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Posted by Victor Mair

The theme of today's post:  MSM chǎomiàn / Cant. caau2min6  trad. 炒麵 / simpl. 炒面 ("fried noodles").

When I was a wee lad growing up in East Canton (formerly Osnaburg; population about a thousand), Ohio, all that I knew of Chinese food came out of cans, and it was branded either as La Choy or Chun King.  The noodles were short, brown, hard, and crunchy, the vegetables were rather tasteless (with mung bean sprouts predominating and plenty of somewhat rubbery sliced mushrooms), all in a mucilaginous matrix of thick, starchy sauce.  But it was a lot of fun to prepare and eat because of the way it came in three cans and was so very exotic — not like the daily fare of meat, potatoes, peas, beans, and bread favored by Midwesterners.  Oh, and the watery, caramel colored soy sauce was so cloyingly salty.

The only exception was that once a year our Mom would alternate taking one of the seven siblings to the big city of Canton (population about eighty thousand) five miles to the west and would treat us to a Chinese restaurant meal.  I think the owners were the only Chinese in the city.  The two things that impressed me most were how dark and mysterious the room was in the unmarked, old house where the restaurant was located and how the egg foo young (and I just loved the sound of that name!), which was so much better than the canned chicken chow mein we ate at home, was served to us on a fancy, footed platter with a silver cover.  It was always a very special moment when the waiter uncovered the egg foo young and I smelled its extraordinary aroma.

Here's a description of an intrepid foodie preparing and eating today's version of La Choy's Chicken Chow Mein, which is still apparently "available at supermarkets everywhere":

La Choy’s chow mein dinner comes in three separate cans. Following the instructions faithfully I first heated the chicken and gravy mixture from one can in the microwave for two minutes, stirring in between. Right off the bat, the gelatinous concoction began making popping sounds, like it was exploding. While that was going on, I opened the can of vegetables—carrots, water chestnuts, etc.—drained them in a colander, then mixed them in with the chicken and gravy once they were done. This combo gets heated for three minutes, or until hot. Then you sprinkle on the dry noodles, which come in a can of their own.

Digging in, I found the dish unbelievably bland. The vegetables, such as they were, were indistinguishable from each other. The chicken was fairly unrecognizable as chicken, too. The noodles were the best part by far: dark, even burned-looking, deliciously crispy. An hour or so later, alas, I “had to go to the bathroom.” Badly. And, I can’t help thinking it was mainly because of the chow mein feast. Either my constitution is much more delicate than when I was a kid—or La Choy just ain’t no Chun King.

That's from "Bygone Bites: A Review of La Choy’s Chow Mein:  Glenn and Carol do a side-by-side critique of these canned fake-Asian noodles. Cue the nostalgia." Carol Shih [and Glenn Hunter], D Magazine (3/4/14)

Here are some interesting facts about La Choy:

The company was founded in 1922 by Dr. Ilhan New (유일한), later founder of Yuhan Corporation in South Korea; and Wally Smith from the University of Michigan. The first product, canned mung bean sprouts, was originally sold in Smith's Detroit, Michigan, grocery store.

New left the company for personal reasons in 1930. Smith was killed by lightning in 1937.

And Chun King:

Chun King was an American line of canned Chinese food products founded in the 1940s by Jeno Paulucci, who also developed Jeno's Pizza Rolls and frozen pizza, and the Michelina's brand of frozen food products, among many others. By 1962, Chun King was bringing in $30 million in annual revenue and accounted for half of all U.S. sales of prepared Chinese food. Chun King was sold to the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, in 1966 for $63 million.

l won't go into the history of how the two companies competed and merged, nor how they were both bought by large food conglomerates.  What's remarkable is that, in one or another guise, they survived for so long even after authentic Chinese food became widely available in America.

What prompted this post in the first place was the following photograph, sent to me by fintano:

IMG_3195

The name of the restaurant is Chóngqìng xiǎomiàn 重慶小面 ("Chongqing / Chungking noodles" [lit., "small noodles"]).

Maidhc comments on the feelings evoked by the photograph:

I have a vague recollection from my youth that Stan Freberg made commercials for Chun King (which was founded by an Italian), and even as a child I loved Stan Freberg, and more so as an adult.

See Stan Freberg Presents the Chun King Chow Mein Hour in this Wikipedia article.  This was during the advertising part of his career, which was later than most of his recordings.

At any rate this sign made me think of the old Chun King Chow Mein commercials and I believe they sponsored a pavilion at the Seattle World's Fair. I hate to think what kind of food they served there. Thankfully at least on the west coast we can now get some more authentic Chinese food.

I never actually ate Chun King Chow Mein, because my mother knew how to cook fairly authentic basic Chinese food, and that's what I had growing up. I was eating with chopsticks from age 7 or so.

I don't know if the people who run this restaurant chain know of the ancient memories they are stirring.

I was just looking through the Yelp reviews and I found this:

"some dishes may be hella ma la hot"

Is this the most SF Bay Area sentence ever?

Chow mein from a can ≠ chǎomiàn / caau2min6 from a wok ≠ Chóngqìng xiǎomiàn 重慶小面 ("Chongqing / Chungking noodles") in a San Francisco Sichuanese restaurant, though they all have their own charms.

'Difficult to understate' correction

Aug. 20th, 2017 08:23 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Here the source of the inversion corrects it within a few minutes:

For discussion see
"'Cannot underestimate' = 'must not underestimate'?", 11/6/2008
"Misunderestimation", 4/4/2009
"Underestimate, overestimate, whatever", 3/23/2011
"'…not understating the threat", 6/5/2012
"Overestimating, underestimating, whatever", 1/11/2013
"'Impossible to understate' again", 3/1/2014
"The Estimation Game", 4/3/2014

…and many more

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Posted by Victor Mair

Jonathan Benda posted this on Facebook recently:

Reading [Jan Blommaert's] _Language and Superdiversity_ in preparation for my Writing in Global Contexts course in the fall. Does anyone else think the following conclusions about this sign are somewhat wrongheaded?

Written with a calligraphic flair, the notice says:

gōngyù chūzū
shèbèi yīliú
shuǐdiàn quán bāo
měi yuè sānbǎi wǔshí yuán

公寓出租
設備一流
水电全包
每月三佰伍十元

apartment for rent
first-class furnishings
water and electricity included
350 Euros per month


Michael (Taffy) Cannings' response:

Wow, that's very thin evidence for a conclusion like that. The simplified diàn 電/电 is common in handwriting in Taiwan, and presumably among the diaspora too. Yuán 元 as a unit of currency is not unique to the PRC either, and the simplified form used here is really common in traditional characters (i.e., instead of 圓). Both handwriting simplifications predate the PRC character changes and indeed were probably the basis for those changes. The author may be right that the intended audience is made up of younger PRChinese, but that's simply an extrapolation of demographics rather than something implicit in the sign.

Mark Swofford provides an older example of this sort of confusion in this post:

"Mystery of old simplified Chinese characters?" (10/7/05)

I haven't lived in Taiwan continuously for a long period of time since 1970-72, but I still go back occasionally.  I can attest that almost no one except an obsessive compulsive like myself writes 臺灣 for Taiwan.  Nearly everybody writes 台灣 or 台湾.  It really doesn't matter, because the name does not mean "Terrace Bay" as the characters seem to indicate.  They are simply being used to transcribe the sounds of a non-Sinitic term, as I explained here:

"How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language"

The very name "Taiwan" is perhaps the best example to begin with. Superficially (according to the surface signification of the two characters with which the name is customarily written), "Taiwan" means "Terrace Bay." That sounds nice, even poetic, but it is an inauthentic etymology and has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual origins of the name. (This is a typical instance of the common fallacy of wàngwénshēngyì 望文生義, whereby the semantic qualities of Chinese characters interfere with the real meanings of the terms that they are being used to transcribe phonetically.) The true derivation of the name "Taiwan" is actually from the ethnonym of a tribe in the southwest part of the island in the area around Ping'an.4 As early as 1636, a Dutch missionary referred to this group as Taiouwang. From the name of the tribe, the Portuguese called the area around Ping'an as Tayowan, Taiyowan, Tyovon, Teijoan, Toyouan, and so forth. Indeed, already in his ship's log of 1622, the Dutchman Comelis Reijersen referred to the area as Teijoan and Taiyowan. Ming and later visitors to the island employed a plethora of sinographic transcriptions to refer to the area (superficially meaning "Terrace Nest Bay" [Taiwowan 臺窝灣], "Big Bay" [Dawan 大灣], "Terrace Officer" [Taiyuan 臺員], "Big Officer" [Dayuan 大員], "Big Circle" [Dayuan 大圓], "Ladder Nest Bay" [Tiwowan 梯窝灣], and so forth). Some of these transcriptions are clever, others are fantastic, but none of them should be taken seriously for their meanings.

