Archive for January, 2024

The whimsicality of names for Erythrina trees in southeast China

A little over a month ago, People's Daily published an article featuring drone photography of the coastal city of Quanzhou in Fujian Province:

Aerial view of legacies along ancient Maritime Silk Road in China's Fujian Xinhua (12/16/23)

Upon reading the article, I commented:

Journey to the West

Sun Wukong and Hanuman

This article is especially significant for many reasons, and is personally poignant for me because of its prominent coverage of the magnificent stone pagodas at the Kaiyuan temple in Quanzhou.  It was here that, among other important material, I found visual evidence for a connection between the monkey king, Sun Wukong, in the famous Ming novel, Journey to the West, and the simian hero, Hanuman, in the Indian epic, Ramayana.

If you do a google search on      kaiyuan pagoda quanzhou victor mair    (no quotation marks)   you will find many references to what I discovered.

The article also affords ample coverage of the architectural wonders (bridges, houses, city gates, residential areas, canals, etc.) of Quanzhou and other cities of the region. 

I wish to make a special note of the Hindu associations of the Kaiyuan temple, which help to explain and underscore the appearance of Hanuman and other Indian iconography on its famous stone pagodas.

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Viral pushback against the imperial dragon in a dragon year

A sarcastic song for the new year by the awesome Namewee (Huáng Míngzhì 黃明志), featuring Winnie Poohpooh (aka Xi Dada) clad in imperial dragon robe:

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Butter chicken

Who owns it?

It's sort of like who owns kimchee, Koreans (of course!) or Chinese — we've been through that many times — except that the question of who has the rights to claim they invented butter chicken is ostensibly internecine / intranational rather than international (but maybe not [see below]), as is the case with kimchee.

"India’s courts to rule on who invented butter chicken:  Two Delhi restaurants both claim to have the right to call themselves the home of the original butter chicken recipe" by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (1/25/24)

Judging from the account in The Guardian, the squabbling between the two Delhi restaurants is both picayune and misplaced:

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Bomb thread in the Guardian

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Euphemism satire

On today's NPR Morning Edition, there was a segment about a new TV show that parodies NPR :"New Peacock comedy 'In the Know' parodies NPR". And the featured aspect involves 41 seconds of dueling euphemisms:

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From Jeff DeMarco:

This is the de Young Museum in San Francisco, doubling down the -x construction for Spanish: Bienvenidxs.

Are most Spanish speakers ok with this?

I also note that none of the Chinese language materials use simplified characters (viz., huānyíng 歡迎 but not 欢迎).  Is this a snub against the mainland? They do feature a dress made up of images of Mao….

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Mental health prevention

Shared by Tuomas in Shaanxi, China:

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Back to Bacon

The implicit slogan of language-model research is J.R. Firth's dictum, "You shall know a word by the company it keeps", from his 1957 paper "A synopsis of linguistic theory, 1930-1955":

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Normative language

A matter that requires nuancing: Jinyi Kuang and Cristina Bicchieri, "Language matters: how normative expressions shape norm perception and affect norm compliance", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2024:

Abstract: Previous studies have used various normative expressions such as ‘should’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘approved’ interchangeably to communicate injunctions and social norms. However, little is known about whether people's interpretations of normative language differ and whether behavioural responses might vary across them. In two studies (total n = 2903), we find that compliance is sensitive to the types of normative expressions and how they are used. Specifically, people are more likely to comply when the message is framed as an injunction rather than as what most people consider good behaviour (social norm framing). Behaviour is influenced by the type of normative expression when the norm is weak (donation to charities), not so when the norm is strong (reciprocity). Content analysis of free responses reveals individual differences in the interpretation of social norm messages, and heterogeneous motives for compliance. Messages in the social norm framing condition are perceived to be vague and uninformative, undermining their effectiveness. These results suggest that careful choice of normative expressions is in order when using messages to elicit compliance, especially when the underlying norms are weak.

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Garden paths galore

In two successive comments on different posts (here and here), Jarek Weckwerth asserts that this garden path post is "a timely follow-up" to the exuberant discussion on the parsing of a Classical Chinese / Literary Sinitic (CC/LS) book title that took place in this post and the plethora of readers' remarks that followed it.  This is an interesting proposition, and it makes me wonder if CC/LS is prone to this sort of ambiguity because of the inexplicitness of its grammar.

During the more than half a century that I have been studying and teaching CC/LS, it has always seemed to me that checking out different possible "garden paths" is a sine qua non for responsible reading of such texts.

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Another garden path

…this one in a headline — Toby Helm, "Sadiq Khan: 'Free young people from Brexit work and travel ban", The Guardian 1/20/2024.

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Garden path of the day

Kate Riga and Nicole Lafond, "Congress Boots The Government Funding Can Down The Road, Again", Talking Points Memo 1/18/2024:

Under pressure from an impending snowstorm (translation for non-D.C. weather babies: a predicted couple-inch sprinkling), both chambers of Congress Thursday passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until early March.

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Stochastic popinjay and Perso-Arabic art / adab

‘Stochastic Parrot’: A Name for AI That Sounds a Bit Less Intelligent

An ancient Greek word for guesswork fuels a term that suggests supersmart computer programs are just mimicking whatever they see

Ben Zimmer, WSJ, Word on the Street (January 18, 2024)

In his capacity as chair of the American Dialect Society's 2023 Word of the Year competition new words committee, our Language Log colleague Ben Zimmer oversaw the selection of candidates from the "special ad-hoc category related to one of the most buzzed-about stories of 2023: artificial intelligence."

Our new category included an array of AI heavy hitters. There was “ChatGPT,” the name for OpenAI’s chatbot, which is so successful it often gets used generically for any generative AI system. There was “LLM,” short for “large language model,” the machine-learning algorithm trained on mountains of text that powers AI programs. And there was “hallucination,” for AI-generated responses that are untethered from reality.

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