Archive for Language and the media

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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"Major political error"

What was it?

Instead of writing "Xí Jìnpíng xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想" ("Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”), two Shaanxi Daily editors wrote "Xí Jìnpíng zǒng shūjì xīn shídài Zhōngguó tèsè shèhuì zhǔyì sīxiǎng 习近平总书记新时代中国特色社会主义思想 ("General Secretary Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”).

For this "major political error", the editors were respectively fined 10,000 and 5,000 yuan (US1,440 and US720).  Luckily, the proofreading team caught this gross miswording the next morning before publication.

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Speaking of Lou Dobbs…

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Storage, transmission, whatever

Mike Ives, "Charles Kao, Nobel Laureate Who Revolutionized Fiber Optics, Dies at 84", NYT 9/24/2018 [emphasis added]:

Working in Britain in the late 1960s, Dr. Kao and a colleague played a crucial role in discovering that the fiber optic cables in use at the time were limited by impurities in their glass. They also outlined the cables’ potential capacity for storing information — one that was far superior to that of copper wires or radio waves.

As commenters on the NYT obit point out, optical fiber (like copper wires and radio waves) is used for transmitting information, not storing it.

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"Skr", the latest Chinese buzzword

Let's plunge right in:

"How ‘Skr’ Took Over the Chinese Internet:  A brief history of the meaningless hip-hop term that inspired countless viral memes", by Yin Yijun, Sixth Tone (8/7/18)

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Draconian dictionaries?

Rachel Paige King ("The Draconian Dictionary Is Back", The Atlantic 8/5/2018) suggests that lexicographers might be (re)turning to prescriptivism:

Since the 1960s, the reference book has cataloged how people actually use language, not how they should. That might be changing. […]

The standard way of describing these two approaches in lexicography is to call them “descriptivist” and “prescriptivist.” Descriptivist lexicographers, steeped in linguistic theory, eschew value judgements about so-called correct English and instead describe how people are using the language. Prescriptivists, by contrast, inform readers which usage is “right” and which is “wrong.”

King's historical sketch of lexicography's past century concludes that the descriptivists have won, but that

oddly enough, Merriam-Webster is doing a great deal to promote the idea that sounding educated and using standard—if not highbrow—English really does matter. […]

The company has a feisty blog and Twitter feed that it uses to criticize linguistic and grammatical choices. Donald Trump and his administration are regular catalysts for social-media clarifications by Merriam-Webster. The company seems bothered when Trump and his associates change the meanings of words for their own convenience, or when they debase the language more generally.

Maybe it’s not the dictionary that has become outmoded today, but descriptivism itself. I’m not implying that Merriam-Webster has or should abandon the philosophy that guides its lexicography, but it seems that the way the company has regained its relevance in the post-print era is by having a strong opinions about how people should use English.

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