The perils of "7" and "9" in Cantonese

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28512

Here we go again:

"Samsung’s Galaxy On7 goes official" (Marketing-Interactive, 9/28/16)

As we’ve covered shortly two weeks ago, the pronunciation of “7″ sounds like “penis” in Cantonese, and the latest Samsung Galaxy On7 launch has once again stirred up discussion on the internet in Hong Kong.

The Cantonese pronunciation of  “On9″ [sic: there seems to be a mix-up here] is similar to slang meaning “stupid”, and many are saying the new release is a crossover between the two slang words.

Cf. "Does the new iPhone 7 slogan mean "precisely penis" in Chinese?" (9/9/16)

Here I feel obliged to quote one of Rich's comments to the latter post:

When iPhone 9 and Note 9 release, we will bump into the same problem in Cantonese.  九 also sounds like another obscenity in Cantonese, which means "cunning dick".

This is 9 = This is 鳩 (in Cantonese). This is a dick/this is cunning.
9. This is 9 = 鳩. This is 鳩. Dick. This is a dick. / Cunning. This is cunning.
It even sounds worse for Samsung Note 9
Note 9 sounds like 碌鳩, which also means penis.

Numbers to avoid in Cantonese
4 = 死 = dead
7 = 柒 = dumb (柒 means penis literally. But in fact it means dumb)
9 = 鳩 = dick
19 = 濕鳩 = cunning
24 = 易死 = easy to die
67 = 碌柒 = dumb
69 = 碌鳩 = dick

The takeaway from this is that, in naming products in Cantonese, you've got to be very careful with your numbers.  Otherwise you might open yourself to 19 ridicule.

Secret appearances

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28500

The Economist, in a leader last April about the Panama Papers revelation, which I really should have brought to your attention sooner (it fell through the cracks of my life), told us that "The daughters of Azerbaijan's president appear secretly to control gold mines."

They appear secretly? Where are these secret appearances? Are they scheduled in advance, or do they occur randomly? And how would a secret appearance help to control a gold mine?

Natural questions to ask. But we're barking up the wrong tree (though it's hardly our fault). The sentence is evidence that as recently as April this year The Economist was still engaged in its panic-driven, brainless struggle to ensure that infinitives are not split, whatever the cost in terms of intelligibility.

What they meant was that the daughters appear to secretly control gold mines. It's not about secret appearances at all; it's about secret control. (It's quite interesting to use Google to find out how rare it is to encounter the phrase appear secretly; there are a few, but they are most unusual, because one might have thought that the whole point of appearing would lost if it were done secretly. That which remains truly secret does not appear at all.)

I have tried to educate The Economist about their stupid phobia, but the people at the relevant editorial level would rather publish unstylish and incomprehensible sentences than give up their struggle to impose on English an unnatural syntactic restriction that literary evidence does not support.

It only makes things even sillier that not long ago the magazine had to admit defeat in one article. The unusual two-page obituary it published on David Bowie, when he died in January 2016, included the phrase "if you had outcast Ziggy, your leper messiah, to sexily show you the way." All attempts to shift the adverb sexily lead to sentences that are quite plangently worse, in specifiable ways; so for once the right decision was made.

That disposes of the notion that split infinitives just cannot be tolerated: at least once they have been, and the sky did not fall.

So reverting to type with the ridiculous "appear secretly" was just a pointless retrogression. I wish I thought it would turn out to be have been the last.

Google Translate is even better now

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28421

According to these two articles, Google Translate is taking a quantum leap forward in the quality of its services, starting with Mandarin to English:

"Google says its new AI-powered translation tool scores nearly identically to human translators" (Quartz, 9/27/16)

"An Infusion of AI Makes Google Translate More Powerful Than Ever" (WIRED, 9/27/16)

Below are two letters that I received from China last week.  The English translations are unretouched.  You be the judge.

1.

Zūnjìng de Méi Wéihéng jiàoshòu (Prof. Victor H. Mair):

Nín hǎo!

