Cultural invasion

Sep. 20th, 2017 01:44 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Article in South China Morning Post (9/19/17) by Jasmine Siu:

"Activist fined HK$3,000 for binning Hong Kong public library books in ‘fight against cultural invasion’ from mainland China:  Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, 29, convicted of theft over dumping of books printed in simplified Chinese characters"

A radical Hong Kong activist was on Tuesday fined HK$3,000 for dumping library books in a bin in what he said was an attempt to protect children from the “cultural invasion” of simplified Chinese characters.

Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, 29, had told the court during trial that he had become angry after learning from newspapers that the Hong Kong government had “wasted public funds” to stock the city’s libraries with 600,000 books written in the simplified characters more commonly used in mainland China. Hong Kong uses traditional characters.

Kowloon City Court magistrate Wong Sze-lai, who convicted Cheng of theft, slammed his conduct as “selfish and stupid”, adding that the purpose behind the crime did not matter. She said English folk hero Robin Hood would similarly be found guilty of theft even for robbing the rich to help the poor.

Outside court, Cheng said the conviction made him feel “quite helpless” since he had never held any desire to obtain the property of others yet had been found guilty of an offence involving dishonesty.

He did not comment on whether he would continue his campaign against simplified characters, save for saying: “I hope Hongkongers will cherish and defend our language.”

Cheng, the vice-chairman of localist political party Civic Passion, went to a public library in Ho Man Tin on March 29 last year in the hope of “protecting libraries” and drawing attention to his cause. He filmed himself dumping nine children’s books into a library rubbish bin. The books cost HK$505 in total.

Cheng said that since children would not be able to tell the difference at a young age between the two versions of characters, the simplified books might affect their cognitive learning and confuse them. He also said the “effects and poisonous influences” of such books went beyond just the different shapes on a page.

The recorded stunt was uploaded to his Facebook page, where he called on others to follow suit during his campaign to run for a seat in Hong Kong’s legislature in elections last September.

I have quoted the article extensively because the issues at stake are of such profound importance for the people of Hong Kong that it is best to have as much of the background to the story as possible.  Alvin Cheng Kam-mun was motivated not by greed or dishonesty; his act was one of civil disobedience to the imposition of an alien writing system and mode of thought, using public funds, on the people of Hong Kong, without their consent or consultation.

The matter of what many Hong Kongers viscerally consider to be a degraded writing system pertains to culture and is particularly sensitive since the books were directed toward children at a malleable, formative stage of their life, but it is also linked to potent political issues that have the potential to cause tremendous social conflict.  Indeed, during the past week we have seen the universities of Hong Kong, especially the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK), engulfed in controversy and chaos over whether students have a right to put up posters and banners mentioning independence.

Talk like a pirate

Sep. 19th, 2017 09:13 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day again, but I've got nothing to add to our past coverage:

"R!", 11/03/2003
"Type like a pirate day", 9/9/2004
"R!?", 9/19/2005
"Type like a pirate", 9/18/2006
"Pirate R as I-R-eland", 9/20/2006
"Powarrr law", 9/20/2006
"Post like a pirate", 9/19/2007
"R", 9/9/2008
"Said the Pirate King, Aaarrrf", 9/27/2010
"R R R", 9/19/2012


Distributed confusion

Sep. 19th, 2017 11:34 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Tweeted yesterday by the magazine Bon Appétit (which is apparently not the same as the restaurant management company):

Extensive commentary ensued —


[syndicated profile] nickelinthemachine_feed

Posted by nickelinthemachine

Comedian Dickie Henderson uses a stool as a prop while he waits for his plane at London Airport.

Comedian Dickie Henderson uses a stool as a prop while he waits for his plane at London Airport.

When the last chord of ‘Twist and Shout’ came to an end, the Beatles grouped together at the front of the Prince of Wales Theatre stage. The blue curtain swished closed behind them and, from the waist and in unison, they bowed  first to the ‘cheap seats’, then turned and bowed again to the ‘jewellery wearers’ in the Royal Box. With the orchestra playing and the audience still applauding they skipped and ran off  the stage with boyish energy.

It was the comedian Dickie Henderson, unenviably, who was next to perform, and after the applause had died down he said: ‘The Beatles … young … talented … frightening!’ The audience laughed, but it had been said with feeling. He, like most of the other acts on the bill of the Royal Variety Performance in November 1963, including Marlene Dietrich, who couldn’t understand why all the camera lenses had been pointing at the four young men from Liverpool, suddenly felt very old-fashioned.

The Beatles relax backstage at London's Prince of Wales Theatre, before the Royal Variety Performance, 4th November 1963. They are supporting Marlene Dietrich in the show. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward)

The Beatles relax backstage at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, before the Royal Variety Performance, 4th November 1963. They are supporting Marlene Dietrich in the show. (Photo by Mark and Colleen Hayward)

Henderson’s fame was at its peak that November, and it was on purpose and as a reassuringly safe pair of hands that Bernard Delfont had asked him to follow the Beatles that night. The theatre impresario had had too many bad experiences with pop groups dying in front of indifferent mink-wearing Royal Variety audiences,and when he had booked the Beatles earlier that year, on the advice of his daughter Susan, he had never heard of them. The primetime Dickie Henderson Show had recently finished on ITV (it was a staple on the channel between 1960 and 1968) and that summer Henderson had been top of the bill of a popular show called Light Up the Town at the Brighton Hippodrome.

Today you would almost have to be a pensioner to remember Henderson in his prime, but he was once described by Roy Hudd as ‘perhaps the most versatile and certainly the smoothest, most laid-back comedian it had been my pleasure to see’, adding that ‘he danced, sang and delivered one-liners wonderfully, and even his prat-falls were, somehow, classy … He was, without doubt, the best I ever saw.’

Dickie had come from a ‘showbiz’ family. Before the First World War his sisters, Triss and Winnie, were a pair of popular dancers and singers called the Henderson Twins, while his father, Dick Henderson, was a rotund, bowler-hatted comedian and singer known in the music halls, where he had made his name, as ‘The Yorkshire Nightingale’. His trademark was his breakneck banter, salty and censorious, and delivered in a strong Hull accent. Part of his act was to tell the audience that he didn’t want any applause because he was there ‘strictly for the money’. He is perhaps most famous for the first British recording of ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’, with which, accompanying himself on the ukulele, he usually entered and exited the stage.

Dick Senior, like his son, also performed at Royal Variety shows, the first of which was in 1926 when King George V laughed at: ‘I went to get married and asked the vicar how much it was. He said, “What do you think it’s worth?” I gave him a shilling. He took one look at the bride and gave me twopence back!’

Henderson was a fat man and he usually started his performance by standing sideways, showing o his large belly, saying: ‘I was standing outside a maternity hospital, minding my own business … ’ He died in 1958, just a few days before what would have been his third Royal Variety show. Dickie Henderson’s first job in show business was, as a ten-year-old, playing Master Marriott in the 1933 film of Noël Coward’s play Cavalcade, a movie made while his father was in California performing in vaudeville.

Henderson Senior, despite losing most of his life savings in the Wall Street Crash, was earning reasonably good money in the States where he was commanding top billing in the smaller houses, and was a much appreciated feature act in the bigger circuit halls. Even though the popularity of vaudeville was on the wane, Henderson Senior often earned an impressive $1,000 per week. Dickie tells a story in his half-finished autobiography that Hal Roach had once offered his father, a stout gentleman who never performed without his bowler hat, to ‘test’ with Stan Laurel, another Englishman from the north of England. His father turned him down, however, as the money was only half of what he was earning on stage. Henderson Senior always regretted this decision but later admitted that, compared with Oliver Hardy, ‘I would never have been as good.’

Henderson Senior did make a few films, however, including The Man from Blankley’s in 1930, which starred Loretta Young and John Barrymore, now unfortunately lost. It wasn’t necessarily an easy life in Hollywood at that time, despite the warm Californian sunshine. Noël Coward, unhappy that everyone seemed to ‘work too deuced hard’, once described a typical day while working on Cavalcade: ‘They get up at 6.30 … stand around all day under the red-hot lights … eat hurriedly at mid-day, and because they are too tired to sit up, late at night have their supper served on trays. That’s no way to live, and certainly no way to work.’

