Archive for Language and the media

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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"'White left' — a Chinese calque in English", part 2

A little less than four years ago, I wrote a post about the subject of báizuǒ 白左 ("white left").  It was a difficult post to write, because the topic was sensitive, controversial, and recherché.  The post provoked an enthusiastic discussion, with much of the emotional investment being about whether the term would stick in English a year or two later.

I filed it away far in the back of my mind, thinking that I might never have to deal with it again because, in truth, it had given me a lot of headaches, trying to make sense of its ideological and political implications in China and in the West (which are by no means the same), its relationship to SJW (Social Justice Warriors), and so forth.  I was happy enough not to have to think about báizuǒ 白左 ("white left") for four years.

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Averaging grammatical persons?

Averaging works for numbers, but maybe not for combining third person and first person to get second person?

Update — The cited mistake was obviously a slip, rather than evidence of ignorance, and I should not have been so unkind as to publicize a joke that implies otherwise.

Kelly Robinson gives it a try — "Dr Seuss 'cancelled'? There’s nothing new about cutting racism from children’s books", The Guardian 3/9/2021 [emphasis added]:

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, which debuted in 1927 and 1930 respectively, were originally packed with unflattering portraits of ethnic villains, who were “swarthy”, “hook-nosed”, or “dark, and rather stupid looking”. In The Hardy Boys’ Hidden Harbor Mystery, the criminal exploits are executed by Luke Jones, a Black man who wears stolen diamond rings, speaks in a heavy dialect and refers to himself in the second person: “Luke Jones don’t stand for no nonsense from white folks! Ah pays mah fare, an’ Ah puts mah shoes where Ah please.” Meanwhile, Nancy Drew solved The Mystery at Lilac Inn by means of racial profiling: spotting a “dark-complexioned” girl at an upscale dress shop, Nancy notes: “Surely a girl in her circumstances cannot afford to buy dresses at such a place as this.”

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"Jesus talk" and "human speech" in Hong Kong

Editorial by Geremie Barmé in China Heritage (10/6/20): "Hong Kong & 講耶穌 gong2 je4 sou1".  Here are the opening paragraphs of this installment of "Hong Kong Apostasy":

The Cantonese expression 講耶穌 gong2 je4 sou1, literally ‘to give a sermon about Jesus’, or ‘to preach’, means to prattle, or to speak in a boring and vacuous fashion. When I worked for The Seventies Monthly in Hong Kong in the late 1970s, colleagues would regularly mock Mainland propaganda as being nothing more than 講耶穌 gong2 je4 sou1, boring harangues.

In the decades since the People’s Republic subsumed the former British colony, its people have been increasingly exposed to Communist officialese, be it in the form of government speeches, media pronouncements or just everyday palaver. On the Mainland, blathering partyspeak has long been derided for being 假大空 jiǎ dà kōng, ‘mendacious, hyperbolic and fatuous’. Nonetheless, Communist logorrhea also disguises serious, often deadly, intent. (See ‘Mendacious, Hyperbolic & Fatuous — an ill wind from People’s Daily, China Heritage, 10 July 2018.)

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Vicious smears

Headline in Global Times today (9/10/20):

"People's Daily has right to reject US article containing vicious smears against China: FM"
 
"FM" means "Foreign Minister", Wang Yi 王毅.

Since the colorful, eye-catching term "vicious smears" has been popping up elsewhere in PRC English language media these days, colleagues have been wondering where it comes from in PRC Chinese language media.  Tracking down the Chinese original of this Global times article, it seems that "full of errors, inconsistent with the facts, and full of vicious smears against China" in this article is translated from "cuòlòu bǎichū, yǔ shìshí yánzhòng bùfú, chōngchìzhe duì Zhōngfāng de èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 错漏百出,与事实严重不符,充斥着对中方的恶毒攻击抹黑", and thus the Chinese word they use for "smears" in this article is "gōngjí 攻击 ("attack") mǒhēi 抹黑 ("discredit / [bring] shame [on] / defame / blacken OR tarnish [someone's reputation]")"; and "èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 恶毒攻击抹黑" for "vicious smears". Without the reference to the original Chinese sentence, I would probably translate "vicious smears" as "èdú de huǐbàng 恶毒的毁谤" ("vicious slander") given this specific context.