Wǒ shì Zhōngguó “Běijīng wǎnbào” de jìzhě Zhāng Yùyáo. Zuìjìn “Gēlúnbǐyǎ Zhōngguó wénxué shǐ” yī shū zài Zhōngguó chūbǎn wènshì, zuòwéi yīgè Zhōngwén xì xuéshēng, fēicháng xīwàng nénggòu cǎifǎng nín yīxiē wèntí, yě ràng zhè běn shū wèi Zhōngguó dúzhě suǒ liǎojiě. Xīnxīng chūbǎn shè de xiāngguān biānjí gěile wǒ nín de yóuxiāng, suǒyǐ màomèi fāxìn lái qǐngjiào. Rúruò nín fāngbiàn shí, hái wàng kě bōrǒng jiědá yī'èr. Yǐxià fù shàng wèntí.

Fēicháng gǎnxiè! Zhù nín shēntǐ jiànkāng, yīqiè shùnlì :)

Běijīng wǎnbào
Zhāng Yùyáo jìng shàng

尊敬的梅维恒教授(Prof. Victor H. Mair):
您好!
我是中国《北京晚报》的记者张玉瑶。最近《哥伦比亚中国文学史》一书在中国出版问世,作为一个中文系学生,非常希望能够采访您一些问题,也让这本书为中国读者所了解。新星出版社的相关编辑给了我您的邮箱,所以冒昧发信来请教。如若您方便时,还望可拨冗解答一二。以下附上问题。
非常感谢!祝您身体健康,一切顺利:)
北京晚报
张玉瑶  敬上

Distinguished Professor Victor H. Mair:

Hello!

I am China's "Beijing Evening News" reporter Zhang Yuyao. A recent book on the history of Chinese literature in Colombia was published in China. As a Chinese student, I would like to be able to interview you with some questions and make this book understandable to the Chinese readers. Nova Publishing Associates related editor gave me your mailbox, so take the liberty to write to ask. If you are convenient, but also hope to take the time to answer one or two. The following questions are attached.

Thank you very much! I wish you good health and everything goes well :)

Beijing Evening News
Zhang Yuyao Jing

2.

Méi Wéihéng jiàoshòu:

Nín hǎo! Wǒ shì Běijīng “Xīn jīng bào·shūpíng zhōukān” de jìzhě Lǐ Yán,“Xīn jīng bào·shūpíng zhōukān” shì Zhōngguó yījiā fēicháng yǒu yǐngxiǎng lì de wénhuà fùkān, guānzhù gè xuékē lǐngyù de xīnshū, hǎo shū, cǎifǎngguò gèguó zhùmíng de zuòjiā, xuézhě děng.

Nín zhǔbiān de “Gēlúnbǐyǎ Zhōngguó wénxué shǐ” Zhōng yìběn jīnnián 7 yuè yóu Xīnxīng chūbǎn shè chūbǎn, duìyú zhèyàng yī běn hòuzhòng de, zhòngyào dì hǎiwài wénxué shǐ zhùzuò, wǒ fēicháng guānzhù hé xǐyuè. Wǒ běnrén zài xuéxiào xué de zhuānyè shì Zhōngguó wénxué,“Gēlúnbǐyǎ Zhōngguó wénxué shǐ” de jiàgòu, fēnxī dōu ràng wǒ gǎndào xīnxiān hé yǒu qǐfā.

Bùzhī nín shìfǒu yuànyì jiù “Gēlúnbǐyǎ Zhōngguó wénxué shǐ” jiēshòu wǒmen de yóujiàn cǎifǎng? Zhǔyào guānyú zhè běn shū de biānxiě hé nèiróng. Rúguǒ nín tóngyì, wǒ huì zài yī xīngqí zuǒyòu fā qù wǒ de cǎifǎng wèntí, nín kěyǐ zài fāngbiàn de shíjiàn zuòdá.

