Archive for Language and politics

Bizarre anime adaptation

Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) recently posted a strange "anime" video on Twitter. The tweet has since been deleted after widespread criticism of the violence it depicts (including attacks on President Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), but the video is still available on YouTube.

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"Let's go Brandon!"

ICYMI: Heather Schwedel, "The Story Behind “Let’s Go Brandon,” the Secretly Vulgar Chant Suddenly Beloved by Republicans", Slate 10/22/2021:

On Thursday, Rep. Bill Posey, a Republican from Florida, ended a speech on the House floor with a curious exclamation: “Let’s go, Brandon!”

Let’s go who now?

Posey had been railing against President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill: “They want you to help put America back where you found it and leave it the hell alone,” he said right before the Brandon cheer, which he accompanied with a desultory fist pump.

The expression coming from a sitting member of Congress caused a bit of a stir online. Why? Who’s this Brandon character and what does he have to do with building back, or not building back, America? The simple answer is that he’s a race car driver—but it’s a long story, and who Brandon is actually matters less than what the phrase “Let’s go, Brandon!” means. It’s a euphemism—and its direct translation is “Fuck Joe Biden.”

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Your Pinky Heart

Phenomenally viral song by the Malaysian hip-hop artist, Namewee, "It might Break Your Pinky Heart. Namewee 黃明志 Ft.Kimberley Chen 陳芳語【Fragile 玻璃心】@鬼才做音樂 2021 Ghosician" — premiered on 10/15/21, and it already has nearly 9,000,000 views:

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All-purpose word for "glamorous woman"

The PRC authorities have always policed human behavior and thought, but especially during the last half year or so and particularly toward young people, for whatever reason, they have been coming on more gangbusters than usual.

First they went after the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat"), i.e., those who chose to opt out of the cutthroat rat race.  Then they chastised niángpào 娘炮 ("effeminate men"), i.e., girlie boys and men.  The social minders even drew a bead on jīngfēn 精芬  for socially averse millennials who identified themselves as spiritually Finnish.  These were serious efforts to squelch such unwanted tendencies in the population.  Now they have taken quite a different turn and are aiming at an altogether different target:  beautiful women.  Strange to say, they are coupling this campaign against female pulchritude with a crusade against Buddhism.

Well, it's not that strange after all, since communism has never been fond of religion, and Buddhism has often been persecuted by Chinese regimes, almost from the time of its arrival in the Middle Kingdom nearly two millennia ago.  Even the combination of feminine beauty and Buddhism reveals a certain psychological fixation on the baldness and celibacy of nuns in traditional Chinese society.

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Meng Wanzhou's "model essay", "parallel prose", and Pinyin for the masses

Meng Wanzhou 孟晚舟 is the Chief Financial Officer of Huawei (the PRC communications technology giant), who was arrested on financial fraud charges at Vancouver International Airport on December 1, 2018.  Nearly three years later, in exchange for two Canadian citizens (the "two Michaels", Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who had been summarily taken prisoner and held in Chinese jails for 1,020 days), she was released from detention and flew back to China on September 24, 2021.  The text quoted below was supposedly written by her on the flight from Canada to China.

Also provided is a photograph of people gathered in the Shenzhen airport to welcome her with red banners, two of which have Hanyu Pinyin phonetic annotations on them.

Questions have been raised about the nature and quality of the essay attributed to Meng.

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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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