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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:

Last Friday, 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 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:


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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]

Français de nos régions.

Aug. 18th, 2017 12:29 am
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Posted by languagehat

Le français de nos régions vous intéresse ? (Does regional French interest you?) Then you’ll enjoy this site, with sections on pneu ou peneu ?, words pronounced differently in different parts of France (persil: is the final -l pronounced or not?), words newly added to the dictionary, and much else. I know marie-lucie will be interested; I hope others will.

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.


Aug. 16th, 2017 10:36 pm
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Posted by languagehat

Today’s mail brought a very welcome package: a copy of Trevor Joyce’s Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser. The “About the Author” page begins “For fifty years, since publication of his first book in 1967, Trevor Joyce has been a unique voice in Irish writing,” and the second paragraph reads:

His early work explored possibilities of the lyric, and began a lifelong engagement with translation. In the mid-seventies he gave up publishing and turned instead to the study of Chinese poetry, while working as a systems analyst in industry. His later work, following twenty years silence, is unparalleled within Irish poetry. Successive books explore the possibilities of found text, computer-mediated composition, writing under constraint, and radical approaches to translation.

All of which is to say, he’s an interesting guy and the perfect person to do what he’s doing here, which is to rethink and rewrite Spenser’s Mutability Cantos (original and “translation” are presented en face). Some quotes from the introduction will give you an idea of what perfect LH material this is:

Prose delivers events, dates, ideas, and opinions clearly and in sequence; the poet creates a whole in which everything resonates at once: the individual sounds of the consonants and vowels and their rhythms as they interrupt each other, the dictionary meanings of the words and the associated meanings they’ve gathered through ordinary and specialist use, the whole spectrum of registers from high courtly politeness to low growled threats and back again through slang and vulgarities. Poetry is a complex instrument, and a poet like Spenser knows how to play it to the full, and any response needs to take account of all that. The most adequate, fully engaged response, I would argue, is another poem that picks up all the carefully distributed threads of Spenser’s utterance and gives them back radically altered in many ways, but recognizably chiming with the original, and adding new meaning. […]

Like Spenser, I’ve made for myself an artificial dialect. I’ve tried to dilate my own everyday language, including not only traces of Spenser’s lexicon, but also slang, both recent and outmoded, alongside the jargons of journalism, advertising, politics, and business. I’ve reached after vulgarisms and low catchphrases, and seized on every register that seemed to resist authority. With them I’ve tried to make a better case for Mutability, and to allow her, now, a jury of her peers. […]

I have introduced one slightly ostentatious pun of my own in using the term spenser to translate Spenser’s dairying huswife (48,1). As a spenser or spencer was someone whose job it was to dispense provisions in a household, I have taken the liberty of reinserting the poet into his own text at another point than the privileged one he has chosen for himself, framing the entire action from his own privileged perspective. The role of dutiful assassin of vermin strikes me as neatly rhyming with his land-grabbing activities.

As a sample, here’s his version of the stanza beginning “For, she the face of earthly Things so chang’d”:

She altered the whole set-up.
Everything laid out in proper order,
she delinquently deranged. The frame
of things, which looked too good for gods
or men to fuck with, she switched
utterly, and then what God had blessed,
made cursed, and put an end to all
such happy ever afters.

I’ve never been able to hack my way through Spenser in the original, but this I can read with pleasure. I might add that the physical book is gorgeous, and it’s available for pre-order (pub date is October 15).

By the way, I was so caught up in finishing an editing job that I failed to notice that July 31 was the fifteenth anniversary of this blog. Happy belated birthday, LH!

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.

Constant Motion.

Aug. 16th, 2017 12:21 am
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Posted by languagehat

Stan Carey has a fine Macmillan column on the fact that language constantly changes and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well accept it:

Understandably, this unsettles people. We may refuse to accept a new usage, especially if the change happens in our lifetime: Why can’t words stay as they are, with a fixed meaning and sound and use? Words here can be a substitute for deeper concerns. We tend to prefer when things are stable, and find instability disturbing.

The converse also applies. If we get on board with the fact that everything is in flux, it becomes easier to adjust to linguistic change instead of being automatically upset by it. It can be seen as a form of realism: we drop the false idea that language doesn’t or shouldn’t change.