Calvacade 1933

Young Dickie on the left in a lobby card for Cavalcade released in 1933

The Henderson Twins and Dick copy

Dickie and the Henderson Twins, c1936

2. Dick Jnr with his father and Max Miller in Things are Looking Up 1934 copy

Dick Jnr with his father and Max Miller in Things are Looking Up, 1934

After the young Dickie had completed his part on Cavalcade, for which he earned $400 for the month’s work, the whole family returned to England on the liner RMS Lancastria. Ten years later, on 17 June 1940, the Lancastria, sank in twenty minutes after it was bombed by the Luftwaffe near the French port of Saint-Nazaire. The sinking of the Lancastria has almost been forgotten but it was the largest loss of life from a single engagement for British forces in the Second World War – about 4,000 men, women and children died. It was also the largest loss of life in British maritime history – greater than the Titanic and Lusitania combined.4 Dickie left school at fifteen, and became ‘prop boy’ with Jack Hylton’s Band, with whom his twin sisters, two years his senior, were singing.

Two years later, the twins had become ‘headliners’ throughout the country and Henderson was learning everything about stagecraft, which he would put to good use for the rest of the career. Looking back at this time he once wrote:

The time on the road, when not performing, we spent learning. Every morning jugglers, acrobats, dog acts and dancers rehearsed. Always rehearsing. In exchange for dance steps from dancers, the jugglers taught dancers how to twirl a cane. Acrobats put you in a harness and taught you back-somersaults. That is why performers, then, could do a bit of everything. I was fortunate to have been part of it, before ‘that school closed’, to quote the great Jacques Tati.

In September 1939, at the start of the Second World War, all the theatres were instructed to close. Dickie became a messenger boy with Air Raid Precautions (ARP), given a bicycle and told to await instructions. There never were any instructions, and when the theatres reopened, after just two weeks, he was back to his pre-war life and travelling around the country as a junior touring performer.

Lieutenant Henderson, 1942

Lieutenant Henderson, 1942

Just as he was about to appear, along with Naunton Wayne and the Hermiones Gingold and Baddeley, in A La Carte, his first West End show, Henderson was called up. It was 1942 and he was nineteen. In the next three years he had, in his own words, ‘an extremely cushy war’. He didn’t have to leave Britain and he saw no action.

Second Lieutenant Dickie Henderson wasn’t able to re-join civilian life until 1946. He was just one of over 4 million servicemen who were demobilised between June 1945 and January 1947. Like thousands and thousands of others, he made his way to Olympia to swap his service uniform for the ubiquitous ‘demob’ outfit. Most of the servicemen in the queues were grumbling about the length of time it had taken for them to get there. The first illustration in the book Call Me Mister! – A Guide to Civilian Life for the Newly Demobilised was a cartoon of an old and decrepit man holding his release book and saying, ‘To think I should really live to see myself demobbed.’

Call Me Mister! A Guide to Civilian Life For the Newly Demobilised published in 1945

Call Me Mister! A Guide to Civilian Life For the Newly Demobilised published in 1945




By the end of 1945, 75,000 de-mob suits were being made every week and supplied by tailors such as Burtons, a company founded by Montague Burton and where, perhaps, the phrase the ‘full Monty’ came from – meaning the full set of demob clothes supplied by the firm. Anthony Powell, who served in the Welch Regiment and later the Intelligence Corps during the war, used a scene set in the demob centre at Olympia in the closing passages of his 1968 novel The Military Philosophers: ‘Rank on rank, as far as the eye could scan, hung flannel trousers and tweed coats, drab mackintoshes and grey suits with a white line running through the material’. He pondered whether the massed ranks of empty coats on their hangers somehow symbolised the dead.

The ‘full monty’, as it were, included socks, a shirt, a tie, a hat, cu links and collar studs and came in a ‘handsome box bound with green string’. The accompanying label featured the magic word – to men who had been in the services for six or more years anyway – ‘Mr’, followed by their name. The de-mob suit, often ill-fitting due to the lack of the right sizes available, was a subject to which literally millions of people could relate and became an important ingredient of much post-war comedy. The comedian Norman Wisdom, whose suits were always far too tight with ‘half-mast’ trousers, had been demobilised in 1946 and was once described by John Hall in the Guardian as ‘Pagliacci in a demob suit’.10 Frankie Howerd, yet another of the generation of British comedians who came to prominence in the years after demobilisation, performed in a badly fitting demob suit, probably because, like countless others, he had nothing else to wear.

Dickie himself described his new demob clothes as a ‘grey double- breasted three-piece pinstripe suit, snap trilby hat and a flannelette shirt a air, rather like pyjamas’. He also mentioned his ‘cumbersome shoes’, and it was often joked by the new civilians that the footwear provided by the government needed to be particularly stout and rugged to stand up to the constant wear and tear as they tramped around endless pavements in search of suitable employment.

After his visit to the Olympia De-Mob Centre, Dickie later wrote about how embarrassed he was of his new civilian clothes when, walking down Piccadilly on his way to see his sister Triss, he bumped into a snappily dressed Jack Hylton, who was wearing a suit from Hawes and Curtis in Jermyn Street, a Sulka shirt from the shop on Old Bond Street, and shoes by Walkers of Albermarle Street. Triss Henderson, who had sung with Hylton but was now dancing solo after her sister had met and married a GI during the war, was appearing in a revue called Piccadilly Hayride at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The same theatre, located on Coventry Street between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, where Dickie would be compering the 1963 Royal Variety show seventeen years later.

Triss Henderson, Dickie's sister from the Piccadilly Hayride programme.

Triss Henderson, Dickie’s sister from the Piccadilly Hayride programme.

The Ross Sisters, from the Piccadilly Hayride programme

The Ross Sisters, from the Piccadilly Hayride programme

Sid Field performing as Slasher Green the spiv in Piccadilly Hayride.

Sid Field performing as Slasher Green the spiv in Piccadilly Hayride.

The Piccadilly Hayride revue at the Prince of Wales Theatre, where Dickie’s sister Triss Henderson was performing, was actually the comedian Sid Field’s triumphant return to the stage after the disappointment of the expensive technicolour film London Town released the previous year. Much to Field’s relief, the disastrous reception of the movie didn’t at all damage the mutual love affair he now had with the West End audiences and theatre critics and it cemented his reputation as perhaps one of the greatest comedians ever to appear on the West End stage.

Preceding Field’s first sketch of the show, entitled The Return of Slasher Green, Triss Henderson performed the opening song called ‘Let’s Have a Piccadilly Hayride’ with fellow performer Pauline Black, the daughter of the theatrical producer, George Black. At Al Burnett’s nightclub The Stork, just off Regent Street, Pauline introduced Dickie to a young woman called Dixie Ross, part of an extraordinary American singing, dancing and contortionist act called the Ross Sisters (‘Pretzels with Skin’ said some of their posters).

Dixie Jewell Ross was just sixteen and along with her two elder sisters, Veda Victoria Ross and Betsy Ann Ross, eighteen and twenty years old respectively, had travelled to Britain on the RMS Queen Mary, docking at Southampton on the 10 September 1946. Each sister, presumably so they could perform ‘legally’ in clubs in the US and subsequently the UK, had assumed the identity and birthday of the next older sister, and carried passports to this effect. The eldest of the trio, Eva, managed this by taking the name and birth date of Dorothy Jean Ross, the first-born sibling, who had died just a few months old of whooping cough in 1925. Informally the sisters continued to use their original given names, but formally their ‘legal’ names became Dorothy Jean, Eva V and Veda V. Confused? You will be, because the Ross Sisters often used the stage names of Aggie, Maggie and Elmira.

1th September 1946:  Actress sisters Betsy, Vicky and Dixie Ross at Waterloo Station, on arrival in London on the Queen Mary boat train. They are to appear in the new Sid Field show 'Piccadilly Hayride'.

1th September 1946: Actress sisters Betsy, Vicky and Dixie Ross at Waterloo Station, on arrival in London on the Queen Mary boat train. They are to appear in the new Sid Field show ‘Piccadilly Hayride’.


