Archive for July, 2019

The meaning of meaning: kaput

The poor fellow in the following short video is taking a Mandarin listening comprehension exam:

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Gricean (im)politeness

Does Paul Grice's "cooperative principle" enjoin politeness? Jessica Wildfire sees it that way ("Maybe you're not rude after all", Splattered 6/29/2018):

A teacher sent me home for showing my underwear in fifth grade. The same year, I also got in trouble for asking a classmate about their gender identity. Stuff like that was always happening. I always managed to break some invisible rule out of social blindness. […]

I was a real trouble maker. So rude. Why couldn't I just be polite, like everyone else? […]

And then linguistics happened. Halfway through college, I started taking courses in language theory.

That's when I started to learn something important. Something that changed my life forever.

Most of our politeness rules are bullshit.

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Corpora and the Second Amendment: "keep and bear arms" (part 1) (updated)

An introduction and guide to my series of posts "Corpora and the Second Amendment" is available here. The corpus data that is discussed can be downloaded here. That link will take you to a shared folder in Dropbox. Important: Use the "Download" button at the top right of the screen.

COFEA and COEME: lawcorpus.byu.edu.

This was supposed to be the final entry in my series of posts on the Second Amendment, but I've decided to split the discussion into two parts.

In my last post, I concluded that as used in the Second Amendment, bear arms was most likely understood to mean 'serve in the militia.' The question that I'll address here and in my next post is whether that conclusion is changed by the fact that the Second Amendment protects not simply "the right of the people to bear arms" but "the right of the people to keep and bear arms."

The corpus data on keep and bear arms is of no help in answering that question, because all the uses of the phrase in the data are either from the Second Amendment or from drafts of proposals for what became the Second Amendment. Therefore, I won't deal with the corpus data at all in this post, and I'll deal with only a relative handful of concordance lines in the next one (though those lines will play an important role in the analysis).

Taken together, these two posts will provide an extended rebuttal of the portion of Heller (consisting of only four sentences) that raised the question that these posts will address. Those four sentences were part of the court's argument that bear arms as used in the Second Amendment couldn't possibly have been understood in its idiomatic military sense:

[If bear arms were given its idiomatic meaning,] the phrase "keep and bear arms" would be incoherent. The word "Arms" would have two different meanings at once: "weapons" (as the object of "keep") and (as the object of "bear") one-half of an idiom. It would be rather like saying "He filled and kicked the bucket" to mean "He filled the bucket and died." Grotesque.

When I first read Heller, this struck me as a pretty strong argument. But I've rethought the issue since then, and have come to think that the argument is seriously flawed. At this point, although I don't dismiss the argument altogether, I don't think it rules out interpreting bear arms in the Second Amendment to mean 'serve in the militia.'

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The United Front represents your meaning: Tibetan neologisms, New Social Strata emojis and the Sagerean Section

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu.]

A recent paper by Alex Joske features Sitar སྲི་ཐར་ (Wylie Sri thar, Chinese transcription Sita 斯塔), a senior CCP united front cadre. Sitar's career included decades at the Central United Front Work Department, of which he was a vice head between 2006 and 2016. He later became a deputy director of the office of the Party's Central Coordination Group for Tibetan Affairs (Zhōngyāng Xīzáng Gōngzuò Xiétiáo Xiǎozǔ 中央西藏工作协调小组). On at least two occasions, he led Central United Front Work Leading Small Group inspection groups, thus earning mention in Joske's paper, of which said Group is the main topic.

'Xi Jinping Thought', another 1499 Tibetan neologisms, and more

A more recent thing Deputy Director Sitar has presided over should perhaps earn him a mention on this Log, by virtue of its subject-matter. On 28 April 2018, Sitar was the top cadre speaking at the presentation of "more than 1500" Tibetan neologisms coined since the 18th Party Congress (held in November 2012), compiled by the National Tibetan Terminology Standardisation Commission (Rgyal yongs Bod skad brda chad tshad ldan can las don u yun lhan khang རྒྱལ་ཡོངས་བོད་སྐད་བརྡ་ཆད་ཚད་ལྡན་ཅན་ལས་དོན་ཨུ་ཡོན་ལྷན་ཁང་, Quánguó Zàngyǔ Shùyǔ Biǎozhǔnhuà Gōngzuò Wěiyuánhuì 全国藏语术语标准化工作委员会). I know this because it was reported on various media and other government websites that reported, in Chinese and Tibetan, on the Commission membership change taking place on that day.

