Archive for May, 2017

June 4, 198brew 2.0

Many people have called my attention to this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow in the New York Times:

"A High-Proof Tribute to Tiananmen's Victims Finds a Way Back to China" (5/30/17)

The article begins:

It's a big journey for a little bottle, even one so potent in alcohol and symbolism.

The liquor bottle — whose label commemorates the 1989 crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing — made a monthslong trip around the world and arrived in Hong Kong days before the 28th anniversary of the killings on Sunday and one year after it was produced in Chengdu, in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.

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#covfefe

If you've got a spare hour or two, check out #covfefe on Twitter. Or just read a news summary or ten.

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Political sound and silence II

In "Political Sound and Silence", 2/8/2016, I compared the joint distribution of speech segment durations and (immediately following) silence segment durations in the Weekly Addresses of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama:

Today I thought I'd add a similar graph for President Donald Trump's Weekly Addresses so far in 2017:

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A little sentiment analysis

As I've noted from time to time, speakers' pitch range is affected by many internal and external factors in addition to their anatomy and physiology. External factors include the level of background noise and the distance to the intended hearer(s). Internal factors include the level of physiological arousal. In particular, we expect the emotion of "hot anger" to increase pitch range.

As a recent case in point, here's a plot of Greg Gianforte's pitch range during his 5/25/2017 assault of a Guardian reporter, compared to his pitch range during a 10/4/2016 interview:

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Li'l Ice AI writes Chinese poetry

About a week ago I received this Facebook query from Scaruffi.com about Chinese chatbot poetry (relayed by Mark Liberman):

Since friday Chinese social media are flooded with comments about a poetry book written by Microsoft's chatbot Xiaoice that was published on May 19 (three days ago).

I cannot find a single reference to this book in Google's search engine.

No western media seems to have picked up the news.
(As of today, monday the 22nd)

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Toxic clams

Photograph of a sign at Sequim Bay, Washington taken by Stephen Hart:

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Dophin sightseeing

Headline in the China Daily today (5/28/17):

"Dophin sightseeing in China's Taiwan".

As my colleague, Arthur Waldron, trenchantly remarked:  "They fear a dauphin. This may be an omen."

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Conjunctions considered harmful

Or not. Andrew Mayeda, "World Bank's Star Economist Is Sidelined in War Over Words", Bloomberg 5/25/2017:

The World Bank's chief economist has been stripped of his management duties after researchers rebelled against his efforts to make them communicate more clearly, including curbs on the written use of "and." […]

A study by Stanford University's Literary Lab in 2015 found the bank's use of language has become more "codified, self-referential, and detached from everyday language" since the bank's board of governors held their inaugural meeting in 1946. The study coined the term "Bankspeak," a vague "technical code" that symbolized the lender's organizational drift.

In an email to staff obtained by Bloomberg, Romer argued the World Development Report, one of the bank's flagship publications, "has to be narrow to penetrate deeply," comparing his vision for the report to a knife. "To drive home the importance of focus, I've told the authors that I will not clear the final report if the frequency of 'and' exceeds 2.6 percent," said Romer, citing the percentage of the word's use in World Bank documents analyzed as part of the "Bankspeak" report.

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From "barbarian" to "very"

Earlier this week, I wrote a post titled "'Little Man' the eating machine" (5/22/17), in which I pointed out that "Man" here does not mean "(hu)man" or "male human", but that it signifies "(southern) barbarian", with extended meanings of "rough; reckless; fierce; rude; unreasoning; unruly; bullying".  I also noted that this mán 蛮 has another set of meanings:  "quite; rather; somewhat; very".

In the sixth comment to the post, liuyao wrote:

I was hoping VHM would do a linguistic/philological analysis of 蛮 in the sense of "very". Given that it was originally a derogatory term for "barbarians" in the south (possibly Austroasiatics that have long been displaced or assimilated), how did it come about that the southern topolects (or when they speak their variants of Mandarin) have this character or word for "very"? Are there alternative characters for this morpheme?

I will now attempt to answer all of liuyao's questions.

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Political pun of the month


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Yes indeed

Mythili Sampathkumar, "Donald Trump and Mike Pence approval ratings hit new low in latest Fox News poll", The Independent 5/26/2017:

Voters polled were also asked "do you think America's best days are ahead of us or behind us?" A majority – 62 per cent – said yes, they are.

[h/t Michael Glazer]

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Attribution of the WannaCry ransomware to Chinese speakers

The notorious WannaCry malware infestation began on Friday, May 12, 2017 and spread rapidly throughout the world, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and causing major damage.  Speculation concerning the identity of the perpetrators focused on North Korea, but the supposed connection was never convincingly demonstrated, and there were no other serious suspects.

Yesterday, Jon Condra, John Costello, and Sherman Chu published a stunning report which suggests that the authors of WannaCry — or someone they hired — spoke fluent Chinese:

"Linguistic Analysis of WannaCry Ransomware Messages Suggests Chinese-Speaking Authors" (Flashpoint [5/25/17])

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Whistled language

In "Transcendent Tonality" (11/5/15), we examined this topic a couple of years ago.  That post focused more on the philosophical and ethereal aspects of this type of communication, although it also introduced some of the basics of interhuman whistling and its congruence with melodic musicality.

Additional research takes us further toward understanding the linguistic, neuroscientific, and evolutionary biological dimensions of articulate whistling, as reported in this BBC article:

"The beautiful languages of the people who talk like birds:  Their unusual whistled speech may reveal what humanity's first words sounded like." (David Robson, 5/25/17)

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