US Promotional photograph of the Ross Sisters c.1944

US Promotional photograph of the Ross Sisters c.1944

Dixie Ross

Dixie Ross, c.1944

Whatever they were called, just four years previously the girls and their parents were all living in a trailer near New York. The Ross Sisters’ parents were originally very poor dirt farmers from west Texas. When the dust storms drove them off the land,Mr Ross started working on the Texan and Mexican oil fields, while the girls’ amateur acrobatics were good enough to perform at county fairs and such like. Eventually they were good enough to appear in theatres around the country, and they pooled their money and bought a trailer.

In 1942 they got their big break, being asked to join the cast of Count Me In, a musical starring Charles Butterworth at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. In the evenings the girls were appearing in a Broadway show while living in a trailer parked at Ray Guy’s Trailer Park, Bergen Boulevard, which is about a mile across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. American syndicated newspapers reported that they were ‘thrilled about their first trip to New York. “But,” says Betsy, who is twenty and the eldest, “we certainly aren’t going to give up our trailer until we are sure of the future.”’

The Texan-born sisters had been invited to the West End by Val Parnell, the managing director of the Moss Empire theatres network, who thought they’d work really well in Piccadilly Hayride. Parnell had seen the Ross Sisters’ performance in a film called Broadway Rhythm, an MGM hodgepodge of a musical released in 1944. It starred Ginny Simms and George Murphy, who played a Broadway producer looking for big-name stars, while ignoring the talent around him from his family and friends. The film was essentially a pageant of various MGM speciality acts, including impressionists, nightclub singers and tap dancers.

The short New York Times review of the film included the line: ‘Three little girls, the Ross Sisters, do a grand acrobatic dance.’ The ‘grand acrobatic dance’ is pretty well all that’s remembered of the  lm these days, and seventy years or so after the  lm was released, their remarkable performance has been seen by millions on Youtube and certainly by many more people than on its original cinema release in 1944.

The extraordinary performance by the Ross Sisters in Broadway Rhythm

Snapshot of the Ross Sisters in the US, c.1944.

Snapshot of the Ross Sisters in the US, c.1944.

Dixie Ross doing what she did best, c.1944.

Dixie Ross doing what she did best, c.1944.

If Broadway Rhythm wasn’t particularly successful, Piccadilly Hayride, riding on Sid Field’s incredible popularity, certainly was, and it ran for an incredible 778 performances and took over £350,000 at the box office. The original songs for the revue were written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, one of which, ‘Five Minutes More’, was sung by the Ross Sisters, and a version by Frank Sinatra became one of the most popular songs of the year.

Dickie fell in love with young Dixie, and although he was performing in a touring revue entitled Something to Shout About (a title it didn’t live up to, according to Dickie) when he was in London he took her to nightspots such as the Coconut Grove at 177 Regent Street – a club where the Latin American bandleader Edmundo Ros had performed during the war. Dickie would later appear in cabaret there, and describes it in his autobiography: ‘It was like all night-clubs at the time: a cellar where one could drink scotch or brandy after hours out of a cracked co ee cup in case of a police raid. It was never raided during the three months that I was there, and with Savile Row police station only one hundred yards away, I drew my own conclusions regarding the dogged efficiency of the police surveillance.’

When Piccadilly Hayride closed, Dixie and her sisters went to France to perform at the glamorous Bar Tabarin on rue Victor Massé with the likes of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Meanwhile, Dickie went into pantomime in Brighton with the double-act Jewel and Warriss. After the six-week run, a broke Dickie used up his last £10 for a flight to Paris and immediately proposed to Dixie. He assumed that, if she accepted, he had time to save some money as she and her sisters had planned to tour Australia for six months.

The next morning they strolled down the Champs-Elysées and Dixie turned to Dickie and said, ‘Darling, I have some wonderful news… ’ The middle sister, Vicki, had fallen in love with the French ventriloquist Robert Lamouret (who performed with a Donald Duck-a-Like called Dudulle and was also part of Piccadilly Hayride). He had proposed to her but she didn’t want to break up the act. ‘But she can now, as we are getting married too!’ said Dixie. Henderson and Dixie Jewell Ross married in the summer of 1948 at Westminster Cathedral, with the comedian Jimmy Jewel as the best man.

Entertainment - Dickie Henderson - London Airport

Dickie leaping over Dixie at home in Kensington on his 37th birthday, 1959.

Dickie leaping over Dixie at home in Kensington on his 37th birthday, 1959.

Exactly fifteen years later, on 10 July 1963, a few weeks before he followed the ‘frightening’ Beatles on to the Royal Variety stage at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Dickie Henderson arrived at his home in Kensington, only to be told his wife had died on the way to hospital. Dixie Henderson, at the age of thirty-three, and according to the coroner, had taken fifteen or sixteen barbiturate sleeping pills. She had left a note for the ‘daily’ saying that she wasn’t to be disturbed. Whether it was suicide or a tragic cry for help, the coroner gave an open verdict and it was noted that it had been Dickie and Dixie’s fifteenth wedding anniversary.

In fact Dickie hadn’t seen his wife for two weeks, and would write in his unfinished autobiography that they were on a trial separation at the time, and that he was actually returning home to discuss a reconciliation. Dixie was buried in Gunnersbury Cemetery in Acton. On the gravestone it says ‘Dixie’, but the marriage and death certifcate both have her name as Veda Victoria – the name she borrowed from her older sister twenty years before and never officially relinquished.

Dixie Henderson's grave in Gunnersbury Cemetery in Acton.

Dixie Henderson’s grave in Gunnersbury Cemetery in Acton.

Invariably a safe pair of hands, the ‘classy’ Dickie Henderson went on to perform in eight Royal Variety shows. After making his television debut on Arthur Askey’s Before Your Very Eyes in 1953, he became a much-loved national star during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Some forty-seven years after making his inauspicious stage debut as an ‘eccentric dancer’, the always neat and dapper Dickie succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1985.

Dickie Henderson on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1959

This is an excerpt from my new book called High Buildings, Low Morals and due to be published on 15 October 2017. Contact me by email or twitter if you’d like a signed copy.

High Buildings, Low Morals - Another Sideways Look at 20th Century London

High Buildings, Low Morals – Another Sideways Look at 20th Century London


Samuel Johnson's birthday

Sep. 19th, 2017 10:01 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

One of yesterday's Google Doodles commemorates Samuel Johnson's 308th birthday:

A partially-transcribed digital edition can be found here. The lexicographer entry is here (transcribed) and here (page scan):

Neo-Nazi kanji

Sep. 18th, 2017 03:49 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Tattoo on the shoulder of a marcher in Charlottesville on Saturday, August 12:

Source: "A lot of white supremacists seem to have a weird Asian fetish," Vice News, Dexter Thomas (9/12/17)

People who know only the Chinese forms of the characters are puzzled by this tattoo.  It is a Japanese kanji, not a Chinese hanzi.

It can mean English "real": riaru リアル.

The on (Sinitic style) reading is jitsu the kun (Japanese style) reading is mi.

See the etymologies here.

The Chinese simplified equivalent is shí 实; the traditional form is 實.

Check out the definitions here: "real; true; honest; solid"   I think the guy is wearing this tattoo to indicate his dedication to "truth" and "reality".

[h.t. Ben Zimmer, Lane Greene; thanks to Fangyi Cheng]

Patriarchal homestead

Sep. 18th, 2017 01:43 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

A tweet by Alex Gabuev:

The first translation on the panel (Northern Landscapes) seems all right, but both the Chinese and the English of the second are laughably off the mark.

The word “патриаршее” means “something that belongs to the Patriarch (of the Russian Orthodox Church)”. The original meaning of “подворье” is “inn”, “guest house”.  However, in this context it means “residence” (the temporary residence) rather than a “farmstead”.  Together, the phrase “патриаршее подворье” may be rendered as “Patriarch’s residence”.

For the Chinese, "zhòngnán qīngnǚ de nóngzhuāng 重男轻女的农庄" is a direct translation of the English, but taking the wrong meaning ("androcentric") of the mistranslated English word "patriarchal".  A better translation of “патриаршее” (from Greek Πατριάρχης) would be zōng zhǔjiào 宗主教 (Patriarch).

