Archive for Semantics

Dwindling measure words in Mandarin

Tweet from the University of Westminster Contemporary China Centre Blog @CCCblogUoW:

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"Common sense" in Chinese and in English

Long Ling has an essay about an exam given to prospective civil servants in Chinese:

"What Really Happened in Yancheng?" by Long Ling, the London Review of Books, 42.2 (1/23/20).  Translation by Jonathan Flint.

This essay, written by a government official in Beijing — presumably writing under a pseudonym — describes the civil service examinations used to select personnel in China. Conventional problem-solving makes up about half of the test, with ideology making up the other half. The author zooms in on the degree to which the exams require regurgitating Marxist ideology: essentially, a test of one's ability to follow the party line.

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Chinese Buzzwords of the year 2019: plagiarism / stealing a shtick

Jialing Xie surveys the field in "Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media: An overview of China's media top buzzwords over the past year", What's on Weibo (1/5/20).  As in the previous year, the expressions were chosen by the chief editor of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì 咬文嚼字, which Xie says "literally means 'to pay excessive attention to wording'".

No, that's not the literal meaning of "yǎowén Jiáozì 咬文嚼字", it's the lexical, figurative meaning.  The literal meaning of "yǎowén Jiáozì 咬文嚼字" is "to bite on phrases and chew on characters".  Other lexical, figurative interpretations of "yǎowén Jiáozì 咬文嚼字" ("to bite on phrases and chew on characters") are "be punctilious about minutiae of wording: chop logic; pay excessive attention to wording and choice of characters; to nitpick like a grammar Nazi; to talk pedantically").

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Annals of stacked negation

Garrett Wollman writes:

Not sure if this really belongs in LL's misnegation files, but I found this sentence hard enough to parse (despite knowing exactly what the author meant) that I stumbled over it on a re-read:

"The really troubling thing," Zora says to the rain, "is that I can't convince myself I'm not in a life where knowing someone who can do that isn't purely a good thing."

Graydon Saunders, A SUCCESSION OF BAD DAYS

The context here is that one of the other characters makes a rather creepy magical barrier around the people in the scene while waiting for medical attention after a disease outbreak.  So what the character is (I believe intended to be) saying is that they think it's entirely good to know someone who can do that, but they are troubled by the thought. 

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Hong Kong protests: "recover" or "liberate"

From Alison Winters:

I am a regular reader of Language Log and really enjoy your digging on unusual Chinese turns of phrase.

One word I have recently been puzzling over lately is the usage of guāngfù 光复 in the Hong Kong call to arms 光复香港时代革命*. The dictionary description indicates it has to do with reclaiming land from an occupier, and specifically references the end of Japanese occupation in Taiwan, but in English the slogan has been translated as "liberate". When I look up "liberate" in the other direction, the dictionary suggests jiěfàng 解放, but note that it's also associated with the CPC victory over the KMT.

I wonder if the usage of 光复 for liberate is a quirk of Cantonese (I live in mainland and only speak Standard Chinese), or if it's a political choice to use that word based on previous "liberations"? I am curious about the etymology and would be interested to see a write-up on the blog, if you know a bit more background.

[*VHM:  A "standard" English translation of this slogan is "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times", the "loose" Cantonese Romanization for which is "Gwong Fuk Heung Gong! Si Doi Gark Ming!"  Source

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Mastering Caution amidst Hermeneutic Acrobatics

[This is a guest post by Nicholas Morrow Williams]

Victor recently pointed out to me the appearance of Martin Kern's important article in the latest issue of Early China on "Xi Shuai" 蟋蟀 ("Cricket") and Its Consequences: Issues in Early Chinese Poetry and Textual Studies" (Early China 42 [2019]: 39–74).  Kern's article offers both a very detailed examination of the poem "Cricket" contained in a Tsinghua manuscript, which differs substantially from the comparable poem in the Shijing 詩經, and also reflections on the broader significance of the manuscript for "textual studies."

The article is well worth reading both the recently-discovered poem and for the broader reflections, but I would like to discuss one issue to which it does not devote so much attention, which is the interpretation of the received text of "Cricket" in the Shijing itself. After comparing the excavated and received texts, Kern concludes:

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The meaning of meaning: kaput

The poor fellow in the following short video is taking a Mandarin listening comprehension exam:

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Thematic spoonerisms?

Matt Richtel, "Urinary Tract Infections Affect Millions. The Cures Are Faltering", NYT 7/13/2019 [emphasis added]:

For generations, urinary tract infections, one of the world's most common ailments, have been easily and quickly cured with a simple course of antibiotics.

But there is growing evidence that the infections, which afflict millions of Americans a year, mostly women, are increasingly resistant to these medicines, turning a once-routine diagnosis into one that is leading to more hospitalizations, graver illnesses and prolonged discomfort from the excruciating burning sensation that the infection brings.[…]

The drug ampicillin, once a mainstay for treating the infections, has been abandoned as a gold standard because it is so often resistant to multiple strains of U.T.I.s.

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Which justifies what?

Chelsea White, "Does people power make a difference? The truth about protests", The New Scientist 6/17/2019 [emphasis added]:

Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Hong Kong on 9 June to protest a government plan to allow extraditions to mainland China. The demonstrations have continued regularly since, with seas of protesters surrounding a government building and preventing law-makers from meeting about the proposed law. […]

One way to bring attention to a cause is to disrupt the hum of normal life. In April, climate protesters Extinction Rebellion had success with this method, bringing some transport hubs in central London to a standstill by blocking the streets with people and gluing themselves to trains.

The movement quickly gained attention from the press and attracted new supporters, partly thanks to social media. But it also drew criticism from people who felt the inconvenience didn't justify the cause.

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Let's have Mr. and Mrs. Smith for lunch

From Charles Belov:

While restaurant hunting in the East Bay, I happened upon these dishes with the intriguing English names of "Mr and Mrs Smith" and "Boiled Omasum with Chili Pepper." Omasum turns out to be an obscure name of a variety of tripe, but I'm puzzled as to how the Smith family made it into Chinese cuisine.

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Visual puns in K-pop, part 2

Three days ago, we saw how the group named Apink wrote the Korean phrase "eung-eung 응응" ("yes", "okay", or "uh huh") as %% for the title of their hit single:  "Visual puns in K-pop" (1/10/19).

Now comes another famous K-pop song called "T T" (Roman letter T):

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Chaos

From an anonymous reader:

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NLLP: bag-of-words semantics?

The First Workshop on Natural Legal Language Processing (NLLP) will be co-located with NAACL 2019. The phrase "natural legal language processing" in the title strikes me as oddly constructed, from a syntactic and semantic point of view, though I'm sure that NAACL attendees will interpret it easily as intended.

Let me explain.

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