Yǐjí, zhè fēng yóujiàn wǒ màomèi shǐyòngle Zhōngwén, rúguǒ nín gèng yuànyì yòng Yīngwén jiāoliú hé huífù, wǒ xià cì huì zài yóujiàn zhōng shǐyòng yīngwén.

Qídài nín de huífù, zhù jiànkāng, shùnlì!

Lǐ Yán, fā zì Běijīng

梅维恒教授:

您好!我是北京《新京报·书评周刊》的记者李妍,《新京报·书评周刊》是中国一家非常有影响力的文化副刊,关注各学科领域的新书、好书,采访过各国著名的作家、学者等。
您主编的《哥伦比亚中国文学史》中译本今年7月由新星出版社出版,对于这样一本厚重的、重要的海外文学史著作,我非常关注和喜悦。我本人在学校学的专业是中国文学,《哥伦比亚中国文学史》的架构、分析都让我感到新鲜和有启发。
不知您是否愿意就《哥伦比亚中国文学史》接受我们的邮件采访?主要关于这本书的编写和内容。如果您同意,我会在一星期左右发去我的采访问题,您可以在方便的时间作答。

以及,这封邮件我冒昧使用了中文,如果您更愿意用英文交流和回复,我下次会在邮件中使用英文。

期待您的回复,祝健康、顺利!

李妍,发自北京

Professor Mei Weiheng:

Hello! I am a reporter in Beijing, "Beijing News Weekly" reporter Li Yan, "Beijing News Weekly Review" is a very influential Chinese cultural supplement, concerned about the subject areas of the book, a good book, interviewed the famous Writers, scholars and so on.

You edited the translation of "History of Chinese Literature in Colombia" published in July this year by the Rising Star Publishing House, for such a heavy, important overseas literature history books, I am very concerned about and joy. I am in the school of professional Chinese literature, "Colombian Chinese literature history" of the structure, analysis makes me feel fresh and inspiring.

I wonder if you would like to receive an e-mail interview on "The History of Chinese Literature in Colombia". Mainly on the preparation and content of this book. If you agree, I will send my interview questions in about a week. You can answer them at your convenience.

And, I take the liberty of using this message in Chinese, if you prefer to communicate in English and reply, I will use the next message in English.

Look forward to your reply, I wish healthy, smooth!

Li Yan, from Beijing

One thing I can say for sure is that Google Translate for Mandarin is much better than this human being, who just keeps smiling through the debacle of his inept interpreting.

[h.t. Ben Zimmer, Michael Carr; thanks to Mark Swofford]

No cussing in the operational campus environment?

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28415

On the fence around a construction site that I walk past every day is this sign:

No doubt students, faculty, and staff appreciate the sentiment, though not many of us would have thought to describe a university as "an operational campus environment".

In fact that phrase puzzles me a bit. "Operational environment" seems to be a piece of U.S. military jargon, defined as "A composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of capabilities and bear on the decisions of the commander". Additional modifiers can come either before or after operational:

(link) It can be very difficult to implement a comprehensive operational security environment
(link) The IATT accreditation decision is a special case for authorizing testing in an operational information environment or with live data for a specified time period.
(link) The Relevancy of Inform and Influence Activities in the Garrison Operational Environment

Without knowing that, I would have guessed that an "operational campus environment" was a campus environment that was operational. But given the operational jargon environment, I suspect that it's really an operational environment that's on campus.

Anyhow, the construction workers are being held to a stricter standard of conduct than the students are. In 15 years as residential faculty, I've never seen a student written up for "swearing".

Trump the hypernegator?

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28479

In addition to the many "nots" he uttered in last night's debate, Trump poured on the negations in this tweet today:

Many on Twitter were quick to accuse Trump of overnegation.

I ran this past the acknowledged master of negation, Yale linguist Larry Horn. Larry responded:

I guess there are two parses. If "in" = 'insofar as' or 'in respect to', it's what he meant. If it's a simple complementizer, equating to 'failing to not get the job done', yup, he's being hyper. But this is how hypernegation gets started in many cases. Consider "doubt…not", which used to be 'suspect not' or 'doubt that' as in this cite from Darwin (via Jespersen):

It never occurred to me to doubt that your work … would not advance our common object.

