Archive for April, 2023

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OMG, it’s nougat (4/15/23) — "OMG" borrowed into Mandarin

A long post on puns, multiscriptal writing, and the difficulties of Hanzi.

Puns piled upon puns.

Microsoft Translator and Pinyin (4/15/23)

Microsoft's not very good character-to-Pinyin conversion.

They have the resources and could surely do better.

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The verbal and visual in traditional prosimetric literature

In my trilogy of books and dozens of articles about medieval picture storytelling in South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia, I stressed the alternation of sung and spoken passages as performed by the narrator:

Tun-huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Painting and Performance:  Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (University of Hawai'i Press, 1989)

T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China (Harvard University Asia Center, 1989)

Because of the close association with illustrative pictures to complement the narrative (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the pictorial narratives were being explicated by the accompanying texts), I stressed the alternation between spoken and sung portions, where the former told the story and the latter highlighted certain aspects of the tale.  This type of narrative has been well studied in various literatures around the world.  See Joseph Harris and Karl Reichl, eds., Prosimetrum:  Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse (Martlesham, Suffolk, England:  Boydell & Brewer, 1997).

In the quintessential Chinese genre of this type of picture storytelling, biànwén 變文 ("transformation texts"), there is a distinctive pre-verse formula which marks the transition from prose to verse.  The typical form of this formula is "qiě kàn XX chù ruòwèi chénshuō 且看XX處若為陳說" ("just look at the place [where XX occurs], how shall I present it?").

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Good bad

Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, known as Bad Bunny, has been big in the media recently, from the first-ever Spanish cover of Time Magazine, to headlining Coachella — against the background of literally millions of pages featuring his fashion choices and his sayings.

According to a 2019 All Things Considered piece ("How Bad Bunny Skipped Categories And Skyrocketed To Fame"), "A self-described class clown, Bad Bunny got his stage moniker from the time he was forced as a child to wear a bunny rabbit costume. He was pretty angry about it, but the name stuck."

From a linguistic perspective, there's a lot to be said about Bad Bunny's role in normalizing Spanish among English-dominant Americans. And the Puerto Rican features of his lyrics are also interesting.

But today, my topic is the "bad" part of his stage name.

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Fatality-Free Dill Sauce

Amazon screenshot from an anonymous contributor:

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The perils of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in the PRC

Here at Language Log, for the last couple months, we've been having long, intense discussions about ChatGPT and other AI chatbots and LLM (Large Language Model) applications.  Now, it seems that the battle over such AI programs has reached the level of ideological warfare.

"America, China and a Crisis of Trust"

Opinion | The New York Times (4/14/23)

Indeed, a story making the rounds in Beijing is that many Chinese have begun using ChatGPT to do their ideology homework for the local Communist Party cell, so they don’t have to waste time on it.

I have some evidence that this might well be true.  Already about half-a-dozen years ago, my M.A. students from the PRC whose parents were CCP members told me that the government required daily interaction with the propaganda installed on their phones — upon pain of being demoted or dismissed.  They had to read a specified amount of Xi-speak and answer questions about the content.  This demanded a serious investment of time (hours).  It was considered to be especially onerous for those CCP members whose day jobs (doctors, bureaucrats, stock brokers, etc., etc.) already demanded a very full work schedule in the office.  So many, if not most of them, hired various human and electronic services to meet the obligations.

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Thailish, part 2

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The hand of GOD GPT

A VentureBeat story by Michael Kerner, "Cohere expands enterprise LLM efforts with LivePerson partnership" (4/11/2023), leads with this image:

…memetically referencing a widely-reproduced detail from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco Creazione di Adamo:

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An example of ChatGPT "hallucinating"?


In artificial intelligence (AI), a hallucination or artificial hallucination (also occasionally called delusion) is a confident response by an AI that does not seem to be justified by its training data.


I had mentioned such AI hallucinating in a previous post once or twice (see "Selected readings"), so it's good to have a concrete example.

Is the account below an instance of ChatGPT "hallucinating"?  Its explanation of gato-por-liebre (cat-for-hare) in Spanish would seem so.

[The following is a guest post by Conal Boyce.]

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Digraphs in the gossip column

Today's xkcd — "Linguistics Gossip":

The mouseover title: "The E's wedding invitation definitely used the word LOVE more times than was strictly necessary."

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Curiously curious

Victoria Bisset, "What to know about Arcturus, a new coronavirus subvariant the WHO is tracking", WaPo 4/14/2023:

According to the WHO, Arcturus is similar to the prevalent XBB. 1.5 variant, but has “one additional mutational mutation in the spike protein, which in lab studies shows increased infectivity, as well as potential increased pathogenicity.”

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Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory, part 2

From Phillip Remaker:

The one that claimed authorship clipped the edge of the unicorn tail.

The only version I have found that doesn't clip the edge of the unicorn tail is this one from farhan
I don't know if that means I found the original or if the author touched it up. The page is not archived on the Internet Archive.
It seems consistent with his other art.

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Hai-t'ao Tang (1931-2023)

From the Princeton University Department of East Asian Studies newsletter (3/26/23):

Passing of Emeritus lecturer Hai-t’ao Tang

Emeritus lecturer, Hai-t’ao Tang passed away at his Princeton home on Sunday, March 26, 2023. He was born August 27, 1931, in Shanghai, China and completed his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University. He joined the East Asian Studies Department as a Lecturer in Chinese language in 1974 and taught for 22 years, becoming Lecturer Emeritus in 1996.

Hai-t’ao Tang was recruited to teach at Princeton by Professors Frederick (Fritz) Mote and Ta-tuan (T.T.) Ch’en. Throughout his career he devoted his energy and intellect to teaching Chinese as a living language and encouraged each learner to adopt Chinese as one’s own language and nurture it to live and grow inside oneself. Hai -t'ao Tang co-authored nearly a dozen books including Classical Chinese — A Basic Reader and Readings in Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose.

He is survived by his wife Nai-Ying Yuan Tang who also spent her career in the Department of East Asian Studies as Chinese Language Lecturer.

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The "socialite" phenomenon in China

Source: China Media Project (12/7/2022)

Once signifying graceful women of a distinguished background, the term “socialite,” or yuan (媛), has in recent years become a misogynistic umbrella term used on digital platforms in China to disparage women who advertise fancy lifestyles. The term has also been used by state-run media to roundly criticize perceived materialistic excesses, reinforcing their unfair association with femininity.

The Chinese word yuàn (媛) has traditionally referred to the “virtuous and comely woman” as mentioned in the Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字), a Chinese dictionary compiled in the Han dynasty. Since 2020, however, the word has rapidly evolved — or perhaps devolved — into a catchall word used on the Chinese internet, and also in state media, to denigrate modern-day beauties as disgraceful and degenerate.

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