Archive for Language and culture

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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Signs and wonders

From a Reliable Source:

I thought you might enjoy this as yet officially unreported dispute about a sign being posted in Phil.  The sign originally said, "Boxer's Trail," because Joe Frazier famously ran along it to train, and later Ali ran on it once to psyche out Joe (Ali worked out in Overbrook, apparently).  Someone or other complained that more than one boxer had used the trail, and so they had to move the apostrophe.  Meanwhile, people are arguing about whether the trail should be dedicated to Frazier, or to all boxers. And then someone of course had to throw in a question about whether any of the boxers had boxers (dogs) and if then it should say boxers' boxers trail or boxer's boxers trail, and so on.

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How and why some insects sing

I was going to title this post "Insect vocalisms", but thought better of it, because I didn't want anyone to think I was claiming any kind of linguistic quality for the mind-boggling acoustic phenomenon that I witnessed on Saturday.  Though what I heard was not language in any way, shape, or form, it did impart an overwhelming message.

I was on a long run in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.  I started out from Breezewood and headed for Bedford along Route 30 (Lincoln Highway).  As I ran happily at a comfortable clip, I was puzzled by a shrill ringing noise that accompanied me all the way.  I couldn't tell where the loud, high-pitched sound was coming from.  For awhile I thought it might be some mining operation underground, but I soon dismissed that theory because it lasted too long and I seemed to be enveloped in the noise.  All around me were forests and woods, and the constant ringing seemed to be emanating from them.

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"This massive monster of incomprehensibility"

Atul Gawande, "Why doctors hate their computers", 11/5/2018, underlines the often-noted difficulty of working with badly-designed software:

I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. 

But the most interesting part of the article, at least for me, was the discussion of reading the  records rather than writing them.

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"They are a prophet"

From Geoff Pullum's 10/21/2004 LLOG post:

My student Nick Reynolds reports on a beautiful example of singular they found in an exchange of graffiti. Someone had scrawled this on the wall:

Vote Arnold 4 prez

— recommending a vote for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as President of the United States. Someone else, mindful perhaps of Schwarzenegger's ineligibility for that post, had scrawled something obscene below it about the first writer's ignorance. But a third person, mindful of how the future may resemble the world of the Terminator movies in which our governor had his greatest movie successes, added this response:

This person is not ignorant.
They are a prophet.
The machines will rule us.

From a 4/27/2021 Penn State Faculty Senate resolution on "Removal of Gendered & Binary Terms from Course and Program Descriptions", about how to "[m]ove away from the use of gendered pronouns when referring to students, faculty, staff, and guests in course descriptions and degree programs":

Replace he/him/his and she/her/hers with they/them/theirs

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Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

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What does “Native speaker” mean, anyway?

Below is a guest post by Devin Grammon and Anna Babel.


Both linguists and non-linguists commonly use the term “native speaker” to describe someone who grew up speaking a particular language and who is fully proficient in that language. Often, we invest native speakers with authority regarding how someone should speak a language – for example, native speakers are often preferred as instructors in the second-language classroom, or sought after as linguistic informants for field methods classes or as research assistants for fieldwork or analysis of linguistic data. Indeed, the idea of being a native speaker is tied to ideas of authenticity, as in the commonly held dialectological wisdom that elderly, rural male speakers with all their teeth are the best informants. But where does the term come from, and what does it really mean?

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An Austronesian word for "betel"

On Joshua Yang's Twitter (@joshiunn):

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Slaves and clients; Arabic Mamluks and mawlas: a fishy Turkic tail

From my 10th grade high school world history class in 1959, I was intrigued by the evocative, mysterious Mamluks.  I was impressed by their achievements in statecraft, art, architecture, and many other fields.  Thus Mamluk is a word that is very well known in English, even to a rural highschooler in Osnaburg Township of Stark County in northeastern Ohio, but I never imagined that their name meant "slave".  Rather, I thought of the mighty Mamluks as military forces who were like knights, and in some cases were  even rulers who founded states of their own.  That they were, but I didn't realize they were of slave origin.