[h.t. Don Clarke; thanks to Nikita Kuzmin]

[syndicated profile] dinosaur_comics_feed
archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
September 18th, 2017next


– Ryan

The Fourth TetZooCon

Sep. 18th, 2017 10:40 am
[syndicated profile] tetrapod_zoology_feed

Posted by Darren Naish

It’s time once again for a unique conference experience, and it happens in London on October 21…

--

09/15/17 PHD comic: 'Inner Gollum'

Sep. 17th, 2017 12:25 pm
[syndicated profile] phd_comics_feed
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Inner Gollum" - originally published 9/15/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!


Sep. 16th, 2017 02:46 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Receipt for yesterday's lunch:

The Ethiopian server asked for my name.

"Victor," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"Vic-tor," I enunciated as clearly as possible.

I paid for my order, then stood by the side to wait for my name to be called.

After about four minutes, she called out, "Bichetr!"

I claimed my burger, amidst the smiles of the other customers and the people working behind the counter.


[Thanks to Gypsy Gal]

What were they thinking?

Sep. 16th, 2017 01:18 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Alex Baumans writes:

Perhaps no news to you, but I just discovered that the new Range Rover model is called the Velar. I wonder if the Uvular will be next.

To be followed by the Range Rover Pharyngeal and the Range Rover Glottal. (Or maybe a hybrid version called the Range Rover Labiovelar?)

And Jeep could fight back with the Jeep Ergative and the Jeep Grand Optative…


[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

In "Impromptu biscriptalism on a Starbucks cup" (9/8/17), we encountered a Starbucks cup from Shenyang, northeast China that had the following handwritten notation on the side:  wài's 外's ("foreigner's").  I referred to the "'s" as impromptu because I thought that it was essentially a one-off phenomenon.  Nonetheless, I considered the "'s" to be linguistically significant in two major ways:  1. evidence of biscriptalism; 2. incorporation of an English morpheme in Chinese.

It turns out that that this use of "'s" on a Starbucks cup in the far northeast of China was by no means a unique or rare occurrence.  One of the commenters, Nicki, wrote in:

My coffee usually comes labeled like that, although I order in Chinese and do have a Chinese name, they never ask. They do ask my Chinese (or Chinese looking) companions for their names, and I have a few photos of our cups sitting together, labeled 王's and 欧's and 外's.*

Yes, all three with the apostrophe s, from a Starbucks in Haikou, Hainan. As I recall, I ordered last.

[*VHM:  "Wang's", "Ou's", and "foreigner's".]

Nicki mentioned that she had posted a photo that documents what she wrote in the first paragraph of her comment.  With the help of others who are more familiar than I with the ways of Facebook, I tracked the photo down.  Here it is:

Can you guess which one is mine? #Starbucks #laowai #foreigner

Posted by Erik-Nicki Johnson on Saturday, August 2, 2014

So here, from Haikou in the far southeast of China, which is roughly 1,500 miles to the southeast from Shenyang, we have not one Starbuck's cup using the "'s" suffix, but using it with Chinese surnames as well as with the Chinese word for "foreigner".  All the more, this shows how widespread and natural this usage is.

[Thanks to TK Mair, Yixue Yang, Jinyi Cai, and Frédéric Grosshans]

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Ben Zimmer

This head-scratcher of a headline from the Belfast Telegraph was brought to our attention by Mike Pope: "Ed Murray: Sex abuse claim US mayor's time in Northern Ireland 'should be probed'".

Ed Murray, the article explains, recently resigned as the mayor of Seattle under a cloud of allegations of sexual abuse. Amnesty International has asked for a police investigation into Murray's time in Northern Ireland (he worked on a peace project in Belfast in the '70s) to see if there are any further allegations.

The headline is remarkably opaque, especially for those not familiar with the details of the Murray case. First, "Ed Murray" followed by a colon might suggest that Murray is the source of the information in the headline rather than the topic of it. Then we get the noun pile "Sex abuse claim US mayor", which is supposed to be understood as "US mayor tied to sex abuse claim". As if that wasn't bad enough, the noun pile is then put in a possessive construction with the 's clitic, upping the opacity even more.

The noun pile here surely rivals some of the other specimens we've examined from the British and Irish news media. It also continues the running theme of baffling "sex" headlines, such as "Corpse sex kill threat prisoner gets 45 year sentence", "China Ferrari sex orgy death crash", and "Blindfold sex knife attack ex-wife jailed for murder attempt".

[syndicated profile] dinosaur_comics_feed
archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
September 15th, 2017next

September 15th, 2017: Thanks to everyone you came out to Carleton Wednesday night! I had a great time and I was COMPLETELY SURPRISED by the cookies they had for all of us. Here's hoping that all future events have free cookies with my characters on them forever. Yes please!

– Ryan

A Bite of Russia

Sep. 15th, 2017 03:25 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

From Nikita Kuzmin:

Nikita writes:

This evening I found the above photo in my cellphone image gallery, which you may find rather interesting. I took this picture in August during my summer visit to Sergiyev Posad, a small town in the Moscow Region. It is considered as the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church, because the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius – one of the most influential monasteries in Russia, is situated there.

Just in front of the monastery, there is a Russian-cuisine restaurant, with a puzzling inscription in English, Russian, and Chinese. First, the inscriptions in three languages do not completely correspond with each other. Actually, only the Russian – Русский дворик (Russian courtyard) stands for the restaurant’s name.  Secondly, I am sure that the Chinese Phrase “体验舌尖上的俄罗斯”* originates from a famous Chinese TV program 舌尖上的中国**, which is devoted to different Chinese dishes and cuisines. Last, but not the least, the final phrase, “A bite of Russia”, reminds me of the English name of the program “A bite of China”. I was amazed how the owners of the restaurant transformed the original name of the Chinese TV program into an advertisement for their own establishment.


[VHM: *tǐyàn shéjiān shàng de Èluósī 体验舌尖上的俄罗斯 ("experience Russia on the tip of your tongue"); **shéjiān shàng de Zhōngguó 舌尖上的中国 ("China on the tip of your tongue") — incidentally, shéjiān 舌尖 is the Chinese equivalent of "apical"]

Next time I go to Moscow, I will definitely want to make a day trip to Sergiyev Posad to experience the cuisine at Русский дворик (Russian courtyard).

Chicken paws and King Kong

Sep. 15th, 2017 02:54 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

A friend of Rebecca Hamilton saw this at a local market in Dundee Scotland:

On the right side of the package it says:

dà dòng jījiǎo 大冻鸡脚

The last two characters mean "chicken feet", but these are more commonly referred to as jīzhuǎ 鸡爪 ("chicken claws").

The first two characters literally mean "big freeze".  Several correspondents to whom I showed this were not sure what that signified:


dà dòng jījiǎo 大冻鸡脚 indeed sounds strange, but I think dà 大 ("big") probably means the size of the chicken feet, as in dà 大 ("big, medium, small"), zhōng 中 ("medium"), xiǎo 小 ("small").


This sounds and looks very odd. I guess it refers to the big size of the frozen chicken feet? Maybe it should be interpreted as dòng dà jījiǎo 冻 大鸡脚 ("frozen big chicken feet").

On the left side of the package it says jīngāng 金刚 (Cant. gam1gong1; Hakka kîm-kông; Minnan kim-kong; Jap. 金剛), which can mean:  "diamond; warrior attendant in Buddhism; vajra (Tib. dorje [thunderbolt]); King Kong", etc.

Here's the real origin of the name (for more, see Ben Zimmer's 2006 post, "Nias, Komodo, and 'Kong'"):

Merian C. Cooper was very fond of strong hard sounding words that started with the letter "K". Some of his favorite words were KomodoKodiak and Kodak. When Cooper was envisioning his giant terror gorilla idea, he wanted to capture a real gorilla from the Congo and have it fight a real Komodo dragon on Komodo Island. (This scenario would eventually evolve into Kong's battle with the tyrannosaur on Skull Island when the film was produced a few years later at RKO.) Cooper's friend Douglas Burden's trip to the island of Komodo and his encounter with the Komodo dragons there was a big influence on the Kong story. Cooper was fascinated by Burden's adventures as chronicled in his book Dragon Lizards of Komodo where he referred to the animal as the "King of Komodo". It was this phrase along with Komodo and C(K)ongo (and his overall love for hard sounding K words) that gave him the idea to name the giant ape Kong. He loved the name as it had a "mystery sound" to it.

