Archive for March, 2019

The term "virtue signaling" as virtue signaling

Jillian Jordan and David Rand, "Are You 'Virtue Signaling'? Probably. But that doesn't mean your outrage is inauthentic", NYT 3/30/2019:

Expressions of moral outrage are playing a prominent role in contemporary debates about issues like sexual assault, immigration and police brutality. In response, there have been criticisms of expressions of outrage as mere "virtue signaling" — feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.

Clearly, feigned righteousness exists. We can all think of cases where people simulated or exaggerated feelings of outrage because they had a strategic reason to do so. Politicians on the campaign trail, for example, are frequent offenders.

So it may seem reasonable to ask, whenever someone is expressing indignation, "Is she genuinely outraged or just virtue signaling?" But in many cases this question is misguided, for the answer is often "both."

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Language revival in the news

BBC Future has a very nice article by Alex Rawlings about the work of Ghil'ad Zuckermann on language revival in Australia and the larger context of such efforts. One new thing I learned about Zuckermann from this article was that before he moved from Israel to Australia, he was a specialist on language revival in Israel. (That's what we generally think of as the revival of Hebrew, but he insists that the modern language is different enough from Biblical Hebrew, because of the influence of all the first languages of those who participated in its revival, to need a different name – he calls it Israeli.) Anyway, it's a nice article. Thanks to Victor Mair for sharing it around the Language Log water cooler.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190320-the-man-bringing-dead-languages-back-to-life

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A huge-ass trademark case

Literally. Kate Bernot, "Please let New Orleans' "Huge Ass Beer" lawsuit reach the Supreme Court", The Takeout 3/1/2019:

Per The New Orleans Advocate, the trademark for Huge Ass Beers belongs to one Nicholas S. Karno #1 Inc., which operates multiple Bourbon Street bars. Said bars—the Steak Pit, Prohibition, and Cornet—offer oversized and novelty pours of beer in branded Huge Ass Beer mugs. […]

But Huge Ass Beer bars' operator Billie Karno this week filed a lawsuit alleging that other Bourbon Street bars have violated his Huge Ass Beer trademark by selling to-go cups advertising "Giant Ass Beer." Those bars—Beerfest, Voodoo Vibe, and Sing Sing—plus a strip club called Stiletto's, are operated by Pamela Olano and Guy Olano Jr. Karno seeks an end to marketing materials bearing the name Giant Ass Beers as well as damages.

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"Hypersynonymy" in MLE?

Robert Booth, "'Ching, wap, ox': slang interpreters decipher texts for court evidence", The Guardian 3/29/2019:

Do you know your "tum-tum" from your "ching" and your "corn" from your "gwop" (gun, knife, ammunition and money)? Neither do police and prosecutors, who have begun consulting a linguistics professor to help decipher urban slang and drill lyrics used as evidence in criminal investigations.

The complexity of inner-city dialects and the growing use of texts and social media posts in court evidence has forced detectives and lawyers in London, the West Midlands and Essex to seek translations, according to Tony Thorne, an academic at King's College London, who has been studying youth slang since 1990. […]

The dialect has become known among academics as multi-ethnic London English (MLE), though is not limited to the capital. Last autumn, an image circulated of a glossary of "youth language" on a whiteboard in a Lancashire police station including "peng = attractive, feds = police, swear down = tell the truth".

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English names for Chinese babies

I first heard about Beau Jessup (founder [2015] and CEO of Special Name) and her Chinese baby-naming business a couple of years ago.  There was even a TEDx talk by her about it:

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A permier university

Headline in the Washington Post (a few minutes ago):

A professor at China's permier university questioned Xi Jinping. Then he was suspended.

Obligatory screenshot:

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Sememic spelling

During the last century and a half or so, there have been thousands of schemes for the reform of the Sinitic writing system.  Most of these schemes were devised by Chinese, though a relatively small number of them were created by foreigners.  They run the gamut from kana-like syllabaries to radical simplification of the strokes, to endless varieties of Romanization.  Among the more linguistically sophisticated (but also difficult to learn) are tonal spelling schemes, such as Gwoyeu Romatzyh (National Romanization), which spell out the Mandarin tones with letters.  There have even been efforts to produce Romanizations that could be read out by speakers from different areas according to the pronunciation of their own topolects, e.g., the Romanisation Interdialectique of Henri Lamasse (c. 1869-1952) and Ernest Jasmin (fl. 1920-1950) and Y. R. Chao's (1892-1982) diaphonemic orthography called General Chinese.

