Rain rises

It rained for the last two or three days, so someone wrote me a note saying she was looking forward to "ameagari no aozora 雨上がりの青空" ("blue sky after the rain").  I knew what she meant, but when I started to analyze the semantics of the verb, I was drawn into a vortex of uncertainty about how the simple verb "agaru 上がる", whose primary meaning is "rise; go up", could mean "stop".  That, however, is to look at the kanji shàng 上 with the eyes of a specialist in Sinitic languages, where it has these meanings:

preposition:  on; above; upon; on top of

adjective:  upper; last; previous; superior; preceding; topmost; overhead; higher; better

adverb:  up

verb:  rise; go up; board; mount; climb; apply; send in; fill; present; leave for; serve; submit; supply; first  

prefix:  over-

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Sinitic spelling: winter melon and bean curd

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What does “Native speaker” mean, anyway?

Below is a guest post by Devin Grammon and Anna Babel.


Both linguists and non-linguists commonly use the term “native speaker” to describe someone who grew up speaking a particular language and who is fully proficient in that language. Often, we invest native speakers with authority regarding how someone should speak a language – for example, native speakers are often preferred as instructors in the second-language classroom, or sought after as linguistic informants for field methods classes or as research assistants for fieldwork or analysis of linguistic data. Indeed, the idea of being a native speaker is tied to ideas of authenticity, as in the commonly held dialectological wisdom that elderly, rural male speakers with all their teeth are the best informants. But where does the term come from, and what does it really mean?

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Bringing back the Cultural Revolution — in English

As part of the run-up to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that will take place in July, scenes like this are increasingly common on the streets of the PRC:

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Vaccines that do a good job of not preventing disease and death

"We Need To Get Real About How the Pandemic Will End:  Even more transmissible new variants means that more people will get infected or vaccinated, and that's how it will all end".  By Zeynep, Insight (5/28/21):

[A]s far as I can tell from vast amounts of trial and real life evidence, every single vaccine out there does a very very good job against preventing severe disease and death.

If what Zeynep says about "every single vaccine out there" is true, we are destined for some dire end times indeed.

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How much language capability does a Green Beret need to have?

In War on the Rocks (5/26/21), Tim Ball has an informative, thought-provoking article:  "Talking the Talk: Language Capabilities for U.S. Army Special Forces".  It begins:

In the mid-2000s, a series of U.S. Army Special Forces recruiting posters began appearing on Army installations across the country. One particular poster prompted more than a few eye rolls and laughs from the Special Forces community (commonly known as the Green Berets). The poster showed a Special Forces soldier conducting a military free-fall parachute jump. The caption stated, “The HALO [high altitude, low opening] jump wasn’t the hard part. Knowing which Arabic dialect to use when I landed was.”

From a recruiting standpoint, the poster hit all the marks. It took the excitement of a commando-style free-fall jump, combined it with the lesser-known expectation for a Green Beret to be a culturally adept warrior, and pushed it over the edge by portraying the jumper as a suave polyglot, capable of switching in and out of complex dialects at will.

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Writing from the Age of the Gods

[This is a guest post by Bob Ramsey]


Writing from the Age of the Gods (Jindai moji)

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Language was a mistake?

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An Austronesian word for "betel"

On Joshua Yang's Twitter (@joshiunn):

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Botched dubbing of a Taiwanese Mandarin film on the mainland

From Eoin Cullen:

This is a really fascinating story:  a Taiwanese film ("Dāng nánrén liàn'ài shí 当男人恋爱时" ["Man in Love"]) where the main character has been dubbed for the mainland Chinese release. The film is mostly in accented Taiwan Mandarin and the protagonist peppers his speech with Southern Min (Taiwanese / Hoklo), so someone decided there’d be a comprehensibility issue for mainland audiences (despite the fact that there are Chinese language subtitles on all films, Chinese or otherwise). In the dubbed version the protagonist has a notable mainland Mandarin accent, which is hilarious for Taiwanese netizens. This to me would be like if the film Trainspotting had been dubbed into American English for its US release.

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Rescuing Icelandic

Essay in Wall Street Journal: 

"Computers Speaking Icelandic Could Save the Language From ‘Stafrænn Dauði’ (That’s Icelandic for ‘Digital Death’):  To counter the dominance of English in technology and media, Iceland is teaching apps and devices to speak its native language."  By Egill Bjarnason (May 20, 2021).

This is such a fascinating article, and one that points to a gigantic problem of language survival for many of the world's roughly 7,000 remaining tongues, that I could easily quote the entire piece.  I will resist that temptation, but will still offer generous chunks of it.  One part of the story that I cannot forgo is the saga of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) and his epic linguistic and literary legacy.

Telma Brigisdottir, a middle-school teacher in suburban Iceland, arrived at her classroom on a recent morning in March eager to introduce a new assignment. Dressed in a pink hoodie, she told her students: Turn on your iPad, log into the website Samromur, and read aloud the text that appears on screen. Do this sentence after sentence after sentence, she instructed, and something remarkable will happen. The computer will learn to reply in Icelandic. Eventually.

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Frankensteining frankensteined frankensteins

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Operatic rhetoric

YouTube has created a new musical opportunity — musical accompaniment for recorded spontaneous orations, as a kind of after-the-fact sprechgesang.

I'm not sure who did this first, or when, but I've seen it more often over the past few months. Here's one of my favorites:


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