Archive for Language and the media

State sanctioned translation

When it comes to the dissemination of news in China, Xinhua is the almighty source.  That extends to translations too.  Xinhua is Xinhua News Agency, or New China News Agency, the official state news agency of the People's Republic of China.  It's like Associated Press, Bloomberg News, United Press International, and the bureaus of all the major American newspapers and magazines wrapped up together.  With such a gigantic organization, it is easy to control the stories that go out under the aegis of the CCP, and that is the only point of view that matters in the PRC.  Since the authorities have now made it clear that Xinhua is to be the sole source of news coming from abroad, that means there is even less chance than before of there any deviation from the party line.

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Furious sleeping continues

Several people have sent me pointers to the linguistically-themed 9/27/2023 NYT crossword puzzle. For some discussion by Sam Corbin, see "Talk, Talk, Talk", NYT 9/26/2023 ("Scott Koenig puts silly thoughts to bed with a clever crossword"), which includes a quotation from the puzzle's author:

I first learned about Professor Chomsky as an undergraduate linguistics minor. The man has been a public intellectual and an absolute legend in the field for more than seven decades, and still remains active today, earlier this year penning a guest opinion essay contrasting ChatGPT’s approach to language with that of a human. (I’d like to call special attention to the wonderfully clever title of the paper that the essay references.)

[Spoiler alert: a solved version of the puzzle is presented after the fold…]

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A bad thing about social media is also good

Jill Lepore recently presented an illustrative example of how social media amplifies bad stuff ("The World According to Elon Musk's Grandfather", 9/19/2023):

Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Musk […] only glancingly discusses Musk’s grandfather J. N. Haldeman, whom he presents as a risk-taking adventurer and whose politics he dismisses as “quirky.” In fact, Haldeman was a pro-apartheid, antisemitic conspiracy theorist who blamed much of what bothered him about the world on Jewish financiers.

Elon Musk is not responsible for the political opinions of his grandfather, who died when Musk was three years old. But Haldeman’s legacy casts light on what social media does: the reason that most people don’t know about Musk’s grandfather’s political writings is that in his lifetime social media did not exist, and the writings of people like him were not, therefore, amplified by it.

Bu a few days after the publication of Lepore's article, something happened that showed an effect in the opposite direction.

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Tatar Journalism in Tatar



"Tatar Journalists More Likely to Cover Controversial Topics When They Write or Speak in Tatar, One of Their Number Says"

Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia — New Series

Monday, August 28, 2023

           Staunton, Aug. 28 – Tatar journalists are more likely to cover controversial topics when they write or speak in Tatar than they are when they use Russian, according to Alfiya Minnullina, one of the founders of the online newspaper Intertat, calling attention to a pattern likely true of most non-Russian areas of the Russian Federation.

            Minnullina, 60, was one of the first journalists in Tatarstan to see the advantages that the Internet could give to Tatar-language materials and their distribution beyond the borders of the republic (

            She created the first Tatar-language online newspaper for that audience and then was involved 20 years ago in the creation of Intertat, a portal which still exists and communicates not only to Tatars within Tatarstan but to Tatars living elsewhere in the former Soviet space and more broadly.

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Whose note?

A 7/29/2023 article by Elaine Mendonça in the online periodical The Best Stocks ("Anticipating Positive Results: Brookfield Renewable Partners to Release Q2 Earnings Data") starts like this:

July 28, 2023 – Brookfield Renewable Partners (NYSE:BEP) (TSE:BEP), a leading utilities provider, is set to announce its second-quarter earnings on Friday, August 4th.

And after a few more paragraphs of similar information, it ends like this:

With the upcoming release of Brookfield Renewable Partners’ earnings data, investors are eagerly awaiting the results. The solid performance and positive expectations set by analysts, along with the company’s dividend policy, indicate that Brookfield Renewable Partners is positioned for success in the second quarter of 2023. As investors tune in to the conference call, they will be seeking valuable insights into the company’s growth strategies, financial outlook, and overall market trends that may impact its future performance.

NB- The references to “perplexity” and “bustiness” were not utilized as they do not align with a formal writing style.

