Archive for Language and society

Slacker "Ojisan" culture in Japanese companies

Western observers of Japanese society generally believe that sararīman サラリーマン ("salaryman") have a super strong work ethic.  According to a survey of Japanese employees in their twenties and thirties conducted by the management consulting company Shikigaku, however, 49.2% said that there was a hatarakanai ojisan (middle-aged man who does no work) at their company.

"Survey in Japan Finds Half of Companies Have Morale-Draining Slacker 'Ojisan'", nippon.com (6/13/22)

The article has colorful charts listing responses to four main questions.  Here I omit the charts, while rearranging and summarizing some of the findings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

"Let it rot"

Another new term for expressing lack of interest in the present and future in China:

The rise of ‘bai lan’: why China’s frustrated youth are ready to ‘let it rot

Phrase bai lan gains popularity as severe competition and social expectations leave many young people despondent

Vincent Ni, The Guardian (5/25/22)

This one is borrowed from NBA usage:  "let it rot", referring to players who are on astronomical contracts but are not performing well.  As the son of an organic gardener who also raised earthworms, I can attest that the NBA metaphor was borrowed from the language of composting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

The social and political effects of language

Susan Blum, Lies That Bind:  Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman, 2007), p. 130:

…Though language was viewed as having pragmatic consequences in the past, during revolutionary China and especially during the Cultural Revolution the social effects of language were consciously emphasized, as an entire propaganda department took over the government. All words and communication were politically charged, and people had to become completely conscious of the effects of their utterances, knowing they would be scrutinized. At the same time, a premium was placed on the spontaneous eruption of profound feelings of revolutionary ardor. This forced many people to pursue a path of performance, of masking feelings they could scarcely acknowledge to themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Will this magical shaker leave you shooketh?

Pictured here is a zhèn lóu shénqì 震楼神器 ("magical floor shaker"):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Serial blind dates

This story (referencing Australian ABC News [1/13/22], with video)  has been doing the rounds in the Taiwan media:

"Chinese bachelorette locked in blind date's apartment after Henan's snap lockdown:

Woman says her date's performance under lockdown left much to be desired"

By Liam Gibson, Taiwan News (1/14/22)

This extraordinary report begins thus:

An unmarried Chinese woman surnamed Wang (王) had her blind date dramatically extended by several days after authorities announced an immediate lockdown.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (18)

Language meets literature; rationality vs. experience; fiction vis-à-vis nonfiction

New article in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), "The rise and fall of rationality in language", Marten Scheffer, Ingrid van de Leemput, Els Weinans, and Johan Bollen (12/21/21)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Irasshaimase?, part 2

In the comments to the first installment on this ubiquitous Japanese greeting ("welcome; come on in / over"), skepticism was raised about whether a response of any kind is expected from the person to whom it is addressed.  I'm on the side of those who believe that an acknowledgement of some sort — if only a slight nod of one's head or a bit of eye contact — on the part of the addressee is appreciated by the addresser.  I know that for a fact because I see people smile when I give some type of response to their greeting.  It's not like they're mindless robots numbly mouthing the same phrase over and over.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

Curated language

Like the previous post (7/7/21) on gender-inclusive French, it is difficult to refrain from quoting the bulk of this thought-provoking article by John McWhorter in The Atlantic (7/4/21): 

Even Trigger Warning Is Now Off Limits

The “Oppressive Language List” at Brandeis University could have come from countless other colleges, advocacy groups, or human-resources offices.

—–

Thirty years ago, someone taught me to say actor rather than actress and chairperson rather than chairman, to discourage our thinking of occupational performance as elementally distinct depending on sex. I understood. Language does not shape thought as much as is often supposed. But words can nudge concepts in certain directions if the connection between the word and the concept is clear enough; the compound of chair and the gender-neutral person hints that, for most purposes, the listener doesn’t need to know whether the individual running a meeting was male or female.

In the same vein, I heartily approve of the modern usage of they (Roberta is getting a haircut; they’ll be here in a little while). I also like the call to replace slave with enslaved person. Slave can indeed imply a certain essence, as if it were a status inherent to some people. Enslaved person points up that the slavery is an imposed condition. The distinction matters given how central, sensitive, and urgent the discussion of slavery is in today’s America.

But according to counsel from Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center, or PARC, considerate people must go further: Apparently, we must retire victim, survivor, trigger warning, and African-American too. We must do so, that is, if we seek to ignore some linguistic fundamentals while also engaging in distinctly callow sociological calisthenics. When we are to even “consider” avoiding the word prisoner (try person who was incarcerated) or walk-in (because not all people can walk) and the phrase everything going on right now (I’ll leave you to find out what’s wrong with that one), we are being preached to by people on a quest to change reality through the performative policing of manners.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (73)

Gender-inclusive French

An unusual article on language in Foreign Policy:

"Aux Armes, Citoyen·nes!  Gender-neutral terms have sparked an explosive battle over the future of the French language," by Karina Piser (7/4/21)

The article is long and detailed.  Here I try to quote only the most important and telling points.

