Archive for July, 2020

Handfoot

From Lisa Nichols:

I noticed on Twitter some HK protest folks last night talking about being a "handfoot", seemingly a newly coined (punned?) term playing with Chinese characters.  I can't seem to figure out much about it, though, but, in trying, came across your posts on Hong Kong protest language [see "Selected readings" below] and thought you might know, or be able to figure it out easily, or at least be interested.

Can you tell me more about it?  Some Cantonese play?  I take it the meaning is a person on the streets, on the frontlines, but maybe something more than that.

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A Chinese character that is harder to write than "biang"

From Nick Tursi:

The most difficult Chinese character in the world, it's pronunciation is huáng .Even most of Chinese people don't know how to read it.#language #polyglot #calligraphy

Posted by Tik Tok China on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

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Platitudinous pukey police Party peace pablum for the people

It's no wonder that the people are losing patience with the Party:

 "‘A toddler could write this’: senior Chinese policeman’s Peace Mantra book, praised by authorities, is ridiculed

    Investigation and apologies over ‘intellectual’ officer’s book, which provincial government and state media had said was recommended reading
    Sharing of the book’s repetitive content leads to online debate about unthinking praise for officials"

By Jun Mai, SCMP (7/30/20).

The "intellectual" author of the volume is He Dian, the second most powerful officer of the public security department in the northeastern province of Jilin.  The title of his 336-page tome is Píng'ān jīng 平安經, to which the English name Peace Mantra has become attached.  Since it's such a phony work, we might as well give it a more accurate apocryphal Sanskrit title, Śānti sūtra शान्ति सूत्र.

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Pod people

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "Canada's travel restrictions on the US are 99% about keeping out COVID and 1% about keeping out people who say 'pod.'"

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The Emperor is an organ of the state

Jim Unger sent me this mystifying note (7/25/20):

The other day, my wife called my attention to the fact that the ‘organ theory of the emperor’ (Tennō kikan setsu), for which Minobe Tatsukichi (1873-1948) was prosecuted in the 1930s, is written 天皇機関説.  This is odd since ‘organ’ in the medical sense (the apparent source of Minobe’s metaphor) is currently written 器官 whereas 機関 is now pretty much ‘engine’.  Since it is inconceivable that generations of historians writing in English have simply been perpetuating a mistranslation, it appears that either 器官 is a later coinage or that 機関 narrowed in meaning sometime later, or both.  I am not particularly interested in untangling this mess, but it might be worth studying because it seems to be a case of one or more Sino-Japanese compounds undergoing semantic change within Japanese, which, of course, ought not happen if every kanji were a logogram of fixed meaning.  Do both these words occur in Chinese?  If so, have they ever overlapped in meaning in Chinese?  Is one or the other a 19th or 20th century neologism?

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Tilting vessel

Earlier this year, we had a post about a fascinating new Wikipedia article on "Goblet word" (5/30/20).  That post was about a vessel that served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word").  Now we have another magisterial Wikipedia article by an anonymous master of Chinese esoterica.  It's about another name for a similar type of vessel called qīqì 欹器, "tilting vessel".

The qīqì (欹器, "tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel") was an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

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The computational linguistics of COVID-19 vaccine design

He Zhang, Liang Zhang, Ziyu Li, Kaibo Liu, Boxiang Liu, David H. Mathews, and Liang Huang, "LinearDesign: Efficient Algorithms for Optimized mRNA Sequence Design", arXiv.org 4/21/2020:

A messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine has emerged as a promising direction to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic. This requires an mRNA sequence that is stable and highly productive in protein expression, features which have been shown to benefit from greater mRNA secondary structure folding stability and optimal codon usage. However, sequence design remains a hard problem due to the exponentially many synonymous mRNA sequences that encode the same protein. We show that this design problem can be reduced to a classical problem in formal language theory and computational linguistics that can be solved in O(n^3) time, where n is the mRNA sequence length. This algorithm could still be too slow for large n (e.g., n = 3, 822 nucleotides for the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2), so we further developed a linear-time approximate version, LinearDesign, inspired by our recent work, LinearFold. This algorithm, LinearDesign, can compute the approximate minimum free energy mRNA sequence for this spike protein in just 11 minutes using beam size b = 1, 000, with only 0.6% loss in free energy change compared to exact search (i.e., b = +infinity, which costs 1 hour). We also develop two algorithms for incorporating the codon optimality into the design, one based on k-best parsing to find alternative sequences and one directly incorporating codon optimality into the dynamic programming. Our work provides efficient computational tools to speed up and improve mRNA vaccine development.

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"Gold" as element and "gold" as substance — as conceived by Mendeleev

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

Your wonderful arabesque on the world of 'kedi'* (and the disappearance of cats for a time — perhaps to a different planet, because they had grown weary of trying to school us humans?) reminded me that you are a connoisseur of languages plural, not just Chinese. In that connection, you might find my 2019 article** on Mendeleev interesting.

 
[**"Mendeleev’s Elemental Ontology and Its Philosophical Renditions in German and English", HYLE – International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 25 (2019), No. 1, 49-70.]

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A Ghanaian-Taiwanese in the military service

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@Everybody

From Randy Alexander, a photo taken in the courtyard of an apartment complex in Huaying, Guang'an, Sichuan (广安华蓥):

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Kanji amnesia of the week

Tokyo crime beat:

"Arrest for fraud follows man’s failure to fulfill writing request", by Tokyo Reporter Staff (7/24/20)

TOKYO (TR) – With personal computers, smartphones and tablets now more common than ever, many may consider the actual writing of kanji characters to be of diminished importance.

But for one man, now in custody for fraud, he learned that is not the case, as TBS News (July 23) reports.

On July 7, Hayato Tsuboi, of no known occupation, posed [as] a police officer upon his arrival at the residence of a man in his 90s in Fuchu City.

After collecting five bank cards from the man, Tsuboi withdrew 2 million yen in cash in defrauding him.

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Turkish "kedi" and English "cat"

In reacting to the fierce denunciation of Xi Jinping by Cai Xia (see bibliographical note at the bottom of this post), Conal Boyce mused:

Mind-boggling material. I had to do a double-take on the passage you show that contains both chǔn and jiāhuo (蠢家伙 ["stupid guy / fellow"]).  And sure enough, in the video, she actually uses the term zhèngzhì jiāngshī (政治僵尸 ["political zombies"]) more than once!

These are shocking terms, with a peculiar color all their own. They reminded me that, in a sense, there are no words that are actually 'equivalents' between two languages. For instance, the Turkish for 'cat' is 'kedi', which has a comfortable look of familiarity at first, because of English 'kitty', yet we suspect that the semantic range of 'kedi' in Turkish versus the semantic ranges for 'cat' and 'kitty' in English probably overlap in some unexpected Venn diagram style, with much of 'kedi' not immediately accessible to a speaker of English.

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Text corrections

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "I like trying to make it as hard as possible. 'I'd love to meet up, maybe in a few days? Next week is looking pretty empty. *witchcraft'"

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