Archive for Semantics

Fully vaccinated or not in English, French, and Chinese

Sign in Vancouver International Airport:


Segregated line-ups for vaccinated and unvaccinated international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport. Photo by Andrew Aziz. (Source)

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GE

The particle "ge 個/个" is one of the most frequent characters in written Chinese (12th in a list of 9,933 unique characters).  It is generally thought of as a classifier, numerary adjunct, measure word.  Indeed, it functions as the almost universal, default classifier when you're not sure what the correct / proper measure word for a given noun should be.  In addition, "ge" has more than a dozen other definitions and usages, for which see Wiktionary. However, I'm not sure that any dictionary or grammar accounts for a very special usage that I have long been intrigued and enchanted by, namely the "ge" in this type of sentence:

Wǒ máng de gè yàosǐ

我忙得個要死!

"I'm so busy I could die!", i.e., "I'm incredibly busy!"

Here de 得 is a particle marking the complement of degree.

Because I lived with a big household full of Chinese (Shandong) in-laws, I picked this construction up very early in my learning of spoken Mandarin, but I always had a visceral feeling that it was extremely colloquial and unlikely to be encountered in written texts and was probably not covered in conventional grammars.  So I asked around among colleagues and native speaker informants how they would explain this unusual "ge", grammatically or otherwise.  Here are some of the replies I received.

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"No longer scared to hide who I am"

Jeré Longman, "An N.H.L. Prospect Is the First Such Player to Announce He’s Gay", New York Times 7/19/2021:

Luke Prokop, 19, a prospect with the Nashville Predators, on Monday became the first player with an N.H.L. contract to publicly announce that he is gay.

Prokop, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, made his announcement in an Instagram post, writing, “From a young age I have dreamed of being an N.H.L. player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams.”

A third-round selection by the Predators in the 2020 N.H.L. draft, Prokop wrote: “While the past year and a half has been crazy, it has also given me the chance to find my true self. I am no longer scared to hide who I am. Today I am proud to publicly tell everyone that I am gay.”

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Rain rises

It rained for the last two or three days, so someone wrote me a note saying she was looking forward to "ameagari no aozora 雨上がりの青空" ("blue sky after the rain").  I knew what she meant, but when I started to analyze the semantics of the verb, I was drawn into a vortex of uncertainty about how the simple verb "agaru 上がる", whose primary meaning is "rise; go up", could mean "stop".  That, however, is to look at the kanji shàng 上 with the eyes of a specialist in Sinitic languages, where it has these meanings:

preposition:  on; above; upon; on top of

adjective:  upper; last; previous; superior; preceding; topmost; overhead; higher; better

adverb:  up

verb:  rise; go up; board; mount; climb; apply; send in; fill; present; leave for; serve; submit; supply; first  

prefix:  over-

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A Sino-Italian mistranslation morass

A jumble of soccer talk and Confucian piety, with a splash of CCP ideology

Week in China has an interesting article about a football flap that occurred recently in China:

"Lost in translation:  Cannavaro gets Confucian" (May 14, 2021; WiC 540)

The story is quite convoluted and complicated, so we need to start with the background of the key term at play:  shì 士 (not tǔ 土 ["earth; soil; dust; local; native; indigenous; uncouth; colloquial"] — it is very easy to confuse the two characters).  You will note that nowhere in this long article is there any attempt to translate 士 ("warrior; soldier; scholar; gentleman") into English, and that is a big part of the rub.

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Remembering Richard Montague

Ivano Caponigro has created a page memorializing Richard Montague on the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

You should go read the whole page, which includes many pictures, a chapter from Ivano's in-process Montague Biography (the chapter title is "The birth of a new passion: natural language 1966"), and a YouTube video presenting Montague's 1967 explanation of his turn towards natural language.

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India pips China

Headline from the Deccan Herald:

"India pips China, inks deal to develop, support maintain harbour at naval base in Maldives", Anirban Bhaumik (2/21/21)

Although I could guess from the context what it meant in the title of this article, I had never encountered "pip" with this meaning before.

Upon looking it up in Wiktionary, I find that "pip" has no less than seven different main meanings.  Of these, five are nouns and only two are verbs.

