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Negative nostalgia

For more than three decades, I have edited and published a journal called Sino-Platonic Papers.  The first issue (Feb., 1986) was "The Need for an Alphabetically Arranged General Usage Dictionary of Mandarin Chinese: A Review Article of Some Recent Dictionaries and Current Lexicographical Projects" (free pdf; 31 pages) — that led to the creation of the ABC Chinese Dictionary Series at the University of Hawaii Press.  (One important title is missing at the highlighted link:  An Alphabetical Index to the Hanyu Da Cidian [2003].)

Up to #170 (Feb. 2006), SPP was issued only in paper copies.  It was a one-man operation, with me being responsible for all of the editing, typesetting, printing, filling orders, billing, packaging, mailing, etc. all over the world.  With hundreds of subscribers in scores of countries, and all of this on top of my teaching, research, writing, and fieldwork, not to mention family life, after ten years it was really dragging me down, and after twenty years, I felt that SPP was killing me.

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Dys-

A commenter's remark on the recent post "Dysfluency considered harmful":

I've always understood the 'dys-' prefix to be in contrast to an 'a-' prefix, where 'dys-' means something like 'born without' and 'a-' means 'loss of.' My favorite example of the contrast is 'dyslexia' vs. 'alexia', with the first meaning inherent problems with reading and the second meaning loss of the ability to read. Same with 'dysphasia'/'aphasia' and 'acalculia'/'dyscalculia.'

This is a good example of mistaken linguistic generalization from limited evidence. In fact the dys- prefix is usually said to be in contrast to the eu- prefix, not the a- prefix, though this is mostly an etymological idea rather than a fact of usage. In any case, dys- doesn't typically refer to inborn problems, but simply to abnormal, difficult, impaired, or bad characteristics.

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Insect name

How would you respond in your native language if someone walked up to you and asked (in your native language or in English or some other language which both of you know), "What's the word for 'the insect that eats wood and destroys walls'?".

A friend of mine in China did that with eight of his colleagues, and not a single one of them could remember the Chinese name for "the insect that eats wood and destroys walls".

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"Demoralised" = "without morals"?

Marilynne Robinson, "Is poverty necessary?", Harpers 5/16/2019:

Margaret Thatcher said that the redundant—those on the dole—were “demoralized.” In her dialect group this word doesn’t mean disheartened. It means without morals. An American might put the matter differently, but the attitude is familiar enough.

An American might wonder whether that sense was actually dominant — or even prevalent — in Margaret Thatcher's "dialect group".

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “bear arms” (part 1), plus a look at “the people”

An introduction and guide to my series of posts “Corpora and the Second Amendment” is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This is the first of what will be three posts on bear arms; it will be devoted to critiquing the Supreme Court’s discussion of bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller. My examination of the corpus data on bear arms will appear in my next two posts. In the meantime, if you're interested, you can read discussions of the data by Dennis Baron (“Corpus Evidence Illuminates the Meaning of Bear Arms,” in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly) and by Josh Blackman & James C. Phillips (“Corpus Linguistics and the Second Amendment,” in the Harvard Law Review Blog), both of which reach conclusions consistent with mine. (The piece by Blackman & Phillips is especially noteworthy, given that they are both gun-rights advocates.)

My focus in this post will be on the Supreme Court’s conclusion that at the time the Second Amendment was proposed and ratified, bear arms unambiguously meant ‘carry weapons, for purposes of being prepared for a confrontation,’ without regard to whether the carrying was in connection with military service. What I conclude is that even without taking account of how bear arms was actually used, the court’s arguments don’t hold up. Assuming for the sake of argument that bear arms could reasonably have been understood to mean what the court said it meant, the court didn’t show that it unambiguously meant that.

That’s not to say that I think bear arms was ambiguous. As I’ll discuss in the next two posts, the corpus evidence points toward the conclusion that bear arms unambiguously conveyed the military meaning that the Supreme Court rejected: “to serve as a soldier, do military service, fight” or “to wage war.” But even if the evidence were equivocal, the absence of evidence unambiguously supporting the court’s interpretation would still be important.

