Archive for November, 2013

Phonetic symbols of the Republic of China on American baseball caps

Below is a photo that Bryan Van Norden took of a baseball cap a guy was wearing at a casino in Atlantic City. Someone else at the table asked him what it meant, and he said he thought it was Chinese for "good luck." Bryan explained that he was wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Fake Gelao manuscript

A Chinese book purportedly publishing a Gelao 仡佬 manuscript fell into my hands a few weeks ago (I think that it may have been sent to me by a friend in Hong Kong).  I took one look at the manuscript and felt that it was phony.  Not wanting to deal with it, and yet not wanting to throw it away, since it was a specimen of something, I promptly put the book in the mailbox of my colleague, Adam D. Smith, who is a specialist on writing systems in China.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

British headlines: 18% less informative shorter

Chris Hanretty, "British headlines: 18% less informative than their American cousins", 11/29/2013:

I’m currently working on a project looking at the representation of constituency opinion in Parliament. One of our objectives involves examining the distribution of parliamentary attention — whether MPs from constituencies very concerned by immigration talk more about immigration than MPs from constituencies that are more relaxed about the issue.

To do that, I’ve been relying on the excellent datasets made available from the UK Policy Agendas Project. In particular, I’ve been exploring the possibility of using their hand-coded data to engage in automated coding of parliamentary questions.

One of their data-sets features headlines from the Times. Coincidentally, one of the easier-to-use packages in automated coding of texts (RTextTools) features a data-set with headlines from the New York Times. Both data-sets use similar topic codes, although the UK team has dropped a couple of codes.

How well does automated topic coding work on these two sets of newspaper headlines?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (15)

Chop-chop and chopsticks

Reader Geoff Wade asks:

Might you and your band of linguist lads and lassies turn your erudition to the term 'chop-chop', which according to Wikipedia derives from Cantonese. I can think of no Cantonese term which would give rise to this term.

On this day of Thanksgiving (or Thanksgivvukah, if you prefer, which is said to happen only once every 5,000 years [actually, the next occurrence will be in 2070]), all that I really want to do is "chomp chomp".  But I'll make a start before dinner, and then let others fill in the gaps.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)

The physics and psychometrics of breakfast-cereal inequality

Nicholas Watt, "Boris Johnson invokes Thatcher spirit with greed is good speech", The Guardian 11/27/2013:

Boris Johnson has launched a bold bid to claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher by declaring that inequality is essential to fostering "the spirit of envy" and hailed greed as a "valuable spur to economic activity".

In an attempt to shore up his support on the Tory right, as he positions himself as the natural successor to David Cameron, the London mayor called for the "Gordon Gekkos of London" to display their greed to promote economic growth.

This speech bolsters Mr. Johnson's already-strong claim to be the most Dickensian of modern politicians. I was especially impressed by the following passage:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

… and I'm afraid that violent economic centrifuge
is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal
in raw ability
if not in spiritual worth.
Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests
it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality
that as many as sixteen percent of our species
have an IQ below eighty five
while about two percent –
((about- anyway sixteen percent of you want to put up your hands?))
sixteen percent have an IQ below- uh uh below eighty five
uh two percent have an IQ above a hundred and thirty.
And the harder you shake the pack
the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

Metal v. medal

Paul Krugman, "My Lawn Guyland Roots Are Showing", The Conscience of a Liberal, 11/24/2013:

I see that some commentators were wondering why, in an earlier post, I wrote “pedal to the medal” instead of “pedal to the metal”. The answer is, typing fast, and writing what I heard in my head. The truth is that sometimes, usually when I’m tired, I do hear myself referring to a bottle of water as a boddle of oo-waugh-duh — gotta get the three-syllable pronunciation there.

I’ve never made a conscious effort to change my accent, and I know from recordings that a bit of the Noo Yawk is still there, but four decades in academia have, I believe, flattened it out into Mid-Atlantic neutral most of the time. But not always, and sometimes not even when I write.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (81)

Aggressive periods and the popularity of linguistics

Ben Crair, "The Period Is Pissed: When did our plainest punctuation mark become so aggressive?", TNR 11/25/2013:

The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.” […]

This is an unlikely heel turn in linguistics. In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. “Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off? […]

“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (50)

No word in any European language for "a vice common in Asia"

Mark Swofford recently encountered a variation of the "no word for" trope in a footnote in an 1831 work, History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807 to 1810 (Jìng hǎi fēn jì 靖海氛記), translated by Karl Friedrich Neumann.

Here's the passage:

Chang paou was a native of Sin hwy, near the mouth of the river, and the son of a fisherman. Being fifteen years of age, he went with his father a fishing in the sea, and they were consequently taken prisoners by Ching yĭh, who roamed about the mouth of the river, ravaging and plundering. Ching yĭh saw Paou, and liked him so much, that he could not depart from him. Paou was indeed a clever fellow—he managed all business very well; being also a fine young man, he became a favourite of Ching yĭh,[39] and was made a head-man or captain.

The note reads: "39. The word pe (8335) cannot be translated in any European language. It means a vice common in Asia."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (49)

Corsican polyphony

I spent last Thursday and Friday at a workshop on error analysis, and Thursday evening there there was a Corsican banquet, with a concert by the musical group Sarocchi. The banquet and concert were in honor of Joseph Mariani, who is originally from Corsica. Here's a video of part of an a capella duet, which I took with my cell phone:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Urine meat balls

Bob Ramsey sent in the following photograph of a portion of a Chinese restaurant menu (source; originally from

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (23)

Penn in the pantheon of philosophy

From the printed "Guide du promeneur" of the Parc Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, near the site of the workshop where I spent the past couple of days, I learned a new French word, or more exactly a new meaning for a common French word:

De petites fabriques dédiées aux vertus de la nature humaine et disséminées ici ou là, illustrent ce project révolutionnaire d'un nouvel espace social où l'homme vit en harmonie avec le milieu naturel.

My small mental lexicon of French glosses fabrique as "factory", but this is clearly not what the word means here:

Little factories (?!) dedicated to the virtues of human nature, and scattered here and there, illustrate this revolutionary plan for a new social space where man lives in harmony with the natural environment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (7)

No word for 'sorry' in Tagalog

Following up on yesterday's "No word for rape" post, several readers have pointed me to another recent addition for the "No word for X" archive, namely Isagani R. Cruz, "Lingual misunderstanding to blame for refusal to apologize?", China Daily 11/12/2013:

The refusal so far of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to issue a formal apology for the hostage-taking incident in Manila in August, 2010, in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed, may be blamed partly on a lingual misunderstanding.

Aquino's mother tongue is Tagalog, once the national language of the Philippines, now replaced by Filipino, which is based on it. […]

There is something peculiar about the Tagalog and even the Filipino language. There is no word for "sorry" or "apology." When Filipinos are at fault, they say in Tagalog or Filipino, "Pasensiya na." That literally translates into, "Please forget your anger" or "Please let it go". It's important to note that the personal pronoun used is in second person, not the first. […]

Needless to say, there may be political or lingual reasons for Aquino's reticence when it comes to apologizing to Hong Kong. But it is important for the people in Hong Kong to understand that it is lingually impossible for a Filipino to apologize in the British or American sense, because the words for admitting fault do not exist in Tagalog or Filipino.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (69)

Spelling with Chinese character(istic)s

Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of the entrance to the Batefulai Canting in Maolin, Taiwan, near the trail to the purple butterfly valley.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (22)