Archive for December, 2018

Cantonese under renewed threat

When Great Britain handed Hong Kong over to the PRC in 1997, the communist government promised to maintain the status quo of the colony's laws, educational system, human rights, language policy, and so forth for half a century, until 2047.  It has only been a little over twenty years, and already virtually all aspects of government, society, and culture are being reshaped along the lines that are operative in the PRC.  Naturally, the aspect of Hong Kong life that concerns us at Language Log most are policies governing language norms and usages.

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Rude and unreasonable chicken

From June Teufel Dreyer:

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Taiwan Railways Administration logo

Anthony Clayden wonders whether there is "some visual pun going on with the Chinese characters" in the design of the symbol of the TRA, which "features a rail profile inscribed within two semi-circles."

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Xi Jinping's reading errors multiply

The president of China recently gave a major address celebrating the 40th anniversary of China's "gǎigé kāifàng 改革开放" ("reform and opening-up"):

"Reading Xi's Reform Anniversary Speech", by Qian Gang, China Media Project (12/18/18)

Unfortunately, during his speech Xi misread a number of literary expressions at key moments.

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Grover's F-bomb

An audio ambiguity was recently posted on YouTube, like Yanny v. Laurel but more socially evocative. What Grover actually said was presumably

Move the camera! Yes, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea!

But you can also hear it as

Move the camera! Yes, yes, that's a fucking excellent idea!

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Make food great again

Spotted by Anthony Clayden in Taitung, Taiwan:

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Philosophical CAPTCHA

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I don't feel OK

Viral meme in the Sinosphere:

Wǒ juédé bù OK 我覺得不OK ("I don't feel OK")

Variant:

Wǒ juédé hái OK 我覺得還OK ("I feel sort of OK")

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Orientation-dependent ambiguity

A striking example of orientation-dependent visual ambiguity:

Since speech is effectively one-dimensional, the only direct forms of orientation-dependent speech perception are time-reversal and spectral inversion, which require technological intervention.

But in writing, orientation-dependent perception is easy to arrange, and has a name, namely ambigrams. I don't recall every having seen an accidental ambigram, that is, a piece of text that reads differently upside down without the creator being aware of it. At least, not one where the ambiguity depends on properties of the font or script design.

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Trump beef noodles

Photograph of a sign in downtown Taitung, Taiwan:

(Courtesy of Anthony Clayden)

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Snobbery

There's a salon / spa in Japan called "snob®".  Bill Benzon asks:  "Is 'snob' free of the negative connotations it would have here?"

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Marginal

In this year's update to the New York Sun's famous 1897 "Yes, Virginia" editorial, "'Marginal' Santa Believer Puts Out Cookies After Trump Chat", AP 12/26/2018:

A 7-year-old girl who talked to President Donald Trump on Christmas Eve still left out milk and cookies for Santa despite the president telling her it was "marginal" for a child of her age to still believe.

Then again, Collman Lloyd of Lexington, South Carolina, says she had never heard the word "marginal" before.

You can see and hear Donald Trump's side of the conversation here, and Collman Lloyd's side, with the president on speakerphone, here.

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Of reindeer and Old Sinitic reconstructions

This is a piece that I've been meaning to write for a long time, but never found the opportunity.  Now, inspired by the season and about to embark on extended holiday travel, I'm determined not to put it off for yet another year.

The genesis of my ruminations on this topic are buried in decades-old tentative efforts to identify the fabulous creature known in Chinese myth as the qilin (Hanyu Pinyin), also spelled as ch'i2-lin2 (Wade-Giles Romanization) and kirin in Japanese, which the whole world knows as the name of a famous beer (fanciful, stylized depictions of the kirin are to be found on bottles and cans of the beer).

The qilin is usually referred to in English as a kind of unicorn, but I knew that couldn't be right, since no account of the qilin from antiquity describes it as having only one horn.  The Chinese xièzhì 獬豸 ("goat of justice") does have a single, long, pointed horn, but that is another matter, for which see "Lamb of Goodness, Goat of Justice" (pp. 86-93) in Victor H. Mair, "Religious Formations and Intercultural Contacts in Early China," in Volkhard Krech and Marion Steinicke, ed., Dynamics in the History of Religions between Asia and Europe:  Encounters, Notions, and Comparative Perspectives (Dynamics in the History of Religion, 1 [Ruhr-Universität Bochum]) (Leiden:  Brill, 2011), pp. 85-110 (available on Google Books).  Since customs pertaining to the goat of justice, as with the reindeer, existed in cultures spread across northern Eurasia, I suspect that an extra-Sinitic loanword may also be lurking behind xièzhì 獬豸.

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