Archive for December, 2015

Chinese names for the Lena River

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu]

The usual Chinese name for the Lena River is 勒拿河 Lèná hé. That's not a particularly felicitous transcription. Lèná rhymes with 圣赫勒拿 Shèng Hèlèná i.e. St Helena; it fails to reflect the palatalisation of the l in the Russian name. An alternative name transcribes the syllable ле with 列 liè, following the usual practice.

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Chinese scout

Listen to what the Chinese scout in this video says at :43.  My first impression was that it sounds like he is speaking Cantonese, not Mandarin.

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Trump's rhetorical style

It's the season of political speeches, and so I've been listening to a few. One thing that sticks out is Donald Trump's rhetorical style, which has some characteristics that I haven't observed in other politicians. In "Donald Trump's repetitive rhetoric" (12/5/2015) I noted his tendency to repeat words and phrases. This repetition means that many phrases are entirely predictable well before their end, and perhaps for that reason, he often leaves the last bits unspoken. And finally, he has an almost Pirahã-like ability  — or perhaps I should say Elmore Leonard-like ability — to express complex thoughts in paratactic form, with very little clausal embedding.

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Misogyny as reflected in Chinese characters

Speaking of getting schlonged….

It is well-known that many Chinese characters with a female radical (nǚ 女) have pejorative or negative meanings:

Joe, "Sexist Chinese Characters Discriminate Against Women " (chinaSMACK, 1/28/10)

Koichi, "Kanji Hates The Ladies " (Tofugu, 6/05/12)

Dali Tan, "Sexism in the Chinese Language", NWSA Journal, 2.4 (Autumn, 1990), 635-639

David Moser, "Covert Sexism in Mandarin Chinese," Sino-Platonic Papers, 74 (January, 1997), 1-23.

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Schlonged

Donald Trump rally 12/21/2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

l- let me just tell you
I may win, I may not win
Hillary
that's not a president
that's not- she's not taking us to the-
everything that's been involved in Hillary has been losses you take a look
even her race to Obama
she was going to beat Obama
I don't know who'd be worse
I don't know
how does it get worse?
but she was going to beat- she was favored to win
and she got … schlonged, she lost, I mean she lost

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Trigger warning: Talking animals

There's a folk belief that domestic animals gain the power of human speech on Christmas Eve — and often have things to say that their human owners would just as soon not hear. I discussed some folkloric and fictional examples in a couple of earlier Christmas-eve posts: "Talking animals: miracle or curse?" (12/24/2004)and "Watch out for those talking animals tonight" (12/24/2013).

For most of us, talking animals are kind of cute, evoking memories of stories like Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester (1903). So I was not expecting a web search for "talking animals" to yield the following Product Warnings on a novel by D. Reneé [sic] Bagby, Adrienne:

This title contains adult language, talking animals, violence, and scenes of near rape.

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The Posts of Christmas Past

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Pressing the House of Commons swiftly

There is a designated staff member whose job at The Economist is to make the magazine (my favorite magazine) look ridiculous by moving adverbs to unacceptably silly positions in the sentence. She is still at work. This is from the December 12 issue, p. 58, in an article about preparations for a referendum next year on whether Britain should abandon its membership in the European Union:

Most pollsters reckon a later vote is likely to boost the leave campaign. Avoidance of delay was a big reason why the government this week pressed the House of Commons swiftly to overturn a House of Lords plan to extend the referendum franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds.

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Alleged misuse of reflexive pronouns

Philip B. Corbett, "Me and Myself", NYT 12/22/2015:

Several readers have lamented a tendency, in The Times and elsewhere, for writers to misuse so-called reflexive pronouns — the ones that end in “-self” or “-selves.”

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Character building is costly and time consuming

I would like to call the attention of Language Log readers to an extraordinary article by Nikhil Sonnad:

"The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font " (Quartz, 12/18/15)

I knew that Nikhil was writing this article, because I helped him with the part about the historical development of the script over a month ago.  After that I didn't hear anything from him until yesterday when he sent me notice that the article had just been published.  Now that I've had a chance to read Nikhil's article, I must say that it a unique and amazing accomplishment.

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From "Servia" to "Serbia"

[The first part of this post is from an anonymous contributor.]

The Serbian legation in London complains to the media about the spelling Servia, which is 'highly offensive to our people'.

(It is true that there is a place in Greece called 'Servia', whose name 'derives from the Latin verb servo, meaning "to watch over"'.)

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Questionable wordplay of the week

"Trial set of Johnny Depp dog case in Australia", AFP 12/15/2015:

Johnny Depp's wife Amber Heard will face trial in Australia in April for allegedly smuggling two dogs into the country in a case dubbed the "war on terrier", a court ruled Tuesday.

Heard is facing two counts of knowingly importing a prohibited product in breach of the Quarantine Act.

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Positivity?

Christiaan H Vinkers et al., "Use of positive and negative words in scientific PubMed abstracts between 1974 and 2014: retrospective analysis", BMJ 2015:

Design Retrospective analysis of all scientific abstracts in PubMed between 1974 and 2014.  

Methods The yearly frequencies of positive, negative, and neutral words (25 preselected words in each category), plus 100 randomly selected words were normalised for the total number of abstracts. […]

Results The absolute frequency of positive words increased from 2.0% (1974-80) to 17.5% (2014), a relative increase of 880% over four decades.

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