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Sour waist

When I first began to have extensive interactions with Chinese friends more than sixty years ago, I was puzzled upon hearing them say, "My waist is sore / hurts / aches / pains".  I thought my puzzlement would disappear when I started to learn Mandarin around five years later, but I actually became more confused because what I heard them articulating in Mandarin, "yāo suān", sounded like they were saying "waist is sour".  In those years I didn't pay much attention to the characters, but focused primarily on the spoken language.

"Yāo" was not a problem because I knew that if you had a body part that was troubling you and it was pronounced "yāo", then it must be your waist.  But in English we don't usually talk about problems with your waist unless you're complaining that it's too wide.  We wouldn't normally think of a waist as being "sour".

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Sleep and dream

A chart in Wikipedia ("Indo-European vocabulary") [rearranged here] — see under "Bodily functions and states" — shows the connection between words for "sleep" and "dream" in IE languages, including Tocharian.

1. PIE: *swep- "to sleep", *swepnos "dream (n.)" 

2. English: archaic sweven "dream, vision" (< OE swefn); NoEng sweb "to swoon" (< OE swebban "to put to sleep, lull") 

3. Gothic: ON sofa "sleep (v.)" 

4. Latin:  somnus "sleep (n.)"

5. Ancient Greek: húpnos "sleep (n.)"

6. Sanskrit: svápnaḥ "sleep, dream (n.)" 

7. Iranian: Av xᵛafna- "sleep (n.)" NPers xwãb- "sleep" 

8. Slavic: OCS spěti "sleep (v.)", sŭnŭ "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

9. Baltic: OPrus supnas "dream", Lith sapnas "dream"

10. Celtic: OIr sūan, W hun "sleep (n.)" 

11. Armenian: kʿnem "I sleep", kʿun "sleep (n.)"

12. Albanian: gjumë "sleep (n.)"

13. Tocharian: A ṣpäṃ, B. ṣpane "sleep (n.), dream (n.)" 

14. Hittite: sup-, suppariya- "to sleep"

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When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

It matters, so let's familiarize ourselves with the meaning of the term right off the bat.  In Chinese Studies, we call this "zhèngmíng 正名" ("rectification of names").

Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would "rectify the names" to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and "undertakings would not be completed." Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.

Wikipedia

So, what is a "qaghan"?

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The difficulties of negation

Dmitry Ostrovsky reacted to a litotic sentence in Bari Weiss's resignation letter:

"None of this means that some of the most talented journalists in the world don’t still labor for this newspaper."

Dmitry's email:

This strikes me as very odd. It is not a simple "arithmetic" misnegation, if "none of this means that" and "don't" are dropped the sentence obviously would have a meaning intended by Ms. Weiss "[…] some of the most talented journalists in the world […] still labor for this newspaper", but as written it doesn't work. The trouble, it seems to me, is the word "some". If "None of this means that" (a straightforward negation) is removed, the sentence would have the structure "S don’t still labor for this newspaper", but almost anything is true about S when S = "some of the most talented journalists in the world" — S like beer and S hate soccer, S work late and S rise early, S read LL and S don't read even their own publication. And thus, no matter what is your statement about S, its negation is wrong.

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Chinese idol names

[This is a guest post by Alex Baumans]

I recently became aware of the Chinese idol survival programme 'Youth with you', which has resulted in the formation of the group The 9. I got to wondering about the members' names. The group consists of XIN Liu, Esther Yu, Kiki Xu, Yan Yu, Shaking, Babymonster An, Xiaotang Zhao, Snow Kong and K Lu. Of these, only Zhao Xiaotang strikes me as an original Chinese name. As my Mandarin is non existent, I can only guess at the derivation of the other stage names.

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The new directive requires voluntary compliance

Today King County Metro (in Washington State) announced that a "New public health Directive requires masks or face coverings on transit":

Starting Monday, May 18 until further notice, passengers are required to wear masks or face coverings while riding transit. Additionally, Executive Dow Constantine has directed that all King County employees, including transit operators and crews, wear masks or face coverings when in public indoor spaces or outdoors when they are unable to social distance. 

According to Public Health – Seattle & King County, a face covering may prevent further community spread of the COVID-19 virus by blocking infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, or speaks. It’s the latest move to promote safety across our fleet for operators, crew, and passengers.  

The new directive requires voluntary compliance, and Metro operators will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding.

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