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Playing a small abacus

A learned colleague observed:

A few days ago, a Chinese military spokesperson was criticizing U.S. Department of Defense budget priorities.  The spokesperson said, "We have noticed that the U.S. defense department always likes to play 'small abacus' when seeking military budgets, in an attempt to gain more benefits for itself by rendering the threat of other countries [sic]."

From China.org and Xinhua.

The colleague went on to ask:

That must have sounded better in Chinese.  What did he mean by that?  Does it refer to lowballing budgets?  Is it like "penny-wise-pound-foolish?"

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A black cat in a dark room

"The Chinese proverb that Russia cited to respond to the Mueller report does not appear to be a Chinese proverb", by Adam Taylor, Washington Post (3/25/19)

In a briefing with reporters, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov quoted "the words of a Chinese philosopher who said 'it is very hard to find a black cat in a dark room especially if it is not there.' "

Fake Oriental wisdom is the bane of Sinologists.  We spend a lot of time putting out false fires that flare up all over the place.

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The toll of the trolls

I just came across this term, which seems to be quite new:  gāngjīng 杠精.

ChinaNews (March, 2019), a PRC publication where I saw it on p. 64, defines gāngjīng 杠精 as "hater", but — in terms of the derivation of the word and what they actually do — I don't think that's a good translation.

To me, they seem more like internet trolls.  I would propose "troll" as an apt translation of gāngjīng 杠精.

My guess is that gāngjīng 杠精 comes from táigàng 抬杠 ("bicker; wrangle; argue for the sake of arguing").

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Policing women's voices

Katie Heaney, "What Kind of Person Fakes Their Voice?", The Cut 3/21/2019:

There are many fascinating, upsetting details in the story of Elizabeth Holmes, but my favorite is her voice. Holmes, the ousted Theranos founder who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges for hawking an essentially imaginary product to multi-millionaire investors, pharmacies, and hospitals, speaks in a deep baritone that, as it turns out, is allegedly fake. Former co-workers of Holmes told The Dropout, a new podcast about Theranos's downfall, that Holmes occasionally "fell out of character" and exposed her real, higher voice — particularly after drinking. (Holmes's family recently denied these claims to TMZ, insisting her voice is naturally low, just like her grandmother's.)

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Great but not good? "Put a pulse to the hooter"

From "CLAUDE E. SHANNON: An Interview Conducted by Robert Price, 28 July 1982":

[Shannon is talking about a visit to Alan Turing in Manchester in 1950.]  So I asked him what he was doing. And he said he was trying to find a way to get better feedback from a computer so he would know what was going on inside the computer. And he'd invented this wonderful command. See, in those days they were working with individual commands. And the idea was to discover good commands. And I said, what is the command? And he said, the command is put a pulse to the hooter, put a pulse to the hooter. Now let me translate that. A hooter is an English, in England is a loudspeaker. And by putting a pulse to it, it would just be put a pulse to a hooter. Now what good is this crazy command? Well, the good of this command is that if you're in a loop you can have this command in that loop and every time it goes around the loop it will put a pulse in and you will hear a frequency equal to how long it takes to go around that loop. And then you can put another one in some bigger loop and so on. And so you'll hear all of this coming on and you'll hear this "boo boo boo boo boo boo,"[CS vocalizing in a sing-song fashion] and his concept was that you would soon learn to listen to that and know whether when it got hung up in a loop or something else or what it was doing all this time, which he'd never been able to tell before. That was a great idea, but I don't think it was really a very good idea. That command seems to have disappeared from the vocabulary. [laughs]

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Sinographs written differently on the Mainland, in Hong Kong, and on Taiwan

Zeyo Wu spotted this table of variants on the microblogging site Sina Weibo:

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