Archive for Language and economics

Involution, part 2

[This is a guest post by Diana Shuheng Zhang.  It was prompted by "'Involution', 'working man', and 'Versailles literature': memes of embitterment" (12/23/20), where we discovered that the word "involution", which is little known in English-speaking countries, except in highly specialized contexts, has gone viral in China in a sense that is barely known in the West.]

The resource curse of Chinese textualism and Sinology's paradox of involuted plenty

I. Hyperabundance of texts

To me, the predicament of Sinology seems like a resource curse. The "paradox of plenty”. “Paradox of plenty” is an economic term, referring to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have worse development outcomes than those with fewer natural resources. I have been thinking about this in my head for a few days. The “resource curse” for China studies is that Chinese culture, especially Classical Chinese-based culture of writings, has too many raw texts. The discovery of the Dunhuang manuscripts has added even more to the already abundant, if not excessive, textual residue that scholars devote their lives to, accumulating and laying out textual evidence before they can reach the point — maybe they never can if they do not intend to — of analyzing, integrating, utilizing, and theorizing them.

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"Involution", "working man", and "Versailles literature": memes of embitterment

Article by Ji Siqi in South China Morning Post (11/21/20):

"China’s frustrated millennials turn to memes to rail against grim economic prospects"

Chinese youth are venting their disillusionment with bleak job prospects and widening inequality with new memes and buzzwords online

The stinging online sentiment jars with the government line that China’s economic boom is creating opportunities for young people

The three terms we will focus on in this post seem simple and innocuous enough, but China's millennials put a sardonic spin on these expressions that turns them into subtle censure (which you're not supposed to do in China) against the socioeconomic conditions they face.

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Singapore circuit breakers

From a colleague in Singapore:

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“Overcoming the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles”: The Oscars and multilingualism

Below is a guest post by Tihomir Rangelov.


The Korean film Parasite’s landslide success at the Oscars this year has been called "a cultural breakthrough". Was it a linguistic breakthrough as well?

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Sanskrit inscriptional evidence for Muslims in 12th-century Bengal

Herewith, I would like to call your attention to a new article by Ryosuke Furui (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo) titled "Sujanagar Stone Inscription of the Time of Bhojavarman, Year 7" in Pratna Samiksha, A Journal of Archaeology (Centre for Archaeological Studies & Training, Eastern India, Kolkata), New Series, Volume 10 (2019), 115-122.

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Tibet water

Ben Zimmer was just passing through Hong Kong Airport, where he got a bottle of Tibet 5100 spring water, complete with Tibetan script:


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Language as a self-regulating system

Thought-provoking article by Lane Greene, the language columnist and an editor at The Economist:

"Who decides what words mean:  Bound by rules, yet constantly changing, language might be the ultimate self-regulating system, with nobody in charge", Aeon (12/6/18).

Greene starts with a wallop:

Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. By and large, it still does. Everyone who cares about the topic is officially required to take one of two stances. Either you smugly preen about the mistakes you find abhorrent – this makes you a so-called prescriptivist – or you show off your knowledge of language change, and poke holes in the prescriptivists’ facts – this makes you a descriptivist. Group membership is mandatory, and the two are mutually exclusive.

But then he softens the blow by saying, "it doesn't have to be this way".

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