Archive for March, 2020

"Hard to underestimate the importance"

Peter Beinart, "Trump's Break With China Has Deadly Consequences", The Atlantic 3/28/2020:

Now that COVID-19 is sweeping across the United States, cooperation between Washington and Beijing remains essential. "It's hard to understate the importance of the U.S.-China relationship in getting through this," Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me.

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"The information we're getting is that … Yeah. No."

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Looking on the bright side

According to the BBC, a police boat in London was playing Monty Python's "Always look on the bright side of life" for listeners near the Thames last week:

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Turkic kaymak and Sinitic sū: a dairy product and a food texture

From Jacob Reed:

Inspired by Miss Gao's 小高姐's latest video, I've been trying to track down how 酥 acquired its present, seemingly contradictory connotations of "crispy" and "soft / relaxed". Paul Kroll's Classical / Medieval dictionary lists that it originally comes from the Persian for kaymak / clotted cream. 汉语大词典* indicates that this meaning is first attested during the Tang period.  Neither provide any indication of how we got from kaymak / clotted cream to "crispy" (the use of butterfat in pastry?).

In any case, I'm now curious if there's a more general trend of Sinitic dairy terms (like horse-related terms) coming from Central Asia, which would only make sense.

[VHM:  *Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn 漢語大詞典 (Unabridged dictionary of Sinitic)]

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Captivating translation: young Turk with flowing charm

In my Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) seminar yesterday evening, Diana Shuheng Zhang submitted this translation:

Even more there is the young Turk with flowing charm,
who could take advantage of you with his coiled-up turban.
His horse white, his robe blue, his wide-open eyes bright ­–
Probably he is truly a debauchee at heart!

gèng yǒu fēngliú shè núzi
néng jiāng pánpà lái qī ěr
báimǎ qīngpáo huō yǎn míng
xǔ tā zhēnshi chá láng suǐ

更有風流歙奴子
能將盤帕來欺爾
白馬青袍豁眼明
許他真是查郎髓

Li She 李涉 (fl. 806-835)《Què guī Bālíng túzhōng zǒubǐ jì Táng Zhī yán 卻歸巴陵途中走筆寄唐知言》 "Returning Once Again to Baling, Written Hastily [lit., Running My Brush] En Route to Confide in Words to Tang Zhi"

The entire poem in 44 lines may be found here.

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The musicality of Changsha tones

With approximately six million native speakers centered on the capital of Hunan, the province just to the south of Hubei, where the novel coronavirus has been raging for the past three months and more, Changsha topolect (Chángshā huà 長沙話) is a significant form of Sinitic:

Changsha dialect (simplified Chinese: 长沙话; traditional Chinese: 長沙話; pinyin: Chángshā-huà; Xiang: tsã˩˧ sɔ˧ ɣo˨˩) is a dialect of New Xiang Chinese. It is spoken predominantly in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is not mutually intelligible* with Standard Mandarin, the official language of China.

(source)

[*VHM:  I like the way they put that — "not mutually intelligible".]

I don't know if the tones of Changsha topolect are innately more musical than those of other Sinitic topolects, or indeed of varieties of speech in non-Sinitic language groups, but it seems to be a thing to represent them musically.

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Cats and dogs and garden paths

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

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The many varieties of Japanese regional speech

Anyone who learns Standard Japanese and then travels around outside of the Tokyo area will quickly come to realize how distinctive and numerous are the local forms of language once one leaves the metropolitan region of the capital.

Some interesting aspects of this phenomenon are presented in a new article in nippon.com, "Linguistic Treasures: The Value of Dialects", by Kobayashi Takashi, professor at the Center for the Study of Dialectology, Tōhoku University, who specializes in dialects and the history of Japanese.

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Towards tracking neurocognitive health

A few months ago, I posted about a talk I gave at an Alzheimer's Association workshop on "Digital Biomarkers".

Overall I told a hopeful story, about the prospects for a future in which a few minutes of interaction each month, with an app on a smartphone or tablet, will give effective longitudinal tracking of neurocognitive health. […]

Speech-based tasks have been part of standard neuropsychological test batteries for many decades, because speaking engages many psychological and neurological systems, offering many (sometimes subtle) clues about what might be going wrong.

But I emphasized the fact that we're not there yet, and that some serious research and development problems stand in the way. […]

Some colleagues and I are starting a large-scale project to get speech data of this general kind: picture descriptions, "fluency" tests (e.g. "how many words starting with F can you think of in 60 seconds?"), and so on. The idea is to support research on analysis of such recordings, automated and otherwise, and to allow psychometric norming of both traditional and innovative measures, for both one-time and longitudinal administration, across a diverse population of subjects. We've got IRB approval to publish the recordings, the transcripts, and basic speaker metadata (age, gender, language background, years of education).

We've been testing the (browser-based) app across a variety of devices and users. When it's ready for prime time, this is one of many channels that we'll use to recruit participants — we're hoping for a few tens of thousands of volunteers.

We're finally ready to open this app to wider use, and you can contribute a few socially-distant minutes of your time by going to https://speechbiomarkers.org. And please tell your friends!

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Sia suay (or xia suay): a Hokkien expression in Singapore English

Here at Language Log, we are quite familiar with Singapore English, which comes in two registers:  Singapore Standard English (SSE) and Singapore Colloquial English (Singlish).  The term we are discussing today can be used in either register.

This multipurpose expression is featured in connection with the COVID-19 crisis in two recent articles in The Independent:

I

"'Sia suay should be the word of the year…' Netizens take a dig at Chan Chun Sing now that panic buying is happening in many countries

Many netizens went online to say that those words had become a kind of catch phrase. It implies something that is a disgrace or an embarrassment", by Anna Maria Romero (3/5/20)

II

"'Let's not xia suay again, Singaporeans.' Netizens respond to Chan Chun Sing's assurance that the country has enough food supplies

Many people commented thanking him for issuing the reassuring update in such a quick manner and called for Singaporeans to stand united at this time", by Anna Maria Romero (3/17/20)

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"There is no number too small"

On this morning's State of the Nation program, Jake Tapper asked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this question:

Negotiations are- are ongoing
on an economic stimulus package
chief White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow could be
as high as two trillion dollars. Y- you suggested
that's still not enough.
If you were writing this bill
how much would you spend
and where would the money go?

and she began her reply this way:

Well I think uh first and foremost
((It-)) There is almost no number too small.
I don't think a lot of people out there really understand
the systemic shock that is being experienced in the economy right now.

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"Onion" in Persian, Turkic, Mongolian, Manchu, Dungan (northwest Mandarin), and Indic

By chance, I came across this interesting Uyghur word for "onion" that derives from Persian:

Uyghur پىياز‎ (piyaz), from Persian پیاز

(source)

It's piyoz (пиёз) in Uzbek also, which is closely related to Uyghur.

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Learning a new word: "munted"

In the category of positive coronavirus effects, there's a new word I recently learned: munted. The OED gives two glosses:

1. New Zealand and (less commonly) Australian. Ruined, spoiled; damaged; (of a person) extremely tired, exhausted.

2. British, Australian, and New Zealand. Intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

The Macquarie Dictionary of Australian English has

adjective Colloquial 1. (of a thing) broken beyond repair: this bike is munted.

2. (of a person) not performing or functioning well, as a result of exhaustion, intoxication, etc.

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