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Hong Kong protesters messing with the characters

Nothing is sacred.

Tiny Hong Kong with a little over 7 million population facing off against ginormous PRC with its population approaching 1.5 billion, yet the Hongkongers have held out with their large (as many as 2 million people at times) protests for 8 weeks now — despite the pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds that police have fired at them, and the metal and wooden sticks and rods wielded against them by triad gangsters.  The central government is displeased and keeps threatening to send in the PLA.

Meanwhile, the Hongkongers employ every means at their disposal to counter the CCP, above all wit and satire.  Part of the latter is their linguistic irreverence, as we have demonstrated in numerous posts (see "Readings" below).  One of the ways that the Hongkongers get their points across is to create new characters conveying potent messages, which is more effective even than the coining of neologisms from already existing characters — they are also very good at making up new words.

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Up or down the garden path?

Recently a friend sent me this example of a hard-to-parse sentence (source here):

What have you been surprised men you've been seeing expect without doing the work to show they deserve it?

This is not exactly a "garden path" sentence, which  Wikipedia tells us

[…] is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that a reader's most likely interpretation will be incorrect; the reader is lured into a parse that turns out to be a dead end or yields a clearly unintended meaning. "Garden path" refers to the saying "to be led down [or up] the garden path", meaning to be deceived, tricked, or seduced. In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Fowler describes such sentences as unwittingly laying a "false scent".

The parse we start out with is the correct one — it's just that it runs into a wall when it gets to the sequence "men you've been seeing". If we persist, that original parse eventually recovers.  We need to figure out that "men (that) you've been seeing expect _ without doing the work to show they deserve it" is the complement of be surprised (that); and what has been painfully extracted from the object position of expect in that clause.

But this analysis left me with several questions: Is there a metaphorical name for that kind of sentence, assuming that "garden path "is not appropriate? And what's the history of the "garden path" phrase, in general and as applied to sentence processing?

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Graffiti correction

Writing on a concrete planter in Hong Kong:

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The rake and the vamp

Chris Brannick posted this photograph of a fan on his Facebook page:

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Hong Kong anti-China graffiti

Graffiti painted by protesters in the Liaison Office of the PRC in Hong Kong:

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The enigma of the black hands

"UPDATE 1-China tells U.S. to remove 'black hands' from Hong Kong"

Reuters   (7/23/19)

China said on Tuesday that U.S. officials were behind violent chaos in Hong Kong and warned against interference, following a series of protests in the city, including bloody clashes on the weekend. "We can see that U.S. officials are even behind such incidents," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

China's allegations of U.S. "black hands" fomenting unrest in Hong Kong have been all over the news during the last few days.  Politically, no one knows exactly what the PRC is referring to (they haven't given any evidence for the involvement of American officials).  Linguistically, the origin of this expression in Chinese is far from clear.

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Inconvenience now

In "Which justifies what?" (7/3/2019) and "Thematic spoonerisms" (7/14/2019), we noted cases where writers exchanged noun phrases so as to produce literally nonsensical propositions: the inconvenience didn't justify the cause instead of the cause didn't justify the inconvenience, and ampicillin is resistant to multiple strains of U.T.I.s instead of multiple strains of U.T.I.s are resistant to ampicillin.

In this morning's email, Bob Ladd point out a letter referencing the story where the inconvenience didn't justify the cause, not to complain about the swap but to repeat it — "Have your inconvenience now and avoid it later", The New Scientist 7/17/2019:

Chelsea Whyte mentions that many people resented the disruption that the Extinction Rebellion protests created because they "felt the inconvenience didn't justify the cause" (22 June, p 20). I think this sums up the global attitude to action on climate change.

Maybe people need to be reminded of the inconveniences that global warming will cause. Instead of stopping trains, perhaps future protests should cordon off low-lying coastal areas and hand out flippers and snorkels to those who want to enter?

Any complaints can be met with a polite reminder that this will soon become a permanent inconvenience.

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Help through French puberty for sale

Shared by David Cowhig:

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Lapsus digiti

Ivanka Trump congratulates Boris Johnson:

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