This would now be seen as hypernegation (as it was by me when I encountered it), presumably because of a reanalysis of "doubt" over the years.

Larry here refers to Otto Jespersen's Negation in English and other languages (1917) (see p. 75 on "paratactic negation"). For more along these lines, see Larry's 2009 BLS paper, "Hypernegation, Hyponegation, and Parole Violations" (handout here), as well as his comments in this 2007 Language Log post and this 2013 ADS-L discussion.

Wentzylvania

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28466

I don't watch broadcast TV a lot, but over the past couple of days I've experienced more than four hours of live television — which turned out to be a surprisingly positive experience. Sunday afternoon I watched the Philadelphia Eagles play the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Monday evening I watched the first presidential debate.

My expectations for both events were low. I agreed with most Philadelphians in hoping that the Eagles and their rookie quarterback Carson Wentz could avoid embarrassing themselves, and maybe keep it close before losing. And I reckoned that the debate would be a sort of political duel of pro wrestling promos, maybe mixed with some reality-television tropes, where dominance theater would dominate.

Amazingly, the Eagles thrashed the Steelers on both offense and defense, 34 to 3. And Donald Trump's WWE-style bluster seems to have fallen flat even with most conservative Republicans. Thus John Podhoretz, "Trump’s debate incompetence a slap in the face to his supporters", NY Post 9/27/2016:

By the end of the 95 minutes, Trump was reduced to a sputtering mess blathering about Rosie O’Donnell and about how he hasn’t yet said the mean things about Hillary that he is thinking.

Or David French, "Donald Trump Just Kept Getting Worse", National Review Online 9/26/2016:

Hillary apparently did her homework, and if there’s one thing we learned during the primary, it’s that Trump hates it when debaters attack his wealth or his business. So she went there. She smacked his wealth and business success, and he just couldn’t help himself. For several agonizing minutes, he threw a wall of words at viewers while she just watched — with a satisfied, frozen smile. By the end of the debate he was all over the place — on the defensive on multiple fronts. Why didn’t he have a better answer ready for the birther nonsense? Has he still not done any homework on foreign policy? I felt like I was watching the political Titanic hit the iceberg, back up, and hit it again. Just for fun.

IBEW Local 98 put up a billboard on the way into Philadelphia proclaiming the currently trending portmanteau of Carson Wentz's last name and the state his new team plays in:

I haven't seen a similarly succinct PR summary of last night's debate. But there are some likely sources, e.g.

CLINTON: [M]aybe he doesn't want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he's paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.
TRUMP: That makes me smart.

Or

Clinton: Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, "Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money." Well, it did collapse.
TRUMP: That's called business, by the way.

 

Trump's debate denials

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28454

As Geoff Pullum noted, in last night's presidential debate, many of Trump's interruptions of Clinton (or shall we say his "manterruptions") involved on-the-fly denials of what Clinton was saying. Geoff describes one such denial: "'Not!' he snapped at one point, like a 9-year-old, during one of her utterances."

Let's go to the transcript:

CLINTON: Well, Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but that is not the facts. The facts are — I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated…

TRUMP: Not.



This style of "not!" got a lot of attention in the early '90s thanks to its popularization in Saturday Night Live's "Wayne's World" sketches and subsequent movie spinoffs. But, contra the Recency Illusion, Wayne and Garth didn't coin the "not!" retort. As early as 1992, Larry Horn was pointing out the history of what he calls "retro-NOT" predating SNL. (See "The Said and the Unsaid," Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics 40, July 1992, pp. 186-7.) Jesse Sheidlower and Jonathan Lighter continued the historical investigation in their 1993 paper in American Speech, "A Recent Coinage (Not!)." The latest OED entry for not reflects this research:

colloq.  [perhaps influenced by NIT adv.   (see J. T. Sheidlower and J. E. Lighter in Amer. Speech (1993)68 213–8). In later use, popularized by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in the ‘Wayne's World’ sketches on the NBC television programme Saturday Night Live from 1989, and especially by the spin-off film Wayne's World in 1992.] Used humorously following a statement to indicate that it should not be taken seriously (usually because the idea expressed is untrue or unlikely to happen), or sarcastically to negate a statement made immediately before. Cf. I don't think at THINK v.2 11a(c).
[1860   ‘G. Eliot’ Mill on Floss III. vi. vi. 90   She would make a sweet, strange, troublesome, adorable wife to some man or other, but he would never have chosen her himself. Did she feel as he did? He hoped she did—not.]
1888   Cincinnati Times-Star 26 July 2/2   Of course ‘White Wings’ was mourned because he was hissed. Yes he did—not!!!
1893   Princeton Tiger 30 Mar. 103   An Historical Parallel—Not.
1900   G. Ade More Fables 80   Probably they preferred to go back to the Front Room and hear some more about Woman's Destiny not.
1905   E. P. Butler Pigs is Pigs in Amer. Mag. Sept. 499   Oh, yes! ‘Mister Morehouse, two an' a quarter, plaze.’ ‘Cert'nly, me dear frind Flannery. Delighted!’Not!
1950   R. Stout In Best Families vii. 73   The cop..called, ‘Pull over to the curb.’ Flattered at the attention as any motorist would be, not, I obeyed.
1975   E. Wilson Twenties 323   Held up by cyclone at South Amboy—‘wicked little boy who kept jeering at us, “You'll get there tonight—not!”’
1991   M. Myers et al. Wayne's World (film script, final revision) 89   Well, I'm having a good time so far..not. It sucks baby Rhino.
2000   F. Walker Power of Two in J. Adams et al. Girls' Night In 48   Vizza revelled in increasingly outlandish exclusives, revealing his broken heart. Yeah. Like he knew how it felt—not.

Elsewhere in the debate, another one of Trump's interrupting denials featured an abrupt switch of tenses:

CLINTON: Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.

TRUMP: I did not. I did not. I do not say that.

CLINTON: I think science is real.

TRUMP: I do not say that.

Trump clearly did once tweet that the Chinese are responsible for "the concept of global warming," though he later claimed he was making a joke — see Politifact's assessment.

So perhaps his self-repair to "I do not say that" was intended to distance himself from something he did say but can't admit he said.

Debate words

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28434

Geoff quoted Vox on Donald Trump's interruptions during last night's debate, and discussed the extraordinary childishness of some of those interruptions. I don't have much time this morning, so I'll just add a few words about words.

Trump used 35% more wordforms than Clinton did — 8,866 to 6,580, by my trivial debate-analysis program's count based on the Washington Post's transcript. And as expected based on past performances, Trump repeated himself a lot — a type-token plot shows that Clinton actually used a larger number of distinct words (1,333 to Trump's 1,253), despite using significantly fewer word tokens:


I have time for only a few simple remarks about content.

For those who care about first-person singular pronouns (I me my mine), they constituted 4.03% of Trump's words and 2.72% of Clinton's.

For those who care about first-person plural pronouns (we our us ours), they constituted 2.63 percent of Trump's words and 3.60% of Clinton's. Trump's ratio of "I" to "we" was 296/158 = 1.87; Clinton's ratio of "I" to "we" was 161/172 = 0.94.

I'll be interested to see whether we'll hear anything about this from the pundits who made such a consistently big deal about Barack Obama's allegedly excessive (and actually quite low) rate of first-person singular pronoun usage — I'm guessing not.

But it seems that the real news from last night's debate was not about lexical content at all — even something as trivial as pronoun usage —  but rather about #trumpsniffles (also hashtagged as #trumpsniff, #snifflingtrump and just plain #sniff):

I guess those who live by reality TV will, well, live by reality TV.