Mamluk (Arabic: مملوك mamlūk (singular), مماليك mamālīk (plural), translated literally as "thing possessed", meaning "slave", also transliterated as Mameluke, mamluq, mamluke, mameluk, mameluke, mamaluke, or marmeluke) is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse (mostly Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern and Southeastern European) slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties, serving the ruling Arab dynasties in the Muslim world.

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IHTFP

Today the MIT Sloan Executive Education program sent me an email with the subject line "The Spirit of Hacking at MIT":

While the terms hack and hacker have many shades of meaning, the hacker ethic has always been celebrated at MIT. Referring to a difficult, complex, and creative campus prank, hacking at MIT is everything from transforming MIT's Green Building into a giant game of Tetris to the most recent redecoration of the Great Dome as Captain America's shield.

To us, hacking means more than just practical jokes. It represents a culture of free information, hands-on experimentation, and disregard for (or redefinition of) bureaucracy. At MIT Sloan Executive Education, we recognize that the spirit of (ethical) hacking is the same fearless spirit that drives invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

At MIT Sloan, we applaud the “hackers” among you who are making waves. We encourage you to channel that spirit and hone those skills in Executive Education courses designed to help you revolutionize your business strategy, find creative solutions to systemic problems, and generate breakthrough business ideas.

The link goes to a page on the IHTFP Hack Gallery site listing "Hacks by Year" — other pages include "Best of the Gallery", "Hacks on Harvard", and "Frequently Asked Questions", where you'll learn that IHTFP doesn't really stand for "Interesting Hacks To Fascinate People".

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Who owns kimchi?

[This is a guest post by S. Robert Ramsey]

"Korean kimchi originally came from China."

–Or so China’s online encyclopedia Baidu Baike declared in its article on kimchi.

Koreans were outraged. What gall for Chinese to lay claim to their national dish! Adding to the furor, China’s English-language newspaper Global Times reported last year that the International Organization for Standardization (the ISO) had recognized an “international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.”

Indignant Koreans flooded the Internet: “It’s total nonsense, what a thief stealing our culture!” a South Korean netizen said. Another wrote: “I read a media story that China now says kimchi is theirs, and that they are making international standard for it. It’s absurd.”

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Irasshaimase?

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I never thought this day would come.

From convenience stores to high-end luxury retailers, the daily soundscape of Japan is punctuated by millions upon millions of calls of “Irassshaimase!” It’s a greeting so pervasive that it becomes one of the most searing impressions of the country for first-time tourists, and for those of us who live here long-term it’s hard to imagine Japan without it. But perhaps now we will have to. The unthinkable, it seems, has been thought.

Irasshaimase (いらっしゃいませ) is a formal imperative form. It comes from the root verb irassharu (いらっしゃる), a “polite” verb that can mean to come, go, or be. The simple imperative is irasshai (いらっしゃい), which, though more unusual these days, can still be stumbled upon if you escape some of the more formalized spaces of the mainstream bourgeois economy. Both irasshaimase and irasshai mean, more or less, “Come on over!” or “Come on in!” In its modern incarnation, used primarily to greet customers who have already entered a store or restaurant, the nuance of irasshaimase is closer to “Welcome!” Occasionally you’ll hear it paired with “Goyukkuri dōzo” (ごゆっくりどうぞ), in other words, “Please take your time.”

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The Wool Road of Northern Eurasia

We all know about the Silk Road (which is actually a recent term), and some of us also know about the Bronze Road, the Iron Road, the Horse and Chariot Road, the Fur Road, the Glass Road, the Spice Road, and the Tea Road.  Now we really have to take seriously the existence of a Wool Road.

As I have often noted, I began my international investigation of the mummies of the Tarim Basin as a genetics project in 1991, since that was around the time that it became possible to study ancient DNA.  After four years of diligent collection and analysis, I grew disenchanted with the expected precision of genetics research, and in 1995 I returned to Eastern Central Asia (ECA) with Elizabeth Barber and Irene Good, prehistoric textile specialists, to study the archeologically recovered textiles of the region.  The results of their work turned out to yield tremendously valuable and revealing results about the origins and technology of the ancient textiles we examined.

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