Archive for Language and politics

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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"No gree for anybody!"

According to Toyin Falola, "No Gree for Anybody!", HeartOfArts 1/12/2024:

I am writing this piece from Lagos. “No Gree” is what you now hear at every moment, every corner. […]

No Gree for Anybody seems to be a personal avowal to not compromise or concede and to maintain unwavering determination against factors and people that could impede one’s aspirations or thwart the pursuit of one’s desires.

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The politics of frozen garlic in Taiwan

From Nick Kaldis:

This article begins with a brief reference to the chanting of ‘frozen garlic’ ("凍蒜" dongsuan, Taiwanese pronunciation for "當選" dangxuan "to get elected") in campaign rallies for Taiwan's presidential and legislative elections in two days.


‘Frozen Garlic!’ Taiwan Likes Its Democracy Loud and Proud

At the island’s election rallies, warming up the crowd for candidates is crucial. “You have to light a fire in their hearts,” one host says.

By Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien; NYT (1/11/24) Photographs and Video by Lam Yik Fei

Since the NYT is between a high firewall (you can't even see the title of the article), I also provide this link to the whole article at MCLC (Modern Chinese Literature and Culture) Resource Center (The Ohio State University).

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Dictionaries are illegal in Florida schools?

Judd Legum, "Florida school district removes dictionaries from libraries, citing law championed by DeSantis", Popular Information 1/10/2024:

The Escambia County School District, located in the Florida panhandle, has removed several dictionaries from its library shelves over concerns that making the dictionaries available to students would violate Florida law. The American Heritage Children's Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary for Students, and Merriam-Webster's Elementary Dictionary are among more than 2800 books that have been pulled from Escambia County school libraries and placed into storage. The Escambia County School District says these texts may violate HB 1069, a bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in May 2023.

HB 1069 gives residents the right to demand the removal of any library book that "depicts or describes sexual conduct," as defined under Florida law, whether or not the book is pornographic. Rather than considering complaints, the Escambia County School Board adopted an emergency rule last June that required the district's librarians to conduct a review of all library books and remove titles that may violate HB 1069.

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The plagiarism circus

The plagiarism circus has added second and third rings, and a sideshow.

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Past posts on Donald Trump's rhetoric

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter asked me for an interview "to discuss the style of Donald Trump's campaign events, the role his rhetoric plays in them, and why they’ve been an effective tool for him".

I explained that I haven't held any focus groups or done any polls, so I don't have any empirical basis for opinions about the role that "the style of his campaign events" plays in making them "an effective tool for him". But over the past 8 years, many LLOG posts have analyzed several aspects of his rhetorical style, both the text and the delivery, which are strikingly different from other contemporary American politicians and public figures. Specifically, these posts have described his

  • Repetition
  • Informality
  • Fluency
  • Melody

This has nothing to do with the political and cultural orientation of his speeches — the same techniques could in principle be applied to the promotion of internationalism rather than nationalism, for example. No doubt the content is a large part of the reason for his appeal, but the rhetorical affinity with professional wrestling is probably the rest of it, as discussed in "The art of the promo", 10/31/2020.

You'll find the list of relevant past posts past the fold  — I invite you to look for one or more of the four features in each post.

But in a way, the most striking thing about the list is its length.

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Retrospective censorship of Uyghur texts

From a memoir by Uyghur poet Tamir Hamut Izgil, Waiting to Be Arrested at Night, Bruce Humes posted on his Ethnic ChinaLit blog (12/30/23) this brief excerpt about how content, once commissioned and approved by the Chinese state, became grounds for incarceration of researchers, writers and editors:

Huítóu kàn gōngchéng 回头看工程 — Xinjiang’s Ominous “Looking Back Project”

Uyghur poet’s memoir recalls the Xinjiang administration’s retroactive hunt for unPC content in textbooks once commissioned, edited and published by the state:

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Plagiarism: Double (and triple and quadruple) standards

My reaction to the current controversy over Claudine Gay's alleged plagiarisms is to observe again that the relevant policies are a tangled and incoherent mess. I first wrote about this back in 2006 — and  as it happens, that post compared the work of a different university president with the treatment of a Harvard undergraduate accused of plagiarism:

We tell kids that plagiarism is wrong, but we tell them that a lot of things are wrong that they see successful and respected people doing every day. […] In fact, anyone who pays attention knows that in some cases, like political speeches and celebrity memoirs, it's normal and expected to pass the work of others off as your own.

Here's an example that cuts close to the academic bone. A couple of decades ago, X was a graduate student at Y University, a school that regularly appears in U.S. News and World Report's listing of the top 50 American universities, and not at the bottom of the list either. The school's president, Dr. Z, had a nationally syndicated column. It ran under his byline, but X helped pay her way through school by writing it. I don't mean that she edited it, or did research for it, or drafted it. She came up with the ideas, did whatever research was required, and wrote it exactly as it ran. Dr. Z approved it for publication, or at least was given the opportunity to do so, but he never changed anything. (Or so X told me, and I believe her.)

I'm sure that Y University had a policy against plagiarism, like all similar institutions. It no doubt defined plagiarism in the usual way, as "the act of using the ideas or work of another person or persons as if they were one's own, without giving proper credit to the source" or something of the sort. This definition obviously applies to hiring someone to research and write your papers for you, just as much as it applies to copying passages from a book or cutting and pasting from an online source. (And writing-for-hire is hard to detect unless the hireling squeals. I've heard of one case that was uncovered because the hireling plagiarized a term paper from online sources, and when the copying was detected by the usual means, the accused student tried to absolve herself on the grounds that the guilty party was really the person that she had hired. "I hope you throw the book at the lousy cheater", she is apocryphally supposed to have exclaimed.) In any event, if Ms. X had been caught hiring someone to write her graduate-school term papers for her, she would surely have been unceremoniously dropped from the program.

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Mao's leaky, lawless umbrella

Linkedin post by Matías Otero Johansson:

The Orientalism Problem: Edgar Snow's last interview with Mao

In an article published in Life Magazine in 1971, journalist Edgar Snow (1905-1972) ends his account of the last interview Mao Zedong would grant him thus:

"As he curteously escorted me to the door, he said he was not a complicated man, but really very simple. He was, he said, only a lone monk walking the world with a leaky umbrella. … I believe #China will seek to cooperate with all friendly states, and all friendly people within hostile states, who welcome her full participation in world affairs."

As soon as I saw the word "umbrella", I knew what this turn of phrase was about.

It is covered in John Rohsenow's magisterial dictionary of xiēhòuyǔ 歇後語, which I refer to as "truncated witticisms".

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Major Linguistic Faux Pas in Chinese Football Association PPT

The Chinese Football Association used dǎngguó 党国 ("party state" — nettlesome term to be explained fully below) in a powerpoint on its plans for '24. Awkward political illiteracy! 

Here's a screenshot.

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Theosophical racism

Today's SMBC:

Those first four panels resonated with my recent experience skimming Helena Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. Vol II — Anthropogensis (1888). I learned of Blavatsky's existence due to the restaurant located in her former residence, and my sense of her influence in Philadelphia was reinforced by years of walking past the United Lodge of Theosophists.

I expected The Secret Doctrine to be nuttier than squirrel poop, as indeed it is. But I wasn't prepared for its extreme mythic racism, endorsement of (fantastical versions of) eugenics, and so on. In retrospect, I should have realized that late 19th-century fantasy would be like that. I'll spare you the details of Blavatsky's theories of lost continents and their associated "root races" — you can read Wikipedia's summary, or dive into the 1888 tome yourself if care. But I'll reproduce a few illustrative quotes from the book.

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