Archive for Language and society

Chicken baby

Just to show you how up to date Language Log can be, in this post we'll be talking about a neologism that is only a few weeks old in China.  The term is "jīwá 鸡娃", which literally means "chicken baby / child / doll".

The term surfaced abruptly and began circulating virally on social media, following a heated discussion over two articles on K-12 education (the links are here and here).  The articles are respectively about the fierce competition among parents in Haidian and Shunyi districts of Beijing municipality.  Haidian is a large district in the northwestern part of Beijing with many famous tourist attractions, outstanding universities, and top IT firms.  Shunyi district is in the northeastern part of Beijing.  Although it is not as large and powerful as Haidian, it is also considered a very desirable place to live because of its posh villas, easy access to the international airport, and China's largest international exhibition center, but above all — from a parent's point of view — some of the best private and international schools in the country.

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German salty pig hand

Jeff DeMarco writes:

"Saw this on Facebook. Google Translate gives 'German salty pig hand' which I presume refers to trotters. Not sure how they got sexual misconduct!"

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Academic rubbish

Echo Huang from Quartz (7/5/19) has written a fun and interesting article on Shanghai's new waste sorting rules:

"'What kind of rubbish are you?': China's first serious trash-sorting rule is driving Shanghai crazy"

Echo also has a related Chinese version.

"Starting Monday (July 1), individuals and businesses in China's financial capital who fail to separate trash correctly face fines and even a lower social credit rating (link in Chinese) that could make it hard to get a bank loan."

The following "sticker" / image macro showing the "Shanghai aunties" (Shànghǎi āyí 上海阿姨) who help people sort their trash is a favorite of Weibo microbloggers:

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Baffling propaganda: "black" and "evil" in contemporary Chinese society

Mandy Chan saw this sign on Weibo (a major Chinese microblogging website) and challenged me to translate it:

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How to address your professor

Face to face, most students greet me as "Professor Mair", a few as "Dr. Mair". In e-mails and other written communications, they nearly all address me with "Dear Prof. Mair", "Hello Prof. Mair", or "Hi Prof. Mair", all of which sound natural and normal. I nearly fell off my chair when a female student from China recently sent me an e-mail that began simply "Victor". A few weeks later, I was stunned when she sent me another e-mail that began even more abruptly with just "Mair". This particular student's English otherwise is quite good, so I really don't know what's going on with her.

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Snobbery

There's a salon / spa in Japan called "snob®".  Bill Benzon asks:  "Is 'snob' free of the negative connotations it would have here?"

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Spiritually Finnish

Article in The Guardian (8/5/18) by Verna Yu:

"Why do millions of Chinese people want to be 'spiritually Finnish'?:  A Finnish cartoon about a socially awkward stickman has become a hit in China – even inspiring a new word in Mandarin. Why has it struck such a chord?"

The new word is jīngfēn 精芬 ("spiritually Finnish").

What does this mean, and why would Chinese want to be that way?

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A new kind of iron rice bowl

In the good / bad old days of Chinese communism, people talked about having a "tiě fàn wǎn 铁饭碗" ("iron rice bowl"), which meant essentially that they had a "job for life", though the pay might have been extremely meager.  With the transformation of communism to mercantilism* (in the PRC's case, we may refer to it as "neomercantilism"), the old iron rice bowl could no longer be assured, so new (and more sophistical) types of job security were devised.  One that I just heard about for the first time a few days ago is biānzhì 编制.  For the moment I'll just say that this term can normally mean "weave; plait; braid", "work out; draw up", "organizational scheme (of a group / work unit)", and so forth.  The individual morphemes of which biānzhì 编制 is composed respectively mean "knit; weave; plait; compile; edit; arrange; organize" and "make; manufacture; restrict; system; work out; establish; overpower".

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The geo-, socio-, ethno-, and politicolinguistics of Taiwan

I've had guests from Taiwan for the past few days.  Two of them are mother and daughter, both primary school teachers.  The mother is a nationally known teacher of Taiwanese language who received special awards from two presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian.  She is very proud of the beauty of the Taiwanese language and is honored to be able to teach it to her students.  She refers to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) as "Huáyǔ 華語", as is done in Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, and refuses to call it 國語 ("National Language"), because, as she says, "It is not the language of our nation".

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Dangerous speech

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The Bureau of Linguistical Reality

No, The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is not something dreamed up by Borges, or the Firesign Theatre. It actually exists, or at least it exists in the same state of electronic virtual actuality as Language Log, YouTube, and the Wayback Machine.

The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene.

Our species (Homo Sapien) is experiencing a collective "loss of words" as our lexicon fails to represent the emotions and experiences we are undergoing as our habitat (earth) rapidly changes due to climate change and other unprecedented events. To this end the The Bureau of Linguistical Reality is solemnly tasked generating linguistic tools to express these changes at the personal and collective level.

Cartographers are redrawing maps to accommodate rising seas, psychologists are beginning to council people on climate change related stress, scientists are defining this as a new age or epoch. The Bureau was thus established, as an interactive conceptual artwork to help to fill the linguistical void in our rapidly changing world.

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Zora Neale Hurston and Kossula

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DACA litigation, the "illegal/undocumented alien/immigrant" issue, and a surprise

In the recent decision enjoining the suspension of DACA (but giving the government a 90-day mulligan), the court referred to the people who are affected by DACA's suspension as "undocumented aliens" rather than "illegal aliens," and it dropped a footnote explaining why it made that choice:

Some courts, including the Supreme Court, have referred to aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States as "illegal" instead of "undocumented."  See, e.g.,  Texas  v.  United  States, (explaining that this "is the term used by the Supreme Court in its latest pronouncement pertaining to this area of the law"); but see  Mohawk Indust., Inc. v. Carpenter (using the term "undocumented immigrants"). Because both terms appear in the record materials here, and because, as at least one court has noted, "there is a certain segment of the population that finds the phrase 'illegal alien'  offensive," Texas v. United States, the Court will use the term "undocumented." [pdf (citation details omitted)]

Although the court didn't similarly decide to use immigrant instead of alien, that may well be due more to the fact that alien is a frequently used term in the context of immigration law than to any view about the term's possible offensiveness.

The first case mentioned in the footnote, Texas v. United States, is the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had enjoined the DAPA program (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which was related to but separate from DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). That decision used the term illegal aliens rather than undocumented aliens, but like Tuesday's DACA decision, it explained its choice of terminology.

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