It’s well said, and of course I thoroughly agree, but I might not have posted it here if it hadn’t begun thus: “To Heraclitus we owe the saying (variously phrased) that you can’t step into the same river twice.” Check out that parenthetical link; you may be as surprised as I was that the “same river twice” interpretation is basically folk philology — according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “we call a body of water a river precisely because it consists of changing waters; if the waters should cease to flow it would not be a river, but a lake or a dry streambed. There is a sense, then, in which a river is a remarkable kind of existent, one that remains what it is by changing what it contains.” That is actually more interesting than the traditional interpretation, at least to me.

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

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.

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.

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù yú zhōngjiān chēdào xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ. Xíngzǒu/xíngshǐ shí qǐng kào yòu, wù chāoyuè bái xiàn.

Gōnglù fánmáng, qǐng wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào, qǐng kào bái xiàn yòucè xíngshǐ.

Gōnglù chēliú liàngdà, fēi jīdòngchē qǐng bǎochí zài bái xiàn yòucè, wù zhànyòng zhōngjiān chēdào.

Gōnglù chēliàng duō. Qǐng wù zài zhōngyāng chēdào shàng xíngzǒu huò qíchē. Xíngrén qǐng zǒu bái xiàn yòubiān.

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]


Aug. 14th, 2017 10:23 pm
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Posted by languagehat

I’m now about halfway through Perdue’s China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (see this post) and have just gotten to the central event, the extermination by the Qing Empire of the Western Mongol nation he calls the Zunghars in the 1750s: “The [Qianlong] emperor deliberately targeted young and able men in order to destroy the Zunghars as a people…. This deliberate use of massacre has been almost completely ignored by modern scholars.” It’s a splendid, brilliantly written historical account, but history is not the remit of LH, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about the name of the nation, which is variously spelled Dzungaria (the Wikipedia version), Zungharia, Zungaria, Jungharia, Jungaria, and Dzhungaria. (I was tempted to title this post “J/Dz(h)ung(h)aria,” but it looked too ugly.) If the Jungar Empire had not been wiped out, presumably we would have settled on one version, but since it’s been nearly forgotten, we have to look under D, J, and Z in the index of every historical work that might cover it in hopes of finding it. (I’ve taken to penciling in cross-references under each of those letters pointing to whichever one the book uses.)

Fortunately, Christopher I. Beckwith (see this post) published an article called “A Note on the Name and Identity of the Junghars” (Mongolian Studies 29 [2007]: 41-45) that deals with just this topic. He begins by discarding the “very old” folk etymology from Middle Mongolian jegün gar ‘left (or east) hand (or wing of an army)’ (“nonsensical historically”; he later says “it is impossible at this point to establish a genuine etymology of the name”); he continues:

The spellings ‘Dzungar,’ or ‘Zungar’ represent modern Mongolian dialect forms that developed after the Mongol Empire period and have become dominant since the Junghar Empire period. The spelling ‘Dzungar’ reflects the pronunciation of the name in the dominant modern Khalkha dialect, whereas the spelling ‘Zungar’ reflects the modern Kalmyk züünghar [zü:ngar]. […]

The pronunciation züünghar is reflected in a number of modern foreign transcriptions. However, historically contemporaneous oral transcriptions of the name ‘Junghar’ into directly neighboring languages (Russian, Chinese, Tibetan, and Persian) — that is, transcriptions made at the time of the Junghar Empire — regularly give the initial consonant as j-/j– [ʤ] or in some cases unaspirated č– [ʧ], both reflecting foreign [ʤ] […] The most accurate historical spelling in English would thus seem to be ‘Junggar,’ or simply ‘Jungar,’ as in one of the most frequent spellings of the name of their homeland, ‘Jungaria.’ I have however spelled it ‘Junghar’ in order to reflect the undeniable influence of the putative etymology on the modern forms in Mongol dialects. In any case, the pronunciation of their name by the Junghars themselves during the time of their empire thus seems fairly clear.

Me, I’m going with Jungaria because it’s the simplest and apparently reflects their own pronunciation, but feel free to pick and choose according to your own inclination. Nobody will care except a few scholars.

What I saw at Worldcon 75

Aug. 14th, 2017 06:05 pm
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[personal profile] ewx

Things I attended included...

