Archive for Language and medicine

Zero-COVID: null with a difference

In Chinese, it is called "qīng líng 清零" (lit., "clear zero").  Because the concept never made sense to me as a practical means for coping with the pandemic coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, I wrote a post trying to understand what the Chinese authorities mean by it:  see "Dynamic zero" (5/19/22).  In that post, I discussed the problem from many different angles, including:

  1. "zero moment point" in robotics
  2. "zero-sum game" in mathematics
  3. "zero dynamics" in mathematics

If "Zero-COVID" genuinely interests / concerns you, I recommend that you spend some time on the "Dynamic zero" post.  Here I will cite only this brief passage from it:

…before it was rushed into use for the current "zero [Covid control]" policy, "qīng líng 清零" started out in literary texts as an adjective implying "lonely; lonesome; solitary; desolate".  More recently, it was employed in computing as a verb denoting "to reset; to clear the memory".  From there, it was adapted by Chinese epidemiologists in the sense of "to reduce to zero; to zero out".  That may be their goal, but it is not happening, despite their fiercest efforts at FTTIS ("Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support").

Not to mention mass prescription of mRNA and other medicines, plus masks.

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Super color Doppler

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Garbler of spices

A couple of days ago, we had occasion to come to grips with the word "garble":  "Please do not feel confused" (8/19/22).  This led Kent McKeever to write as follows:

Your recent use of "garble" has prompted me to pass on something I recently stumbled on.  I have been poking at the digital files of the Newspapers of Eighteenth Century English newspapers and ran across a reference to the London city government position of "Garbler of Spices."  From the context, it seems to be an inspector, perhaps processor, of spice imports.  Totally new to me.

Totally new to me too.

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Cat got your tongue? Or do you have its?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

If you’re Japanese, chances are it’s the latter.

Nekojita (猫舌 lit. “cat’s tongue”) is a phrase in Japanese most commonly used to describe people who can’t or don’t like to eat or drink hot things. The word means both the actual tongue itself and, by extension, a person with a cat’s tongue. In other words, it is a synecdoche.

The term is common in Japan, reflecting the fact that many people consider themselves to be/have cat tongues; in a 2018 survey of 10,000 Japanese of all ages, about half described themselves as nekojita. The results are summed up in the accompanying image, in which pink indicates those who answered yes to the question, “Are you nekojita?” As you can see, more than half of 10-49-year-olds consider themselves to have heat-sensitive tongues.

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Mi experiencia como Team Leader de compras vecinales

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

[VHM:  watch as much or as little of this 24-minute video as you wish; the most pertinent portion runs from 2:17 to 3:40]

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Dynamic zero

We've been hearing about "zero Covid" since early in the year 2020.  Even though such an approach never seemed feasible to me, it was always fairly clear what the Chinese authorities meant by it:  through "public health measures such as contact tracing, mass testing, border quarantine, lockdowns, and mitigation software in order to stop community transmission of COVID-19 as soon as it is detected." (source)  In other words, "Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support" (FTTIS).

The Chinese term for such a policy is "qīng líng zhèngcè 清零政策", where "qīng 清" means "clear; clean; thoroughly; completely", "líng 零" means "zero", and "zhèngcè 政策" means "policy".  Fair enough, though, as I indicated above, I never thought that, in dealing with a communicable virus, it was a practicable approach.  Apparently, in due course, the PRC authorities — though they strove, through the most stringent application of FTTIS measures — came to the same conclusion.  Eventually, they started to refer to their modified "qīng líng 清零" ("zero [COVID]") policy as one of "dynamic zero", the Chinese for which is "dòngtài qīng líng 動態清零", where "dòngtài 動態" signifies "dynamic".  Here they lost me, because, for the life of me, I simply could not comprehend how "zero" could be "dynamic".

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Midwife

"A person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth."  AHDEL

But not always a woman:

Men rarely practice midwifery for cultural and historical reasons. In ancient Greece, midwives were required by law to have given birth themselves, which prevented men from joining their ranks. In 17th century Europe, some barber surgeons, all of whom were male, specialized in births, especially births requiring the use of surgical instruments. This eventually developed into a professional split, with women serving as midwives and men becoming obstetricians. Men who work as midwives are called midwives (or male midwives, if it is necessary to identify them further) or accoucheurs; the term midhusband (based on a misunderstanding of the etymology of midwife) is occasionally encountered, mostly as a joke. In previous centuries, they were called man-midwives in English.

(source)

I have often wondered about the meaning and origins of the term "midwife".  My wonderment was piqued recently by several comments on this post:  "Wondrous blue" (5/9/22).