Sex, lies, and childishness; and insomnia

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28431

It's a bit early for Language Log to do any analysis of the presidential debate last night. Where I live, it came on after 2 a.m., and where Mark lives it is still only 5:15 a.m. right now. But Vox has already analysed the interruption rate, a well-known index of gender in speech style. Trump interrupted Clinton exactly three times as often as she interrupted him. I think Language Log can confidently affirm that here we have convincing linguistic evidence that Trump is male and Clinton is female.

But one other thing I noticed, as I struggled to stay awake in the darkness of the middle of the night here in Edinburgh, with the bedside radio softly relaying the debate via the BBC World Service, was the astonishingly childish nature of many of Trump's interruptions.

"Take a look at mine also!" he interjected when Clinton mentioned her campaign website, like a kid saying "Me too!".

"Not!" he snapped at one point, like a 9-year-old, during one of her utterances.

"Wrong, wrong, wrong!" he intoned over her as she observed that he had supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"That makes me smart!" he interpolated as she suggested that there were at least some years (and maybe more) when he paid no federal income tax. (I'm smart! I'm smart! I don't pay tax like you stupid people!)

Even in the small hours of the morning as I drift off to sleep, I know the verbal style of a little boy in a school playground when I hear it.

It wasn't too much of a surprise to hear Trump lying like a little boy as well. He repeatedly denied statements about him that have been carefully documented as true by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and scores of online sources. His view about whether to go to war with Iraq, before the invasion started, was "I guess so"; his claim about global warming being a Chinese invention was made in writing, on Twitter; and so on.

In a startling new lie he told Clinton she had been "fighting ISIS the whole of her adult life." (ISIS/Daesh emerged for the first time in 2009. By that time Clinton had enjoyed four decades of her adult life. The lie is simply astonishing.)

So it wasn't just a little boy in a temper yelling "Did not!" in a fight with a girl; it was a presidential candidate uttering and repeating scandalous, barefaced lies during a debate intended to confirm his suitability for the top executive post in the US government.

It's such an extraordinary situation that I must admit it almost kept me awake.

"Spelling" errors in Chinese

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=28321

A smart and generally careful graduate student from China recently handed in an English –> Chinese translation.  In checking over his work, I noticed several mistakes, from which I select here a couple of examples.  Except in two cases, I won't point out the problems with inappropriate word choice and grammar, but will focus on a particular category of error associated with contemporary Chinese writing.

1.

*nǐ yīnggāi xiàn bā shùzì zhuǎnhuà chéng shēngdiào fúhào 你应该线吧数字转化成声调符号 ("you should thread bar transform the numbers into tonal diacritics")

should be

nǐ yīnggāi xiān bǎ shùzì zhuǎnhuàn chéng shēngdiào fúhào 你应该先把数字转换成声调符号 ("you should first convert the numbers into tonal diacritics")

2.

*tèdìng míngcí xūyào dàxiē 特定名词需要大 ("specific noun phrases must be a bit bigger")

should be

zhuānyǒu míngcí xūyào dàxiě 专有名词需要大 ("proper nouns must be capitalized")

It is obvious that, in composing the Chinese text on his computer, the student had the sounds of the words (without even paying much attention to the tones) uppermost in mind rather than the shapes of the characters.  Lest we think that this category of error is strictly due to the modern technology of character entry on electronic devices, the same type of phonological substitution is also quite common in premodern texts, going all the way back to the beginning of the script on the oracle bones.  That is why, when I teach advanced courses in Literary Sinitic, if my students cannot make sense of a passage no matter how hard they try, I encourage them to think of possible homophonic or other types of phonological errors in the text.

Among our Sinological predecessors, the very best in cracking difficult early texts were acutely aware of this type of miswriting.  From reading vast amounts of material and having a keen sense of the sounds of the language at various stages in its evolution, they developed a high level of intuition in surmising what early authors wanted to say, even though they made occasional mistakes in what they wrote.  Of course, our Sinological forefathers were also sensitive to orthographical errors as well, but that's a different kettle of fish than the topic of today's post.