Archive for Language and politics

"Lawyer lawsuits"?

If you listened to the U.S. Senate proceedings yesterday, you may have been puzzled — as I was — by Jay Sekulow's discussion of "lawyer lawsuits":

And by the way,
lawyer lawsuits?
lawyer lawsuits?
We're talking about the impeachment of a president of the United States,
duly elected.
And the members,
the managers,
are complaining about
lawyer lawsuits?
The consitution allows
lawyer lawsuits.
It's disrespecting the constitution of the United States
to even say that in this chamber —
lawyer lawsuits!

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MLK linguistics

There have been a few LLOG posts focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. over the years, notably "Martin Luther King's rhetorical phonetics" (1/15/2007), "Celebrating the Linguistic Significance of Martin Luther King Jr." (1/17/2016), and "There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice" (1/15/2018).

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New New Year's couplets

From a friend in Hong Kong:

The following pictures are from Shatin mall last night. They show people lining up to get individually calligraphed Chinese New Year's couplets that take up the key slogan of the protests: "Restore HK's glory: revolution for our times." On the way up to mass today, we saw new slogans spray-painted calling for HK independence as "the only way out". "It ain't over yet."

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Two-fifths of the people in Vietnam have the surname Nguyen. Why?

In "Why 40% of Vietnamese People Have the Same Last Name", Atlas Obscura (3/28/17), republished in Pocket, Dan Nosowitz tells us:

In the U.S., an immigrant country, last names are hugely important. They can indicate where you're from, right down to the village; the profession of a relative deep in your past; how long it's been since your ancestors emigrated; your religion; your social status.

Nguyen doesn't indicate much more than that you are Vietnamese. Someone with the last name Nguyen is going to have basically no luck tracing their heritage back beyond a generation or two, will not be able to use search engines to find out much of anything about themselves.

This difference illustrates something very weird about last names: they're a surprisingly recent creation in most of the world, and there remain many places where they just aren't very important. Vietnam is one of those.

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"Vegetable English" vs. "Korea Fish" in Taiwan's presidential election

As we have seen over and over again, banning, blocking, and censorship of the internet make it almost impossible for Chinese citizens to openly discuss anything that is slightly sensitive on the political scale (see "Selected readings" below).  But netizens are highly resourceful, and they have continuously been able to think of creative ways to comment on current affairs through punning and other linguistic maneuvers.

"Chinese netizens declare 'Vegetable English' defeats 'Korea Fish' in Taiwan election:  Chinese netizens mock censors by describing Taiwanese presidential candidates as 'Vegetable English,' 'Korea Fish'"

By Keoni Everington, Taiwan News, Staff Writer (1/12/20)

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A museum for the languages of Taiwan

Language Log readers will be aware that "Chinese", i.e., "Mandarin" (Guóyǔ 國語), is not the only language on the island.  Indeed, it is a Johnny-come-lately, having become the official language of the Republic of China on Taiwan in 1945, and was strongly enforced as such after 1949 when the retreating mainland KMT armies of Chiang Kai-shek occupied the island.

The earliest indigenous languages of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesian.  And we should not forget that there was a period of partial Dutch rule (1624-1662), especially in the south, and Spanish Formosa (Formosa Española) was a small colony of the Spanish Empire established in the northern part of the island from 1626 to 1642.  Consequently, both Dutch and Spanish had an impact on the linguistic development of Taiwan during the 17th century.  The first Europeans to take notice of Taiwan, however, were the Portuguese who, passing Taiwan in 1544, recorded in a ship's log the name of the island as Ilha Formosa ("Beautiful Island").

Taiwan was a dependency of Japan from 1895 to 1945, during which period Japanese was the official language.  As such, it was important for the development of language on the island, and its significance lasts till today.

The influence of English in Taiwan has been enormous during the last two centuries.

See "Languages of Taiwan".

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Badge of honor: Language Log is blocked in China

Two days ago, I received this message from a colleague in China:

Not sure if this should be a badge of honor or a disappointment, but a few days ago Language Log got blocked in China.  (Source — GreatFire.org:  Language Log is 100% censored)

This caps off a miserable year where we also lost Wikipedia (all languages), The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Hackernews, Imgur….