In early May, France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced a ban on the use in schools of an increasingly common—and contested—writing method designed to make the French language more gender-inclusive.

Specifically, Blanquer’s decree focuses on the final letter “e,” which is used to feminize words in French—étudiant, for example, becomes étudiante when referring to a female student. Like many other languages, French is gendered: Pronouns, nouns, verbs, and adjectives reflect the gender of the object or person they refer to; there is no gender-neutral term like “they.” Most critically, say the proponents of the inclusive method, the masculine always takes precedence over the feminine—if there’s a group of 10 women and one man, a French speaker would still refer to the group in the masculine plural, ils.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)

"Lying flat" and "Buddha whatever" (part 2)

A week or so ago, we looked at the phenomenon of "lying flat" (see under "Selected readings" below).

Karen Yang writes from China:

Hahahahha, tang ping ["lying flat"] was kind of a hot topic last month, for about one week. Maybe it’s because the College Entrance Exam was on-going, people tended to talk about life attitude such as tang ping or work hard. But you know how fast the Internet in China moves on,  so I wouldn’t say tang ping is a significant movement.

On the other hand, foxi (佛系) is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Basically it describes that young generations in East Asia, especially in Japan, tend to be indifferent or even negative about money, promotion, marriage, raising kids and so on, just like a Buddha. It’s an attitude in response to the heavy pressure brought by social development. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

"Lying flat" and "Involution": passive-aggressive resistance

In recent days, many people have called to my attention the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat") in the PRC.  At first I thought it was just another passing fad of little significance, but the more I hear about it, the more I realize that it is a viral trend having potentially unsettling consequences for the CCP.
One of my former students who is now living in China observes:

"Lying flat" used to be a common phrase referring to people vapidly lounging around with no particular deeper meaning. But now it’s becoming a trend for the younger generation who don’t want to make an effort to work so hard as they did in the past. This has become more popular since COVID-19 as more people start to work from home (I guess it’s not as intensive as what they are used to do in offices).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (37)

Irasshaimase?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I never thought this day would come.

From convenience stores to high-end luxury retailers, the daily soundscape of Japan is punctuated by millions upon millions of calls of “Irassshaimase!” It’s a greeting so pervasive that it becomes one of the most searing impressions of the country for first-time tourists, and for those of us who live here long-term it’s hard to imagine Japan without it. But perhaps now we will have to. The unthinkable, it seems, has been thought.

Irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ) is a formal imperative form. It comes from the root verb irassharu (いらっしゃる), a “polite” verb that can mean to come, go, or be. The simple imperative is irasshai (いらっしゃい), which, though more unusual these days, can still be stumbled upon if you escape some of the more formalized spaces of the mainstream bourgeois economy. Both irasshaimase and irasshai mean, more or less, “Come on over!” or “Come on in!” In its modern incarnation, used primarily to greet customers who have already entered a store or restaurant, the nuance of irasshaimase is closer to “Welcome!” Occasionally you’ll hear it paired with “Goyukkuri dōzo” (ごゆっくりどうぞ), in other words, “Please take your time.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (40)

Hokkien renaissance

This is cause for rejoicing:

 "Meet the Malaysian on a mission to make Hokkien great again, amid Mandarin’s rising popularity in Southeast Asia"

    Linguist Sim Tze Wei has been accused of trying to divide the Chinese people, as there are those who see the use of other Chinese languages ‘as a sign of disunity and weakness’
    But he points out that Chinese immigrants to Asia have for generations been speaking their own languages, which are being edged out as more turn to learning Mandarin

Randy Mulyanto, SCMP, 1/24/21

When Sim Tze Wei began working to raise awareness of the Hokkien language, he never expected he would be accused of trying to divide the Chinese people.

“Han Chinese nationalists everywhere are keen to equate Mandarin to [real] Chinese,” said Sim, adding that there are those who find ethnic Chinese people speaking in Chinese languages other than Mandarin “as a sign of disunity and weakness”.

The Malaysian-Chinese linguist, who is in his mid-30s, is president of the Hokkien Language Association of Penang. Through the association, Sim is campaigning for the wider use of Hokkien, and advocating that it be reinstated as a language of instruction in independent and Chinese primary schools in the northern Malaysian state, as he fears Hokkien will “continue to be eroded by Mandarin and English”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)