Archive for November, 2020

Robocalls, legal interpretation, and Bryan Garner (the first in a series)

A few weeks ago, Mark’s post “Lawyers as linguists” alerted me to Facebook v. Duguid, a case now pending before the Supreme Court, which grabbed my attention for several reasons. First, the case presents an interesting linguistic issue. Second, the parties on both sides have framed their linguistic arguments in terms of three of the canons of interpretation in Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (2012) the book coauthored Bryan Garner and the late Justice Antonin Scalia, and I’ve previously criticized the canons at issue (e.g., here). Finally, Garner himself is on the legal team representing the plaintiff, Noah Duguid.

An unusual confluence of circumstances.

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The language of Genghis Khan

"What Genghis Khan's Mongolian Sounded Like – and how we know" (10/30/18)

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English as a prestige language in Taiwan

The focus of this post is the expression lào yīngwén, where the yīngwén part is written 英文 in characters and means "English".  The lào part is much more complicated, as is typical when it comes to writing Taiwanese morphemes with Chinese characters.  The Taiwanese verb "làu" means to master something.  When used with reference to a language, it signifies speaking fluently.  In current discourse, it often indicates that one speaks English in an ostentatious manner to show off.  For example, if a Mandarin speaker chooses to speak English on an occasion where everyone in the audience also also speaks Mandarin, then this person's behavior may be considered lào yīngwén. It carries a slight negative tone.

There is no standard Sinographic form for this Taiwanese morpheme.  In written Taiwan Mandarin, it may be written with the following characters:  lào 烙, liào 撂, luò 落.  Since these three characters respectively mean "burn; bake; sear", "put down; leave", and "fall; descend", they are obviously being used to approximate the sound of the Taiwanese verb and have nothing to do with its meaning.  The same is true of the traditional Sinographic representation of this Taiwanese morpheme, viz., lǎo 老 ("old").

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I have a joke, but …

A new (?) joke-rhetoric pattern has appeared recently on twitter, e.g.


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"Clear" and "turbid" in Chinese phonology

A key concept in traditional Chinese phonology is the distinction between "clear" (qīng 清) and "muddy / turbid / murky" (zhuó 濁).  Although it is mainly applied to the sounds of language, the qīng 清-zhuó 濁 distinction also has applications / implications for music.

Roughly speaking, the linguistic and musical correlations are qīng 清 ("clear; high pitch") and zhuó 濁 ("muddy; low pitch").  Also applicable to music are the wǔshēng 五聲 ("five musical tones [of the pentatonic scale])": gōng 宮, shāng 商, jué 角, zhǐ 徵, and 羽 — equivalent to do, re, mi, sol, and la in western solfège. (source)

I've often wondered how and when these terms arose, how they function in historical phonology, and how they correlate with usages in modern linguistics.  I asked several specialists in Chinese historical linguistics their opinion on these matters.

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"Upon information and belief"

Yesterday, I learned a new bit of legal jargon: "upon information and belief". A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit "roundly rejected the Trump campaign's appeal in its effort to challenge the election results in Pennsylvania". The opinion was written by my former colleague Stephanos Bibas, and includes this passage:

Though it alleges many conclusions, the Second Amended Complaint is light on facts. Take the nearly identical paragraphs introducing Counts One, Two, Four, and Six: “Democrats who controlled the Defendant County Election Boards engaged in a deliberate scheme of intentional and purposeful discrimination . . . by excluding Republican and Trump Campaign observers from the canvassing of the mail ballots in order to conceal their decision not to enforce [certain ballot] requirements.” Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 167, 193, 222, 252. That is conclusory. So is the claim that, “[u]pon information and belief, a substantial portion of the approximately 1.5 million absentee and mail votes in Defendant Counties should not have been counted.” Id. ¶¶ 168, 194, 223, 253. “Upon information and belief” is a lawyerly way of saying that the Campaign does not know that something is a fact but just suspects it or has heard it. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Yet the Campaign offers no specific facts to back up these claims.

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It is cool to f*** the empress

Superb piece of Chinglish that popped up in Alex Baumans' Facebook feed:

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Pibe → urchin?

David Lobina writes:

In the context of Diego Maradona's recent passing, I have been struck by how often he's been referred to as a 'street urchin' in the British press in the last 24 hours or so, and not only because the term sounds rather old-fashioned to me. One (nice) article from The Guardian is rather representative, as the author quotes a 1928 article from an Argentinian periodical on the footballing skills of Buenos Aires street children that uses the word 'pibe' to refer to these children, a word that usually refers to young people in general (at least according to the DRAE). In fact, I would say the reader understands that the author is talking about street children because of the context rather than from any particular word.