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Obsession with civilized behavior

In Chinese media, we often encounter exhortations to wénmíng xíngwéi 文明行为 ("civilized behavior"), but in this article, they've really gone over the top in promoting it:

"Běijīng wénmíng cùjìn tiáolì tōngguò  tíchàng zhèxiē wénmíng xíngwéi 北京文明促进条例通过 提倡这些文明行为" ("Beijing passes regulations for the advancement of civilization; for the promotion of these [types of] civilized behavior"), people.com (4/24/20)

Just counting wénmíng xíngwéi 文明行为 ("civilized behavior"), this four syllable, two word phrase is mentioned 17 times in this article.  If we count only the two syllable word wénmíng 文明 ("civilized; civilization"), it occurs 30 times.  I won't mention all of the more than sixty types of civilized behavior that are encouraged or required, but will note only those that are likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the proximate cause for the passage of these regulations:

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"Racist dog whistling"

News brief on the (Australian) ABC website:

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The order of surnames and given names in East Asian languages

From Frank Chance:

I have complained for years about the reversal of Japanese names in the Western – and Japanese – media.

If China can dictate pinyin, as it essentially did in 1979, Japan can lead in the change to respect the original language.

Here's an article that speaks to this issue:

"Japan asked the international media to change how we write their names. No one listened", by James Griffiths, CNN Business (3/21/20):

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Super Bowl Dialectology

One of today's Super Bowl commercials features Boston r-lessness:


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Lack of inaction

From a recent article on the Vanity Fair site by Abigail Tracy ("'There's Blood on the Hands of Members of Congress': Frustrated Democrats Debate Strategy as Mitch McConnell Holds Gun Control in His Pocket," published Aug. 6):

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who was elected weeks before the 2012 mass shooting in Newton, Connecticut, expressed dismay at the lack of inaction in Congress.

Obligatory screenshot:

It's our old friend, misnegation. Murphy was surely expressing dismay at the lack of action, or inaction, in Congress.

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Finland's national radio broadcaster pulls the plug on the news in Latin

During the last few decades, I have served as the "opponent" in several Scandinavian doctoral defenses.  I wore a tuxedo, top hat, and silk socks, plus gleaming black shoes.  Much of the ritual was conducted in Latin, so I was quite aware of the high place accorded that ancient language in Scandinavian academia, especially in Finland, where all of my colleagues, no matter what their field, had received extensive training in Latin already in high school back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  It seems, however, that Latin education has been rapidly declining since that time.

Now, one of the last holdouts for general knowledge of Latin in Finland is being terminated:

"Requiescat in pace: Finland's Yle radio axes Latin news show after 30 years:  Public broadcaster cancels weekly summary Nuntii Latini as original presenters retire", AFP in Helsinki, The Guardian (6/24/19)

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Jeremy who?

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Life, death, whatever

David Brooks, "It’s Not the Economy, Stupid: How to conduct economic policy in an age of social collapse", NYT 11/29/2018:

People, especially in the middle- and working-class slices of society, are less likely to volunteer in their community, less likely to go to church, less likely to know their neighbors, less likely to be married than they were at any time over the past several decades. In short, they have fewer resources to help them ride the creative destruction that is ever-present in a market economy.

And they are dying. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that life expectancy in the United States declined for the third straight year. This is an absolutely stunning trend. In affluent, well-connected societies, life expectancies rise almost as a matter of course. The last time the American mortality rate fell for three straight years was 1915-1918, during World War I and the flu pandemic, which took 675,000 American lives.

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