Archive for Language and medicine

The complexities of a basic word for "barbarian" in Sinitic and neighboring languages

There are scores of words in Sinitic languages that regularly get translated into English as "barbarian".  One of the most conspicuous and pervasive is hú 胡, which we have often discussed on Language Log, perhaps most extensively and intensively in "The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15), with detailed etymological, orthographical, morphological, and philological notes.

The term came up again more recently in "'Carrot' in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc." (6/26/20), where we found it as the distinctive modifier of the Sinitic word for "carrot" (húluóbo 胡蘿蔔 / 胡萝卜).

[N.B.:  Several of my most respected colleagues in Chinese Studies do not permit their students to translate hú 胡 or any of the other Sinitic terms for non-Sinitic peoples as "barbarian".]

In reading PRC written materials, one must be wary of all the words in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) that are written with hú 胡, since the character simplification promoted by the communist government has collapsed at least six other traditional characters into this one (see here), the most interesting of which is the first syllable hemimorpheme of the Sinitic word for "butterfly" (húdié 蝴蝶 / 胡蝶), cf., "'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16).

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Concentric circles of language in Beijing, part 2

From a Penn graduate student who recently returned to his home in Beijing, of which he is a born and bred native:

I'm now back at home in Beijing after a 14-day self-quarantine in Tianjin, which was designated as one of the 12 cities to receive all diverted international flights to Beijing because of imported coronavirus concerns. It was an unforgettable journey and a special experience to get back to China this time. I was surrounded by passengers wearing coverall medical protective suits and had been tested body temperature countless times, which, together with all other temporary measures by no matter travelers, crew members, or customs staff, reminded me of how the ongoing pandemic has changed the world and every single person's life. I have been tested negative for the coronavirus twice as required after I arrived in China, and everything has been going well.

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Pandemic pun

Of the hundreds of pandemic memes that come to me, this is one that I didn't fully understand when I first received it:

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Heirs to the dragon / cage

Circulating on social media:

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Singapore circuit breakers

From a colleague in Singapore:

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Coronavirus slang and the rapid evolution of English

People describe the experience of living through COVID-19 lockdowns and extreme social distancing as being "weird", "strange", "unsettling", "disturbing", and so on.  As such, the current circumstances give rise to all sorts of new expressions to express their feelings and activities which are so different from "normal" times, one of the most common terms for what we're going through often being called "the new normal".

Jason Kottke, meister of one of the most venerable blogs, kottke.org, has written about these changes in "Covid-19 Slang and How Language Evolves Quickly in Stressful Times" (5/13/20). He draws on two other articles.  From Tony Thorne's "#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2", language and innovation (4/15/20), he garners the following:

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Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

A little over two years ago, I made a rather detailed post on Lycogala epidendrum, commonly known as wolf's milk or groening's slime, and its metaphorical applications in China:

"Wolf's milk, a slime mold attractive to young Chinese?" (4/7/18)

During the interim, the popularity of this lowly amoeba has only grown, until it has become the model for an aggressive style of diplomacy on the world stage called in Chinese "zhàn láng wàijiāo 戰狼外交" ("wolf warrior diplomacy").  Synergistically, it has joined forces with another microoranism, this one called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), also known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and a host of other names that I will refrain from mentioning here for fear of pushing the wrong buttons (this is highly fraught topic, one that must be treated delicately, lest one stirs up a hornets' nest of conflicting onomastic opinions).  Together, COVID-19 and wolf warrior diplomacy have brought the world to the brink of pandemic strife.

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Bats in Chinese language and culture: Early Sinitic reconstructions

The May 2020 issue of a scientific journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, shows a rank badge of Qing Dynasty officialdom.  There are five bats in this piece of ornate embroidery (can you spot them?):

Artist Unknown. Rank Badge with Leopard, Wave and Sun Motifs, late 18th century. Silk, metallic thread. 10 3/4 in x 11 1/4 in / 27.31 cm x 28.57 cm. Public domain digital image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.; Bequest of William Christian Paul, 1929. Accession no.30.75.1025.

(Source)

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WeChat COVID-19 ditty

[This is a guest post by David Moser]

This little Stück of piecemeal wordplay has been making the rounds on WeChat. It seems to be an amalgam of several little coronavirus memes that had appeared in isolation.

gélí rénquán méile 隔离人权没了
bù gélí rén quán méile 不隔离人全没了
tiānshàng biānfú, dìshàng Chuānpǔ 天上蝙蝠,地上川普
yīgè yǒudú, yīgè méipǔ 一个有毒,一个没谱
bù dài kǒuzhào nǐ shìshì 不戴口罩你试试
shìshì jiù shìshì 试试就逝世

A rather literal translation might go as follows:

隔离人权没了 With the quarantine, there are no human rights.
不隔离人全没了 Without the quarantine, the humans will be all gone.
天上蝙蝠,地上川普 In the sky are bats, on the earth there's Trump.
一个有毒,一个没谱 One has a virus, the other has no clue/no plan.
不戴口罩你试试 Just try not wearing a face mask.
试试就逝世 If you try it, you'll die.

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Dutch curses

An article in The Economist has two titles in different editions, both datelined March 26, 2020 Amsterdam:

  1. Typhus off!
    "Why Dutch swear words are so poxy
    English insults often refer to sex; Dutch ones, to disease"
  2. Swearing
    "Dutch disease
    A country where sicknesses are curses"

The content is the same:

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The impact of COVID-19 on Russian

Yevgeny Basovskaya, a specialist on public speech at Moscow’s State University of the Humanities, says that the disease has had a "radical" influence on the way Russians speak their language.  This begins with the word coronavirus, which has an "a" in the middle.  This is in "in complete violation of Russian orthographic rules".

Paul Goble, "Coronavirus has Radically Affected the Language Russians Speak, Basovskaya Says", Window on Eurasia — New Series (4/17/20)

It should by rights be an “o” but it isn’t and so feels alien for that reason alone

Source

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Multilingual Utica confronts COVID-19

From Brenton Recht:

I live in a city with a large immigrant population in general and a large Bosnian population in particular (Utica, NY [VHM: population around 60,000; between Syracuse and Schenectady]). As such, I see "BiH" bumper stickers once in a while on the road. Most of the Bosnian population either came during the breakup of Yugoslavia or are children of those immigrants, so they are probably following the American trend of putting round stickers on your car for things you like or identify with, rather than the European usage of using them to identify country of origin.

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Language for COVID-19: German and Finnish

A rare find of linguistic news in a blog concerning the Supreme Court:

"Relist Watch: Kalsarikännit edition", John Elwood, SCOTUSblog

SCOTUSblog is about the work of the Supreme Court of the United States.  The author must have a streak of the linguist in him, for he chose to  begin today's post with three paragraphs about language usage related to the coronavirus crisis.  Here they are:

As America begins its fourth week under quarantine with widespread working from home, we’ve begun noticing shifts in grooming, attire and behavior as many of us remain cooped up for weeks on end.

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