As my Mom used to say when she couldn't get things through our thick skulls, "I can tell you till I'm blue in the face, but you just won't listen":  the sounds of Chinese words are more important than the characters used to write them, since the latter are comparatively adventitious and secondary, whereas the former are absolutely essential.

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Posted by Mark Liberman

From P.D.:

Long time reader, first time caller, etc. etc. As an armchair linguistics fan and someone who gets his news primarily online rather than from cable news, I've been wondering how one ought to go about pronouncing the word "antifa." I'd like to discuss current events with friends without putting my foot in it, like the friend I once had who pronounced "archive" as though it were something you might chop up and put on a bagel with some cream cheese.

My impression is that Norma Loquendi in America seems mostly to have decided on [ˌæn'ti.fə] — first syllable "Ann", second syllable "tea", third syllable rhymes with "uh", with the main word stress on "tea", as in this 8/19/2017 ABC 20/20 segment:

But there's an alternative — so in this 8/19/2017 CNN story, Jake Tapper has something like ['æn.ti.fɐ], with intitial-syllable stress and more of a full vowel on the final syllable:

It's easy to see why people come out different ways on this one. The source word anti-fascist has primary stress on the third syllable and secondary stress on the first syllable. One approach would is to trim the pronunciation of anti-fascist to the portion corresponding to the spelling "antifa" — but this runs into the problem that  [æ] doesn't normally occur in English final open syllables. So the solution is to remove the stress from the third syllable, which shifts the main stress to the first syllable, and then either change the final vowel to one that can end a stressed syllable in English, or reduce it to schwa, or leave it in some kind of quasi-reduced limbo as Tapper does.

In the other direction, there's strong pressure to apply penultimate stress to vowel-final borrowed or constructed words in English, as in "Tiramisu" or "Samarra" or "NATO". So I'm predicting that  [æn'ti.fə]  is going to win in the end. But for now, at least, you can take your pick.

On a related note: is there a term of art for a mispronunciation borne of learning a word solely from written context, a sort of spoken eggcorn?

It's called a "spelling pronunciation".

Update — there's a third option, from later in the same ABC 20/20 segment, where Lacy Macauley, self-identified as an Antifa activist, uses the pronunciation [ˌɑn'ti.fə], with penultimate stress but a low back vowel in the first syllable — perhaps taken from a European version of the movement?:

 

The Imperious Criterion of Meaning

Aug. 19th, 2017 11:33 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Patrick Radden Keefe, "Carl Icahn's Failed Raid on Washingon", The New Yorker 8/28/2017, mentions the title of Icahn's Princeton senior thesis:

In 1960, after studying philosophy at Princeton (where he wrote a thesis titled “The Problem of Formulating an Adequate Explication of the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning”) and a stint in medical school (he was a hypochondriac, which did not help his bedside manner), Icahn shifted to Wall Street.

But Keefe doesn't mention what is now my favorite correction of all time — 2/12/2006 in the New York Times:

An interview on June 5, 2005, with Carl Icahn misstated a word of the title of a thesis he wrote while he was an undergraduate at Princeton. As a reader informed The Times two weeks ago, it is "The Problem of Formulating an Adequate Explication of the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning," not "Imperious Criterion."

In fact "the imperious criterion of meaning" fits much better with Mr. Icahn's subsequent career, as well as evoking Humpty Dumpty's philosophy of language:

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs: they're the proudest — adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs — however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.'

'Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

'Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, 'for to get their wages, you know.'

The power and the lactulose

Aug. 19th, 2017 03:58 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

The so-called Free Speech Rally that's about to start in Boston will probably be better attended, both by supporters and opponents, than the one that was organized by same group back in May. But some of the featured speakers at the May rally, including "Augustus Invictus", have decided not to attend today's rerun. So I listened to the YouTube copy of the May rally speech by Austin Gillespie (Augustus's real or at least original name). And since this is Language Log and not Political Rhetoric Log (though surely political rhetoric is part of language), I'm going to focus on YouTube's efforts to provide "automatic captions".

Overall, automatic captioning does both amazingly well and hilariously badly. The audio quality is poor, with a lot of background noise and also distortion caused by an overloaded low-quality sound system, so it's a tribute to advances in ASR technology that the automatic captioning gets quite a few words right. But still, it starts out by allowing the speaker to self-identify as "my name is Olga sticks invictus on for sweater" rather than "my name is Augustus Invictus I'm from Florida":

0:04 my name is Olga sticks
0:12 invictus on for sweater

A little later, Gillespie blames his commitment to armed revolution, curiously, on the fact that the police saved him from an attack by "kids in black" (line divisions from the automatic captioning):

Automatic Captions My Transcription
but it is a year ago these kids in black
upon the hill they surrounded the border
who are doing a meet indeed and they
build my supporters with a two-by-four
bash in their colleges and then they try
to take me out when I floated the power
and the lactulose where the cops showed
up before they could get from me but
from that point
in business is usually more
but then about a year ago these kids in black
up on the hill they surrounded a bar
where we were doing a meet-and-greet and they
beat up my supporters with a two-by-four
bashed in their car windows uh and then they tried
to take me out when they flooded the bar
and miraculously the cops showed
up before they could get to me ((but))
from that point
we didn't do business as usual any more.

So, like I said, amazingly good and hilariously bad.

In particular, I wonder what the system's language model was thinking of. "Olga sticks"? "The power and the lactulose?" Maybe there's some connection with those "local milk people".

There's more fun where that came from, for example:

Automatic Captions My Transcription
every generation
matru Gooding must be refreshed with the
Board of patriot and timing
With every generation
the tree of liberty must be refreshed with the
blood of patriots and tyrants.

 

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Posted by Victor Mair

If you use the right tools, that is, as explained in this Twitter thread from Taylor ("Language") Jones.

Rule number 1:  Use all the electronic tools at your disposal.

Rule number 2:  Do not use paper dictionaries.

Jones' Tweetstorm started when he was trying to figure out the meaning of shāngchǎng 商场 in Chinese.  He remembered from his early learning that it was something like "mall; store; market; bazaar".  That led him to gòuwù zhòngxīn 购物中心 ("shopping center").  With his electronic resources, he could hear these terms pronounced, could find them used in example sentences, and could locate actual places on the map designated with these terms.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jones.  Even though I began the learning of Mandarin half a century ago when Chinese language pedagogy was in a primitive state, I resisted it to the best of my ability and instinctively came up with means for learning Chinese that approximated the best practices employed today, but without all the wonderful electronic devices available now.  See the following posts for descriptions of the make-do methods I used to learn Chinese from the very beginning.

"How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08)

"How to learn Chinese and Japanese" (2/17/14)

"The future of Chinese language learning is now" (4/5/14)

"Chineasy? Not" (3/19/14)

"Chineasy2" (8/14/14)

"Chinese without a teacher" (2/6/16)

"Backward Thinking about Orientalism and Chinese Characters" (5/16/16)

"Firestorm over Chinese characters" (5/23/16)

"Learning to read and write Chinese" (7/11/16)

"How not to learn Chinese" (4/16/17)

Do not use flashcards!  Do not emphasize memorization of the characters (bùyào sǐbèi dānzì 不要死背单字). Learn words in their proper grammatical and syntactic context.  Learn grammatical patterns and practice them in substitution drills (that was one of the best ways Chang Li-ching used to train her students, and she was extremely successful in getting them up to an impressive level of fluency in a short period of time).

Above all, do not tolerate any teacher who says that they suffered to learn Chinese so that you should suffer too or that suffering while learning a language is good for you.

fèihuà 废话 ("balderdash / blather / bullshit / rubbish / garbage / nonsense / malarkey / hooey / trash / tripe / guff / stuff / bunk[um] / blah / bald-faced lies") húshuō bādào 胡说八道 /
Pernicious Garbage

[h.t. Ben Zimmer]

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Posted by Mark Liberman

The Washington Post's digital front page a little while ago told us that Donald Trump has given in to those who wanted him to "dispatch with" Stephen Bannon:

Earlier today, Mitt Romney's Facebook post explained that he would "dispense from" discussion of certain aspects of Trump's comments on the Charlottesville events:

And in February of 2016, Marco Rubio urged us to "dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing".

