outraged” by the decision of the Department of Education to use only a simplified script in the new Leaving Certificate exam in Mandarin Chinese, according to a group set up to campaign on the issue.

The new exam subject, which students can sit from 2022, will not allow for the use of the traditional or heritage Chinese script, which is used by most people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other, mostly non-mainland-China locations.

The decision by the department is a “discrimination against the heritage Chinese learners in Ireland,” according to Isabella Jackson, an assistant professor of Chinese history in Trinity College, Dublin, who is a member of the Leaving Cert Mandarin Chinese Group.

“It is wrong for our Irish Government to deny children of a Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau background the right to sit an examination using the Chinese script that is part of their heritage.”

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Ukrainian is not Russian

Paul Goble has an article in Window on Eurasia — New Series (7/24/21) that is short, succinct, and significant enough to quote in its entirety:  "Despite Putin’s Words, Moscow Does Recognize the Ukrainian Language as Distinct, Yaroshinskaya Says":

            Staunton, July 17 – All[a] Yaroshinskaya, a senior Moscow commentator who was politically active at the end of Soviet times and the beginning of Russian ones, says that whatever Vladimir Putin says about Russians and Ukrainians being one people, even he has been forced to recognize that a separate Ukrainian language has existed for a long time.

            Beyond question, Putin wants Ukrainians to speak Russian; but his discussion of the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations unintentionally calls attention to Russian efforts from the 18th century up to now of Moscow’s efforts to restrict Ukrainian, an acknowledgement of its existence and power (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2021/07/15/1911461.html).

         Again and again the tsars and the commissars and now “democratic” Russian leaders have tried to restrict Ukrainian and get Ukrainians to speak Russian. Yaroshinskaya details the decrees and decisions of Russian rulers from the times of Peter the Great to the present; and she points as well to the single exception until now.

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Absence of metaphysics

[The following is a guest post by Zihan Guo in response to this article by Bruno Maçães, a Portuguese politician and political philosopher, who asserts, among other things, that China lacks metaphysics because of the nature of its language (i.e., script):  "The Black Box:  A Theory of China", World Game on Substack (12/25/20) — excerpts below.]

I can hear Zhuangzi chuckling.

For me, the charm of a Chinese word is its ability to conjure up images beyond its denotational meaning. The word shānshuǐ 山水 ("landscape") does come from shān 山 ("mountain") and shuǐ 水 "water"), but it connotes much more than that. What immediately comes to my mind is Chinese landscape painting, where an infinitesimal figure (a being) plods along the trails leading up to an insurmountable cliff. To my amateurish eyes, those painters are not just depicting empirical reality. There is meaning behind the surface representation.

Asking Zhuangzi "what is red?", Zhuangzi might also ask "what is not red, what is redder, what is less red, why does it matter?" The Chinese answer with a collage of red objects can go through a similar philosophical rumination just as the scientific Western definition. If "red" can be represented by many different things, its concept becomes unstable and ambiguous. Cherries are red, but roses might be redder, so which is the "true" red? One sees that redness as phenomenal keeps changing and that one's own perception of reality can be deceptive. I believe Zhuangzi probes into similar questions as well as the eventual question of whether there is something unchanging beyond all phenomena.

I think the author is more interested in modern Chinese politics than the idea that Chinese script is purely physical. His ending note about Xi feels rather sarcastic.

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Deep fake audio

Helen Rosner, "A Haunting New Documentary About Anthony Bourdain", The New Yorker 7/15/2021:

It’s been three years since Anthony Bourdain died, by suicide, in June of 2018, and the void he left is still a void. […]

In 2019, about a year after Bourdain’s death, the documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville began talking to people who had been close to Bourdain: his family, his friends, the producers and crew of his television series. “These were the hardest interviews I’ve ever done, hands down,” he told me. “I was the grief counsellor, who showed up to talk to everybody.” […]

There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.” In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

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The Rhetoric Trap

Interesting Chinese translation of the title of Yale philosopher Jason Stanley's book, How Propaganda Works:

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Curated language

Like the previous post (7/7/21) on gender-inclusive French, it is difficult to refrain from quoting the bulk of this thought-provoking article by John McWhorter in The Atlantic (7/4/21): 

Even Trigger Warning Is Now Off Limits

The “Oppressive Language List” at Brandeis University could have come from countless other colleges, advocacy groups, or human-resources offices.

