Archive for Language and culture

Kimchee is Korean

Not Chinese.  Do you understand?

This has long been a cabbage of contention, but make no mistake about it:  fermented kimchee / kimchi  (gimchi 김치 (IPA [kim.tɕʰi]) (lit., "soaked [in their own juices of fermentation] vegetables") is not the same thing as pickled paocai / pao tsai 泡菜 (lit., "soaked [in brine] vegetables").

Kimchee and paocai are made differently, have different ingredients and spices, and taste different.  To call "kimchee" "paocai" would be like calling "wine" (pútáojiǔ 葡萄酒) "beer" (píjiǔ 啤酒).

Linguistically, kimchee has its own pedigree, of which I will here give an extended account.

Borrowed from Korean 김치 (gimchi), ultimately composed within Korea of Chinese-derived morphemes (chén, submerged, soaked) and (cài, vegetable), i.e. "fermented vegetable". Doublet of kimuchi.


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Waterless, emission-free toilet that Chairman Xi saw

(see in particular the second item)

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The Tocharian Trek: PIE and migration across Eurasia

In recent weeks and months, Language Log has been quite active in discussions on Tocharian and its relationship to other members of Indo-European.  Today's post takes a different approach from this post made just yesterday and many earlier posts.

"Europe's ancient languages shed light on a great migration and weather vocabulary"

by Ali Jones, Horizon: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine (8/15/23)

Painstaking archaeological exploration is a familiar, often widely admired, method of unearthing history. Less celebrated, but also invaluable, is the piecing together of fragments of ancient languages and analyzing how they changed over thousands of years.

Historical linguists have reconstructed a common ancestral tongue for most of the languages spoken today in Europe and South Asia. English, German, Greek, Hindi and Urdu—among others in the Indo-European family of languages—can all trace their origins to a single spoken one named Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

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There's a puzzling new proposal for watermarking AI-generated text — Alistair Croll, "To Watermark AI, It Needs Its Own Alphabet", Wired 7/27/2023:

We need a way to distinguish things made by humans from things made by algorithms, and we need it very soon. […]

Fortunately, we have a solution waiting in plain sight. […]

If the companies who pledged to watermark AI content at the point of origin do so using Unicode—essentially giving AI its own character set—we’ll have a ready-made, fine-grained AI watermark that works across all devices, platforms, operating systems, and websites.

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Ad profiling and hostile performative identity

I've had two radically divergent experiences with internet advertising. On one hand, certain sites (and email teasers) are suspiciously good at showing me ads related to things I've searched for or even just written about in an email. But on other sites, in contrast, the ads generally show me things that don't fit me at all: jewelry, perfume, women's dresses, industrial hosing, machines for mass-production of paper bags, point-of-sale systems, cosmetics, …

The second kind of sites are mostly magazines, newspapers, scientific journals, etc., and so I figure that those ads are just the same mostly-not-for-me things I might see in old-fashioned paper issues from the same sources. But some of the badly-targeted ads don't fit that narrative either — for example, this one, which has popped up for me, multiple times, in several different on-line publications recently. Here's a sample sighting, with a bit of the (totally irrelevant) textual context:

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Chinese characters and the messiness of Chinese culture

Is it really so?

Uncannily and independently, Apollo Wu* sent me the following note before I made this post:

Hànzì bǐ bù shàng zìmǔ wénzì de guānjiàn lǐngyù zàiyú páixù jiǎnsuǒ hé réngōng zhìnéng děng fāngmiàn. Fùzá fánsuǒ nán xué nán yòng shì dāngqián miàn duì de kùnnán. Hànzì wú xù gěi Zhōngguó wénhuà dǎshàng língluàn de làoyìn!

汉字 比不上 字母文字 的 关键 领域 在于 排序 检索 和 人工智能 等 方面。复杂 繁琐 难学难用 是 当前 面对的 困难。汉字 无序 给 中国 文化 打上 凌乱 的 烙印!

Google Translate:

The key areas where Chinese characters are not as good as alphabetic characters are sorting, retrieval and artificial intelligence. Complicated, cumbersome, difficult to learn and difficult to use are the difficulties we are currently facing. The disorder of Chinese characters marks Chinese culture as messy!

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Diabolo: devil / yo-yo

The diabolo, sometimes called a Chinese yo-yo, is a two-headed top controlled by a string manipulated by two sticks, one attached to each end.  It is popular among jugglers.

Diabolo, commonly misspelled as diablo, was formerly also known as "the devil on two sticks" (Juggling Wiki).

