Archive for May, 2015

Metaphysics has ruined Chinese

In The Opinion Pages section of today's NYT, Contributing Op-Ed Writer Murong Xuecun has a provocative piece entitled "Corrupting the Chinese Language" (5/26/15).

His basic claim is that "Decades of… party blather have washed through a mighty propaganda machine straight into people’s minds and into the Chinese vernacular."  The result is that, because people are conditioned to talk using phrases ready made by the party, they are conditioned to think in ways determined by the highly politicized language in which they have been immersed their entire lives.  Even dissidents are reduced to "using the language of our propagandists, and not ironically."

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Nondifferentiation of -n and -ng

In Shanghai, Tom Mazanec recently came across a listing for a kind of tea called Tiě Guāngyīn 铁光阴 (second from the bottom in the photo), which he thought might be a knockoff of the famous Tiě Guānyīn 铁观音. The picture was taken at a restaurant near Fudan University called Xiǎo Dōngběi 小东北 (the name of the restaurant [Xiǎo Dōngběi sīfang cài 小东北私房菜, at the top of the menu] is rather endearingly translated as "The small northeastern dishes").

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"Arirang" (Hangul:  아리랑) is arguably the most famous Korean folk song.  Indeed, "Arirang" is so well-known that it is often considered to be Korea's unofficial national anthem.  Yet no one is sure when the song arose nor what the title means.

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Chinese Telegraph Code (CTC)

Michael Rank has an interesting article on Scribd entitled "Chinese telegram, 1978" (5/22/2015).

It's about a 1978 telegram that he bought on eBay.  Here's a photograph:

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"Purple mist coming from the east" cake

Here is an interesting picture that Francois Dube took today in a cakeshop in Yinchuan, capital of the Ningxia Hui (Muslim) Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China:

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Marriage O'Quality

Tweeted by Graeme Orr:

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OK Google

A couple of days ago, I gave a talk at the Centre Cournot on the topic "Why Human Language Technology (almost) works" ("Pourquoi les technologies de la langue et du discours marchent enfin (ou presque)"), and for the introduction, I tried giving Google Now a few questions and instructions on my Android phone.

In case you're not familiar with this feature, you start it up by saying "OK Google", followed by the question you want it to answer or the instruction you want it to follow.

And since the starting-point of my talk was that HLT now actually works well enough to be useful, I was glad to see that my little experiment worked pretty well.

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Qishan smell of urine yellow croaker

Tom Hancock sent in this photograph of a poster seen yesterday outside a Shaanxi restaurant just inside Beijing's third ring road:

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Prompt Angst

Emily Cahn, "Sanchez Stumbles Prompt SoCal Angst", Roll Call 5/20/2015 — Linda Seebach writes "I lived in LA for a couple of years, and can readily believe that SoCal angst is unusually prompt to appear."

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Illustrated translations of the untranslatable

"Beautiful Illustrations of Words with No English Equivalent",Twisted Sifter 5/16/2015.

As usual, many of the translations seem to be somewhat more specifically evocative than the words they translate.

Thus Spanish duende is rendered as "The mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person", whereas the WordReference dictionary gives simply "spirit, magical creature; elf, imp, goblin; magic, charm", and the Collins dictionary gives "goblin, elf; imp; magic; gremlin".

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Snowclone of the week

Melissa Holbrook Pierson, "What Is Your Dog Telling You? They may not use words, but dogs say a lot more than we realize with their body language", WSJ 5/11/2015:

For the same reason that Eskimos purportedly have 50 different words for snow, dogs have a vast repertoire of gestures for appeasement and propitiation. The Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas has identified some 30 “calming signals”—movements offered to deflect trouble (which may also relieve stress in both giver and receiver). Supremely subtle, sometimes so quick we don’t notice them, these appeasing signals include a flick of the tongue; turning the head or gaze away; suddenly sniffing the ground or sitting; yawning; shaking off; or approaching on a curve.

[h/t Amanda Seidl, who is planning on getting a dog]


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Adam Kilgarriff R.I.P.

I recently learned that Adam Kilgarriff died on Saturday May 16.

The weblog-journal that he maintained since his cancer diagnosis last fall gives a sense of the kind of person he was. The links on his homepage will tell you more about his work as a linguist, from his insights about word meaning (e.g. "I don't believe in word senses", Computers and the Humanities 1997), to his creation of the Sketch Engine, an interactive online system that "lets you see a concordance for any word, phrase or grammatical construction, in one of the corpora that we provide, or in a corpus of your own", and also provides "word sketches, one-page, automatic, corpus-derived summaries of a word's grammatical and collocational behaviour".

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How to pronounce "parmesan"

The Cambridge Dictionaries Online entry for the pronunciation of parmesan (cheese) in American English is a fine example of broad-transcription IPA style:

But the button labelled with an audio icon and a blue "US" leads to

which is an interesting surprise:

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.

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