That’s because the court’s analysis in Heller depends crucially on its conclusion that bear arms was unambiguous. It was that conclusion that enabled the court to interpret the Second Amendment’s operative clause (“the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”) without taking into consideration its prefatory clause (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State”). In the court’s view, if the operative clause was unambiguous, the prefatory clause “does not limit or expand [its] scope.” So if court was wrong in thinking that the operative clause was unambiguous, it was wrong in refusing to consider whether the prefatory clause affected its meaning. And if the prefatory clause plays a role in interpreting the operative clause, the argument against the court’s interpretation is strengthened.

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First grade science card: Pinyin degraded, part 2

Another science card given out to first grade students in Shenzhen, China (see "Readings" below for the first one):

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First grade science card: Pinyin degraded

Science card given out to first grade students in Shenzhen, China:

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Things you can do with "water" in Cantonese

Peter Golden sent me the following video, "Luisa Tam says: Let's put more HK English on the map", South China Morning Post (10/23/18):

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Subtle weavings

Rachel Frazin, "Trump: I told Republicans to vote for 'transparency' in releasing Mueller report", The Hill 3/16/2019   [warning — annoying autoplay video clip]:

President Trump said Saturday that he told Republican leadership to vote in favor of releasing special counsel Robert Mueller's highly anticipated report, saying that transparency "makes us all look good." […]

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, blocked the resolution in the Senate later Thursday, after it passed the House.

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, objected to the resolution after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) refused to add a provision to the measure asking the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate DOJ misconduct in the probe of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's email use and the Carter Page Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications.

Schumer accused Graham of using a "pre-text" to block the resolution.

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Unexpected "English Word of the Day"

On February 19, I received this notice from Oxford Dictionaries:

English Word of the Day from
Oxford Dictionaries

Your word for today is:

li

a Chinese unit of distance, equal to about 0.5 km (0.3 mile)

Click on the word to see its full entry, including example sentences and audio pronunciation.

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"Dear subscribed"

This morning's email brought a notice from Le Monde, to which I apparently subscribe:

Two things struck me about the salutation "Chère abonnée, cher abonné". The more obvious and less interesting one is that Le Monde is obviously not on board with "Écriture inclusive". The second, less topical thing: the English word "subscriber" implies that subscribing to a periodical is something that you do, while the French word "abonné(e)" implies that subscribing to a periodical is something that's done to you.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: “arms”

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

New URL for COFEA and COEME: https://lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This post on what arms means will follow the pattern of my post on bear. I’ll start by reviewing what the Supreme Court said about the topic in District of Columbia v. Heller. I’ll then turn to the Oxford English Dictionary for a look at how arms was used over the history of English up through the end of the 18th century, when the Second Amendment was proposed and ratified.. And finally, I’ll discuss the corpus data.

Justice Scalia’s majority opinion had this to say about what arms meant:

The 18th-century meaning [of arms] is no different from the meaning today. The 1773 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘[w]eapons of offence, or armour of defence.’’ Timothy Cunningham’s important 1771 legal dictionary defined ‘‘arms’’ as ‘‘any thing that a man wears for his defence, or takes into his hands, or useth in wrath to cast at or strike another.’’ [citations omitted]

As was true of what Scalia said about the meaning of bear, this summary was basically correct as far as it went, but was also a major oversimplification.

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Too few words to describe emotions

At about 22:45 of the BBC discussion program The Moral MazeNatasha Devon  asserts

Well it- I- again, one of the problems is language, actually, because in English, we have a very limited emotional vocabulary. When you look at other languages, they- they have a much broader amount of words that they can use to describe their emotions and their mental health. So, if I say to you ‘I’m feeling anxious’, that could be anything from common or garden anxiety right through to an anxiety disorder. And one is a medical issue and the other is not.

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