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Praise for clinical applications of linguistic analysis

From the abstract of Sunghye Cho et al., "Lexical and Acoustic Speech Features Relating to Alzheimer Disease Pathology", published in Neurology on 4/29/2022:

Background and Objectives: We compared digital speech and language features of patients with amnestic Alzheimer’s disease (aAD) or logopenic variant primary progressive aphasia (lvPPA) in a biologically confirmed cohort and related these features to neuropsychiatric test scores and CSF analyses.

[…]

Discussion: Our measures captured language and speech differences between the two phenotypes that traditional language-based clinical assessments failed to identify. 

From an editorial by Federica Agosta and Massimo Felippi, "Natural Speech Analysis: A Window Into Alzheimer Disease Phenotypes", published in Neurology on 5/4/2022:

Compared to a standard language assessment, the automated analysis of natural speech is more complex and requires a larger amount of time to be post-processed. On the other hand, as is well demonstrated by this study, analysis of natural speech provides information at several levels of language production. Even though data are extracted from only one recorded minute of speech, the tool is able to detect subtle differences among groups, reflecting the patient’s daily experience in a more realistic way than the standard speech and language assessment. Its use has already produced important achievements in distinguishing different language phenotypes. Furthermore, differently from other studies, the work of Cho et al proposed an automated and reproducible method that highly reduces the time of speech analysis and increases the inter-rater reliability.

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Epochal Shanghai drone quote: "Control your soul’s desire for freedom."

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Russian Words of the Year and the Decade

I do not recall ever having Russian words of the year featured on Language Log, so it's a delight to have the opportunity to do so now.  They were called to my attention by Don Keyser, who spotted this piece in Novaya Gazeta this morning:

Норм и обнуление — Подведены итоги конкурса «Слово года»-2021. Особая конкуренция — в номинации «антиязык»

05:29, 19 декабря 2021  Андрей Архангельский, член экспертного совета «Слово года»

—-

Norm and zeroing

The results of the competition "Word of the Year" -2021 have been summed up. Particular competition – in the category "anti-language"

5:29 am, December 19, 2021

Andrey Arkhangelsky, member of the expert council "Word of the Year"

Don remarked:

Keeping up with the grimly evolving Russian language — neologisms, protoneologisms … the narrative is simultaneously enlightening, droll, and rather sad.

You can get a pretty good rendering via either DeepL or Google Translate. FYI, I've copied below the article the Google Translate rendering.  It doesn't do the embedded chart, of course, but the content of the chart is explained in the article.

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White tongue

Two days ago, I met a person who had a thick white coating on their tongue.  Wondering what it was called and its implications for health, I asked members of the e-Mair list about it.  Here are some of the answers I received:

Denis (Sinologist):

Thick tongue coating, often due to lengthening of the keratinous papillae on the tongue's surface.

Heidi (Yoga teacher and Ayurveda specialist):

We call it "ama" in Ayurveda – accumulated toxins from undigested foods. The person who has it might be ill. I scrape my tongue every day

From Proto-Indo-Aryan *HaHmás, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *HaHmás, from Proto-Indo-European *h₂eh₃mós (raw, uncooked), from *h₂eh₃- (to burn). Cognate with Ancient Greek ὠμός (ōmós, raw, crude, uncooked, undressed), Old Armenian հում (hum, raw, uncooked), Old Irish om (raw, uncooked) (whence Irish amh), Persian خام(xâm, crude, raw).

(source)

VHM:  In some Indic languages it means, among other things, "undigested", as Heidi noted for Ayurveda in general.

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The missing variant

"WHO — You cannot be Xi-rious! The WHO’s decision to skip the Greek letter Xi in its ludicrous naming system shows exactly who controls it", by David Spencer, Taiwan News, Contributing Writer, 2021/11/28:


(source)

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Indigenous languages and medicinal knowledge

New article in Mongabay (the critter in the banner at the top of the page who serves as their logo reminds me of our little friend, the gecko):

"Extinction of Indigenous languages leads to loss of exclusive knowledge about medicinal plants", by Sibélia Zanon on 20 September 2021 | Translated by Maya Johnson

Key points:

  • A study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that a large proportion of existing medicinal plant knowledge is linked to threatened Indigenous languages. In a regional study on the Amazon, New Guinea and North America, researchers concluded that 75% of medicinal plant uses are known in only one language.
  • The study evaluated 645 plant species in the northwestern Amazon and their medicinal uses, according to the oral tradition of 37 languages. It found that 91% of this knowledge exists in a single language, and that the extinction of that language implies the loss of the medicinal knowledge as well.
  • In Brazil, Indigenous schools hold an important role in preserving languages alongside cataloguing and revitalization projects like those held by the Karitiana people in Rondônia and the Pataxó in Bahia and Minas Gerais.

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