This tour of the political dis-universe reminds me of the problems that I have trying to decide whether I've made an idiomatic choice of verb and preposition (or case) in languages that I don't know very well — and makes me wonder, as I sometimes do, whether I've slipped into a parallel time-line where English is not quite what I thought it was.

So perhaps we'll soon learn that the White House has disowned of Stephen Miller, discarded from tax reform, disdained over Gary Cohn, disembodied from infrastructure funding , or even displaced out of Jared Kushner.

 

More Zombie Lingua shenanigans

Aug. 18th, 2017 04:47 am
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Posted by Eric Baković

[This is a joint post by Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel.]

Regular Language Log readers will be familiar with our continuing coverage of the goings-on at what we in the linguistics community have given the name Zombie Lingua — the Elsevier journal once universally known by its still-official name, Lingua — a journal that we believe should have been allowed to die a respectable death when its entire editorial board resigned en masse at the end of 2015 to start the new (and flourishing!) fair Open Access journal Glossa, published by Ubiquity Press.

Instead, Elsevier chose to prop the old journal up, dust it off, and continue to publish articles. The first few months to a year of Zombie Lingua's macabre semi-existence were helped along by the fact that there was a backlog of already-accepted articles, as well as expected articles for special issues that had already seen some articles published — and also by the astonishingly quick acceptance and publication of other articles in the revision backlog. The then-interim editor-in-chief, Harry Whitaker, must have been very eager to clear the decks and start off with a clean slate — and to keep the flow of publications going, of course, lest the journal be truly dead.

Whitaker is now officially co-editor-in-chief along with Marta Dynel, and they have recently authored an editorial announcing the direction in which they say they are now taking the journal. Whitaker and Dynel claim that Zombie Lingua is "returning to its roots" of "General Linguistics and cognate branches", which they implicitly and disingenuously contrast with what Lingua had been publishing under the previous editorship. (See also this "publisher's note", where the journal's return-to-roots is boastfully claimed to be "the reality of the future.")

To those who have been keeping tabs on what has been published entirely under the current Zombie Lingua editorship, the editorial reads more like a defense of an internal decision to lower their editorial standards. In what is perhaps the most egregious case, the editors finally withdrew a published article that was clearly plagiarized — though reluctantly and after an unforgivably protracted period, and without acknowledgement of the charge of plagiarism.

It's also worth noting that the Zombie Lingua editorial board that has been assembled has both expanded and contracted over time — contracted because a few new members had second thoughts, (re-)weighed the pros and cons, and decided that an extra line on their CV wasn't worth lending their support to a journal that is dead in the eyes of a healthy portion of the field and that has quite obviously lowered their editorial standards. Those who have chosen to stay either have explicitly made the opposite calculus or just don't appear to care one way or the other. That's their right, of course, but we stand in judgment. (In reply to an email from us, one of the current board members wrote that "We should consider ourselves lucky that publishers deign to even touch our work." Wow.)

The bulk of the linguistics community has rallied behind Glossa and against
Zombie Lingua
, heeding the call to support the former (with our submissions and reviewing time) and to starve the latter. In responding to review requests from Zombie Lingua, a number of our colleagues have explicitly indicated their reasons for turning down the request. The editors have been duly forwarding some of these to Chris Pringle, the Executive Publisher of Zombie Lingua, who has responded by taking precious time out of his executive schedule to reply directly (and at some length) to our colleagues, relating Elsevier's "side" of the story of Lingua/Glossa.

Some of Pringle's messages have made their way to Glossa's (and Lingua's former) editor, Johan Rooryck. In the interests of transparency, Rooryck has posted this correspondence on his website, including Rooryck's subsequent exchanges with Pringle. Since the issues under discussion concern the reasons for and methods by which Rooryck and his editorial team resigned from Lingua, Rooryck has also included a point-by-point refutation of Pringle's allegations, as well as a comprehensive collection of Rooryck's correspondence with Elsevier in late 2015, both leading up to the editorial board's resignation and in its aftermath. (The current contents of this page on Rooryck's website have also been included at the end of this post.)

One has to wonder what Pringle thinks that he, Zombie Lingua, or Elsevier stand to gain from these personalized replies to review request rejections. Pringle must somehow believe that the hearts and minds of our colleagues can be won back by "correcting the record" on a dispute that he characterizes as being between a petulant journal editor and the journal's patronizing publisher. But, as Rooryck's documentation makes abundantly clear, this was an attempted negotiation between the full editorial board of the journal, entirely responsible for the vetting and shepherding of its content, and the journal's publisher, entirely responsible for charging readers too much for subscriptions to particularly-formatted versions of this content and authors too much for the apparent privilege of publishing individual articles in Open Access (with no compensatory discount on subscriptions, mind you – this is what has been properly called 'double-dipping').

In sum, there can be little doubt that Zombie Lingua continues to be the walking dead.


Current content of Johan Rooryck's Interaction with Elsevier page (as of 8/17/2017)

    The 2017 Elsevier campaign

  1. My point-by-point, fact-checking-style refutation of allegations made by Elsevier's Executive Publisher Chris Pringle about the Lingua/Glossa transition in mails (e.g. 3 and 4 below) written to invited Lingua reviewers who decline to do reviews because of the transition to Glossa.
  2. My correspondence with Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) regarding his message to Reviewer 2, 8 August 2017.
  3. Mail from Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) to Declining Lingua Reviewer 2.
  4. Mail from Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) to Declining Lingua Reviewer 1.
  5. An attempt to rewrite history in an editorial by Chris Pringle (Executive Publisher, Elsevier) for the publisher in Lingua 194 (July 2017), and my Facebook reply to it.
  6. My refutation of claims made at ARCL 2017 regarding Elsevier's APC proposal to the Lingua editors.
  7. October–November 2015

  8. My mail to Elsevier of 5 November 2015, requesting rectification of Tom Reller's (Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Relations, Elsevier) public statement about the resignation of the Lingua editorial board on 4 November 2015.
  9. The correspondence about the Lingua Editorial Board's collective resignation between Guido Vanden Wyngaerd, for the Board, and Chris Tancock (Senior Publisher, Elsevier), 27 October 2015.
  10. My letter of resignation of 26 October 2015. The other editors sent similar letters.
  11. Elsevier's response of 16 October 2015, signed by Chris Tancock (Senior Publisher, Elsevier) to the Lingua editorial team's letter of renegotiation of 7 October 2015.
  12. Mail correspondence with David Clark, Senior Vice President, Elsevier, of 16 October 2015, following up on our meeting at the European Commission Workshop Alternative Open Access Publishing Models: Exploring New Territories in Scholarly Communication. Brussels, 12 October 2015.
  13. The Lingua editorial team's letter of renegotiation to Elsevier to publish Lingua in Open Access on (what is now known as) Fair Open Access Principles, 7 October 2015.

The linguistics of a political slogan

Aug. 18th, 2017 01:28 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

Banner on the side of a fancy car in Sydney, Australia:

The photograph comes from this article:  "Chinese Australians in supercars protest India on its 70th Independence day", by Heidi Han, in SBS (8/16/17).

It seems that Chinese patriots are angered that Indian forces are not backing down from a standoff that has been going on for more than two months at Doklam in the Himalayas.

Here are some of the latest news items on the situation:

"Chinese State Media Video Mocks India In Bizarre Propaganda On Doklam", by Deepshikha Ghosh, NDTV (8/17/17).  This article includes a rare 3:22 Chinese propaganda film in English accusing India of "Seven Sins":

An actor with a stick-on beard and heavily-accented English parodies Indians to canned laughter.

"Do you negotiate with a robber who had just broken into your house… You just call 911 or just fight him back, right?" says Ms Wang. 911 is an emergency hotline only in the US.

The actor apparently representing a Sikh answers: "Why call 911 – don't you wanna play house, bro?"

Although Twitter is blocked in China, Xinhua has posted the hilarious video on its English-language account, so you can be sure that this is pure propaganda intended only for foreigners.

I found it a bit difficult to view the video from this site, but I persisted and succeeded after about four tries.

Ah, I also found the offensive video in this article, and it is easier to view here:

"Doklam standoff: China’s Xinhua agency releases racist video parodying Indians:  A video with racist overtones that seeks to parody Indians has been issued by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency to give the country’s position on the Doklam standoff", by Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times (8/16/17):

The video particularly targets the Sikh minority, and for some perplexing reason, the “Indian” is seen to be brandishing a pair of scissors.

"View: Whether China steps back or ups ante, it will lose in Doklam", by Kanwal Sibal, The Economic Times (8/17/17).

The slogan in nine large Chinese characters at the bottom of the banner on the side of the car pictured above reads:

Fàn wǒ Zhōnghuá zhě   suī yuǎn bì zhū

犯我中华者 虽远必诛

"Whoever offends / assails / violates our Chinese (nation), although (they may be) far away, (we will) surely / certainly / necessarily kill / punish (them)."

The first thing that needs to be pointed out about this slogan is that it is not in Mandarin, but rather it is in Literary Sinitic (LS) / Classical Chinese (CC).  If you put this into a Mandarin machine translator such as Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, or Bing / Microsoft Translator, the results will be gibberish.  It would be like asking a Hindi machine translator to translate Sanskrit, probably worse.

For those who know the basics of LS grammar, lexicon, and syntax, the message slogan is not too hard to understand.  The most challenging part is to grasp the exact semantics of the last character:  zhū 诛.  The basic meaning is "execute; put (a criminal) to death; impose the death penalty; kill", but it is also often used in the diluted or extended sense of "punish".

When I looked online for translations of the whole slogan, most avoided the use of "execute; kill" and chose "punish" or other circumlocution.  It would seem that the majority of translators instinctively sense that "execute; kill" is too extreme a penalty for the crime of fàn 犯 ("offending; affronting; assailing; violating; invading"), except perhaps for the last listed interpretation of the term.  Mind you, though, that zhū 诛 really does mean "execute; put (a criminal) to death; impose the death penalty; kill" in its most fundamental sense.

I asked several bilingual speakers of Mandarin and English how they would render the slogan in English and in Mandarin.  Here are some of the results:

English

Those who invade China will meet their doom regardless of the distance/location.

China will eradicate/punish those (nations or individuals) who intrude upon our nation although distant.

Meaning:  Chinese soldiers will definitely destroy any armed force that threatens the life of Chinese people.

Those who invade China, even though a thousand miles away, will be wiped out.

Those who offend China will be killed however far they are.

Any violators against China are to be annihilated, however far they run.

Mandarin

Fán qīnfàn Zhōngguó lǐngtǔ de dírén, wúlùn yuǎnjìn, bì jiāng zāo dào tòngjī.

凡侵犯中国领土的敌人,无论远近,必将遭到痛击。

Bùlùn jùlí yuǎnjìn, Zhōngguó jiāng huì zhūtǎo suǒyǒu qīnfàn qí guójiā hé mínzhòng de gètǐ.

不论距离远近,中国将会诛讨所有侵犯其国家和民众的个体。

Duìyú qīnfànle Zhōngguó de rén, jiùsuàn jùlí yuǎn, yě yīdìng yào bǎ tā xiāomiè.

对于侵犯了中国的人,就算距离远,也一定要把他消灭。

Duìyú nàxiē qīnfàn wǒmen Zhōnghuá de rén, jiùsuàn shì zài yuǎn, yě bìxū yào bèi zhūmiè.

对于那些侵犯我们中华的人,就算是再远,也必须要被诛灭。

Rènhé qīnfàn wǒmen Zhōnghuá mínzú de rén, wúlùn nǐ zài duō yuǎn dì dìfāng, wǒmen dōu yīdìng huì bàofù dàodǐ.

任何侵犯我们中华民族的人,无论你在多远的地方,我们都一定会报复到底。

Rènhé qīnfàn Zhōnghuá [mínzú lìyì] de rén, wúlùn duō yuǎn, wǒmen dōu bìrán huì jiānmiè tā.

任何侵犯中华[民族利益]的人,无论多远,我们都必然会歼灭他。

For the dedicated philologists among us, the reason the slogan is in LS is because it is based directly on this passage from scroll 70 of the Hàn shū 漢書 (History of the Former / Western Han Dynasty [ 206 BC – 9 AD]) by Ban GuBan Zhao, and Ban Biao, completed in 111 AD, míng fàn qiáng Hàn zhě, suī yuǎn bì zhū 明犯彊漢者,雖遠必誅。, which describes how the Chinese army defeated the Xiōngnú 匈奴 (Hsiung-nu; Huns) in Central Asia and executed their leader because they had killed the Chinese ambassadors to that region.

Two thousand years of resentment against the barbarians are riding on that car door.

[h.t. Geoff Wade; thanks to Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, Fangyi Cheng, Jing Wen, Melvin Lee, and Maiheng Dietrich]

He lapsed into the passive voice

Aug. 17th, 2017 07:33 am
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

Mark Landler recently published an article in the New York Times under the headline "Where Predecessors Set Moral Standard, Trump Steps Back." Unlike his predecessors, he notes, the current president has rejected the very concept of moral leadership:

On Saturday, in his first response to Charlottesville, Mr. Trump condemned the violence "on many sides." Then he lapsed into the passive voice, expressing, as he has before, a sense of futility that the divisions between Americans would ever be healed.

"It's been going on for a long time in our country," he said. "Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time."

This incompetent, floundering president, who has never previously had to run an organization and is revealing that he is no good at it, is guilty of so many things that could have been mentioned. But passive voice?

Asking whether "the divisions between Americans would ever be healed" is passive voice, but that's not Trump, that's Landler, who's the accuser here. "It's been going on for a long time in our country" is not in the passive voice. Mark Landler is one more case (I have literally lost count) of someone who writes for a major print source and pontificates about other people's grammar but doesn't know the difference between active and passive.

It's exasperating. Even if Trump were to use the passive voice, that would not be a criticism: the statements in style books telling you to avoid it are written by clueless idiots who haven't spent even an hour seriously studying well-written prose; their licenses to pontificate should be taken away. If you're writing in anything like a normal way, about 12 percent of your transitive verbs (plus or minus five) are likely to be heading passive verb phrases. In academic writing (and much of the writing about style that denigrates passives) passives are typically about twice as common.

This stuff is not some arcane secret. I published an article about it for a general audience of educated non-linguists, and you can read it here. There's nothing wrong with passives, everyone who knows how to write uses them, their structure is well known to grammarians, and hardly anything people say about them in general sources like newspapers and magazines and popular grammar websites is true.

Yet even people who write for The New York Times don't know this grade-school elementary grammar, it would seem, and obviously the editors don't either, or they would have caught Landler's mistake.

It is a profoundly weird situation: most educated people in America think there is a crisis about native speakers using the language ungrammatically (there isn't) and imagine that they know enough about grammar to make such judgments (they don't). So you get this situation of the blind warning the blind about a danger that isn't there. It makes you weep.


Thanks to Philip Miller for pointing out to me the reference to passive voice in the final sentences of Landler's article.

Chinese, Greek, and Latin, part 2

Aug. 16th, 2017 01:45 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

[This is a guest post by Richard Lynn.  It is all the more appreciated, since he had written it as a comment to "Chinese, Greek, and Latin" (8/8/17) a day or two ago, but when he pressed the "submit" button, his comment evaporated.  So he had to write the whole thing all over again.  I am grateful to Dick for his willingness to do so and think that the stimulating results are worth the effort he put into this post.]

James Zainaldin’s remarks concerning the Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and the Dao de jing, his frustration by the limits of grammatical or lexical analysis, that is, the relative lack of grammatical and lexical explicitness compared to Greek and Latin texts, is a reasonable conclusion — besides that, Greek and Latin, Sanskrit too, all are written with phonetic scripts — easy stuff! But such observations are a good place to start a discussion of the role of commentaries and philological approaches to reading and translating Literary/Classical Chinese texts, Literary Sinitic (LS). Nathan Vedal’s remarks are also spot on: “LS is really an umbrella term for a set of languages. The modes of expression in various genres and fields differ to such a high degree that I sometimes feel as though I'm learning a new language when I begin work on a new topic.”

This last jogged my memory, a conversation with Achilles Fang 方志彤 many years ago, when he made three remarks that seem pertinent to this discussion (I paraphrase):

(1) Studying premodern Chinese letters is equivalent to learning the entire corpus of ancient Greek and Latin literature, including medieval Latin texts, plus all the early European vernaculars, from the earliest written versions up through the modern languages.

(2) When dealing with any Chinese text, one should gather every known version of it so, by comparing differences in wording, one might more accurately punctuate the version used for study and translation, bridge ellipses, and better establish contexts.

(3) If commentaries for texts existed, it would be unwise not to take full advantage of them, whatever their biases and limitations, for, if nothing else, interlinear commentaries can help with delimiting syntactic units.

As I said, this was a long time ago, but I think I remember the essentials rightly.

Now, as for the value of commentaries in interpreting texts, this varies enormously, and when multiple commentaries exist, say, for the Zhouyi (Classic of Changes), one is faced with the problem of deciding which one to trust, which one is “right,” etc. One way is to cherry pick from several or more of them:  Richard Wilhelm’s Classic of Changes was done this way, whereas my The Classic of Changes: A New Translation of the I Ching as Interpreted by Wang Bi is restricted to one commentator; I attempted to integrate original text and commentary so that each defined and clarified the other. I did the same with my Wang Bi version of the Daode jing, and I am now (2/3 complete more or less) engaged in a similar project, the Guo Xiang version of the Zhuangzi. This is not to say that Guo Xiang is “right”—for with such early texts they are often so opaque in places that the meaning can be seen to differ with each different commentary.

Peipei Qiu (Vassar) is doing a Zhuangzi with the commenary of the Song era Neo-Confucian Lin Xiyi, so her translation will be very different from mine — as it should be. Text and commentary are inseparable, so it would be nonsense to tack on a new translation of a commentary to an earlier translation of the original text (benwen 本文), as one particularly inept reviewer of my Dao de jing book thought I should have done.

The Lunyu, Mencius, Mozi, Zhuangzi, and Dao de jing are all pre-Han and thus full of eccentric, irregular, erratic syntactic forms and peculiar terminology. With the Han era, syntax and vocabulary become far more regular, which, while helping considerably in some ways, presents problems in others, for the great majority of texts from the Han through the Qing, two millennia later, do not have attached commentaries, are not even punctuated, and when they do have commentaries these often are usually factual and not interpretive.  This is especially true for poetry, where, for example with Du Fu, commentaries identify people, places, and allusions, but provide no help in explaining what particular lines mean.

Of course, in most recent times many such texts now exist in modern annotated editions with full punctuation, the annotations including baihua (modern Chinese) paraphrase (dayi 大意) interpretations — but beware, a paraphrase is not a translation! And this brings us to another problem:  the continuity between LS and modern Chinese certainly seems much closer than, say, between Latin and Italian, ancient Greek and what one reads in an Athenian newspaper. I have always (as a non-native speaker of Chinese) found my ability in putonghua, such as it is, to be a great help in intuiting meaning in LS texts, for there often is much bai in old wen texts (and wen in modern bai texts, by the way). But as a non-native Chinese I have little trust in such intuitions, so tend to verify (or abandon) them after what a native speaker might regard as excessive philological investigation. I know I just need more help.

So then an enormous battery of Sinological sources is brought to play: dictionaries, leishu [VHM:  encyclopedias; premodern reference books with material taken from various sources and arranged according to subjects / categories], background searches through local histories (difang zhi), global searches for comparable contexts in such resources as the electronic / digital Siku quanshu [VHM:  Complete Library in Four Treasuries], Christian Wittern’s 漢リポ Kanseki Repository, http://hanji.sinica.edu.tw/, etc., etc. , as well as all the guidance provided by modern Chinese scholarship and pre-modern and modern Japanese Sinology (Kangaku 漢學) (I wish I knew Korean!).

I have been at this stuff for more than 50 years now, so experience and ever wider familiarity with texts seems finally to be paying off. Göran Malmqvist (b. 1924) once told me about a visit he made to his teacher Bernhard Karlgren (1889-1978) in hospital a few weeks before Karlgren passed away.  Karlgren was propped up in bed reading the Zuozhuan, surrounded by other books. He said to Malmquist, “You know, Göran, after some 70 years I am finally getting the hang of these things!” I can hardly wait.

Bad Chinese

Aug. 15th, 2017 03:19 am
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Posted by Victor Mair

Sign south of the demolished Pfeiffer Bridge on Highway 1 in Monterey County (photograph taken on August 12, 2017 by Richard Masoner while on a Big Sur bike trip, via Flickr):

Bad machine translation

This is not Chinglish.  It is the opposite of Chinglish:  English poorly translated into Chinese.

The sign says:

Zhǔdòng gōnglù bùyào zǒu zài zhōngjiān de lùxiàn bǎochí bái xiàn de quánlì
主动公路不要走在中间的路线保持白线的权利

It's difficult for me to make sense of this sign.  Chinese friends to whom I show this sign are also totally confused by it.

Forced translation into English:

"Active highway.  Don't walk / ride in the center line / lane.  Keep / maintain the rights of the white line."

Word for word translations:

zhǔdòng 主动 active; initiative; driving

gōnglù 公路 highwayroad

bùyào 不要 do not

zǒu 走 walk; ride

zài 在 in; at

zhōngjiān 中间 between; inside

de 的 of

lùxiàn 路线 route; lane

bǎochí 保持 keep; maintain

báixiàn 白线 white line (perhaps signifying "fog line" here)

de 的 of

quánlì 权利 right(s); legal right; droit

I think what they're trying to say is something like this:

Busy highway.  Don't walk / ride in the center lane.  Stay to the right of the white line.

Translated into Chinese, that would be something like this:

Fánmáng de gōnglù. Bùyào zài zhōngjiān chēdào shàng zǒulù/qíchē. Qǐng kào bái xiàn de yòubiān.
繁忙的公路。不要在中间车道上走路/骑车。请靠白线右边。

Of course, there are many other possibilities, depending upon exactly what the original English was.  For those who are interested, here I'll give half a dozen other versions suggested by respondents, but only in Chinese characters with Hanyu Pinyin:

Chēliú fánmáng. Jìnzhǐ zài zhōngjiān chēdào (or maybe jīdòng chēdào?) shàng zǒulù/qíchē. Bǎochí zài bái xiàn yòufāng xíngshǐ.
车流繁忙。禁止在中间车道(or maybe 机动车道?) 上走路/骑车。保持在白线右方行驶。

Fánmáng lùduàn, xíngrén hé fēi jīdòngchē yánjìn zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào, qǐng zài bái xiàn yòucè xíngzǒu huò qíxíng.
繁忙路段,行人和非机动车严禁占用中间车道,请在白线右侧行走或骑行。

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù yú zhōngjiān chēdào xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ. Xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ shí qǐng kào yòu, wù chāoyuè bái xiàn.
公路繁忙,请勿于中间车道行走/行驶。行走/行驶時請靠右,勿超越白綫。

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào, qǐng kào bái xiàn yòucè xíngshǐ.
公路繁忙,请勿占用中间车道,请靠白线右侧行驶。

Gōnglù chēliú liàngdà, fēi jīdòngchē qǐng bǎochí zài bái xiàn yòucè, wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào.
公路车流量大,非机动车请保持在白线右侧,勿占用中间车道。

Gōnglù chēliàng duō. Qǐng wù zài zhōngyāng chēdào shàng xíngzǒu huò qíchē. Xíngrén qǐng zǒu bái xiàn yòubiān.
公路车辆多。请勿在中央车道上行走或骑车。行人请走白线右边

They all mean roughly the same thing as what I proposed above in English and Chinese (they were basically following my lead [mine was considered correct, but too colloquial for a sign]).

[h.t.:  Martin Delson; thanks to Maiheng Dietrich, Melvin Lee, Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, Fangyi Cheng, and Jing Wen]

Asses and asterisks

Aug. 14th, 2017 09:35 am
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Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

When The Sun, a famously prurient UK tabloid newspaper, chose the headlines for its coverage of the Taylor Swift case in Denver, the editors made a curious choice. They used asterisk masking on the American English word ass ("buttocks area"), printing it as "a**" as if it would be unthinkably offensive for the readers to also see the "ss" (unless it were in a reference to a stupid person, or to the animal on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem, where the same letter sequence would be fine). But they did not do the same to the familiar British English 3-letter synonym bum (which has only the meaning "buttocks area" and never means "hobo" in British).

