Archive for Language and psychology

Grue and bleen: the blue-green distinction and its implications

When I started to learn Mandarin more than half a century ago, it was easy for me to master lán 蓝/ 藍 ("blue") and lǜ 绿 / 綠 ("green").  But as I became better acquainted with Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, I was troubled by the word qīng 青, which seemed to straddle and include both blue and green.

The character depicts the budding of a young plant and it could be understood as "verdant", but the word is used to describe colors ranging from light and yellowish green through deep blue all the way to black, as in xuánqīng (Chinese: 玄青). For example, the Flag of the Republic of China is today still referred to as qīng tiān, bái rì, mǎn dì hóng ("'Blue' Sky, White Sun, Whole Ground Red"—Chinese: 天,白日,滿地紅); whereas qīngcài (青菜) is the Chinese word for "green bok choy". A cucumber is known as either huángguā (Chinese: 黃瓜) "yellow melon" or qīngguā* (Chinese: 青瓜) "green melon", which is more commonly used in Cantonese. Qīng 青, was the traditional designation of both blue and green for much of the history of the Chinese language, while 藍 lán ('blue') originally referred to the indigo plant. However, the character 綠 ('green'), as a particular 'shade' of qīng applied to cloth and clothing, has been attested since the Book of Odes (1000 to 600 B.C.) (e.g., the title of Ode 27 《邶風·綠衣》 'Green Upper Garment' in the Airs of Bei). As a part of the adoption of modern Vernacular Chinese as the social norm, replacing Classical Chinese, the modern terms for blue and green are now more commonly used than qīng as standalone color terms, although qīng is still part of many common noun phrases. The two forms can also be encountered combined as 青藍 and 青綠, with 青 being used as an intensifier.

Source

[VHM:  Cant. *ceng1gwaa1]

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The benefits of handwriting

Many's the Language Log post in which we've looked at the pluses and negatives of writing Chinese characters (see "Selected readings" below).  These include discipline, character building, aesthetic aspects, myopia, even punishment.  Now, in "Bring Back Handwriting: It's Good for Your Brain:  People are losing the brain benefits of writing by hand as the practice becomes less common", Elemental (9/12/19), Markham Heid examines the psychological and physical effects of writing by hand as opposed to typing fully formed letters with the stroke of a key.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that "the writing cure," which normally involves writing about one's feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there's evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

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Reality attack vs. panic attack

Fifteen years ago or more, I used to hear the expression "panic attack" quite often.  When someone told me they were having a panic attack, I knew it was something serious, and I had to pay close attention to what they were doing and be extra nice to them.  I don't think that I've heard anyone say "panic attack" for the last decade or more, so I wonder if people aren't having panic attacks any longer, and if so why?  Or has a new term come along to replace "panic attack"?

In contrast, South Koreans have become exceedingly fond of saying that they face what they call "hyun-ta 현타" ("reality attack").  This is a shortened version of "hyunsil tagyuk 현실 타격".  That means facing reality; for example, people use this expression when they come back from vacation and have to go to work the next day.

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Idiosyncratic stroke order

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Writing characters and writing letters

A few days ago, I wrote the following titles on the blackboard in my "Poetry and Prose" class:

Dà Táng Sānzàng qǔjīng shīhuà 大唐三藏取經詩話 (Poetic Tale of Tripitaka of the Great Tang Fetching Scriptures)

Yóuxiān kū 遊仙窟 (The Grotto of Playful Transcendants)

Guānshìyīn yìngyàn jì 觀世音應驗記 (Records of the Verifications of Responses by Avalokiteśvara)

As I was rapidly writing the strokes of the characters — click click click tick tick tack tack click clack tick tack — I suddenly became aware of how different the writing sounded from when I write something in Roman letters.  Not only did writing characters sound very different from the way writing letters sounds, the two types of script have a very different kinetic feel to them.

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Spiritually Finnish

Article in The Guardian (8/5/18) by Verna Yu:

"Why do millions of Chinese people want to be 'spiritually Finnish'?:  A Finnish cartoon about a socially awkward stickman has become a hit in China – even inspiring a new word in Mandarin. Why has it struck such a chord?"