In this post, I am concerned primarily with language issues and will not attempt to disentangle (if you've ever played much with a yo-yo, you'll be sensitive to this term in the present context) the evolution, relationship, and nature of the diabolo and the yo-yo.

I will begin by providing a few more or less random historical and cultural notes (the history of the diabolo / yo-yo is vastly complex), then move on to etymological observations.

"Earliest Record of Diabolo in the Chinese Classic – 帝京景物略"

International Jugglers Association (4/26/23)

Dìjīng jǐngwù lüè. Juǎn èr. Chūn chǎng”/ Liú Dòng, Yú Yìzhèng hézhù (1635 nián):  Yángliǔer huó, chōu tuóluó. Yángliǔer qīng, fàngkōng zhong. Yángliǔér sǐ, tī jiànzi

《帝京景物略.卷二.春場》/ 劉侗、於奕正合著 (1635年


“Whipping the top in the time willows revive; Playing the diabolo in the time willows green; Kicking the shuttlecock in the time willows wither.” – Imperial Capital Guidebook (1635 A.D.), Volume 2/ (translated by Mark Tsai)

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The "socialite" phenomenon in China

Source: China Media Project (12/7/2022)

Once signifying graceful women of a distinguished background, the term “socialite,” or yuan (媛), has in recent years become a misogynistic umbrella term used on digital platforms in China to disparage women who advertise fancy lifestyles. The term has also been used by state-run media to roundly criticize perceived materialistic excesses, reinforcing their unfair association with femininity.

The Chinese word yuàn (媛) has traditionally referred to the “virtuous and comely woman” as mentioned in the Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字), a Chinese dictionary compiled in the Han dynasty. Since 2020, however, the word has rapidly evolved — or perhaps devolved — into a catchall word used on the Chinese internet, and also in state media, to denigrate modern-day beauties as disgraceful and degenerate.

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A Day in the Life of Ancient China (in Japanese)

In November, 2021, a small paperback published in Japan was selling well and causing a buzz among the twitterati. Here's the listing on Amazon (note the cover illustration).  The author acknowledges that he followed the style of (the Japanese translation of) A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Italian paleontologist, writer, and journalist, Alberto Angela, but the book is obviously the result of decades of data collection from the Chinese classics, as the endnotes (about 900 of them), ranging from Shǐjì 史記 (The Grand Scribe's Records; ca. 91 BC), Hàn shū 漢書 (Book of Han; 111 AD), Zhuāng Zǐ 荘子 (Wandering on the Way; 4th c. BC), Hán Fēi Zǐ 韓非子 (Master Han Fei; d. 233 BC) to Tàipíng Yùlǎn 太平御覧 (Imperial Reader of the Taiping Era; 977-983), show, supporting every bit of the statement in the text, a feature not found in Angela's above work (as far as I see in the French translation at hand). It is no wonder that the author reportedly received an immediate offer of Chinese translation from a Chinese publisher.

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"Subscribe to Open"

As the S2O website explains,

“Subscribe to Open” (S2O) is a pragmatic approach for converting subscription journals to open access—free and immediate online availability of research—without reliance on either article processing charges (APCs) or altruism. […]

S2O allows publishers to convert journals from subscriptions to OA, one year at a time. Using S2O, a publisher offers a journal’s current subscribers continued access. If all current subscribers participate in the S2O offer (simply by not opting out) the publisher opens the content covered by that year’s subscription. If participation is not sufficient—for example, if some subscribers delay renewing in the expectation that they can gain access without participating—then that year’s content remains gated.

The offer is repeated every year, with the opening of each year’s content contingent on sufficient participation. In some cases, access to backfile content may be used to enhance the offer.

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Diversification of Proto-Austronesian

Important archeological news from Tainan:

South Taiwan park renovation project paused after archaeological artifacts unearthed

 Artifact pieces belonging to neolithic Niuchouzi Culture discovered, date back to 3000-4500 years ago.

By Stephanie Chiang, Taiwan News (2/26/23)

Finds include "orange-colored pottery made of fine sand-bearing rope patterns, polished hoe-axes, polished adze-chisels, and shell mounds."

The nature of this culture is intriguing in that one of its most distinctive features is the red cord-marked pottery that has been found at the Wangliao archeological site in Tainan’s Yongkang park.

The dating roughly corresponds to the estimated beginning of the diversification of Proto-Austronesian (PAN / PAn).

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2023 Super Bowl commercials

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Unususual Original

From the Facebook account of Mei Han:

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