When Cooper got to RKO and wrote the first draft of the story, it was simply referred to as The Beast. RKO executives were unimpressed with the bland title. David O. Selznick suggested Jungle Beast as the film's new title, but Cooper was unimpressed and wanted to name the film after the main character. He stated he liked the "mystery word" aspect of Kong's name and that the film should carry "the name of the leading mysterious, romantic, savage creature of the story" such as with Dracula and Frankenstein. RKO sent a memo to Cooper suggesting the titles Kong: King of BeastsKong: The Jungle King, and Kong: The Jungle Beast, which combined his and Selznick's proposed titles. As time went on, Cooper would eventually name the story simply Kong while Ruth Rose was writing the final version of the screenplay. Because David O. Selznick thought that audiences would think that the film, with the one word title of Kong, would be mistaken as a docudrama like Grass and Chang, which were one-word titled films that Cooper had earlier produced, he added the "King" to Kong's name to differentiate.

Kong-size chicken feet!

Confronting abuses of power

Sep. 14th, 2017 04:38 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Eric Baković

[This post was written with input from Emily M. Bender, Claire Bowern, Andrew Garrett, Monica Macaulay, David Pesetsky, Leslie Saxon, Karen Shelby, Kristen Syrett, and Natasha Warner.]

Many linguists, and probably also many regular Language Log readers, will have by now heard about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint recently filed by a set of faculty members currently or formerly associated with the University of Rochester’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The complaint alleges a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and other abuses of power by another member of the BCS faculty, the mishandling of investigations into this pattern of abuse by the BCS and UR administrations, and evidence of retaliation against the complainants. Some key links, for those who haven’t yet seen them:

[Update, 9/18/2017: here are some more reports.

… plus lots of reporting from the University of Rochester Campus Times, just two links to which Mark Liberman provided in a comment below. (end update)]

While we process the horror and come to terms with the publicity of this particular case, linguists everywhere are also mobilizing both to discuss and to do more to address the widespread problem of academic abuses of power, and sexual harassment in particular. We do not pretend to think that academia is somehow unique in any particular regard, but a key point that is emerging in these discussions is the recognition that its promotion procedures and incentives, its models of supervisory relationships, and its institutional structures may unfortunately serve to play mutually-reinforcing roles in attracting, fostering, and protecting abusers of power. We need to recognize that the whole field suffers when such abuse goes unchecked. Actions taken by those who would protect abusers distort the learning and research environment for victims, their allies, and our entire community.

Among the very first and most productive public discussions was this one initiated by Lauren Hall-Lew on her blog (9/9/2017). We know many department chairs have already addressed all members of their departments to express their strong commitment to working against sexual harassment and other abuses of power, and we think that this is an important discussion to begin in every department. A group of Linguistic Society of America members has been brought together by Claire Bowern to help draft an open letter to the LSA calling for attention and action from the Society, given the failures of our institutions (9/12/2017, with over 700 signatures as of this writing). The LSA, in turn, has responded to calls from both the Committee on the Status of Women in Linguistics and the Executive Committee and has announced a special workshop on “Sexism, Harassment, and Title IX Rights” for the 2018 Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City in January (9/12/2017).

And, of course, there are countless other discussions, some private, some more open, happening everywhere. Personal stories are being shared, from heartbreaking to horrific, and expressions of support for victims of abuse are everywhere. There is now a grassroots movement to foster an environment where linguists can have open discussions of this sort, sharing anonymously (or not) these kinds of stories so that the message gets out to our colleagues and junior members of the field that the problem affects more than just young women, and that there are options for responding.

All of this in just a few days. Linguists are good people. We can and will do better.

09/13/17 PHD comic: 'Impostor Attack'

Sep. 13th, 2017 07:41 pm
[syndicated profile] phd_comics_feed
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Impostor Attack" - originally published 9/13/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

Red intestines

Sep. 13th, 2017 08:11 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Tweet from Igor Denisov:

красная площадь ("Red Square")

Red Square

hóng cháng 红肠 ("intestines") — should be Hóng chǎng 红场 ("Red Square")

Red to the core!

[h.t. Jichang Lulu]

Learn from President Learn

Sep. 13th, 2017 02:01 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

By itself, the phrase "xuéxí lù shàng 学习路上" means "on the path / way / road" of learning.  However, when you see it in large characters at the top of a lavish website devoted to the life and works of President Xi Jinping, you cannot help but think that it also punningly conveys another meaning.

Another way to parse the four characters is "xué Xí lù shàng 学习路上" ("On the way / path / road of learning from Xi").

Never mind that punning has been outlawed in China (some relevant posts and articles as of the end of 2014):

I doubt that the Chinese communist government will ever be able to outlaw the ubiquitous injunction to "hǎohǎo xuéxí tiāntiān xiàngshàng 好好学习 天天向上" ("Study hard and make progress every day"), which has been enshrined in this immortal Chinglish translation:

The concept of xuéxí 学习 "learn; study" is sanctified for both Confucians and Chinese Communists by virtue of its derivation from verse 1 of chapter 1 of the hallowed Analects (here in the Victorian translation of James Legge):

Zǐ yuē:`Xué ér shí xí zhī, bù yì yuè hū? Yǒu péng zì yuǎnfāng lái, bù yì lè hū? Rén bù zhī ér bù yùn, bù yì jūnzǐ hū?'


The Master said, "Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application? Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters? Is he not a man of complete virtue*, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?"

[*VHM: "jūnzǐ 君子" is often translated into English as "superior man; gentleman; person of noble character; man of honor"]

It's in the was

Sep. 13th, 2017 08:04 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

The marvellous New Zealand-born opera soprano Kiri Te Kanawa announced that she has now retired from performance. Talking to the BBC about it this morning, she said of her voice: "It's in the was."

It's not a foreignism (she's a native speaker of English, not Maori). It was an on-the-fly playful way to say "It's something that should henceforth be referred to using the preterite tense." She followed "It's in the was" by "It's in the past" to gloss it. But it was a cute turn of phrase. I can almost imagine it catching on.

M & W WC

Sep. 12th, 2017 05:50 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Zeyao Wu took these two pictures in Guangzhou. She found these signs in a small market which sells vegetables and fruits.

This question is for those readers who are not familiar with Chinese characters:

Which would you trust more, the male and female figures or the English words?

Here's what the Chinese says:

#1 nǚ xǐshǒujiān 女洗手间 ("women's toilet")

#2 nán xǐshǒujiān 男洗手间 ("men's toilet")

Are my English translations correct?  It would probably be more common to say "women's room" and "men's room".  Is there any better way?

Of course, the usual way would be just to write "Women" and "Men" or "W" and "M", or to use some other clever designations such as those depicted herehere, and here.

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

A tip from Twitter:

The headline: "Man who urinated on woman at Drake concert before drink-drive killer girlfriend started brawl over avoids jail", The Mirror 9/11/2017:

Ben Zimmer writes:

Even after reading the article I'm not sure how this headline is supposed to work. What's the complement of "over" supposed to be?

Maybe the killer girlfriend started the brawl over, i.e. started it again after it had ended. It's true that the article doesn't really support this idea, but whatever.

Update — David Beaver figures it out:

My best pre-reading-the-article parse of “drink-drive killer girlfriend started brawl over”  was that it meant “the drink drive killer that the killer’s girlfriend started a brawl over”. I was proud of that parse. But I was in fact wrong. I suffer from the same problem as Ben here, namely that I speak English.

So here’s the apparent intention: There was a man who urinated on a woman at a concert by Drake, and later, the man's drink-drive-killer girlfriend started a brawl over him, but she avoided jail.

A resumptive pronoun is a pronoun that occurs where you might expect a gap. So this example illustrates (among other things) a resumptive gap, the inverse of a resumptive pronoun. The gap is sitting in what is supposed to be an extraction island in a subordinate clause, which is itself in some sort of attempted unbalanced subordination relation with a previous gapped clause. If we pop enough acid we should be able to parse it eventually.

And Geoff Nunberg commented:

“Resumptive gap”! PhDs have been awarded for less.

More twitter commentary here.