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Broadcasters' accents

From Ellen Fleming, a reporter for WWLP22 in Chicopee, Massachusetts:

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Brit noun pile heds: "Crown" edition

While traveling in the UK, Nancy Friedman spotted the tabloid headline "CROWN DIANA CRASH OUTRAGE" on the front page of The Sun.

"Crash blossoms," as we've often discussed here on Language Log, are headlines that are so ambiguously phrased that they suggest alternate (comical) readings. (The headline that gave "crash blossoms" their name appeared in the newspaper Japan Today in 2009: "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms." That referred to Diana Yukawa, a violinist whose father died in a 1985 Japan Airlines plane crash.) I'm not so sure this is a canonical crash blossom, since it's difficult to get even one plausible parsing from this headline, unless you're well-versed in the British journalistic tradition of "noun-pile heds," another frequent LL topic (see past posts here).

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Coreference confusion of the week

In stories about Ron DeSantis' expensive PR stunt sending migrants from Texas to Martha's Vinyard back in mid-September, someone named "Perla" played a central role from beginning, described as "a tall, blond woman who spoke to the migrants in broken Spanish".

Recently this person was identified ("Who Is Perla? A Central Figure in Florida’s Migrant Flights Emerges", NYT 10/3/2022), leading to this tweet:

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"Long live our noble Kingn"

A story in this morning's Guardian (Alex Finnis, "National Anthem lyrics: How the words will change to God Save The King after the Queen’s death") evokes the (now generally unfair) nickname of Grauniad, spelling King as "Kingn".

I've been told that the issue behind the nickname arose because the Guardian was typeset in Manchester (where it was founded), and then the printed copies were shipped by train to London. There was typically only one edition per day, and so typographical errors could not be corrected in later editions, as they could be for London-based papers, where the edition printed in the wee hours would be superseded by editions printed at intervals throughout the day.

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More BS from the BBC

Earlier today, Victor Mair was naive enough to believe a BBC "No word for X" story, and spread some of its misinformation in his post "No 'no'". He cited "The language that doesn't use 'no'", by Eileen McDougall, BBC (8/9/22); and at least in the aspect that Victor (and the headline) featured, that article is apparently nonsense. As David Eddyshaw pointed out in a comment on Victor's post, "Kusunda has negatives."

David gave a link to David E. Watters, "Notes on Kusunda Grammar", Himalayan Linguistics 2006. Here's a link to the relevant section of Watters' paper, 5.5.4 Negation.

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Malign Woodpeckers and Other Hegemonic Behavior

With this stunning journalistic masterpiece, Global Times, China's official, nationalistic, daily tabloid newspaper under the CCP, has outdone itself in exposure of truly insidious "Western" (U.S., British) linguistic behavior:

"Twisted in translation: Western media, social groups set up language barriers by intentionally misreading, misinterpreting Chinese materials", by Huang Lanlan and Lin Xiaoyi, GT (4/14/22)

Here's one gem from the article:

Professor Tang from Fudan University noted that anti-Chinese forces are now mature enough to use the internet to self-organize – actively plan anti-Chinese issues to infiltrate and mobilize some netizens, driving them to act like woodpeckers to find a few rare, extreme statements and then embellish them.

Gosh!  Who knew that woodpeckers could be trained to do that?  Every day is an education. 

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Multilingual Korean TV drama

New article by Sophie-Ha, posted on allkpop ( yesterday:

"Apple TV+ drama 'Pachinko' praised for the attention to detail and accuracy of all the languages and dialects"

We often talk about topolects and dialects of Sinitic, but seldom do so for Korean.  We can get some idea of what the situation is like by reading sections of Sophie-Ha's article:

Various languages appear in the Apple TV+ original drama 'Pachinko' as the main characters are immigrant families who left their homeland during the Japanese colonial period and went through various countries. Korean, Japanese, and English are all used in one story, as well as different dialects of these languages. The Busan and Jeju dialects were used in the Korean language, and the dialect used by Korean-Japanese immigrants was also refined by seeking advice from Korean-Japanese individuals.

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Pinyin in subtitles

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