New expressions for karaoke: the phoneticization of Chinese

My first acquaintance with the word "karaoke" was back in the 1980s, when I was visiting my brother Denis, who was then a translator for Foreign Languages Press in Beijing.  He lived in the old Russian-built Friendship Hotel, a very spartan place compared to today's luxury accommodations in big Chinese cities. There wasn't much unusual, interesting, or attractive about the place (though they had bidets in the bathrooms, as did many other Russian style accommodations in China at that time), but I was deeply intrigued by a small sign at the back of one of the buildings that led to a basement room. On it was written "kǎlā OK 卡拉OK". The best I could make of that novel expression was "card pull OK," and I thought that it might have something to do with documentation. I asked all my Chinese scholar friends what this mysterious sign meant, but not one of them knew (remember that this was back in the mid-80s). It was only when I returned to the United States that I realized kǎlā OK 卡拉OK was the Chinese transcription for Japanese karaoke. It took a lot more time and effort before I figured out that karaoke is the abbreviated Japanese translation-transliteration of English "empty orchestra," viz., kara (空) "empty" and ōkesutora (オーケストラ). When I reported this to my Chinese linguist friends (Zhou Youguang, Yin Binyong, and others) back in Beijing the next year, they were absolutely flabbergasted. They had been convinced that the OK was simply the English term meaning "all right," but they had no idea what to make of the kǎlā portion.

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Indigenous languages and medicinal knowledge

New article in Mongabay (the critter in the banner at the top of the page who serves as their logo reminds me of our little friend, the gecko):

"Extinction of Indigenous languages leads to loss of exclusive knowledge about medicinal plants", by Sibélia Zanon on 20 September 2021 | Translated by Maya Johnson

Key points:

  • A study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that a large proportion of existing medicinal plant knowledge is linked to threatened Indigenous languages. In a regional study on the Amazon, New Guinea and North America, researchers concluded that 75% of medicinal plant uses are known in only one language.
  • The study evaluated 645 plant species in the northwestern Amazon and their medicinal uses, according to the oral tradition of 37 languages. It found that 91% of this knowledge exists in a single language, and that the extinction of that language implies the loss of the medicinal knowledge as well.
  • In Brazil, Indigenous schools hold an important role in preserving languages alongside cataloguing and revitalization projects like those held by the Karitiana people in Rondônia and the Pataxó in Bahia and Minas Gerais.

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Sino-French language lessons

Chinese signs from Quora.  Since they are rather lengthy and come with French explanations, I will depart from my usual Language Log treatment of providing Romanizations, transcriptions, and translations for the Chinese.  Instead, I will only give English translations (based mainly on Google translations of the French, with slight modifications).

En raison de la population nombreuse et du nombre insuffisant d'agents de police, les Chinois ont développé une culture unique en matière de panneaux d'avertissement intimidants :

Panneau de signalisation : "Veuillez conduire en toute sécurité, il n'y a pas d'hôpital à proximité".

Due to the large population and insufficient number of police officers, the Chinese have developed a unique culture of intimidating warning signs.

Warning sign: "Please drive safely, there is no hospital nearby".

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Magical Penis Wine

Victor Steinbok reports:

This made the rounds on Reddit a few times. The screenshot of a 2019 Reddit thread popped up on my FB feed today. It might even come in white and red 😈


Source:  NV Debao Winery Magical Penis Wine

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Boris Johnson: "prenez un grip", "donnez-moi un break"

Spectacular code-switching:

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Another early polysyllabic Sinitic word

In various publications and Language Log posts over the years, I have collected scores of old polysyllabic words (e.g., those for reindeer, phoenix, coral, spider, earthworm, butterfly, dragonfly, balloon lute, meandering / winding, etc.), which proves that Sinitic has never been strictly monosyllabic, although that is a common misapprehension, even among many scholars.  The reason I call the one featured in this post "another early polysyllabic Sinitic word" is because I don't think I've ever pointed it out before.

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Fat Otaku Conversation Generator

To comprehend what's going on in this post, you have to understand the basics of what an "otaku" is.

DEFINITION: 

(fandom slang) One with an obsessive interest in something, particularly anime or manga.

ETYMOLOGY:

From Japanese オタク (otaku, nerd, geek), from お宅 (otaku, honorific for “you”), originally the honorific version of (taku, home).  [VHM:  reminiscent of "homebody".]

SYNONYMS:

(source)

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Hong Kong Cantonese in jeopardy

From a fluent speaker of Mandarin:

This past weekend, I watched the latest film from Marvel Studios: "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (an Asian superhero movie). I was rather surprised to hear about 30% of all lines spoken in Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 (Mandarin), especially when given that some scenes were set in Macau and characters from ancient Chinese villages. Although I could not find an article or commentary on this specific topic I was interested in, I did find this Reddit post—the author discusses how strange and peculiar the creators' decision to use Mandarin in particular is in the context of the movie. 

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"Classic Female Poison Earplugs" — Ask Language Log

Image and query from Hans Oddvar Vannes:

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Dinosaur wine tasting

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Gender fluidity in the classroom

Recent article on gender and language teaching:

How Language Classes Are Moving Past the Gender Binary

Languages that contain only “he” and “she” pronouns pose problems for communicating about gender identity. Here’s how some language teachers are helping.

By Molly Lipson, NYT     Sept. 1, 2021

Selections from the article:

Tal Janner-Klausner teaches Hebrew. There is nothing unusual about that, but the language presents a frustration that Mx. Janner-Klausner, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns in English, feels compelled to discuss with their students.

Hebrew, as well as French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and other languages, uses binary pronouns, which means that gender identities outside of he/she and male/female don’t exist in any formal capacity.

In Hebrew, even the word “they” is gendered. In French, “ils” refers to a group of men or a mixed-gender group, and “elles” refers to a group of all females. All nouns in gendered languages — including people — are categorized as either masculine or feminine, and any adjectives associated with these words must reflect that gender.

That presents a problem for students who are gender-nonconforming, and, of course, for the speakers of the language in general. Is it possible for learners of a gendered language to refer to themselves and others when their identities are not represented?

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English vocative pronouns

On my to-blog list since last month:


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Hemorrhoids outbreak

Article by Stephanie Chiang in Taiwan News (9/2/21):

"Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’

Mobile game developers having to make concessions to appease Chinese censors"

Censorship in the PRC is going from the ridiculous to the pathetic.  We have just been studying the government's attacks on "girlie men" and the authorities are also assailing "entertainment that is too entertaining".  Here's the latest chapter in the CCP handbook dedicated to eradicating everything that is immoral and improper.

Players of the Chinese role-playing mobile game "Entwined Love Across Time" posted screenshots ridiculing in-game dialogue that showed characters discussing the aftermath of a “hemorrhoids outbreak,” UDN reported on Sunday (Aug. 29).

After the screenshots were posted to Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent), a user claiming to be the creator of the game replied that because censors forbade any mention of the word “plague,” he had replaced the word with “hemorrhoids.” This resulted in a bizarre in-game conversation in the story-based game, in which a character recounts living through “hemorrhoids,” which taught him that “hemorrhoids are not to be feared, as human nature is much more fearsome than hemorrhoids.”

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