Toe-ly gumby a sound change

Sep. 12th, 2017 11:47 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

On Sunday 9/10/2017, Steve Bannon was interviewed on 60 Minutes. Looking at the interview from the perspective of a phonetician, I was struck by pervasive evidence of a little-studied sound change in progress. Word-internal intervocalic coronal consonants — /t/, /d/, /n/ — in weak positions (i.e. not followed by a stressed vowel) are deleted, and the surrounding vowels are merged. This process is increasingly common in American English, and is frequently exemplified in Steve Bannon's speech, at least in this sample.

Let's look at a few examples. Early in the interview, Charlie Rose says "You are attacking on many fronts people who you need to help you, to get things done", and Bannon responds:

They- they're not gonna help you
unless they're put on notice they're gonna be held accountable

if they do not support the president of the United States.
Right now there's no accountability.

They have totally
they do not support the president's program, it's an open secret on capitol hill,
everybody in the city knows it.

I've put in bold nine words where this process might apply. Let's take them one at a time.

(1) In the first example, "gonna" (which I'll assume is a lexicalized reduction of "going to") is pronounced as [ˈɡʌ.nə] — the intervocalic /n/ is a short (25 msec.) ballistic tap, but it's clearly there, and the syllable coalescence doesn't happen:

they're not gonna help you

gonna help

(2) The second example goes the other way — coalescence applies, and the sequence "gonna be" becomes just two phonetic syllables, [ˈgʌ̃.bi]. The /n/ leaves a nasalized vowel as its residue, and the second syllable of "gonna" is gone, with maybe some additional shading of the vowel following the [g]:

put on notice they're gonna be held accountable

gonna be

(3-4) The third and fourth examples are more striking, because some additional reductions some into play, and the whole sequence "president of the United States" comes out as something like [ˌprɛz.juˌnɑʲˈsteʲts]. To get this, we need not only to merge the second and third syllables of "president" and of "united" and reduce to nothing their final consonants, but also to elide "of the". Presumably for Mr. Bannon, "president of the United States" has become a low-entropy fixed expression, subject to extreme reductions like those that turn "Worcester" into [ˈwʊ.stɚ]:

if they do not support the president of the United States

president of the United States

(5) In the fifth example, coalescence applies, and "totally" become [ˈtoʷ.li]:

They have totally


(6) In the sixth example, "president's" becomes something like [ˈprɛ.zɪ̃z]. This exemplifies not only coalescence of the second and third syllables, but also simplification of the final consonant cluster, which is partly due to loss of the nasal murmur and partly to the loss of the /t/ closure. Both of these last phenomena are also widespread and almost obligatory — for example, Americans rarely pronounce the /t/ in final /sts/ clusters (as in "artists").

they do not support the president's program


I'll leave you to check the remaining three cases — "capitol", "everybody", and "city" — but my evaluation is that none of them show coalescence, so that the final score is five out of nine.

There's obviously more to be said. Are coalescences of this kind the end point of gradient phonetic reductions, or instances of an essentially quantal or symbolic "phonological rule", or new pronunciations entered in the mental lexicon as a result of either phonetic or phonological changes? Or maybe all three? For more discussion (than you probably want to read), see my paper "Towards Progress in Theories of Language Sound Structure", in a forthcoming festschrift for John Goldsmith.



Sep. 11th, 2017 04:02 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Guoming Zhang et al., "DolphinAttack: Inaudible Voice Commands", arXiv 8/31/2017:

In this work, we design a completely inaudible attack, DolphinAttack, that modulates voice commands on ultrasonic carriers (e.g., f > 20 kHz) to achieve inaudibility. By leveraging the nonlinearity of the microphone circuits, the modulated lowfrequency audio commands can be successfully demodulated, recovered, and more importantly interpreted by the speech recognition systems. We validate DolphinAttack on popular speech recognition systems, including Siri, Google Now, Samsung S Voice, Huawei HiVoice, Cortana and Alexa.

This suggests a more insidious version of the "Two tons of creamed corn" ploy:

Rather than the creamed-corn scenario, Zhang et al. suggest (and test) the following possible "sneaky attacks":

(1) Visiting a malicious website. The device can open a malicious website, which can launch a drive-by-download attack or exploit a device with 0-day vulnerabilities.
(2) Spying. An adversary can make the victim device initiate outgoing video/phone calls, therefore getting access to the image/sound of device surroundings.
(3) Injecting fake information. An adversary may instruct the victim device to send fake text messages and emails, to publish fake online posts, to add fake events to a calendar, etc.
(4) Denial of service. An adversary may inject commands to turn on the airplane mode, disconnecting all wireless communications.
(5) Concealing attacks. The screen display and voice feedback may expose the attacks. The adversary may decrease the odds by dimming the screen and lowering the volume.

In all of Zhang et al.'s experiments, the maximum effective distance at which various attacks were effective ranged from 2 to 175 cm, and it's not clear that versions of this technique can be made to work under inverse-square attentuation at greater distances, given the presumably low efficiency of the non-linear microphone effects that they're relying on to produce signals in the frequency range appropriate for speech. But still…

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Following up on "Citation crimes and misdemeanors" (9/9/2017), Breffni O'Rourke sent in a link to Michel Paradis, "More belles infidèles — or why do so many bilingual studies speak with forked tongue?", Journal of Neurolinguistics 2006:

This note reports misquotations, misinterpretations, misrepresentations, inaccuracies and plain falsehoods found in the literature on the neuroscience of bilingualism. They are astounding in both number and kind. Authors cite papers that do not exist, or that exist but are absolutely irrelevant to, or even occasionally argue against, the point they are cited to support; or they attribute a statement to the wrong source, sometimes to a person who has vehemently and persistently argued against it. Obvious errors are quoted for years by numerous authors who have not read the original paper, until somebody blows the whistle — and even then, some persevere. As Darwin [Darwin, C. (1872). The origin of species. 6th edition. New York: A. L. Burt.] put it: ‘great is the power of steady misrepresentation’.

A footnote explains the French phrase in the title:

Les belles infidèles (literally, ‘the unfaithful pretty ones’) refers to a literary practice popular in 19th century France, whereby translators would ‘improve’ on the source text and thus not be very faithful to the original (Zuber, 1968). The simile is that often facts or statements are reported in a light that makes them look favorable to one’s hypotheses, sometimes calling for some inadvertent embellishment. Sometimes, of course, the facts reported are simply blatantly false, for no apparent reason but lack of rigor on the part of the writer.

And in case you're curious, as I was, about the source of the Darwin quote, it comes from the start of chapter XV "Recapitulation and Conclusion" in later editions of The Origin of Species, e.g. from the 1872 edition (emphasis added):

I have now recapitulated the facts and considerations which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent. This has been effected chiefly through the natural selection of numerous successive, slight, favourable variations; aided in an important manner by the inherited effects of the use and disuse of parts; and in an unimportant manner, that is, in relation to adaptive structures, whether past or present, by the direct action of external conditions, and by variations which seem to us in our ignorance to arise spontaneously. It appears that I formerly underrated the frequency and value of these latter forms of variation, as leading to permanent modifications of structure independently of natural selection. But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position–namely, at the close of the Introduction–the following words: "I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification." This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.

It often seems to me that Darwin might have underestimated the endurance of misrepresentation, and Paradis certainly  supports this doubt, with a barrage of shocking examples. You should read the whole thing — I won't recapitulate its content here. But  I will take issue with one quantitative point. Paradis writes:

Massina et al. (2000) may hold the world record for cockeyed citations. These authors manage, in one single paper, to cite two nonexistent articles and another three that are absolutely irrelevant to the issue in support of which they are cited. They also refer to two nonexistent journals and three fictitious authors.

I believe that the world record in question still belongs to Brizendine (2006). In "Open-access sex stereotypes", 9/10/2006, I found nine (of nine) irrelevant articles listed in just one of that work's hundreds of end-notes. And in several other posts, I found other end-notes to be similarly irrelevant or empty, leading me to wonder whether the author or editor had hired a research assistant who coped with the long list of unsupported (and often unsupportable) assertions by throwing in whatever references some scientific information-retrieval system turned up.