Anyway, what I find most curious about this is that the Guardian article glosses the word 'pibe' as 'urchin', which is not entirely correct, and many other newspapers in the UK seem to have run with this epithet for Maradona.

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Diagnosing linguists

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Krakenology

As Know Your Meme explains,

"Release the Kraken!" is a catchphrase and image macro series based on a memorable quote uttered by Zeus in the 1981 fantasy adventure film The Clash of the Titans as well as the 2010 3D remake. Despite the dramatic delivery of the line in the reboot, the quote was perceived as unintentionally funny and quickly became a target of image macro jokes on the web. […]

The first Urban Dictionary entry for the phrase "Release the Kraken" was submitted on March 31st, 2010, defined as "to pwn or to kick the ass of whomever you're releasing the kraken on." Throughout the first week of April 2010, the phrase was dubbed the latest meme by various tech and internet news outlets including Geekosystem, Vulture, Now Public, MTV and Mediate among others. In December, the phrase was listed in TIME Magazine's Top 10 Buzzwords of the Year.

Recently, this phrase has acquired a political second life, as a way of promising to reveal evidence of massive fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Given that the cinematic Kraken was the key destructive force in a failed satanic plot , the current political usage is either deeply ironic or deeply subversive.

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Nomadic affinity with oracle bone divination

Anyone who has studied the history of writing in China is aware that the earliest manifestation of the Sinitic script dates to around the 13th century BC, under the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600- BC).  It is referred to as jiǎgǔwén 甲骨文 ("oracle bone writing") and was used primarily (almost exclusively) for the purpose of divination.  The most ideal bones for this purpose were ox scapulae, since they were broad and flat, and had other suitable properties, which I shall describe below.

The bones used for divination were prepared by cleaning and then having indentations drilled into their surface, but not all the way through.  A hot poker was applied to the declivities, causing cracks to radiate from the heated focal point.  This cracking was called bǔ卜, a pictograph of the lines that form in a heat-stressed bone.

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Two questions about Japanese borrowings from Middle Chinese

[This is a guest post by Markus Mikjalson.]

I have a couple of questions about Sino-Japanese historical linguistics, which I have not been able to find an answer to elsewhere. If you have the time, I would greatly appreciate a response.
 
Modern Mandarin forms with the rhyme -ing regularly correspond to Sino-Japanese -you (formerly -yau) and -ei, the first being Go-on and the second Kan-on. Sometimes there is a Tou-on with -in. In the case of 京, the development of Middle Chinese seems to have been something like /kiaŋ/ > /kiŋ/. With Middle Chinese coda -ŋ regularly corresponding to -u/-i in Sino-Japanese, the Go-on lines up well with the earlier Middle Chinese form, and the Kan-on with the later form.

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Eat vinegar, Jesus Christ, and Middle Persian

I've always been intrigued by the Chinese expression "eat vinegar" (chīcù 吃醋) meaning "be jealous".  To convey the idea of "jealous", one can also say dùjì 妒忌 or just dù 妒 (note the female semantophore).  I learned the disyllabic form with the syllables reversed, hence jìdù 忌妒.  The monosyllabic form (dù 妒) is ancient, going back to classical times.

I said jìdù 忌妒 instead of dùjì 妒忌 because the former is what all my Chinese friends and relatives said, though my impression is that the latter is more common across the Mandarin-speaking population.  Nonetheless, I felt that saying jìdù 忌妒 was awkward because, except for the tones, it is homophonous with Jīdū 基督, which I always understood as some form of "Jesus".  In fact, Jīdū 基督 is a short form of Jīlìsīdū 基利斯督, which is a transcription of "Christ", from Ancient Greek Χριστός (Khristós).  The Sinitic transcription of "Jesus" is Yēsū 耶稣, which ultimately also comes from Ancient Greek:  Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), possibly via Latin Iesus and other European languages. Doublet of Yīyīsūsī 伊伊穌斯/伊伊稣斯.  (source)

Incidentally, jì 忌 is a simplified form of  嫉 ("to envy, be jealous; to hate, resent").  Note that this traditional form of the character, like dù 妒, its synonymous morpheme partner in the disyllabic word jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous"), also has a female semantophore.  Thus we get a double whammy of misogyny in jídù 嫉妒 ("jealous").  

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