Archive for Language and culture

Dramatically declining enrollments in Chinese studies

The number of students enrolled in a given foreign language is a good index of public perceptions of the importance of that language for global politics, economics, and cultural influence.  When I came to Penn in 1979, interest in all things Russian was soaring.  The Slavicists occupied quite a bit of real estate in Williams Hall, which houses language studies at Penn.  They had a number of institutes, research centers, libraries, and so forth, and they were extremely well funded.  A decade later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian juggernaut at Penn began to fall apart, to the extent that it lost nearly all of its space and researchers, and they were tossing whole libraries into dumpsters.  As an ardent bibliophile, it pained me greatly to see precious books being thrown into the trash.  I rescued as many of them as I could stuff into my Volkswagen Beetle and cart away, including an enormous, old, and undoubtedly historically important encyclopedia that still sits in the enclosed porch of my home.

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"Just another day"

Andrew Gelman sent a link to blog post (with a rather long title): "Just another day at the sausage factory . . . It’s just funny how regression discontinuity analyses routinely produce these ridiculous graphs and the authors and journals don’t even seem to notice", with the note "You might enjoy the statistics content in the main post, but I'm sending to you because of the phrase-origin discussion".

That discussion happened in a comment asking about the origins of the phrase "another day at the sausage factory", and Andrew's response was

I have no idea where the phrase comes from! I didn’t even know it was a phrase, at least I don’t think so. It derives from the saying that you don’t want to see sausage or legislation being made . . . ummm, let’s google *sausage legislation* . . . here’s Quote Investigator which is always my favorite source for this sort of thing. They cite Fred Shapiro who dug up the earliest known version: “The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that ‘Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,’ and this may be the true origin of the saying.”

As to the exact phrase, “Just another day at the sausage factory”: maybe I read it somewhere and it lodged in my unconscious? A quick google turns it up in various places, for example this news article by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times. So my guess is that it’s just a natural formulation that has been independently coined many times, derived from the well known saying about sausage and legislation.

I don't have anything to add to Quote Investigator's story about sausages, but there's more to be said about "Just another day".

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Pronouns, gender, number: They were indeed a prophet

An image symbolizing how American English pronoun usage has changed since 2004 — in undergrad residences at Penn, these buttons were distributed for use in start-of-semester meetings this fall:

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All-purpose word for "glamorous woman"

The PRC authorities have always policed human behavior and thought, but especially during the last half year or so and particularly toward young people, for whatever reason, they have been coming on more gangbusters than usual.

First they went after the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat"), i.e., those who chose to opt out of the cutthroat rat race.  Then they chastised niángpào 娘炮 ("effeminate men"), i.e., girlie boys and men.  The social minders even drew a bead on jīngfēn 精芬  for socially averse millennials who identified themselves as spiritually Finnish.  These were serious efforts to squelch such unwanted tendencies in the population.  Now they have taken quite a different turn and are aiming at an altogether different target:  beautiful women.  Strange to say, they are coupling this campaign against female pulchritude with a crusade against Buddhism.

Well, it's not that strange after all, since communism has never been fond of religion, and Buddhism has often been persecuted by Chinese regimes, almost from the time of its arrival in the Middle Kingdom nearly two millennia ago.  Even the combination of feminine beauty and Buddhism reveals a certain psychological fixation on the baldness and celibacy of nuns in traditional Chinese society.

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Fat Otaku Conversation Generator

To comprehend what's going on in this post, you have to understand the basics of what an "otaku" is.

DEFINITION: 

(fandom slang) One with an obsessive interest in something, particularly anime or manga.

ETYMOLOGY:

From Japanese オタク (otaku, nerd, geek), from お宅 (otaku, honorific for “you”), originally the honorific version of (taku, home).  [VHM:  reminiscent of "homebody".]

SYNONYMS:

(source)

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Hummed "I don't know"

Following up on yesterday's "Dinosaur Intonation" post, here's Ryan North performing four repetitions of the contour featured in his comic:

His comment: "I fear I may have over estimated how universal it is but it's common here in Southern Ontario and I've never encountered anyone in my travels who didn't recognize it, or at least who couldn't figure it out from context and then asked me about it. I'm really curious to see the results of this survey!"

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Fixing wooder

"Mio Liquid Water Enhancer Taps Into the Philadelphian Accent with 'We Fix Wooder'", Creative News 7/5/2021:

With the HBO hit 'Mare of Eastown' bringing a ton of national attention to the Philadelphian (or “Philly”) accent, most notable in the series was the pronunciation of the word “water”.

So, for this year’s Independence Day, Mio Liquid Water Enhancer (part of the KraftHeinz Company) wants to celebrate the freedom to pronounce water as “wooder” just as Philly’s do – in the birthplace of liberty, Philadelphia nonetheless.

Mio’s brand promise is 'We fix Waterr', but now, it will be 'We Fix Wooder'.