But Paradis deserves the last word:

The reader will notice that the title of this article ends not with a period, but with a question mark. It is therefore not a promise to give the reasons why. What follows is thus not an attempt to answer the query. Rather, it is a rhetorical question of the type ‘why on earth?’ and has the elocutionary force of an imprecation to the gods. Nor will there be any attempt on my part at double guessing the intentions of the authors concerned. What is reported speaks for itself. Readers are free to reach their own conclusions. The proposed message is that nothing should be read uncritically—including this article. This is not an exercise in pedantry. It is a serious exhortation to readers to read with a critical eye whatever is found in print, even by reliable authors in prestigious publications. It is also a denunciation of certain practices, such as citing something that someone else has cited, without checking the source. One may be surprised to find out that the author in whose article the citation is found had not checked it either, sometimes with very unfortunate consequences: misinterpretations, misrepresentations, inaccuracies and plain falsehoods. This is why it is important to refer to the original sources and beware of secondhand reports, as the few examples below will illustrate.

[syndicated profile] dinosaur_comics_feed
archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
September 11th, 2017next


– Ryan

Hurricane naming policy change

Sep. 11th, 2017 10:01 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum

I think it's becoming clear that alternating male and female personal names to individuate Atlantic tropical cyclones is not a good idea. These storms are becoming far too nasty. Calling a storm "Harvey" makes it sound like your friendly uncle who always comes over on the Fourth of July and flirts with your mom. And "Irma" sounds like a dancer that he once knew when he was in Berlin. Science tells us that these devastating meteorological events are probably going to get worse in coming years. (Ann Coulter says that as a potential cause of increased violence in hurricanes, climate change is less plausible than God's anger at Houston for having elected a lesbian mayor; but let's face it, Ann Coulter is a few bricks short of a full intellectual hod.) Hurricanes need uglier names. You can't get Miami to evacuate by telling people that "Irma" is coming.

Accordingly, next year the National Hurricane Center is planning to name tropical cyclonic storms and hurricanes after unpleasant diseases and medical conditions. Think about it. The state governor tells you a hurricane named Dracunculiasis is coming down on you, you're gonna start packing the station wagon. So as the season progresses, the following will be the named storms in 2018.

  • Anthrax
  • Blastocystosis
  • Chlamydia
  • Dracunculiasis
  • Enterovirus
  • Filariasis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Herpes
  • Isosporiasis
  • Jaundice
  • Kuru
  • Legionellosis
  • Malaria
  • Norovirus
  • Onchocerciasis
  • Psittacosis
  • Quadriparesis
  • Rabies
  • Syphilis
  • Tetanus
  • Urethritis
  • Vasculitis
  • Warts
  • Xanthinuria
  • Yersiniosis
  • Zygomycosis

[Note: All of these are genuine. You can spend a contented if rather disgusting hour with Wikipedia verifying each. One of them has the same name as an Aryan tribe, a traditional Bhutanese sport, a lake steamer, several place names, and several footballers; but hey, that isn't my fault.]

For 2019, the plan is to use names of parasitic worms and flesh-burrowing insects. After that, probably venomous snakes.

Sinitic historical phonology

Sep. 11th, 2017 04:10 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

[Or, as David Prager Branner, who wrote the guest post below, jokingly calls it, "hysterical phrenology".  Note that Branner uses Gwoyeu Romatzyh ( "National Language Romanization"), a type of tonal spelling, for the transcription of Mandarin.]


This is on the subject of Carbo Kuo's 郭家寶 performance of Shyjing "Shyi yeou charngchuu 隰有萇楚" ("In the low wet grounds is the carambola tree") in Jenqjang Shanqfang's 鄭張尚芳 various antique reconstructions, sent to me by Victor Mair. It pleased me a lot. The issue is one of art, not scholarship, and it should be judged as art.

[VHM:  must hear]

Native Chinese written representations of sound are fundamentally abstract, befitting a linguistic environment with much variation. That may even be the result of multilingualism in the society that developed and spread the script — who knows?

But recitation and cantillation of texts in the past century, which we can observe today in real life and through recordings, make good use of that abstractness, as license for creative expression. These practices run on much the same principles as Chinese calligraphy.

I see no reason why reconstructions shouldn't be part of the cheese on which the blue mold of artistic performance grows. The only irritation — the cheese-maggot, if you will — is the conceit that a reconstruction is "authentic." But that bug is an exotic colonist, not native to poetic circles; its autochthonous home is in the world of historical linguistics.

For my part, I'd like to see more of this rather than less. Take a look at the rich range of reconstructions we have to pick from! They are far more diverse than the modern Chinese dialects. I listed at few in a review of Schuessler's splendid 2009 reconstruction in Minimal Old Chinese and Later Han Chinese: A Companion to Grammata Serica Recensa.


Sep. 10th, 2017 09:01 pm

Anaphoric ambiguity of the week

Sep. 9th, 2017 09:59 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Obeying the sign:

See also "Another step towards gender equality", 8/20/2006, "Dogless in Albion", 9/12/2011, and John Wells on "carrying dogs", 3/15/2013.

[From here via Carmen Fought]

Citation crimes and misdemeanors

Sep. 9th, 2017 12:24 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Terry Provost wrote to express interest in the topic of "citation plagiarism", linking to a couple of Bill Poser's LLOG posts ("Citation plagiarism", 6/15/2007; "Citation Plagiarism Once Again", 4/23/2008), and noting that "yours was one of very few mentions of the topic I found". Provost points to a somewhat more recent article on a related topic (Charlie Tyson, "Academic Urban Legends", Inside Higher Ed 8/6/2014), and added "Bottom line, I think the subject is quite important, as concerns things like the Jick letter, NEJM".

That's a reference to a letter reporting only four cases of addiction in 11,882 hospital patients who were given narcotics: Jane Porter and Hershel Jick, "Addiction rare in patients treated with narcotics", New England Journal of Medicine 1980. The idea seems to be that a harmful conclusion was spread by people who cited the letter without considering its content — see Taylor Haney, "Doctor Who Wrote 1980 Letter On Painkillers Regrets That It Fed The Opioid Crisis", NPR 6/16/2017.

I'm following up on this note because Bill Poser's old LLOG post no longer accepts comments, and so Terry Provost added his remarks as a comment on a randomly selected recent article, which is something we discourage. This new post gives Mr. Provost a chance to say his piece. (The reason for closing comments on old articles is that we were logging about 10,000 spam comments per day, before we closed comments on posts more than a couple of weeks old. We still get plenty of spam comments, but the number is more manageable, since there are fewer targets. )

While we're here, let me suggest that there are at least three kinds of crimes and misdemeanors to be found in academic citations.

First, there's something that almost everyone does, like driving 65 or 70 mph on a limited-access highway where the speed limit is 55. In cases of this kind, a work is known to be the source of a common technique or result, and is therefore often cited, athough many of the people who cite it haven't actually read it. For example, the idea of "i-vectors" for speaker recognition (and some other speech technology applications) was introduced in Najim Dehak et al., "Front-End Factor Analysis For Speaker Verification", IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing 2011. I-vectors are a simple, effective, and novel idea, and so this paper has been cited 1,846 times.  Because there are several i-vector tutorials, open-source software packages, etc., it's not necessary to read the original paper in order to understand the concept — but it's still appropriate to cite it, in order to give credit where credit is due. And many of the people who cite it will have learned about it in the bibliographies of other sources that they may not choose to cite.

I agree with Bill Poser that this is not plagiarism at all, and in most cases is not an ethical lapse of any kind — except that the habit of citing sources you haven't checked can lead to a second type of citation offense that's ethically more problematic, namely the "academic urban legend" situation. Here an invalid conclusion or false claim of fact is attributed to a source that doesn't in fact support it, or may even not exist, and the resulting citation is then replicated by others who don't bother to check the original.  This process is very common in popular books and in journalism, but it does also happen in academic writing. For one extensively documented example, see "An invented statistic returns", 2/22/2013, and the other posts and sources linked therein.

This sort of thing typically gets started when someone makes an authoritative-sounding claim that feeds into a popular stereotype or other memetic amplifier, allegedly supported by a complex and somewhat obscure article that has little or nothing to do with the claimed conclusion. Then others may support the claim by citing the false citation, or the innocent cited article, and off we go. For some other examples, see "Sex and speaking rate", 8/7/2006;"Sax Q & A", 5/17/2008; "Innate sex differences: science and public opinion", 6/20/2008.