  • Appeal of the Bland Protagonist. I remember only that Robert Silverberg was fairly entertaining.
  • The Long Term Future of the Universe & How to Avoid It. I don’t think we got as far as proton decay. Entertaining but I don’t think I learned much.
  • Polyamorous Relationships in Fiction. I think a fair few examples given but I don’t really remember much about this.
  • What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds. This was largely a very well-pitched survey of what we know about minds and brains and their development here, with the implications for the alien underlined. Excellent.
  • New, More Diverse Superheroes. Something that’s been improving lately. Many of the examples were familiar. Slightly surprised that Vimanarama wasn’t mentioned, it can’t be that obscure?
  • How to Tell the Ducks from the Rabbits. This covered some unpublished research modelling some perceptual effects we find in human vision. Ian Stewart is a good speaker.
  • Cyberpunk and the Future. Fairly rambling but quite entertaining and IIRC avoided the trap of falling into a laundry list of recommendations which can sometimes happen.
  • New Publishing. A couple of models I didn’t know about (though ‘run publisher as a co-operative’ doesn’t seem conceptually new) but I didn’t get a sense that any particular model was about to set the world on fire. Apparently ebook sales are declining as a proportion of the total, which surprised me.
  • Supermassive Black Holes. A quick survey of how black holes work (which didn’t contain many surprises) followed by some new stuff: the GR-aware visualization of a black hole made for Interstellar, corrections to it involving red/blue shifting and the spin of the black hole, a further visualization of what you’d see as you flew into one (assuming you destroyed by any of the many hazards) and a project to radio image out galaxy’s central black hole. Another excellent science talk.
  • Hugo Awards. Very glad to see Monstress winning Best Graphic Story.
  • Beyond the Goldilocks Zone. Panel about the possibilities for exoplanets that sustain life. One point I’d not previously been aware of was that although Europa-style bodies might (hypothetically) have life in sub-ice oceans, there’s no realistic way of detecting this from a distance, meaning that more earth-like planets are a better bet for analysis. (The “goldilocks zone” is the range of distances from a given star in which planets can support liquid water on their surface, making them a good bet for life.)
  • Gender and “Realistic History”. The panel largely surveyed past examples of groups and behaviors sometimes thought to have been absent or rare in the past. Interesting listening.
  • Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0. Another excellent science talk, this time on the detection strategies for exoplanets and the results they’ve had so far. There are a lot of exoplanet discoveries awaiting confirmation.
  • Language Creation. David Peterson (famous for the conlangs from Game Of Thrones) described the basics of making a convincing sketch conlang. A very entertaining speaker.
  • The Singularity: Transhuman Intelligence in Fiction and Futurism. An opportunity for Charlie Stross to steal the show. Fun.
  • Bullets in Space. Basic orbital mechanics, done fairly well. The basic proposition is that ballistic projectiles are a terrible idea when fighting in an orbit; if they miss the target they are probably going to hit something you didn’t want them to.
  • Tomorrow’s Cool SF Physics. Enjoyed it but don’t remember anything else about it.
  • Designing Life. Fun discussion of biotechnological possibilities for modifying and creating life.
  • Ideas Crossing the World: Japanese Adaptations of Western Fantasy. In practice I think this mostly amounted to an opportunity for the panellists to entertain with their encyclopaedic knowledge of manga and anime.

...there were other things but I can’t remember enough to say anything about them.

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Posted by Andrews & Arnold

Started: 2017-08-14 11:10:38
A couple of our incoming mail servers have gone down due to a power issue in the datacentre. Our other mail servers have picked up the load however there would have been a delay in receiving mail during the fail over. Incoming mail should be fine now and we are investigating what caused the issue.

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.

Dostoevsky’s Worst Novel.

Aug. 13th, 2017 10:13 pm
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Posted by languagehat

If you google the phrase “Dostoevsky’s worst novel” (with quotes, because otherwise it defaults to telling you about his best novels), the reply is unambiguous: The Insulted and Injured [Униженные и оскорбленные]. I’ve read three of the four parts, and I’m here to tell you that that judgment is faultless; if it hadn’t been by Dostoevsky, I’d have given up after a few chapters. It starts with a fine passage, mind you: Ivan, a struggling writer, tells how a year ago he saw an old man and a dog going into an eatery, followed them in, and witnessed a scene that ended with the ragged old Jeremiah Smith dying on a Petersburg street. Unfortunately, he then moves into the late Smith’s wretched top-floor apartment, meets his granddaughter Elena (aka Nelly), saves her from prostitution, and acts as go-between for his love Natasha and her parents, whom she left to live with the foolish young Alyosha, whose father, Prince Valkovsky, wants him to marry the heiress Katya… In short, it gallops straight into melodrama and never looks back. There are the pure of heart, who are crushed (or, if you like, insulted and injured) by the mustache-twirling villain, and there is the improbably simple-minded author/narrator, who tells us the tale, with frequent cliffhangers and repetitions of “I’ll tell you all about it… but not right now.”

