Archive for Language and literature

Cryptic, allusive messages from Hong Kong's wealthiest tycoon

People have been wondering when Hong Kong's magnates would speak out on the prolonged protests in their city.  Finally one has.  That's Li Ka-shing, the richest of them all:  "HK Billionaire Li Ka-Shing Breaks Silence Over Protests" (8/15/19 newscast on YouTube).  He took out full page advertisements (both seem to be on the front page) in two of Hong Kong's most influential financial newspapers:  Hong Kong Economic Times and Hong Kong Economic Journal.  Here's the first:

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Yoshikawa Kojiro on sashimi in Tang China

[This is a guest post by Tsu-Lin Mei]

In 1976 I was in Kyoto for my sabbatical leave and I attended Yoshikawa Kojiro's (Yoshikawa Kōjirō 吉川幸次郎; 18 March 1904 – 8 April 1980) private seminar on Tu Fu (712-770).  The seminar was held in a room in the Kyoto University Faculty Club and we were reading Tu Fu.  One day when we were reading "Lìrén xíng 麗人行" ("Ballad of Beautiful Women"),Yoshikawa looked up and said to me:  "Méi xiānshēng, Zhōngguórén zài Táng cháo yǐjīng zài chī sashimi 梅先生, 中國人在唐朝已經在吃 sashimi" ("Mr. Mei, the Chinese were already eating sashimi during the Tang Dynasty [618-907]"). And he pointed to this passage:  "Shuǐjīng zhī pán xíng sù lín, xī jīn yànyù jiǔ wèi xià, luán dāo lǚ qiè kōng fēnlún 水精之盤行素鱗,犀筋饜飫久未下,鸞刀縷切空紛綸。")  ("Crystal plates brought out raw fish; Satiated revelers stopped using their ivory chopsticks; [The chefs] wielded their ornate cutting knives in vain.")

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The rake and the vamp

Chris Brannick posted this photograph of a fan on his Facebook page:

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More literary troubles for Xi Jinping

This article (in Chinese) describes how China's netizens (wǎngyǒu 网友) are ridiculing President Xi for inappropriately quoting a poem by Kong Rong 孔融 (153-208), a 20th generation descendant of Confucius, in his New Year's address to the nation.

The first lines of the poem are:

suìyuè bù jū
shíjié rú liú

歲月不居
時節如流

The years do not stand still,
Time flows on like a river.

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Kids Bong

Bill Benzon spotted this on Facebook:

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"I am a cat" t-shirt

Thorin Engeseth sent in these two photographs of a Zara brand shirt that his wife bought yesterday:

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Gilded Age diglossia

A couple of weeks ago, Larry Hyman and I walked through the Berkeley Hills to visit John and Manju Ohala, who live not far from Grizzly Peak. We followed instructions from Google Maps on my cellphone — except that there was one segment of the route that we couldn't find, Bret Harte Lane. On the way back, we realized that Bret Harte Lane was just where the map said it should be, but had been given a new name (and a new street sign): Ina Coolbrith Path.

As the plaque (which we missed on the way up) explains:

Ina Donna Coolbrith, California's first poet laureate and the nation's first state laureate, was considered "the pearl of all her tribe" by her 19th century colleagues during the Bay Area's first literary heyday.

Born Josephine Donna Smith, a niece of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, she came west with her family during California's Gold Rush. Coolbrith was fifteen and living in Los Angeles when her poetry was first published. After she divorced her husband at age twenty-one, she changed her name to Ina Donna Coolbrith, concealed her Mormon ancestry, and moved to San Francisco, where her celebrity as a poet grew. Coolbrith became Oakland's first public librarian and a mentor to Jack London, guiding him in his reading. She died in Berkeley and is buried in Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery.

When byways in the Berkeley hills were named after Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark Twain, and other literati in her circle, women were not included. This path was renamed for Coolbrith in 2016.

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Jewish uptalk?

Corey Robin, "Was Bigger Thomas an Uptalker?" (10/18/2017), describes a bit of fictional forensic sociolinguistics:

The funniest moment in Native Son (not a novel known for its comedy, I know): when the detective, Mr. Britten, is asking the housekeeper, Peggy, a bunch of questions about Bigger Thomas, to see if Thomas is in fact a Communist.

Britten: When he talks, does he wave his hands around a lot, like he's been around a lot of Jews?

Peggy: I never noticed, Mr. Britten.

Britten: Now, listen, Peggy. Think and try to remember if his voice goes up when he talks, like Jews, when they talk. Know what I mean? You see, Peggy, I'm trying to find out if he's been around Communists.

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Chinese characters in the 21st century

We've been having a vigorous debate on the nature of Sinograms:  "Character crises".  It started on June 15, but it is still going on quite actively in the comments section.  A new reader of Language Log, a scholar of late medieval Chinese literature from Beijing was prompted by her reading of this lively discussion and other LL posts to which it led her to send in the following remarks:

Thanks to your blogs, I begin to be aware of some amusing aspects of Chinese languages, though I am still struggling with the terminology.

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Mighty Maithili, monstrous Mandarin

In case you're in need of some intensely elegiac and panegyric reading material, this lovely volume just might fit the bill:

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Linguistic divergence and convergence

In Elizabeth George's recent novel The Punishment She Deserves, there's a passage where someone uses a sociolinguistic choice to communicate her attitude towards an interaction. This reminded me of another fictional example of the same thing, and I'm sure that readers will come up with more.

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The elegance of Google Translate

When I was in graduate school, some of my best friends were mathematicians.  I was always intrigued by their approach to problem solving.  They told me that merely solving problems was not satisfying to them.  Rather, their goal was to solve problems elegantly.

This morning, I was reminded of the modus operandi of mathematicians when I asked Google Translate (GT) to render a short passage of German into English.

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Xi Jinping as a living bodhisattva

Everybody's talking about Xi's Buddhist sanctification since it hit the headlines in this article:  "Xi Jinping's latest tag – living Buddhist deity, Chinese official says" (Reuters [3/9,18].

Speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament, the party boss of the remote northwestern province of Qinghai, birthplace of the Dalai Lama, said Tibetans who lived there had been saying they view Xi as a deity.

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