In those examples, the memetic amplifier is popular interest in sex and gender differences — similar things are common in other nature/nurture arguments, especially with respect to race. But similar things also happen on a smaller scale in other, less fraught areas.

Finally, there are episodes that really do amount to a kind of plagiarism. My comment on Bill Poser's 2008 post:

There are related cases that are more troubling, and where the history can be reconstructed. Say A writes an obscure (even unpublished) paper, drawing important conclusions based on (properly cited) data drawn from B. Then C publishes, more prominently, similar conclusions citing the same data drawn from B, without citing A either as the source of the data or the source of the idea. But C's presentation of the data contains a scribal error — say a couple of transposed letters or digits — exactly matching an error found in A.

I've been told about one real case with exactly this structure. I know of several others where the tell-tale scribal error is missing, but the apparent exaggeration of originality remains. I grant that there's a long, gradual slope between this and the natural and inevitable diffusion of ideas.

And in my opinion the ethical lapse is similar in cases where the original insight was communicated verbally, and is then published as original with no acknowledgement.

Update — Another layer of complication is added by translation. Nietzsche is often quoted in English as referring to "the prison-house of language", most famously in Frederic Jameson's book The Prison-house of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism. The whole epigram is typically given as

We have to cease to think, if we refuse to do it in the prison house of language; for we cannot reach further than the doubt which asks whether the limit we see is really a limit.

But David Lovekin explains (Technique, Discourse, and Consciousness: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Jacques Ellul, 1991) that the prison-house metaphor was entirely invented in (generally uncited) translation:

I have discovered, however, that Jameson's quotation is taken from Erich Heller's essay "Wittgenstein and Nietzsche" in which Heller provides a quite loose and poetic translation of Nietzsche's actual words from Der Wille zur Macht that state: "Wir hören auf zu denken wenn wir es nicht in dem sprachichen Zwange thun wollen, wir langen gerade noch bei dem Zweifel an, hier eine Granze als Grenze zu sehn." Here, Nietzsche literally says: "We cease to think when we refuse to do so under the constraint of language; we barely reach the doubt that sees this limitation as a limitation." Heller has made a metaphor out of Zwange, constraint. Jameson has, apparently, copied Heller's translation without indicated the metaphor's origins (perhaps without knowing these origins). And literary critics have slavishly referred to the importance of this notion — the prison-house of language — with no sense of context or limitation. Jameson thereby adds force to the notion of the academic assembly line by example in its reduction of language to arbitrary nonreferential expression.


[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Photograph taken by a Russian friend of Nikita Kuzmin at a Starbucks in Shenyang, northeast China:

The handwriting on the side says simply:

wài's 外's ("foreigner's"), where the wài 外 is short for:

wàiguórén 外国人 ("foreigner")

lǎowài 老外 ("[old] furriner"), which we studied extensively in this post:

"Laowai: the old furriner" (4/9/14)

One might well ask why the barista didn't write "de 的", the Mandarin possessive particle equivalent to English "'s".  I submit that they felt the two strokes of "'s" were easier and simpler than the eight strokes of "de 的".  Not only that, using "'s" after the designation for a person at a Starbucks in Shenyang (Manchu name Mukden) shows that the English morpheme is thoroughly assimilated in Chinese and that it felt natural for the barista to do so.  We observed this already years ago in this post on the adoption of the English agentive suffix -er in Mandarin:

For digraphia, biscriptalism, and multiscriptalism, see — among others — the many posts listed here, and especially this intriguing early post:

A final observation is that I've never seen a Starbucks barista write "[so-and-so]'s" on a cup in any English-speaking country where I've been (they just write the name of the person without "'s"), so the barista in Shenyang was not emulating an English usage when they added "'s" to wài 外 ("outside[er]; foreigner").  Their "wài's 外's" ("foreigner's") is a thoroughly indigenous creation.

What—If Anything—Is a Geoemydid?

Sep. 9th, 2017 03:00 pm
[syndicated profile] tetrapod_zoology_feed

Posted by Darren Naish

Maybe you haven’t heard of them. They’re diverse, widespread, weird, sometimes colorful, and often critically endangered...

--

Dognitive Science

Sep. 8th, 2017 12:41 pm
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Mark Liberman

Since "Dognition" is now a Coursera MOOC as well as a company, it might be time to revisit an old, obscure and bitter joke — Garrison Cottrell, "Approaches to the Inverse Dogmatics Problem: Time for a Return to Localist Networks?", Connection Science 1993:

The innovative use of neural networks in the field of Dognitive Science has spurred the intense interest of the philosophers of Dognitive Science, the Dogmatists. The field of Dogmatics is devoted to making sense of the effect of neural networks on the conceptual underpinnings of Dognitive Science. Unfortunately, this flurry of effort has caused researchers in the rest of the fields of Dognitive Science to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to make sense of the philosophers, otherwise known as the Inverse Dogmatics problem (Jordan, 1990). The problem seems to be that the philosophers have allowed themselves an excess of degrees of freedom in conceptual space, as it were, leaving the rest of us with an underconstrained optimization problem: should we bother listening to these folks, who may be somewhat more interesting than old Star Trek reruns, or should we try and get our work done?

You pass History of Connection Science 101 if you can decode the list of references:

Extra credit if you can do it without internet access.


Sep. 8th, 2017 12:00 am
[syndicated profile] dinosaur_comics_feed
archive - contact - sexy exciting merchandise - search - about
September 8th, 2017next


– Ryan

Backward characters

Sep. 8th, 2017 01:29 am
[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

Name on a ship that docked in Yancheng (in Jiangsu province) harbor last Thursday:

The reason there are armed public security forces patrolling near the ship is because it was full of smuggled cargo.  The story is reported here:

"Smugglers caught because they got their Chinese characters the wrong way round:  Language blunder gives sugar carriers a bitter lesson after it attracts coastguards’ suspicions" (SCMP, 9/5/17)

The name the smugglers wanted to affix to the ship was Dàqìng 大庆 (the "Oil Capital" of China, located in Heilongjiang Province).  However, after they hastily painted over the old name of the ship with the wrong shade of blue, they reversed the direction of the stencil to apply the new, false name, so that Dàqìng 大庆 came out with the order doubly wrong:  the name read Qìngdà 大 instead of Dàqìng 大庆 and the orientation of the individual characters was inverted.  Interestingly, the transposition of dà 大 doesn't really matter, because it looks the same whether viewed directly or in a mirror.  As it appears on the ship, inverted, 庆 cannot really be read (without mental transposition), but if you look at it in a mirror, it has the correct orientation.

Similar transpositions are described in these posts:

[h.t. Dean Barrett]

[syndicated profile] languagelog_feed

Posted by Victor Mair

This is what happened in a middle school in Anhui's capital city of Hefei on the first day of the new school year:

"On first day of school, teacher slaps 20* students in the face in front of class", Alex Linder in Shanghaiist (9/4/17)

*VHM:  Initial reports were that he slapped 20 students this way, but later it was discovered that he had slapped 38 students in front of the class.  It's a bit hard to keep up with the reports because I think some of them are being censored by the government, so are no longer recoverable.

According to the Beijing News, the teacher had recently been brought up from the countryside and had asked the students to write some classical poetry from memory. If they made a mistake, they would get slapped in front of the class.

I've seen much worse, even done to kindergartners by their teachers.  Some children have been maimed or even killed because of the physical abuse inflicted on them by their teachers.

Is learning Chinese characters that important?  Is there no better way?  Of course, there are many superior means to learn Chinese, and we've discussed them many times on Language Log.

From Alex Wang:

What’s ironic is parents who complained about this teacher, yet I have seen countless times parents slapping their kids in public because they couldn’t tingxie*.  Now that’s in public.  I wonder what happens at home?  I wonder where the teacher learned it from.

*VHM: tīngxiě 听写 ("dictation")

A few relevant posts:

"Copying characters " (2/11/13)

"Writing Chinese characters as a form of punishment " (11/1/15)

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

"The Awful Chinese Writing System" (1/20/16)

"Beyond fluff " (3/19/17); see, among many others, the following comments:  here, here, here, and here


katycat: (Default)
The K-T Boundary

Page Summary

May 2012

  1234 5

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 20th, 2017 05:25 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios