Archive for Language on the internets

Uncommon prosperity

Even those who are not China watchers will remember the savage satire directed against the pathetic River Crab (= Harmonious Society) and the Grass-Mud Horse (= *uck your mother"). 

There's always something the censors have to block on the Chinese internet.  It wouldn't be the Chinese internet if a large part of it were not being blocked.  If I were to list all the Language Log posts that document the expressions that have been censored by the PRC authorities, it would soon swell to over a hundred items.

For the year 2021, here are some of the favorite targets of the internet police:

Clubhouse

February 8, 2021

Social audio app Clubhouse was blocked around 7 p.m. on February 8 in response to a spirited discussion about Xinjiang that had happened the previous weekend. (See Darren Byler’s column about the offending chat room). In addition, Clubhouse had hosted discussions about Tibet and Taiwan. Some Chinese users noted that their mainland China phone numbers could not receive verification messages to register for new accounts.

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Melon eaters and censorship in the PRC

Because of the scandal surrounding the illicit, involuntary relationship between female tennis star, Peng Shuai 彭帅, and top CCP official, Zhang Gaoli 张高丽, which became a hot button issue around the world beginning about a month ago, the Chinese government went into overdrive to censor all trace of it from the internet (see here).  The issue was particularly sensitive and embarrassing to the Communist Party because it rekindled the Me Too / #MeToo / #Mǐtù 米兔 ("Rice Bunny") movement (which the government had only with great difficulty tamped down a few years ago), led to the cancellation of the lucrative Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments in China, and is even threatening to cause a boycott of the upcoming winter Olymics, which would be utterly disastrous for the PRC.

The gross disparity between the absence of all mention of l'affaire Peng Shuai et Zhang Gaoli in China (indeed the disappearance of the star herself) and the raging indignation over it outside China led me to inquire of my friends in China what they were hearing about it sub / sotto voce.

All responses in this post are from Chinese citizens who must remain unidentified for fear of harsh government reprisals.

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Your Pinky Heart

Phenomenally viral song by the Malaysian hip-hop artist, Namewee, "It might Break Your Pinky Heart. Namewee 黃明志 Ft.Kimberley Chen 陳芳語【Fragile 玻璃心】@鬼才做音樂 2021 Ghosician" — premiered on 10/15/21, and it already has nearly 9,000,000 views:

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Green needle vs. brainstorm

Remember "Yanny vs. Laurel", the viral acoustic sensation (28.2M views) of mid-May, 2018?  It was covered extensively on Language Log (see the items under "Selected readings" below).  Now we have another supposedly ambiguous recording that has gone viral (5.3M views [posted 7/3/21]):

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Thailand or Thighland? Dinesh D'Douza sets us straight.

 

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@Everybody

From Randy Alexander, a photo taken in the courtyard of an apartment complex in Huaying, Guang'an, Sichuan (广安华蓥):

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Google, the wannabe Egyptologist

Sensational article by Hagar Hosny in Al-Monitor (7/23/20):

"Google presents new tool to decode hieroglyphics:  Google has created a new tool to translate hieroglyphics into English and Arabic at the stroke of a key."

It starts like this:

In a July 15 press release, Google announced the launch of a new tool that uses artificial intelligence to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs and translate them into Arabic and English.

Google said that the tool, dubbed Fabricius, provides an interactive experience for people from all over the world to learn about hieroglyphics, in addition to supporting and facilitating the efforts of Egyptologists and raising awareness about the history and heritage of ancient Egyptian civilization.

“We are very excited to be launching this new tool that can make it easier to access and learn about the rich culture of ancient Egypt. For over a decade, Google has been capturing imagery of cultural and historical landmarks across the region,” Chance Coughenour, program manager at Google Arts and Culture, said in the statement.

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Acronyms in China

Recently, one of my students found an interesting post from the Communist Youth League about the use of Hanyu Pinyin acronyms on the Internet. When people type on Weibo, WeChat, and other social media, they frequently use Pinyin acronyms. For examples:

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The toll of the trolls

I just came across this term, which seems to be quite new:  gāngjīng 杠精.

ChinaNews (March, 2019), a PRC publication where I saw it on p. 64, defines gāngjīng 杠精 as "hater", but — in terms of the derivation of the word and what they actually do — I don't think that's a good translation.

To me, they seem more like internet trolls.  I would propose "troll" as an apt translation of gāngjīng 杠精.

My guess is that gāngjīng 杠精 comes from táigàng 抬杠 ("bicker; wrangle; argue for the sake of arguing").

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Scripts in Google International Women's Day doodle

For International Women's Day, Google made one of its doodles — this one with quotations from various women from around the world. Each is given its own distinctive typography. Several languages and scripts appear.

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The face of censorship

Here's what it looks like:

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Chinese translation app with built-in censorship

What good is a translation app that automatically censors politically sensitive terms?  Well, a leading Chinese translation app is now doing exactly that.

"A Chinese translation app is censoring politically sensitive terms, report says", Zoey Chong, CNET (11/27/18)

iFlytek, a voice recognition technology provider in China, has begun censoring politically sensitive terms from its translation app, South China Morning Post reported citing a tweet by Jane Manchun Wong. Wong is a software engineer who tweets frequently about hidden features she uncovers by performing app reverse-engineering.

In the tweet, Wong shows that when she tried to translate certain phrases such as "Taiwan independence," "Tiananmen square" and "Tiananmen square massacre" from English to Chinese, the system failed to churn out results for sensitive terms or names. The same happened when she tried to translate "Taiwan independence" from Chinese to English — results showed up as an asterisk.

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"Skr", the latest Chinese buzzword

Let's plunge right in:

"How ‘Skr’ Took Over the Chinese Internet:  A brief history of the meaningless hip-hop term that inspired countless viral memes", by Yin Yijun, Sixth Tone (8/7/18)

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