[VHM:  Of course, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and many other invaluable websites were already off-limits to Chinese citizens for years  The internet in China is severely decimated by the CCP government.]

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Warren vocal stereotypes

A recent WSJ editorial ("A $900 Bottle of Hypocrisy", 12/20/2019) engages Democratic presidential candidates, and especially Elizabeth Warren, on the issue of money in politics:

Few political spectacles are more amusing than watching Democrats who are millionaires attempting to deny that they consort with other millionaires, much less with dastardly billionaires. This was on extended display at Thursday's presidential debate, and it offers a lesson about money and politics.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been raising millions of dollars in Silicon Valley, New York, Hollywood and other well-to-do progressive enclaves. This has riled Elizabeth Warren, who used to be a favorite of the wealthy liberal class but as a presidential candidate has taken a vow of non-association with the rich. Ms. Warren accused the young mayor of holding a fundraiser "in a wine cave full of crystals" and $900-a-bottle wine.

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December debate prosody

The sixth (of 10) scheduled Democratic presidential debate took place on 12/19/2019. There's video on YouTube here, and a WaPo transcript here. As a start on various forms of analysis, I thought I'd take a look at some simple phonetic characteristics of the candidates' answers to the first question, which was about the current impeachment process.

What does it all mean? More on that later — for now, just enjoy the pictures…

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"National Language" in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Many people have been asking me about the use of the term Guóyǔ 国语 ("National Language") for "Mandarin" in Xinjiang today.  Here's an inquiry from Peter Moody:

I have encountered what seems to be an anomaly in contemporary Chinese usage, and have been assured that you are among those most capable of addressing it.

I was reading an analysis by a Darren Byler, a "Xinjiang Scholar," of a 2017 classified directive from Zhu Hailun, Gauleiter of Xinjiang, on how properly to run the concentration camps in that territory (https://supchina.com/2019/12/04/a-xinjiang-scholars-close-reading-of-the-china-cables/). (I have not looked either at the full English translation of these directives, or the Chinese text, although both are available. I figured the analysis would give the gist of them.)

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Cat chat and tax talk

Photograph of a campaign billboard in Taiwan showing President Tsai Ing-wen, who is up for reelection on January 11, with one of her two beloved cats:


(Source: anonymous colleague)

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Was it "people of colour" or "people of talent"?

Jim Waterson, "Channel 4 apologises over subtitle error on viral Boris Johnson clip (Tory anger after tweet claims PM said 'people of colour' instead of 'people of talent')", The Guardian 12/6/2019:

Channel 4 News has apologised after a subtitling error wrongly claimed Boris Johnson had discussed whether "people of colour" should be allowed into the UK, prompting the Conservatives to accuse staff at the channel of being campaigners rather than journalists.

In a clip of the prime minister uploaded to Channel 4's social media accounts, Johnson was captioned as saying: "I'm in favour of having people of colour come to this country but I think we should have it democratically controlled and have it done that way."

In reality, Johnson said he was in favour of having "people of talent" come to the UK, and did not discuss race.

The falsely subtitled clip went viral on Friday, prompting Channel 4 to issue a correction: "Boris Johnson says 'people of talent' not 'people of colour'. Our earlier tweet was a mistake. We misheard and we apologise."

Some people who had shared the clip continued to wrongly insist the prime minister had said the word "colour". This suggested it may be an example of people's hearing being influenced by visual cues – similar to the known phenomenon of the McGurk effect. It also echoes the confusion at the end of last year over whether a voice in a short audio clip was saying the word "laurel" or "yanny".

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Loophole-ridden 'screenplay' concocted by anti-China forces

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu]

This statement, attributed to the new Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman of the PRC, reinforced my impression that Relevant Organs (including exoprop media like the Gobar Times (Huánqiú shǐbào 环球屎报 [Global Shit News], a pun for Huánqiú shíbào 环球时报 [Global Times], for which see "Dung Times" [3/14/18])) often start generating unusually quaint English when they go into full patriot mode.

> This is a totally absurd, loophole-ridden 'screenplay' concocted by anti-China forces…

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