Archive for Language and culture

Year of the muroid

Many people have asked me, should it really be the lunar new year of the rat?  Such a disgusting creature!  Or should it be the year of the mouse?  Although we do our best to trap them and otherwise keep them out of our living spaces, mice are much cuter than rats, and some people even have special mice as pets, plus there are folk tales and songs and proverbs about adorable little mice, and who doesn't love Mickey and Minnie?

In contrast, in lore and literature, rats are invariably cast as tricky at best and villainous, criminal types at worst.

So, if I had to choose between Year of the Rat and Year of the Mouse, I would definitely pick Year of the Mouse.  Alas, most people choose otherwise (I know not why):

Year of the Rat — 44,000,000 ghits

Year of the Mouse — 6,300,000 ghits

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"The Two" and other poems

Yesterday Nick Montfort returned to Penn to give a talk under the title "Lean Computer-Generated Poetry as Exploration of Language, Culture, and Computation". The talk was basically a commentary on (some of) the contents of his interactive website https://nickm.com/, so you can explore the same material yourself, minus the commentary.

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MLK linguistics

There have been a few LLOG posts focusing on Martin Luther King Jr. over the years, notably "Martin Luther King's rhetorical phonetics" (1/15/2007), "Celebrating the Linguistic Significance of Martin Luther King Jr." (1/17/2016), and "There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice" (1/15/2018).

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New New Year's couplets

From a friend in Hong Kong:

The following pictures are from Shatin mall last night. They show people lining up to get individually calligraphed Chinese New Year's couplets that take up the key slogan of the protests: "Restore HK's glory: revolution for our times." On the way up to mass today, we saw new slogans spray-painted calling for HK independence as "the only way out". "It ain't over yet."

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The Hu: a wildly successful Mongolian rock band

Here's the official video of their viral hit, "Wolf Totem":

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"An indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike"

I'm in Paris for the UNESCO International Conference Language Technologies for All (LT4All), which happens to coincide with another event in France, a national strike that (among other things) created a very long trip from the airport. In my hotel's elevator there was a sign whose first sentence taught me a couple of new words:

Ce Jeudi 5 Décembre aura lieu une grève interprofessionelle reconductible indéterminée.

There was also an English translation:

This Thursday, December 5th, will be an indefinite, renewable interprofessional strike.

 

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Horses, soma, riddles, magi, and animal style art in southern China

Two of the best known displays of Chinese culture worldwide are the Lion Dance and Dragon Boat Races.  The former, including the Chinese word for "lion", is actually an import from the Western Regions (Central Asia, or East Central Asia more specifically).

Compare Old Persian * (*šagra-) (sgl /sagr, sēr/) (> Persian سیر(sīr)). The Middle Persian word is cognate with Parthian (šarg, "Leo; Lion"), Khotanese [script (šarau, "Leo; Lion"), Khwarezmian شرغ(šrγ /šarγ/, "Leo; Lion") and Sogdian (šrwγ /šruγ/) , ܫܪܘܮ(šrwγ /šruγ/, "Leo; Lion")

Middle Persian:

Manichaean: ‎ (šgr)

Source

Kipling-Disney:  Shere Khan (" Tiger Lion" — from Persian and Mongolian)

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Waterless smart public toilet; toilet revolution!, part 3

For nearly two years, we've been following the awesome Chinese toilet revolution.  See especially the last comment to this post:

"Toilet Revolution!!" (11/26/17)

But see also the follow-up posts listed in the "Selected readings" below.

In its frenzied race to catch up with the past of privies, it would appear that China has decided to make a Great Leap Forward into the future of lavatories.  So now we have the "waterless smart public toilet".

"Beijing's first waterless smart public toilet has been put into use", by Zhao Tong (People's Daily Online), October 29, 2019

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Should there be a Constantine Memorial Column in Istanbul?

Sign for a tram stop in Istanbul:

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Lord Millet and the empty orchestra

Every week I bring floral arrangements to the main office of the UPenn Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.  This week, one of the vases will have two spikes of beautiful ornamental millet ("foxtail" is certainly an appropriate descriptor).

Millet has special significance for East Asia, since — along with rice — it is one of the earliest domesticated grains from that part of the world, dating back nearly 9,000 years ago.  Moreover, East Asian varieties of millet had spread to the area around the Black Sea by about 7,000 years ago, affording evidence of very early trans-Eurasian cultural exchange (wheat came in the opposite direction, from west to east, around the third millennium BC).  Before the introduction of wheat, millet was the original staple grain of North China.  No wonder that the mythical culture hero Hou Ji 后稷 ("Lord Millet"), the god of cereals or minister of agriculture, had that name.

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Another Illusion Shattered: "leprechaun" not native Irish

So we learn from this article:

"Leprechaun 'is not a native Irish word' new dictionary reveals", by Nuala McCann BBC News (9/5/19)

Leprechauns may be considered quintessentially Irish, but research suggests this perception is blarney.

The word "leprechaun" is not a native Irish one, scholars have said.

They have uncovered hundreds of lost words from the Irish language and unlocked the secrets of many others.

Although "leipreachán" has been in the Irish language for a long time, researchers have said it comes from Luperci, a group linked to a Roman festival.

The feast included a purification ritual involving swimming and, like the Luperci, leprechauns are associated with water in what may be their first appearance in early Irish literature.

According to an Old Irish tale known as The Adventure of Fergus son of Léti, leprechauns carried the sleeping Fergus out to sea.

A new revised dictionary created from the research spans 1,000 years of the Irish language from the 6th to the 16th centuries.

A team of five academics from Cambridge University and Queen's University Belfast carried out painstaking work over five years, scouring manuscripts and texts for words which have been overlooked or mistakenly defined.

Their findings can now be freely accessed in the revised version of the online dictionary of Medieval Irish.

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Zo sashimi

From June Teufel Dreyer:

When I went to the supermarket yesterday for my weekly sashimi fix, I noticed that the preparer seemed to have cloned herself.  It was her brother (the preparers wear caps concealing their hair and the two looked virtually identical). Sister was instructing brother on exactly how I like the sashimi in a language that sounded unfamiliar. Ever curious,  I had to ask.  "Zo," she replied "Z, O."  I looked it up this morning, discovered that these Chin tribes are related to the Naga who, with the Mizo, were part of a longstanding effort by the Chinese to torment the Indian government.

Sometime when there aren't other customers waiting—this may never happen—I'll ask how she and her brother got to Miami and my neighborhood Publix store.

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Spiritually Japanese

A cartoonist and her collaborator have been arrested in China for being "spiritually Japanese" (jīng Rì 精日).  They have also been accused of "insulting China" (rǔ Huá 辱华).  The latter term is transparent, and I've been hearing it a lot for the last couple of decades, whereas the former term is morphologically more difficult to understand (lit., "spirit Ja[pan]") and is new to me.

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