A Laffer Curve for communication

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A revolution in Sinitic language conceptualization and learning

[The following is a guest post by Georgi Mladenov]

I am another student who seems to have hit a brick wall in learning Mandarin, and I would like to ask you for advice. I have thoroughly read most of your forum posts and I totally share your opinions on language learning, especially as expressed in this post.

Your post captures my situation in its entirety. "The first year of learning Mandarin was pure torture in the classroom" – it feels as if I had written that! In short, I have been studying Chinese in Taiwan for more than a year. I am fluent in English, German, Russian and Bulgarian, I have a B2 level in Polish, Spanish and Serbian, my French is quite good, my Latin is quite decent, and I also know some Hungarian.

However, my disappointment with Chinese teaching methods has been growing daily. No matter what language I learned, the main focus of any beginner's course has always been on pronunciation and mastering any peculiar "tricky" sounds. Not here, though. I personally know quite a few people who have passed TOCFL Level 3 and 4 (reading and listening) and still have no tones! Or students who still say "zh" instead of "z", or "s" instead of "sh", not to mention that many students do not differentiate between "zh" and "j", "sh" and "x", "ch" and "q". And most teachers still try to persuade us how bad Pinyin is.

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(d|br)e(p|ad)th first search

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Soused noodles / face

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

An unfortunate cultural misunderstanding has occurred in the attached image:

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Awoman: gender-free language in Congress

No, that is not a typo for "A woman". It is meant to be the feminine gendered equivalent of "Amen".

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver closes Congress’ opening prayer with ‘amen and awoman’

By Emily Jacobs, New York Post   January 4, 2021

A House Democrat tasked with leading the body in an opening prayer for the new Congress has gendered the word “amen.”

To close a prayer he delivered from the House chamber Sunday to mark the swearing in of the 117th Congress, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), an ordained minister, altered the traditional “amen” to say “amen and awoman.”

“May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace,” Cleaver said during his two-minute invocation, “peace in our families, peace across this land, and dare I ask, o Lord, peace even in this chamber.”

“We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and ‘God’ known by many names by many different faiths. Amen and awoman.”

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Nominated for the Trent Reznor Prize

Over the years, we've periodically discussed the Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding. Today's nominee, submitted by Joe Stynes, comes from "The Hilaria Baldwin Story: 'I'm Living My Life'", NYT 12/30/2020:

“We’re all bored and it’s just seemed so strange to me that no one had ever come out and said it, especially for someone who gets so much media attention,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity by The New York Times because she said she was scared that Mr. Baldwin, who agreed to take an anger management course in 2019 in order to dispose of charges after a fight with a man over a parking spot and has been arrested, escorted from a plane and suspended from a job as an MSNBC host, all in the last decade, would punch her.

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Sanskrit and comprehensible input

[The following is a guest post by Amara Hasa]

We are longtime fans of Language Log and wanted to share a project we've been working on that we believe might be right up your alley. We believe as much because it combines two subjects you've written about in the past: teaching languages through comprehensible input and compelling stories ("How to learn Mandarin"), and spoken and communicative Sanskrit ("Spoken Sanskrit").

Our project is a free online library of Sanskrit stories for learners. What makes these stories special is that they follow the current best practices from second language acquisition research.

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Donald Trump, now with more filled pauses

Today's shocking news story: "‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor", WaPo 12/3/2020. The full audio and transcript of the call is here.

But since this is Language Log, and not Political Chicanery Log, my take on the event is to observe a striking change in Donald Trump's speaking style.

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Kana, not kanji, for names

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Chinglish cornucopia

Photos taken and curated (also here) by Ruan Qi:

1. "Chī duōshǎo ná duōshǎo 吃多少拿多少" – "Take as much AS YOU CAN" –> "Take as much as you eat".

This is from a hotel in Shaoxing, Zhejiang, serving buffet.

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Under standing

As we start a new year, and yet another election-reversal case is dismissed for lack of "standing", it's appropriate (or at least amusing) to revisit what Herbert Brün once wrote about (some other senses of) standing and understanding:

Not many people know how passionately dedicated they are to the society which they can not stand. Unaware of their living in contradiction they live in conflict.

Not many people know how passionately dedicated they are to the society which can not stand them. Unaware of their living in conflict they live in contradiction.

Nobody can stand not being stood.

Nobody wishes to admit that.

Everybody, therefore, searching for an admissible degree of relative comfort resorts to proper English and falsifies the issue, thus: It is difficult to understand why one is not understood.

This proper English falsification underlies the prose and poetry written about Arnold Schoenberg by those of his friends and followers who, once his apologetic avowers, today, equally apologetically, disavow him. It is an underlie, because it is not at all difficult to understand why one is not understood, and that one is not stood because one is understood, and that one can not stand that which one understands precisely because one does.

 

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How a porcupine talks

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This week's display of ignorant peeving

David Ulin, "I Can’t Stand These Words Anymore", The Atlantic 12/30/2020:

Recently, I noticed a headline in The New York Times that featured the word tasked. This is among my least favorite rhetorical strategies—the verbing of the noun. Contemporary American English is rife with such constructions: to journal, to parent, to impact, to effect. I wince a little every time I come across one.

Jonathan Lundell, who sent in the link, notes that

The gripe is that task got verbed, particularly delicious in that the earliest OED citations for verbed notice, feature and task (in the modern senses) are 1660, 1888, and 1530 respectively.

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