Archive for October, 2021

All-purpose word for "glamorous woman"

The PRC authorities have always policed human behavior and thought, but especially during the last half year or so and particularly toward young people, for whatever reason, they have been coming on more gangbusters than usual.

First they went after the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat"), i.e., those who chose to opt out of the cutthroat rat race.  Then they chastised niángpào 娘炮 ("effeminate men"), i.e., girlie boys and men.  The social minders even drew a bead on jīngfēn 精芬  for socially averse millennials who identified themselves as spiritually Finnish.  These were serious efforts to squelch such unwanted tendencies in the population.  Now they have taken quite a different turn and are aiming at an altogether different target:  beautiful women.  Strange to say, they are coupling this campaign against female pulchritude with a crusade against Buddhism.

Well, it's not that strange after all, since communism has never been fond of religion, and Buddhism has often been persecuted by Chinese regimes, almost from the time of its arrival in the Middle Kingdom nearly two millennia ago.  Even the combination of feminine beauty and Buddhism reveals a certain psychological fixation on the baldness and celibacy of nuns in traditional Chinese society.

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Oont ze knakkers

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Tang (618-907) poetry in Min pronunciation

Usually, though not always, when I Romanize Sinographs on Language Log, I do so using Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), but that is misleading, because MSM is only one of countless different topolectal pronunciations that could be used (Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuanese, and so on and so forth).  MSM is particularly ill-suited for the Romanization of pre-modern literature, since — of all topolects — it is the most highly evolved (ergo youngest) and least like earlier stages of Sinitic.  In this post, I will use Southern Min pronunciation to give a sense of how different it is from MSM.

The Min Romanizations have been prepared by Conal Boyce using a Yale-like system he developed in 1975 in preference to Douglas-Campbell.

Douglas, Carstairs (1899) [1873]. Chinese-English Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy (2nd ed.). London: Presbyterian Church of England.

 Campbell, W. (1913). A Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular. Tainan: Ho Tai Tong.

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Om, sumo, and the universality of sound

From Zihan Guo:

A Japanese expression I came upon in a reading from Takami sensei's class reminded me of the "om" you mentioned weeks ago in our class.

阿吽の呼吸(aun'nokokyū あうんのこきゅう)
 
It refers to the synchronization of breathing of sumo opponents before a match. I read about this in an article about an interview with a sumo wrestler. But the "aun あうん" part lingered in my mind. Then I realized that it was the Japanese transliteration of the "om" that you were telling the class that encompassed all sounds:  "a" and "un" signify the beginning and end of the cosmos respectively, or so wikipedia explains. The Japanese phrase means a harmonious, non-verbal communication.

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German lexicographic richness

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Saliva chicken

We've alluded to this Sichuanese dish in posts and comments several times before on Language, but this is the first time I have captured it in the wild (at Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House in Philadelphia's Chinatown):

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How AI Reporting Works

Yesterday's SMBC is somewhat unfair, but still funny. The punchline:

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Slang and fillers not allowed

From Jerry Friedman:

A secondary school in London banned various slang and "filler" expressions in formal contexts.  Linguists consulted by the Guardian don't think it's a good idea (though I wonder whether all the people consulted were linguists).

"Oh my days: linguists lament slang ban in London school:  Exclusive: ‘like’, ‘bare’, ‘that’s long’ and ‘cut eyes at me’ among terms showing up in pupils’ work now vetoed in classroom", by Robert Booth, The Guardian (9/30/21)

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Backhill, Pekin, Peking, Beijing

Yesterday, while doing research for a paper on medieval Dunhuang popular narratives (biànwén 變文 ["transformation texts"]), I did a Google search for the Peking Library, where some of the bianwen manuscripts are kept.  Instead of the national library of China in Peking / Beijing in the PRC, I was led to the Pekin Public Library in Illinois.  That prompted me to ponder the fact that this Illinois city followed the French pronunciation, Pékin, of the Chinese capital when it took its name, rather than the English Peking.

Following the official Hanyu Pinyin Romanization of the PRC, English now transcribes 北京 ("Northern Capital") as Beijing (Běijīng [pèi.tɕíŋ]).  But until recently this was not always the case for English, much less for dozens of other languages around the world.  Thirty-one years ago, in "Backhill / Peking / Beijing" (see "Selected readings" below), Bosat Man wrote (p. 6):

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Sibe and the revival of Manchu

A little over a week ago, someone out of the blue called to my attention a discussion on a major social media platform about Sibe language and its alleged three writing systems:  "Old Uyghur alphabet, Latin alphabet, and Japanese-style system".  Apparently, parts of the original post were removed by the moderators because they were thought to be politically or otherwise controversial. Colleagues who are knowledgeable about such matters advised me that the thread in question represents a potential computer security risk, so I am not referring to it directly.

In any event, Sibe — with a population of less than two hundred thousand — is back in the news, and has considerable significance in various dimensions out of all proportion to its numbers.  Consequently, especially since not too long ago we had a lively discussion about Sibe here on Language Log, I thought it might be worthwhile to review some of the basic facts about this enigmatic language.

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A poster with an uncommon character denoting a common Cantonese word

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Chinesey Japanese in a Hong Kong restaurant

From Zihan Guo:

Yesterday a friend of mine posted this photograph he took in a restaurant called 興記菜館 in Hong Kong. As a Chinese speaker and Japanese learner I find this hilarious.

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Green needle vs. brainstorm

Remember "Yanny vs. Laurel", the viral acoustic sensation (28.2M views) of mid-May, 2018?  It was covered extensively on Language Log (see the items under "Selected readings" below).  Now we have another supposedly ambiguous recording that has gone viral (5.3M views [posted 7/3/21]):

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