Archive for Language and the media

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in later editions, as they could be for London-based papers, where the edition printed in the wee hours would be superseded by editions printed at intervals throughout the day.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 (news.naver.com) 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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A mishmash of languages, "dialects", and characters

We've just been through the problems of standard language versus the vernaculars in Arabic (see "Selected readings" below).  Now we're going to look at a photograph, a caption, a book review, and a letter to the editor that encompass these contentious issues in spades — but for Chinese.  Here's the photograph:

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Accent, power and persuasion

If, like me, you're behind in streaming the latest crop of mini-series, you may need some help in decoding this SNL skit:

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Aristotelian aerosols?

Kasha Patel, "Covid-19 may have seasons for different temperature zones, study suggests", WaPo 1/28/2022:

Aerosol researcher and co-author Chang-Yu Wu explained that local humidity and temperature play vital roles in the size of the virus’s particles, which can influence its life span in the air. Drier atmospheres in colder regions will induce water evaporation from the particles, shrinking their size and allowing them to float in the air for longer periods. People also tend to seek shelter inside in colder environments and expose themselves to recirculated air that potentially contains the virus.

The air in humid, hotter environments contains more water, which can condense onto the virus particles, make them bigger and theoretically fall to the ground faster. Wu compares the particles to a rock in this case — the more mass, the faster it falls.

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Bizarre anime adaptation

Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) recently posted a strange "anime" video on Twitter. The tweet has since been deleted after widespread criticism of the violence it depicts (including attacks on President Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), but the video is still available on YouTube.

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Word of the day: Agnotology

Cecilia Tomori, "Scientists: don’t feed the doubt machine", Nature 11/2/2021:

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been saddened at how science has been hijacked. Arguments around herd immunity exemplify this: proponents claimed that acquiring immunity by infection was fine for most people and also that communities were well on their way to achieving herd immunity. The messages downplayed dangers for those with high risks of exposure or severe illness. Technical arguments over infection rates silently cemented the assumption that disabled or immunocompromised people did not merit collective protective action; nor did the workers whose jobs required dangerous public contact.

Although many scientific champions did provide appropriate context, I watched several respected colleagues step into debates on when, or if, society would reach herd immunity without realizing that the discussion was not simply a scientific debate. Their too-narrow focus unintentionally helped to promote controversy and doubt, and that ultimately impeded an effective public-health response. The same happened around mask use, vaccination and school policies. This helped to shift public opinion on which public-health measures were ‘acceptable’: the fewer the better.

The field of agnotology (the study of deliberate spreading of confusion) shows how ignorance and doubt can be purposefully manufactured. Famous scholars include David Michaels, Marion Nestle and Naomi Oreskes. In September, Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, quoted environmentalist Bill McKibben on Twitter in regard to climate change: “We spent a long time thinking we were engaged in an argument about data and reason …. But now we realize it’s a fight over money and power.” Hayhoe elaborated: “‘Objections’ were always, entirely, professionally, and verrrry cleverly couched in scientific terms. They [industry] focused their lasers on the science and like cats we followed their pointer and their lead.” Some elements of manufactured doubt in this pandemic might seem fuzzier, especially when vested interests are not always clear. Nonetheless, the same lessons apply.

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"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).

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Advances in topic modeling

In the middle to late 1990s, "Topic Detection and Tracking" was an active research area (see also this). And by the early 2000s, the technology was good enough to support the creation of Google News. Twenty years later, these and other innovations have transformed the mass media, for good or ill. I don't know what algorithms the AI in charge of Topic Modeling at Google News is using these days, but I'm happy to see it developing a sense of humor:

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