British English has a descendant of the same Old English root as ass, but it is spelled arse, and is pronounced [ɑːs] rather than [æːs]. British arse is considered just as coarse as American ass, but The Sun has printed it thousands of times (try the Google search: {arse site:www.thesun.co.uk}). Quoting ass couldn't possibly be judged gratuitous, as it was uttered in court many times during the legal proceedings being reported.

What this says to me is that the idea of asterisk masking for taboo words is an incoherent mess even in the practice of those who favor it.

In this, I agree with Geoff Nunberg's argument against asterisk masking in his Language Log post "Unmasking slurs." The points on which Nunberg and I have publicly disagreed relate to how much the sheer offensiveness of slur words leaks out of contexts like idiomatic phrases and sports teams names, and the political implications of the continued use of such expressions. Those disagreements are mild, at least at my end: I would be absolutely delighted if phrases like nigger in the woodpile died out, and if the Washington Redskins changed their stupid name. Roll on the day. Nunberg and I don't differ on matters like opposing racism, or on whether word taboo is a productive form of political action (the goal, surely, is to eliminate racism from modern society, not merely to bar certain lexemes from being pronounced or printed).

Allow me to append one short digression, inspired by my friend Ben Yagoda, who recently discussed Donald Trump's strangely colloquial threatening talk ("North Korea best not make any more threats" etc.) and then expressed a worry that "dissecting Trump's linguistic choices when he is lobbing nuclear threats can seem a little like positioning a Titanic deck chair so it gets more sun." In exactly the same way, I do worry that it seems trivial to note the dialect difference and masking policy asymmetry involving ass, bum, and arse when the nonlinguistic issues in the Taylor Swift case are so hugely important.

A famous, business-savvy multi-millionaire is subjected to an indecent assault by a drunken DJ in public — in front of cameras, so she has a photo of it happening. She reports the incident immediately, and the groper is ejected from the event and later fired from his job as a DJ at KYGO-FM. Some time later he sues her for $3 million on the grounds that she cost him his job, and she has to endure more than an hour in the witness box having her credibility impugned.

If even a woman with Taylor Swift's courage, wealth, support, and strength of case has to face such a prospect, just imagine how daunting it is for the average woman faced with the task of prosecuting the average groper.

The picture of the event, by the way, is so damning that the judge in Denver sealed it to prevent the US press publishing it, but The Sun got hold of it. Does it show the grinning David Mueller's hand down behind Taylor Swift's nether regions? Is she twisting awkwardly away, trapped between him and his girlfriend but trying to continue smiling for the photo op? You decide:

 

Small wonder if some women are driven to extralegal shortcuts. I'm irresistibly reminded of a story about my inimitable late wife Tricia. She was six foot tall, with the strong arms of a rock climber. She told me that one working day decades ago, when she was in her twenties, coming out of the railway station at Hull in England on her way to her work as a computer expert at an engineering firm, she was waiting for the light to change at a crowded pedestrian crossing when a man beside her reached down and gave her butt a furtive grope. Without an instant's hesitation she pulled away, screamed "Don't do that!", and swung her fist instinctively at his head.

She had not fully thought through the implications of the fact that in that fist she was holding the handle of one of those old-fashioned hard-sided lockable briefcases with the metal strip round the edge. It hit him full in the face. The other commuters waiting at the crossing stared in horror.

"This dirty bastard grabbed my arse!" Tricia told them indignantly. Then the lights changed and everyone started out across the road. The groper, with blood streaming down his face, made no attempt to contest the charge but simply ran away into the crowd until he was lost from sight.

Taylor Swift has very properly chosen the legal route rather than smashing her assailant in the face, and is asking $1 in damages for the assault against her. At the time of writing, the judge has thrown out Mueller's absurd $3m suit against her, but the jury has yet to rule on whether she gets her dollar for being assaulted. I'm on her side. I hope her story (and Tricia's too, frankly) will be an inspiration to the millions of women everywhere who suffer daily harassment and occasional physical assault.


Update, August 15: The jury deliberated four hours and then rejected Mueller's claims and awarded Taylor Swift damages in the amount she had requested, $1.

Colonialism or gas

Aug. 13th, 2017 08:19 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

The last three panels of Dumbing of Age for 8/10/2017, featuring Danny and Sal:

Mouseover text: "They have a similar smell."

What I wrote about g-dropping a dozen years ago ("The internet pilgrim's guide to g-dropping", 5/10/2004):

In fact, there is no "g" involved at all, except in the spelling. Final -ng (in English spelling) stands for a velar nasal, which is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet as an "n" with a hook on its right leg: [ŋ], a symbol called "eng." The final -n' in spellings like openin' stands for a coronal nasal, which is written in IPA with an ordinary "n": [n]. In IPA, opening is written as [ˈopənɪŋ], while openin' is written as [ˈopənɪn]. The only difference in pronunciation is whether the final nasal consonant is velar (made with the body of the tongue pressed against the soft palate) or coronal (made with the blade of the tongue pressed against the ridge behind the front teeth).

Thus is "g-dropping" nothing is ever really dropped — it's just a question of where you put your tongue at the end of the word.

Not all words ending in [ŋ] are candidates for g-dropping. English doesn't have a general alternation between final velar and coronal nasals: boomerang does not become boomeran', and ring does not become rin'. We are only talking about unstressed final -ing at the ends of words. In some dialects, g-dropping applies only to the inflectional suffix -ing (as in present participles such as trying), and not in words such as wedding or morning.

Historically, g-dropping is actually a more conservative pattern. The English present participle suffix was originally pronounced with a coronal, not a velar nasal: in early middle English, this inflection was -inde or -ende. There was a derivational ending -ung for making nouns out of verbs, which produced words like present-day "building." These eventually merged into the modern -ing suffix. In 19th- and early 20th-century England, the g-dropping pattern (which really was the "not g-adding pattern") marked the rural aristocracy as well as the lower classes.

The [iŋ] pronunciation for -ing, established  as the (London?) middle-class standard only a couple of hundred years ago, has become a remarkably stable marker of standard speech across the English-speaking world. The [in] pronunciation has been retained by certain regional varieties, and by lower-SES styles elsewhere — but almost everyone exhibits variable usage depending on style and context. See e.g. "Empathetic -in'", 10/18/2008, or this plot from Labov 1969:

So Sal is being somewhat unfair to Danny, who might very well have grown up in a g-dropping milieu depending on his geographic and socio-economic origins, and in any case would naturally exhibit a higher rate of g-dropping in a more relaxed setting.

 

"Nephew-nazi"

Aug. 13th, 2017 07:51 pm
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Posted by Ben Zimmer

When the White House issued a statement that finally condemned white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville this weekend, the version that was originally released had an unusual typo: "nephew-nazi" for "neo-Nazi":

The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, nephew-nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.

Brian Stelter noted the typo on CNN.


"Nephew-nazi" has, in fact, appeared as a typo for "neo-Nazi" online in the past. (Thanks to Sally J. on Twitter for pointing this out.) A few examples:

If you can call me a neo-Marxist, then it only seems fair that I call you a nephew-Nazi. (Amber Lisa, Medium, Dec. 13, 2016)

If they're talking about Richard Spencer, he actually is a nephew-nazi. He still didn't deserve to be punched, but he IS an actual, self-identified Neo-Nazi. (Mark Jennings, comment on "Chicks on the Right" blog post, Jan. 25, 2017)

Unless it is intentional for this President and his chief strategist, nephew-Nazi Steve Bannon, to rewrite our history!! (Susan Ashe, Facebook comment on "Women on 20s" post, May 12, 2017)

The second commenter, Mark Jennings, realized his error and subsequently wrote, "For the record, I meant neo-nazi, not nephew-nazi. Damn autocorrect…" This does seem to be an autocorrect miscorrection of the type we have been calling "cupertinos" since my 2006 post on "the Cupertino effect." My best guess is that it's the result of a fat-finger error rendering neo-nazi as nep-nazi (since and p are close together on the keyboard), which then got changed to nephew by a spellchecker, since nephew is the most frequently occurring word beginning with nep-. I haven't been able to replicate this miscorrection on any program equipped with spellchecking/autocorrect, but perhaps Language Log readers can figure out exactly how this might have transpired.

