Archive for Language and culture

Political drumbeat: cultural confidence

Yesterday, the hypernationalistic CCP government propaganda organ, Global Times, published the following article:

"China shows cultural confidence as world shares Spring Festival’s spirit, legacy, joy", by Ai Peng, Global Times (2/18/24)

Mark Metcalf called the conspicuous expression "cultural confidence" to my attention:

It's appeared in LL twice. 

Apparently it has propaganda 'legs' and, of course, the blessing of Xi Dada – see the articles below. It has even showed up in numerous Jiěfàngjūn 解放军报 (People's Liberation Army Daily) articles in recent months.
Is it just another throwaway term or is it being used to push CCP members toward a particular goal?
Considered from another perspective, all this talk about instilling confidence could easily be interpreted to mean that CCP members don't have the desired level of cultural confidence ("Party" confidence?).

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Lunar New Year's greetings, part 2

You can't really have a traditional Lunar New Year's celebration without posting spring couplets, as witness here.

In recent years, though, these "spring couplets" (chūnlián 春聯 / 春联) — a special type of "antithetical couplet" (duìlián 對聯 / 对联) — have morphed into all sorts of different forms and formats, such as this set, which we studied back in February 2019 (see "Selected readings" below):

I leave it to you to read for yourself.

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Super Bowl rhoticism

The most linguistically focused of this year's Super Bowl commercials:

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Euphemism satire

On today's NPR Morning Edition, there was a segment about a new TV show that parodies NPR :"New Peacock comedy 'In the Know' parodies NPR". And the featured aspect involves 41 seconds of dueling euphemisms:

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Tea in Glasgow

Nicholas Tomaino, "The Most Spoken Words in Glasgow", WSJ 1/6/2024:

When someone says, ‘Would anyone like a cup of tea,’ he isn’t offering the best-tasting thing one’s ever had. But that isn’t the point.

The author begins:

I was 23 when I drank my first cup of tea. As an Italian-American, I was raised on coffee. My life changed, however, when I met my wife.

Maddy is a Scot. If you’re from the U.K. or otherwise acquainted with the country, you understand. Tea is imbibed there as if it were water. It features at nearly every meal, and often between them. As William Gladstone wrote, if you’re cold, it’ll warm you; if you’re too heated, it’ll cool you; if you’re excited, it’ll calm you. It can afford to be everywhere, James Boswell noted, because “it comforts and enlivens without the risks attendant on spiritous liquors.”

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Old Long Since: Firefly light, snow on the window

Yesterday, on New Year's Eve, I was sending around, to family and friends, the lyrics and melody of the beloved song we sing at this time of year (here [The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin], here, [Rod Stewart]).  I also circulated the Wikipedia article so that people could know the ballads and folk songs that preceded Robert Burns' famous poem (1788).

This morning when I awoke, I received the following message from Martin Schwartz:

Shortly before midnight I googled Auld Lang Syne, which we were singing, and the first entry had the lyrics plus a Japanese translation.  It may be interesting to see how Burns' Scots lyrics were rendered in Japanese.

It is indeed interesting to see how these Scottish sentiments are presented in this East Asian language.  Thoughtfully, the source provided an English translation for the Japanese.

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Shimao, graphic arts, and long distance connections, part 2

Intercultural connections imply crosscultural communications.

In my estimation, Shimao is the most important archeological site in the EEAH (Extended East Asian Heartland) from B.C. times, with enormous implications for the origins of Sinitic civilization.  Shimao is a recently discovered archeological site, brought to light roughly a dozen years ago, but still very much under excavation.  Its coordinates are 38.5657°N 110.3252°E, which put it on the mid-eastern edge of the Ordos Desert that lies within the great, rectangular bend of the Yellow River called the Ordos Loop in English or Hétào 河套 ("Yellow River Sheath") in Chinese.  I often think of the Ordos as the omphalos of the EEAH, ecologically a part of the Eastern Gobi desert steppe that has been lassoed ("lasso" is another meaning of tào 套) into the cultural orbit of the Yellow River Valley, which is the center of the East Asian Heartland (EAH) proper.

For the concept of East Asian Heartland (EAH) and Extended East Asian Heartland (EEAH), see Victor H. Mair, "The North(west)ern Peoples and the Recurrent Origins of the 'Chinese' State", in Joshua A. Fogel, The Teleology of the Modern Nation-State:  Japan and China (Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), pp. 46-84.

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John McWhorter unconfuses Bill Gates

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Confusing coffee and tea: blowing hot and cold

Klaus Nuber, who four years ago sent us this amusing post, "Restaurant logo with a dingus" (5/29/19), has contributed another droll Anekdote.

The following article is in today's Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Kannste knicken?"* (11/23/23) — herewith the second anecdote of three from all over the world:

*VHM:  The meaning of the article title escapes me — can you fold / bend [it]?

Mitten in … Zhejiang

Weiter weg geht es kaum von der Großstadt Peking: Neun Stunden mit dem Zug, dann eine lange Autofahrt die Täler entlang, jetzt ist der Hunger groß. Im Restaurant? Keine Karte, bestellt werden kann, was im Kühlschrank liegt. Ein paar Karotten, zwei Kartoffeln, ein platt gedrückter Tintenfisch. Kommt sofort! Dafür um die Ecke, kaum zu glauben, ein Café! Draußen das ländliche China mit seinen Reisfeldern und Kohlelastern, drinnen brummt die Espresso-Maschine. Der lang ersehnte Schluck, aber was ist das? Der Kaffee – eiskalt! Vorsichtige Frage an den Barista, ob es den auch in heiß gäbe? Sein Blick zunächst: totale Entgeisterung, dann folgt schallendes Gelächter. "Diese Ausländer!", ruft er und alle gucken. "Hört mal her. Jetzt trinken die ihren Kaffee auch noch wie Tee!" So was Amüsantes haben die Menschen hier schon lange nicht mehr gehört. Lea Sahay

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Beer Battle Bowls

Mark Metcalf had lunch with his in-laws at a great Cantonese restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan.  They shared a bottle of Táiwān píjiǔ 台灣啤酒 ("Taiwan beer") and were given chilled “Hong Kong style” battle bowls – emblazoned with zhàndòu wǎn 戰鬥碗 ("battle bowl") on the side and with shēng 勝 ("victory") on the inside bottom –  to drink it. Neither Mark nor his son had seen such a bowl before, but according to the owner it’s a Hong Kong thing.

Apparently you can buy them for \$NT6 each online or \$US70 (including postage) for a set of four from Amazon.

Here’s what they look like:

Chinese Traditional Way of Drinking Beer – From the Bowl

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As Laura Morland said to me in a p.c., I am a "Swiftie" (I admit it, even though I'm a Penn prof), but there are plenty of things about pop culture that I do not know, including IJBOL.

What Is IJBOL?

A Korean word? A new boy band? This new acronym is replacing LOL and ROFL on social media.

By Shirley Wang, NYT
Published Aug. 8, 2023


First there was LOL (“laugh out loud”), an acronym that first appeared in the 1980s and became the reigning shorthand online for what people found funny. Then came ROFL (“rolling on the floor laughing”), LMAO (“laughing my ass off”) and even nonverbal cues like smiling emojis. Still, most type these terms straight-faced, relegating them to dull punctuation added carelessly to the end of a message. Now, the internet wants to revitalize laughing online with a new term: IJBOL.

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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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