—–

Thirty years ago, someone taught me to say actor rather than actress and chairperson rather than chairman, to discourage our thinking of occupational performance as elementally distinct depending on sex. I understood. Language does not shape thought as much as is often supposed. But words can nudge concepts in certain directions if the connection between the word and the concept is clear enough; the compound of chair and the gender-neutral person hints that, for most purposes, the listener doesn’t need to know whether the individual running a meeting was male or female.

In the same vein, I heartily approve of the modern usage of they (Roberta is getting a haircut; they’ll be here in a little while). I also like the call to replace slave with enslaved person. Slave can indeed imply a certain essence, as if it were a status inherent to some people. Enslaved person points up that the slavery is an imposed condition. The distinction matters given how central, sensitive, and urgent the discussion of slavery is in today’s America.

But according to counsel from Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center, or PARC, considerate people must go further: Apparently, we must retire victim, survivor, trigger warning, and African-American too. We must do so, that is, if we seek to ignore some linguistic fundamentals while also engaging in distinctly callow sociological calisthenics. When we are to even “consider” avoiding the word prisoner (try person who was incarcerated) or walk-in (because not all people can walk) and the phrase everything going on right now (I’ll leave you to find out what’s wrong with that one), we are being preached to by people on a quest to change reality through the performative policing of manners.

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Hatred in model operas

From blood and gore to hatred.

In China, revolutionary operas or model operas (Chinese: yangban xi, 样板戏) were a series of shows planned and engineered during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) by Jiang Qing, the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong. They were considered revolutionary and modern in terms of thematic and musical features when compared with traditional Chinese operas. Many of them were adapted to film.

Originally, eight revolutionary operas (Chinese: Ba Ge Yangban Xi, 八个样板戏) were produced, eighteen by the end of the period. Instead of the "emperors, kings, generals, chancellors, maidens, and beauties" of the traditional Peking opera, which was banned as "feudalistic and bourgeois," they told stories from China's recent revolutionary struggles against foreign and class enemies. They glorified the People's Liberation Army and the bravery of the common people, and showed Mao Zedong and his thought as playing the central role in the victory of socialism in China. Although they originated as operas, they soon appeared on LPs, in comic books (lianhuanhua), on posters, postcards, and stamps; on plates, teapots, wash basins, cigarette packages, vases, and calendars. They were performed or played from loudspeakers in schools, factories, and fields by special performing troupes. The Eight Model Operas dominated the stage in all parts of the country during these years, leading to the joke "Eight hundred million people watched eight shows."

(source)

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Gender-inclusive French

An unusual article on language in Foreign Policy:

"Aux Armes, Citoyen·nes!  Gender-neutral terms have sparked an explosive battle over the future of the French language," by Karina Piser (7/4/21)

The article is long and detailed.  Here I try to quote only the most important and telling points.

In early May, France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced a ban on the use in schools of an increasingly common—and contested—writing method designed to make the French language more gender-inclusive.

Specifically, Blanquer’s decree focuses on the final letter “e,” which is used to feminize words in French—étudiant, for example, becomes étudiante when referring to a female student. Like many other languages, French is gendered: Pronouns, nouns, verbs, and adjectives reflect the gender of the object or person they refer to; there is no gender-neutral term like “they.” Most critically, say the proponents of the inclusive method, the masculine always takes precedence over the feminine—if there’s a group of 10 women and one man, a French speaker would still refer to the group in the masculine plural, ils.

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Yet another literary misreading by Xi Jinping

This one amounts to a Sinitic spoonerism.

In his major July 1 speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the CCP, Xi Jinping wanted to impress people with this set phrase:

yízhǐqìshǐ

頤指氣使 / 颐指气使

lit. "chin / jaw / cheek — point out / at [with a finger] — haughty attitude / bearing — command / order / dispatch"

i.e., "(arrogantly / contemptuously) give orders; boss people around (by looks and gestures)"

Instead, what came out of his mouth was this:

yíshǐqìzhǐ

頤使氣指

which might be playfully rendered as something like "beatbrow"

This expression goes back to at least the Tang period (618-907).

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