Update: The nep theory seems the most likely, given autocomplete options like those below, though it's still a bit mind-boggling that the announcement could have been sent out to the news media with no one noticing this major error.

Brooks on biological sexism

Aug. 13th, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Mark Liberman

David Brooks recently argued that James Damore's anti-gender-diversity memo was right, and that Google was wrong to fire him ("Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.", NYT 8/11/2017), giving us another example of Mr. Brooks' long-standing fascination with pseudo-scientific justifications of gender and ethnic stereotypes.

The best evaluation of Damore's memo that I've seen is Yonatan Zunger, "So, about this Googler's manifesto.", Medium 8/5/2017, which makes three key points:

(1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
(2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
(3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

Zunger focuses on points (2) and (3) — for a a deeper dive into point (1), see e.g. Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers, "We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo.", recode 8/11/2017.

But what about David Brooks?

Brooks' support for Damore is not an isolated example of contrarianism. I've been posting for more than a decade about his confused but consistent interest in the science of prejudice. He explained the overall narrative in "Is Chemistry Destiny?", 9/17/2006:

Once radicals dreamed of new ways of living, but now happiness seems to consist of living in harmony with the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long, long ago.

In other words, racism and sexism are realistic and appropriate responses to the natural world, so just relax and stop trying to change things.

Here are a few long-form discussions of how Brooks explores "the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long, long ago":

"David Brooks, Cognitive Neuroscientist", 6/12/2006
"David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist", 9/17/2006
"David Brooks, Social Psychologist", 8/13/2008

And some other vaguely related posts:

"An inquiry concerning the principles of morals", 4/7/2009
"The butterfly and the elephant", 11/28/2009
"'Your passport has just been stamped for entry into the Land of Bullshit'", 3/3/2013
"David 'Semi True' Brooks", 3/20/2013
"Ngram morality", 5/22/2013
"Reality v. Brooks", 6/15/2015

"Stereotypes and facts", 9/24/2006
"Language and identity", 7/29/2007
"Is autism the symptom of an 'extreme white brain'?", 3/26/2008
"Sexual pseudoscience from CNN", 6/19/2008
"Innate sex differences: science and public opinion", 6/20/2008
"Delusions of gender", 8/24/2010

Too cool to care

Aug. 12th, 2017 09:45 am
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Posted by Mark Liberman

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "It's hard to train deep learning algorithms when most of the positive feedback they get is sarcastic."

See also Geoff Pullum, "Robots gossiping in a secret language?", Lingua Franca 8/7/2017.

In fact, I suspect that Microsoft Research might be making some progress on the "too cool to care" algorithm.

Thursday and Friday were the closing-day presentations for the 2017 JSALT Summer Workshop at CMU, where I've spent the last six weeks. I ended my segment with an indication of how far we have to go. Here's the transcript of a small piece of an ADOS ("Austism Diagnostic Observation Schedule") interview:

Interviewer: all right so next we’re just going to ask you some questions all right
Patient: mhm
Interviewer: so first what do you like doing that makes you feel happy and cheerful
Patient: writing
Interviewer: yeah
Patient : mhm
Interviewer: how do you feel when you’re happy can you describe it
Patient: I’m just very pleased
Interviewer: yeah okay what about things you’re afraid of
Patient: the dark
Interviewer: the dark
Patient: making websites also makes me happy
Interviewer: yeah
Patient: I have three ((indistinct))
Interviewer: are they all with your books
Patient: no but no one is for my book
Interviewer: mhm
Patient: actually I’m thinking about making one for another book that I’m also going to write

Here's the transcription by the IBM Watson Speech API, which tries hard to get not only the words but also the division into speakers:

Speaker 2: Alright since. The questions right. So first what do you like you can be secure happy check.
Speaker 1: Writing.
Speaker 2: Yeah. How do you feel you're happy you describe.
Speaker 1: Just leave the.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 1: What.
Speaker 2: About things you're afraid. Dark.
Speaker 1: Website. Meet.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 1: And. Three. I they are with your books no no one is from a book. Actually I'm thinking about making money for another book which.

Here's the transcription by the Google Cloud Speech API, which makes a stab at the word sequence but treats all input as a monologue:

questions what do you like doing that make you happy and cheerful how do you feel when your happy can you describe it I'm just very pleased what about things you're afraid of dark making websites also makes me happy free are they all with your books and now one is for my book actually I'm thinking about making one for another book

And finally, Microsoft's Bing Voice Recognition offers this transcription for the same audio clip:

Happy Friday.

Clearly too cool to care.

GAN4 ("Do it!")

Aug. 11th, 2017 05:21 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

From a long blog post on contemporary Chinese religious art and architecture:

The post contains many other photographs of this monument, some with groups of people standing before it, so it is a real thing.

We know where the monument is:  Dalishucun ("Big Pear Tree Village"), Fengcheng City, Dandong Prefecture, Liaoning Province in China's Northeast (formerly Manchuria).  It is located a hundred miles south of Shenyang and 35 miles northwest of Dandong, not far from the border with North Korea.

This striking red monument, situated on a hillside, is 9.9 meters (30 feet) tall, and can be seen from quite a distance.  The same symbol may be seen on other public constructions in Big Pear Tree Village.  But what does it represent?

Upon first glance, one of my Chinese friends thought that it was a symbol for the Chinese yuan and Japanese yen, ¥, and thus that it was a monument to mammon, a fitting motif for today's China.  But this sculpture lacks the forked prong at the top.

Another friend thought that it was a Cross of Lorraine (French: Croix de Lorraine), the heraldic two-barred cross ☨.  But the vertical member of this sculpture does not protrude above the upper cross bar.

When I showed it to some other, younger Chinese friends, they snickered, confirming my own suspicion that this is none other than the celebrated gàn 干 ("do; f*ck"; it also has many other meanings, including, when read in first tone, "dry"), with which we here at Language Log are thoroughly familiar:

Most recently, we have hearkened to President Xi Jinping's clarion call in his 2017 New Year's Speech for everyone to lū qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油 / 擼起袖子加油 ("roll up our sleeves and do it [i.e., work hard]").  See:

The "'gàn' zì wénhuà guǎngchǎng '干'字文化广场 ("'do' character culture square") celebrates local cadre Mao Fengmei 毛丰美 (b. 1949; CCP branch secretary for Big Pear Tree Village) and his lifetime of kǔ gàn 苦干 ("hard work").  Mao exemplifies the spirit of "为民而干" ("'do [it]' for the people") (13,400 ghits).  This is obviously a transformation of the deathless slogan of another Mao, " wèi rénmín fúwù 为人民服务" ("serve the people", more lit., "serve for the people").

Mao Fengmei's watchwords are kǔ gàn 苦干 ("work hard"), shí gàn 实干 ("work steadfastly"), and qiǎo gàn 巧干 ("work ingeniously”).  Relying on this spirit, Mao raised Big Pear Tree Village from poverty to a model of rural prosperity.  The towering gàn 干 ("do it") sculpture is the embodiment of the principles that Mao used to turn Big Pear Tree Village from a backward community to national prominence.  In plainest, simplest terms, I suppose we could say that — with his emphasis on gàn 干 — Mao Fengmei was trying to instill a strong work ethic in his fellow villagers.

For his accomplishments in Big Pear Tree Village, Mao attained sufficient national stature that he was featured in this report on the 2014 national legislative and political advisory sessions, at which he had served as a deputy (lawmaker) since 1993.

Here are more pictures and explanations of the "'gàn' zì wénhuà guǎngchǎng '干'字文化广场 ("'do' character culture square").  One of the photos is of a stele inscription commemorating the villagers' work in establishing an extensive fruit orchard, which generated considerable income for them.  The last sentence reads as follows:

Tāmen yòng hànshuǐ quánshìzhe gàn zì jīngshén de zhēndì

他们用汗水诠释着干字精神的真谛

("They illustrate the true essence of the word 'gan' with their sweat") (English translation on the stele)

Party tours are organized around this giant gàn 干.  Notice in the photograph accompanying this article that the railings around the edges of the spacious square are decorated with countless gàn 干 symbols.

Here's a richly illustrated article on a study trip to the monument by Liaoning Prison Administration cadres.

