Archive for Language and politics

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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The Cantonese slang term for "gas mask"

In case you were wondering, it's "zyu1 zeoi2 豬嘴" (lit. "pig snout").  You can see pictures of them here and here.

Since the police have fired thousands of canisters of tear gas at the protesters, "zyu1 zeoi2 豬嘴" ("pig snout [gas masks]") — not to mention yellow helmets to protect your skull from being cracked by the police and hired thugs — have become almost essential items of apparel if you wish to venture on the streets these days.

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Hong Kong protesters messing with the characters, part 2

Among the new polysyllabic characters (called hétǐ zì 合體字 ["compound / synthesized characters"] in Chinese) created by the Hong Kong protesters is this one (see below in the "Readings" [especially the first item] for other examples).  It is preceded by this note: "Hongkongers will remember 721 & 831", which are references to the extreme brutality wreaked on the people of Hong Kong by hired gangsters on July 21 and by "police" on August 31, for which see 721 Yuen Long Nightmare and #831terroristattack (also here).  This new polysyllabic character is widely circulating on the internet and has come to me from many sources (here's one).

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"Add oil," Kongish!

Speakers of Kongish have three ways to write their equivalent of English "Go!":  1. "ga yao" (Cantonese Romanization of the wildly popular term), 2. 加油 (the Sinographic form of the Cantonese expression), 3. "add oil" (Chinglishy equivalent of the former two forms).

See this excellent article by Lisa Lim for a brief introduction to Kongish:

"Do you speak Kongish? Hong Kong protesters harness unique language code to empower and communicate:  The mixed code of romanised Cantonese and English has helped popularise phrases such as 'add oil', from Cantonese 'ga yau'", SCMP (30 Aug, 2019).  [VHM:  Includes a nice summary of Romanization efforts for Sinitic topolects from the late 16th century (Matteo Ricci) to the present.]

Illustration from the article:

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Vocabulary of Hong Kong protest slogans and new characters

The Hong Kong extradition bill protesters have developed a vocabulary of slogans and newly invented polysyllabic characters which they wield deftly.  Here are two instances from the Twitter feed of Ryan Ho Kilpatrick documenting this weekend's protest activities on the way to and in the Hong Kong International Airport.  If you scan through the photographs and short videos from the top to the bottom (there are some pretty rough, raw scenes), you can get a sense of the tension that continues to build after 11 weeks of protests that have convulsed Hong Kong, at times with hundreds of thousands or even millions of people on the street expressing their firm opposition to the heavy-handed policies of the Beijing government.

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I'm strikin' it

Poster advertising a citywide strike in Hong Kong:


(Source — with many other examples of powerful protest art from Hong Kong)

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ChiNAZI

Written on a wall in Hong Kong:


(Source)

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Wax, Franklin, and the meaning of whiteness

Isaac Chotiner, "A Penn Law Professor Wants to Make America White Again", The New Yorker 8/23/2019:

Amy Wax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is the academic who perhaps best represents the ideology of the Trump Administration's immigration restrictionists. Wax, who began her professional life as a neurologist, and who served in the Solicitor General's office in the late eighties and early nineties, has become known in recent years for her belief in the superiority of "Anglo-Protestant culture." […]

Last month, in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference, in Washington, D.C., Wax promoted the idea of "cultural-distance nationalism," or the belief that "we are better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically, at least in fact if not formally, by people from the first world, from the West, than by people from countries that had failed to advance." She went on, "Let us be candid. Europe and the first world, to which the United States belongs, remain mostly white, for now; and the third world, although mixed, contains a lot of non-white people. Embracing cultural distance, cultural-distance nationalism, means, in effect, taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites." […]

During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, Wax expounded on her beliefs that people of Western origin are more scrupulous, empirical, and orderly than people of non-Western origin, and that women are less intellectual than men. She described these views as the outcome of rigorous and realistic thinking, while offering evidence that ranged from two studies by a eugenicist to personal anecdotes, several of which concerned her conviction that white people litter less than people of color.

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Cockroach protesters

The world has been convulsed this week by the news that China (where all such American social media platforms are outlawed) has been using hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread gross disinformation about the Hong Kong extradition bill protesters:

"Facebook and Twitter Say China Is Spreading Disinformation in Hong Kong", by Kate Conger, Mike Isaac, and Tiffany Hsu (New York Times, 8/21/19)

Here's an example of their dirty work from the Times article:

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Cuccinelli, Lazarus, and Morse

In a recent interview ("Immigration Chief: 'Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Who Can Stand On Their Own 2 Feet'", NPR 8/13/2019), the director of the Citizenship and Immigration Service suggested an update to the poem on the Statue of Liberty:

Q: Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus's words, etched on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor", are also part of the American ethos?
A: Uh they certainly are — "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge."

In a later interview the same day, Ken Cuccinelli suggested that when Lazarus wrote about "your tired, your poor, […] the wretched refuse of your teeming shore", she didn't mean that those people were actually indigent:

Well of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren't in the right class.

But the history is more complicated.

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