I’m exaggerating for effect; naturally, since it’s Dostoevsky there are many good things, culminating (as far as I’ve read) in a splendidly malicious rant by the prince at the end of the third part. I’ll probably provide an update when I finish it, with whatever more mature judgment I reach. But at the moment I want to point to a couple of things of linguistic interest.

Back in 2009 I posted about Russian pronoun usage, specifically changing from vy [polite ‘you’] to ty [intimate ‘you’], and there’s a passage (in Part 3, chapter 5) about exactly that. The good-hearted but empty-headed Alyosha bids farewell first to his sort-of-beloved Natasha and then to his acquaintance Ivan (for which the diminutive is Vanya):

“Goodbye, Natasha, goodbye my darling, my forever-beloved. Goodbye, Vanya [using ty form and diminutive]. Oh, good lord, I called you [vy] Vanya by mistake. Listen, Ivan Petrovich, I love you [vy] — why can’t we be informal? Let’s call each other ty.”

“Yes, let’s.”

“Thank god! It’s come into my head a hundred times, but I’ve somehow never dared to tell you [vy] about it. Look, I’ve used vy again. But it’s very hard to say ty. Tolstoy depicts that very well somewhere: two people promise to use ty with each other, but they can’t do it and keep avoiding using any phrase that would involve a pronoun. Natasha, let’s reread Childhood and Boyhood; it’s so good!”

– Прощай, Наташа, прощай, возлюбленная ты моя, – вечная моя возлюбленная! Прощай, Ваня! Ах, боже мой, я вас нечаянно назвал Ваней; послушайте, Иван Петрович, я вас люблю – зачем мы не на ты. Будем на ты.

– Будем на ты.

– Слава богу! Ведь мне это сто раз в голову приходило. Да я все как-то не смел вам сказать. Вот и теперь вы говорю. А ведь это очень трудно ты говорить. Это, кажется, где-то у Толстого хорошо выведено: двое дали друг другу слово говорить ты, да и никак не могут и все избегают такие фразы, в которых местоимения. Ах, Наташа! Перечтем когда-нибудь «Детство и отрочество»; ведь как хорошо!

I like the nod from one great writer to another!

Also, during the prince’s rant he says:

I can get a part of that same pleasure for myself, suddenly dumbfounding some Schiller or other [i.e., a member of the foolishly idealistic younger generation he’s been mocking], sticking out my tongue at him when he least expects it. “Dumbfounding” — what a funny little word! I read it somewhere in your contemporary literature.

Вот часть-то этого самого удовольствия и можно находить, внезапно огорошив какого-нибудь Шиллера и высунув ему язык, когда он всего менее ожидает этого. “Огорошив” — каково словечко? Я его вычитал где-то в вашей же современной литературе.

The word I’ve translated as “dumbfounding” could also be rendered “taking aback” or “disconcerting”; the Russian verb is огорошить [ogoróshit’], of uncertain etymology, and the first cite for it in the Национальный корпус русского языка is from the 1840s (“Вот как огорошила!” [М. Н. Загоскин, Москва и москвичи]), so it was indeed a recent addition to the language. Dostoevsky was very fond of it; here’s a sampling of occurrences:

Он припомнил потом ясно, что ему ужасно захотелось в ту минуту «вполне убедиться», проломил он череп старику или только «огорошил» его пестиком по темени? [Ф. М. Достоевский. Братья Карамазовы (1880)]
Страшное обвинение, господа, точно по лбу огорошили! [Ф. М. Достоевский. Братья Карамазовы (1880)]
Но мне так вдруг захотелось тогда его огорошить! [Ф. М. Достоевский. Подросток (1875)]
Интрига душила меня, но не мог же я так прямо огорошить и подкосить Анну Андреевну. [Ф. М. Достоевский. Подросток (1875)]
Я знаю наверное, я это твердо заметил, ― ей было приятно, выслушав и раздражив меня до боли, вдруг меня огорошить какою-нибудь выходкою величайшего презрения и невнимания. [Ф. М. Достоевский. Игрок (1866)]
огорошить его в самое темя каким-нибудь самым роковым и опасным вопросом; так ли? [Ф. М. Достоевский. Преступление и наказание (1866)]
Мне, напротив, следовало бы сначала усыпить подозрения ваши, и виду не подать, что я об этом факте уже известен; отвлечь, этак, вас в противоположную сторону, да вдруг, как обухом по темени (по вашему же выражению), и огорошить: «А что, дескать, сударь, изволили вы в квартире убитой делать в десять часов вечера, да чуть ли еще и не в одиннадцать? [Ф. М. Достоевский. Преступление и наказание (1866)]
Ты знал мой характер, до исступления меня довести хотел, а потом и огорошить вдруг попами да депутатами… [Ф. М. Достоевский. Преступление и наказание (1866)]
Для того ли, чтоб сразу приучить жертву к дальнейшим ударам, по тому расчету, что после очень трудного удара уже не так мучительны покажутся легкие, или тут просто желание пофорсить перед жертвой, задать ей страху, огорошить ее с первого раза, что понимала она, с кем дело имеет, показать себя, одним словом. [Ф. М. Достоевский. Записки из Мертвого дома (1862)]

The other author who seems to have been particularly fond of it was Saltykov-Shchedrin, who had recently used it in Губернские очерки (1856-1857): “Во-первых, эти слова очищают воздух от тлетворных испарений, которые оставляет за собой губернский аристократ, а во-вторых, они огорошивают самого аристократа, который поспешно подбирает распущенный хвост, и из нахального индюка становится хоть на время скромною индейкой…” That could well be where the prince picked it up.

Colonialism or gas

Aug. 13th, 2017 08:19 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

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.



Aug. 13th, 2017 07:51 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

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
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

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

lathany: (Default)
[personal profile] lathany
At the moment I'm sort-of replaying games. Plus playing the on-line Final Fantasy (XIV) with ao_lai, chrisvenus and Alistair.

The first is Syberia II. I'm playing this because I've just finished replaying Syberia (I) and want to remind myself of the story before I play Syberia III. (III came out this year and I bought it in the summer sale).

Here's a rather unexciting screenshot - I'm only at the start of the game.

As for FFXIV, I'm pretty near the start for that. However, I won't be playing next week, so I'm doing some solo catch-up.

Here's a dubious mage I met on my travels.

There there's Secret World Legends; it's the relaunch of The Secret World. I'm playing the current event - The Whispering Tide. This involves killing the Bird of the Zero-Point Pathogen, aka Flappy.

That's been my week!


Aug. 12th, 2017 09:29 pm
[syndicated profile] languagehat_feed

Posted by languagehat

I ran across the Russian word томпак [tompak], looked it up, and discovered it was defined as “tombac.” Just this once, the Oxford dictionary took pity on the ignorant user and added the parenthetical “(copper and zinc alloy),” so I knew what it meant, but of course I wanted to know the derivation. Vasmer told me it was from French tombac and originally from Malay, AHD said “French, from Dutch tombak, from Malay tembaga,” and Wikipedia says the latter is “an Indonesian/Malay word of Javanese origin meaning copper,” but the best (or at any rate most intriguing) etymology I’ve found (via Google Books) is in Robert Blust’s “Linguistics versus Archaeology” in Archaeology and Language III: Artefacts, Languages and Texts, p. 138:

A second term that spread in much the same way as Dempwolff’s *pirak was the Prakrit /tamraka/ ‘copper’, attested as Tagalog /tumbaga/ ‘copper-gold alloy’, Malay /tembaga/ ‘copper’. As noted in Blust (1992) this term appears to have entered the AN world during the early Srīwijaya period. During the later Srīwijaya or early Islamic period it was diffused via Malay trading activities into the Philippines, apparently arriving first in the area of Manila Bay. In time the Manila galleon trade which brought New World metals to the Philippines to trade for southern Chinese silks led to a redefinition of the earlier Tagalog /tumbaga/ ‘copper’ to mean ‘copper-gold alloy’, and the borrowing of a Southern Min word (Tagalog /tansoʔ/) as a new term for copper’.

And Prakrit tamraka is presumably Sanskrit ताम्रक tâmra-ka ‘copper,’
whose etymology I do not know. A well-traveled word!

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