All copy for this campaign is written in true “Philly speak”, to celebrate all things Philadelphia and “wooder”, from the front the Schuylkill River, to hoagies, to “the Shore”, to the use of the multi-functional word “jawn”.

I don't normally read advertising journals, but I looked up "We fix wooder" because of seeing this billboard around Philly:


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Chanson profonde

(For more, see sandraboynton.com…)

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Ashkenazi and Scythians

It is not my intention to stir up a firestorm, but I have for decades suspected that the names "Ashkenazi" and "Scythian" are related.  Now, after having sat on this for years and letting it gnaw away at my inwyt for far too long, I've decided to seek the collected expertise of the Language Log readership to see if there really is something to my suspicion.

Ashkenazi Jews (/ˌæʃ-, ɑːʃkəˈnɑːzi/ ASH-, AHSH-kə-NAH-zee), also known as Ashkenazic Jews or, by using the Hebrew plural suffix -im, Ashkenazim[a] are a Jewish diaspora population who coalesced in the Holy Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium.

The traditional diaspora language of Ashkenazi Jews is Yiddish (a Germanic language with elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Slavic languages), developed after they had moved into northern Europe: beginning with Germany and France in the Middle Ages. For centuries they used Hebrew only as a sacred language, until the revival of Hebrew as a common language in 20th century's Israel. Throughout their time in Europe, Ashkenazim have made many important contributions to its philosophy, scholarship, literature, art, music and science.

The term "Ashkenazi" refers to Jewish settlers who established communities along the Rhine river in Western Germany and in Northern France dating to the Middle Ages. Once there, they adapted traditions carried from Babylon, the Holy Land, and the Western Mediterranean to their new environment.  The Ashkenazi religious rite developed in cities such as Mainz, Worms, and Troyes. The eminent French Rishon Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (Rashi) would have a significant influence on the Jewish religion.

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Which Murphy?

Wikipedia defines Murphy's Law as an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong", and documents an origin story crediting Edward R. Murphy, whose article explains that

Following the end of hostilities, in 1947 Murphy attended the United States Air Force Institute of Technology, becoming R&D Officer at the Wright Air Development Center of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It was while here that he became involved in the high-speed rocket sled experiments (USAF project MX981, 1949) which led to the coining of Murphy's law.

But in the same box of papers containing Sally Thomason's artwork from 2001 ("Interfaces and Interactions", 7/7/2021), I found a copy of a paper by William R. Bennett Jr., under the title "Sigsaly", which gives a different origin story.

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Gender-inclusive French

An unusual article on language in Foreign Policy:

"Aux Armes, Citoyen·nes!  Gender-neutral terms have sparked an explosive battle over the future of the French language," by Karina Piser (7/4/21)

The article is long and detailed.  Here I try to quote only the most important and telling points.

In early May, France’s education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced a ban on the use in schools of an increasingly common—and contested—writing method designed to make the French language more gender-inclusive.

Specifically, Blanquer’s decree focuses on the final letter “e,” which is used to feminize words in French—étudiant, for example, becomes étudiante when referring to a female student. Like many other languages, French is gendered: Pronouns, nouns, verbs, and adjectives reflect the gender of the object or person they refer to; there is no gender-neutral term like “they.” Most critically, say the proponents of the inclusive method, the masculine always takes precedence over the feminine—if there’s a group of 10 women and one man, a French speaker would still refer to the group in the masculine plural, ils.

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"Lying flat" and "Buddha whatever" (part 2)

A week or so ago, we looked at the phenomenon of "lying flat" (see under "Selected readings" below).

Karen Yang writes from China:

Hahahahha, tang ping ["lying flat"] was kind of a hot topic last month, for about one week. Maybe it’s because the College Entrance Exam was on-going, people tended to talk about life attitude such as tang ping or work hard. But you know how fast the Internet in China moves on,  so I wouldn’t say tang ping is a significant movement.

On the other hand, foxi (佛系) is a rather more frequently used word similar to tang ping. Basically it describes that young generations in East Asia, especially in Japan, tend to be indifferent or even negative about money, promotion, marriage, raising kids and so on, just like a Buddha. It’s an attitude in response to the heavy pressure brought by social development. 

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The vocabulary of traditional Chinese thought and culture

I recently got hold of an electronic copy of this book:

Zhōngguó chuántǒng wénhuà guānjiàn cí (Hàn Yīng duìzhào) 中国传统文化关键词(汉英对照) (Key Terms of Traditional Chinese Culture / Key Concepts in Chinese Culture [original English title] [Chinese-English])

Beijing:  Wàiyǔ jiàoxué yǔ yánjiū chūbǎn shè 2019 外语教学与研究出版社 2019 (Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2019)

Here is a one-drive link to the whole book.

It has been scanned by OCR, so the entire contents can be searched by simplified Chinese characters, but accuracy is not guaranteed.

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