Archive for Language and travel

Passes: gates and barriers

A key term in Chinese historical geography is guān 關 ("pass").  You can see from the shape of the character that it is framed by the two panels of a door, left and right, and that it has two upright, elaborated bars that could impede progress through the gate (I am thinking of the early forms of the character).  The flanking door panels constitute the semantophore (radical, classifier) of the character, and the bars inside are the secondary semantophore, but may also simultaneously function as a phonophore.

A pass serves both to facilitate and block movement along key routes leading into and out of a country or regions within a country.

Just as I was thinking about writing this post on passes, I synchronously and serendipitously received from Alan Kennedy a reference to this highly technical article on Silk Road travel:

Irina Tupikova, Matthias Schemmel, Klaus Geus, "Travelling along the Silk Road: A new interpretation of Ptolemy’s coordinates", Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte / Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Preprint 465 (2014), 73 pages.

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European slaves in the year 1000

Valerie Hansen has a new book just out:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  New York:  Scribner, 2020.

A NYT review of Hansen's landmark volume is copied below, but let's first look at some interesting language notes concerning the background of the word for "slave" (Chapter 4 is on "European Slaves"; the quotations here are from pp. 85-86).

The demand for slaves [in addition to that for furs] was also high, especially in the two biggest cities in Europe and the Middle East at the time–Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, in present-day Iraq. The residents of Constantinople and Baghdad used their wealth to purchase slaves, almost always people captured in raids on neighboring societies.

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University City train station notes

Announcements

1.

"Please be visible to the engineer OR* train will not stop."

*spoken with very heavy emphasis

Is there a choice?

2.

"Your attention please:  trains en route to destination may be late.  Passengers are advised* that times may increase or decrease** at any time."

*the preceding three words are uttered with rising crescendo, with a slight fall at the end

**strong emphasis on each of the preceding three words

This entire announcement is spoken in a seemingly snide, sneering, pompous tone.  No sympathy or apology whatsoever.  (In Japan, the railway administration is thoroughly ashamed when a train is half a minute late.  In Austria, where many of my relatives worked for the railways as much as a century or more ago, one could set your watch by the arrival and departure of the trains.)  I loathe this announcement more than any other — especially when one is made to wait for an hour or more, after which a train may simply be cancelled without explanation.

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No scanner

I'm on the Amtrak train from Philadelphia to New Haven. Although I've ridden on trains hundreds of times all over the US and around the world, something just happened that I've never experienced before. The conductor was going through the entire car (and other cars too — with hundreds of people) asking each person politely and calmly, "Last name on your ticket?"

Whereupon each passenger said his or her name. Since the names were of all kinds of nationalities and variant spellings, in most cases he had to follow up by asking them to spell their name. Every single passenger did so, politely and clearly, and the conductor typed their surnames into his handheld electronic device.

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Speaking of Lou Dobbs…

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Update on the search for immigrant-aid interpreters

Let me try to pull together the information from my previous two posts, and add information that I'm seeing on Twitter. I will update this as I get more information.

Service-providers looking for interpreters. Much of the interpreting that is needed can be done by phone, so geographic location shouldn't be an issue.

RAICES: volunteer@raicestexas.org.

American Immigration Council. The person to contact is Crystal Massey, but the website doesn't give her email address. The general "Contact Us" page is here. (Added June 24, 2018.)

Service-providers that might need interpreters. These are names of groups that someone posted on Twitter; I don't know whether they're actually looking for interpreters.

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More regarding the need for interpreters

In addition interpreters being needed to help detainees communicate with their lawyers, there is an urgent need for medical personnel who can speak Central American indigenous languages (or, failing that, presumably for interpreters to work with English- and Spanish-speaking medical personnel). This is a Facebook post that Emily Bender has sent me:


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Interpreters needed for immigrant families: Meso-American indigenous languages

Please spread the word.

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Cantonese term on a traffic sign

Jeff Demarco writes:

My son snapped this photo on his way home from Hong Kong Disneyland. Wasn't quite sure what was intended…

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Ask paanwalla for direction: be Indian

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New Year's massacre

Boris Kootzenko spotted this truly bizarre banner at a service area on the highway leading west from Shanghai in Anhui Province:

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Talk amongst yourselves

Please, talk to each other. It's important to linguists that there should be plenty of chat. We need language live, on the hoof. Millions of spoken word tokens everywhere, so that we can (for example) compare Donald Trump's amazingly high proportion of first-person singular pronouns to the average for non-narcissists like typical Language Log readers. tubechat

However, beware of engaging in chat to strangers on the subway if you are in London. A new campaign for people to wear a "Tube chat?" button when traveling on London Underground trains, intended to provoke random conversation with other passengers, has been met with horror and disdain by the misanthropic curmudgeons who use the services in question. No chat please; we're Londoners.

[Comments are turned off out of respect for readers in London.]

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What's in the sachet?

At my hotel here in Brno, Czechia, the shampoo comes in small sachets, manufactured in Düsseldorf, labeled with the word denoting the contents in a long list of suitable European Union languages. I can't tell you which languages they picked, for reasons which will immediately become apparent. Here are the first four:

  1. Shampoo
  2. Shampoo
  3. Shampooing
  4. Shampoo

Just so you're sure.

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