When I called this gàn 干 monument to the attention of Chinese friends and students who didn't know about it before, their reactions were diverse.  Those who were over about thirty-five years of age, and especially those from Taiwan, mostly thought of this respect shown to gàn 干 as a kind of worship.  In other words, gàn 干 veneration for them is a manifestation of popular religion.  Indeed, the local people around Big Pear Tree Village characterize gàn 干 as " shén 神" ("sacred; divine").

Younger people almost invariably cannot help but think first of the vulgar meaning of gàn 干, so for them it seems very strange to see such a huge statue erected to gàn 干 in such an ostentatious, public fashion.  They cannot help but laugh when they see this gàn 干 sculpture.  Even some older folks (over sixty) also reacted to the monument to gàn 干 with hearty laughter.

There's a third type of reaction which looks upon this monument to gàn 干 as "political propaganda and commemoration of the thirty-years of hard work and the economic development of this village".  This sober, scholarly, socialistic approach yields quite a different interpretation of the gàn 干 monument than the previous two.

Here I will let one of the correspondents (basically in the third category and about thirty years old) expatiate upon what she takes to be the overall aim of the article with which this post begins and in which the gàn 干 monument is featured:

I guess the main point of this article is to criticize the ugly and bizarre designs of much architecture in China. This has become a cultural phenomenon in China nowadays.

The elite aesthetic and artistic canon are different from the taste of the lower social classes in most societies. This is why the temples in the villages look so weird. Popular religious cults often absorb foreign deities and even create new deities based on the existing ones. This is what I learned when I was studying ancient Egyptian religion. Local and household shrines did not quite follow the royal art canon and usually look "awkward".

However, many buildings belonging to the elite look ugly too, such as the landmarks of some large cities. This indicates that the new elite, though they have become very wealthy now, do not have the corresponding elite artistic taste. Possibly the owners of these buildings (i.e., the owners of local corporations) come from lower social classes and never received any elite education.

I think the lack of education in art and humanities in China makes the situation worse. Even the best universities in China, such as Tsinghua, do not offer enough courses on art and humanities, let alone middle and high schools. I really hope things will get better in the future and young people can have opportunities to learn more about art, history, culture, and philosophy, rather than merely science and engineering.

Here's another assessment of the article by someone with a more playful, literary background (in her lower twenties):

I have read the article from the first word to the last, and I like how the writer was seriously talking nonsense! He does have a substantial point about the need to respect Chinese popular culture, even though it seems cheap, low-class, and coarse to some. It has always possessed a cute sense of humor, profound wisdom, and strong attachment to the grassroots life of xiāngtǔ wénhuà 乡土文化 ("local / rural culture") that I personally find so attractive. As for "干",it not only means hard work, but also is an equivalent to an English four-letter word starting with the letter after "e". So, if the 干 monument truly exists, the local government definitely has made itself a tremendous laughing stock.

One last thought, from a comparative perspective.  "Just do it" is a wildly popular meme in contemporary American culture, as in the supposedly inspirational video (of which this is a brief segment) by Shia LaBeouf.  What are the nuances we bring to "do it" in such a context?  Probably nothing like the folks in Big Pear Tree Village.  (Notice that some of his gestures are rather explicit.)

Finally, I have overheard people say "We didn't really do it" (i.e., "we didn't go all the way"), which shows some affinity with the vulgar usage of gàn 干.

Strange, though, that nobody looks upon the gàn 干 monument and thinks "dry" — which is most assuredly a possible reading.

Hail, almighty gàn 干, whatever you may mean for your legions of ardent devotees!

[h.t. Grace Wu; thanks to Sanping Chen, Jichang Lulu, Yixue Yang, Jing Wen, Jinyi Cai, and Chia-hui Lu]

"North Korea best not…"

Aug. 9th, 2017 11:01 pm
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Posted by Ben Zimmer

Donald Trump's "fire and fury" warning to North Korea, we now know, was unscripted, not the product of speechwriters and advisers. As some have suggested, Trump's aggressive language may have been (at least unconsciously) modeled on Harry Truman's announcement that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945.

Truman: If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.
Trump: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

Beyond the echo of Truman, Trump is particularly fond of the hyperbolic construction, "like the world has never seen," and variations on that theme. In the Toronto Star, Daniel Dale details Trump's past use of the phrase and wonders if "the president bumbled into the threat because he did not understand the ramifications of a favourite phrase he had in his head." (See also Mark Liberman's post from last year, "This is the likes of which I didn't expect.")

But what about the opening of the threat, "North Korea best not…"? Ben Yagoda said on Twitter that it "sounds like something from a bad Western." John Kelly thought it sounded more Southern. I was reminded of a famous line from the character Omar Little on the HBO series The Wire: "You come at the king, you best not miss."



The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following entry for this usage of best:

best, v.2
Etymology: Short for had best (see best adj. 4b). Compare earlier better v.2
colloq. (orig. U.S.). An invariable modal verb, normally complemented by the bare infinitive.
Had best (see best adj. 4b); should.
1900   V. S. Pease In Wake of War xiii. 153   I'll give you gold, Colonel Grayson, and you best get the rates of premium as you go through Nashville.
1927   E. C. L. Adams Congaree Sketches ix. 16   We best be leffen.
1959   P. Marshall Brown Girl, Brownstones iii. i. 68   You best watch that heavy hand..'cause this is New York and these is New York children and the authorities will dash you in jail for them.
1987   T. Wolfe Bonfire of Vanities xxii. 447   You best be making some friends, you understand?
2013   Liverpool Post (Nexis) 21 Feb. 14   Ah, look at the time, I best go.

As noted, better also gets used as an invariable modal verb, similarly shortened from had better. Think of "You better watch out, you better not cry" from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," or the song by The Who, "You Better You Bet." This had-less version of better has received some scholarly attention — see "Better as a verb" by David Denison and Alison Cort, in Hubert Cuyckens et al. (eds.), Subjectification, intersubjectification and grammaticalization, Mouton de Gruyter, 2010. On their Grammarphobia blog, Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman have a useful history of this usage of better: "You better believe it."

The parallel use of best without had has received less attention, though much of what has been written about had-less better also applies. Both better and best are often used to convey a warning or a threat. Both also appear to have originated in American English, though better has penetrated colloquial varieties of English in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, according to Fowler’s Modern English Usage and other sources. Best still sounds resolutely American — whether that's Western, Southern, or Baltimorean (in the case of Omar Little).

This usage of best is infrequently attested in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but the evidence shows that it is marked as highly colloquial. Here are six examples from COCA for "you best not" — one from a photography journal, three from short stories or novels, one from a film script, and one from a television transcript.

Hopefully at this point you realize you best not quit your day job!
–Steve Traudt, "Marketing your photography," PSA Journal, June 1995

You haven't fallen ill, have you? You best not cause me any grief!
–Ingeborg Bachmann, "In Heaven and on Earth," Chicago Review, 2000

You best not be burnin' nuthin', lest Old Man Cooch find out.
2001 Maniacs (film script), 2004

And if you hope to come around, well, you best not make me frown, because I just might knock you down, because I'm a mean ole lion.
20/20, ABC transcript, 2008 (someone singing "I'm a Mean Ole Lion," a song from The Wiz)

I reckon the two of you best not be thinkin' of marrying until at least next year.
–Beth Wiseman, An Amish Gathering: Three Amish Novellas, 2010

I think you best not push your father that far.
–Beth Wiseman, Plain Paradise, 2010

Some additional fictional examples can be found in the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) — including two from Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities (also cited by the OED), as used by the character Reverend Bacon, a Harlem minister modeled on Al Sharpton. A broader search on COHA for "best not BARE VERB" turns up a sprinkling of other examples going all the way back to 1834, in Letters of J. Downing, Major, pseudonymously written by Charles Augustus Davis:

'Well,' says Mr. Van Buren, it's a pretty severe letter, but we best not translate it — I'll read it as it is, with pleasure.'

Davis, it turns out, ripped off the Major Jack Downing character, a folksy New Englander, from Seba Smith. In fact, Smith's own Downing letters supply the earliest OED citation for better as an invariable modal verb: "I thought you better be at home to work on the farm" (1833). (Smith-as-Downing frequently used "I better…" and "You better…") Nearly two centuries later, had-less better still sounds rather folksy, and had-less best even more so. 

Update: Ben Yagoda shares his own thoughts on Trump's use of best on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog.

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