The new word is jīngfēn 精芬 ("spiritually Finnish").

What does this mean, and why would Chinese want to be that way?

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Dangerous speech

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Able to read and write, yet illiterate

In the course of doing research for a series of posts I plan on doing, I was listening to an interview from a few years ago with Bryan Garner, and something he said bothered me. Well, actually, I was bothered by more than one thing that he said, but this post is only about one of them: Garner's use of the word literate. And truth be told, that's something that's bothered me for a while.

Garner doesn't usually use literate to mean 'able to read and write'. Rather, he uses it as a term of praise for the kind of people and publications that use the expressions he approves of and avoid those he condemns. Thus, his usage guides tell us that the double comparative is uncommon "among literate speakers and writers," that irrelevant is sometimes misspelled irrevelant in "otherwise literate publications," that singular they "sets many literate Americans' teeth on edge." In contrast, pronouncing the –p– in comptroller "has traditionally been viewed as semiliterate," as is the word irregardless and writing would of instead of would have. Saying where's it at is "a badge of illiteracy."

Garner would say that he's using literate to mean 'educated' or 'cultured.' Although there's no entry for the word in his usage guides, there is one for illiterate, which obviously illuminates Garner's understanding of literate:

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The harmonics of 'entitlement'

A lot of the most effective political keywords derive their force from a maneuver akin to what H. W. Fowler called "legerdemain with two senses," which enables you to slip from one idea to another without ever letting on that you've changed the subject. Values oscillates between mores (which vary from one group to another) and morals (of which some people have more than others do). The polemical uses of elite blend power (as in the industrial elite) and pretension (as in the names of bakeries and florists). Bias suggests both a disposition and an activity (as in housing bias), and ownership society conveys both material possession and having a stake in something.

And then there's entitlement, one of the seven words and phrases that the administration has instructed policy analysts at the Center for Disease Control to avoid in budget documents, presumably in an effort, as Mark put it in an earlier post, to create "a safe space where [congresspersons'] delicate sensibilities will not be affronted by such politically incorrect words and phrases." Though it's unlikely that the ideocrats who came up with the list thought it through carefully, I can see why this would lead them to discourage the use of items like diversity. But the inclusion of entitlement on the list is curious, since the right has been at pains over the years to bend that word to their own purposes.

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Whistled language

In "Transcendent Tonality" (11/5/15), we examined this topic a couple of years ago.  That post focused more on the philosophical and ethereal aspects of this type of communication, although it also introduced some of the basics of interhuman whistling and its congruence with melodic musicality.

Additional research takes us further toward understanding the linguistic, neuroscientific, and evolutionary biological dimensions of articulate whistling, as reported in this BBC article:

"The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds:  Their unusual whistled speech may reveal what humanity's first words sounded like." (David Robson, 5/25/17)

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Aphantasia — absence of the mind's eye

You've probably heard sentences like this a thousand times:  "Picture it in your mind's eye".  How literally can we take that?

"What Does it Mean to 'See With the Mind's Eye?'" (Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic [12/4/14]):

Imagine the table where you've eaten the most meals. Form a mental picture of its size, texture, and color. Easy, right? But when you summoned the table in your mind's eye, did you really see it? Or did you assume we've been speaking metaphorically?

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Empty heart disease

In "Life is Meaningless, Say China's Top Students:  A Peking University professor reports that students have full course loads and 'empty hearts'", Fu Danni (Sixth Tone, 11/23/16) introduces us to a newly minted term:  kōngxīn bìng 空心病 ("empty heart disease").

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Words for anger

Lisa Feldman Barrett has an article on "The Varieties of Anger" in last Sunday's NYT.  Most of it consists of reflections on pre- and post-election anger in our society.  But Barrett has one paragraph in which she makes some rather dubious claims about the number of words for "anger" in several languages:

The Russian language has two distinct concepts within what Americans call "anger" — one that's directed at a person, called "serditsia," and another that's felt for more abstract reasons such as the political situation, known as "zlitsia." The ancient Greeks distinguished quick bursts of temper from long-lasting wrath. German has three distinct angers, Mandarin has five and biblical Hebrew has seven.

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