Archive for the ‘Language and culture’ Category

The sporting news

July 1, 2014

I interrupt the flow of postings on cartoons to report on my adventures in sporting enthusiasm, in particular for teams in the World Cup. In the current round, I had three favorite teams: Mexico (how can you live where I do without supporting Mexico?), Switzerland (the land of my father’s family), and of course the U.S. Everybody lost, though the games had stirring moments.

I’m not up at all on the fine points of soccer, but I enjoy the spectacle.

And now, back to language.


August 30, 2013

In the New Yorker of 8/26/13, a letter on p. 5 from Richard M. Perloff, Professor of Communication at Cleveland State University, Cleveland OH, beginning:

Dangerous Liaisons
Hendrik Hertzberg, writing about Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and their forerunners in the delicate pas de deux between private misdeeds and public behavior, assumes that sex scandals have an objective quality (Comment, August 12th and 19th). Whether a series of transgressions merits the label “scandal” is itself a contentious issue that is a function of social norms and cultural values.

Perloff goes on to discuss some specific cases, and I’ll get to these. But first some lexicographic notes.


NPR team and the perils of transcription

April 16, 2013

Yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition, a piece announcing a new NPR feature:

NPR Team Covers Race, Ethnicity And Culture (by David Greene and Gene Demby)

NPR this week is introducing a new team that will cover race, ethnicity and culture. Code Switch is the name of the new blog. Code-switching is the practice of shifting between different languages or different ways of expressing yourself in conversations.

Greene and Demby chat for a while about code-switching, with examples, bringing in linguist Tyler Schnoebelen as a consultant at one point. But if you read the transcript rather than listening to the segment, you might be puzzled.


Looking modern(e)

October 17, 2012

Passed on by Dean Calbreath on Facebook, this image of the 1948 Buick Streamliner:

Dean’s comment: “I’ve never seen a car this beautiful – and it’s more than 60 years old.” It might seem surprisingly old, but it comes close to the end of the great age of streamlining as the image of fashionable modernity in design. Here’s a train design from almost two decades earlier:


Follow-up: Another breakfast

August 14, 2012

Four far-flung meals in a Zippy cartoon yesterday — Indian tandoori, Italian-American eggplant rollatini, and Ethiopian and Peruvian breakfasts — led me to recall my first experience of traditional Japanese breakfasts, at the Hotel New Otani in Tokyo during the 13th International Congress of Linguists. Since then I’ve enjoyed the experience in several Japanese (and non-Japanese) hotels in the U.S. And become addicted to miso soup for breakfast.


No word, no concept, no experience

June 9, 2012

From Charles Rosen, “Freedom and Art“, New York Review of Books of 5/10/12, p. 28:

The critical problem of the battle between conventional meaning and individual expression was best laid out many years ago in Meyer Schapiro’s apparently controversial insistence that the forms of Romanesque sculpture could not be ascribed solely to theological meaning but were also a style of aesthetic expression. What that meant at the time was quite simply and reasonably that the character of the sculptural forms could not be reduced only to their personification of theological dogma, but possessed a clear aesthetic energy independent of sacred meaning.

The fallacy that Schapiro was attacking has reappeared recently in musicological circles with the absurd claim that music could not be enjoyed for purely musical or aesthetic reasons until the eighteenth century since the word “aesthetics” was not used until then. (This naive belief that independent aesthetic considerations did not exist before 1750 without social and religious functions would strangely imply that no one before that date could admire the beauty of a member of the opposite sex unless it could be related to the function of the production of children.)

Odd forms of extreme Whorfianism turn up in the oddest places.


Surfer lingo

June 1, 2012

Today’s Zippy:

Earlier strips had God playing Parcheesi and wrestling alligators. Now he’s/she’s out on the boards, wielding surfer lingo: the intensive scubetublar, the Surf Weasels (“a legendary underground surf rock instrumental band” from Portland OR), the surfing move shredding, the gnarl (challenging conditions, like a large wave), hang ten, garshed ‘tired, beat’, noodled ‘stoned, intoxicated’, throwing buckets (making huge amounts of spray), the green room (the inside of a barrel produced by a wave), grindage ‘food’. Totally gnarly, dudes and dudettes!

Geek days

May 22, 2012

Just learned that Thursday Friday is Geek Pride Day and was reminded that I should post some observations from Lal Zimman on the “geek voice”.


More reporting the profane

May 9, 2012

Faced with the task of writing about the new tv series Veep, in which the title character (the vice-president of the United States) and a number of others break into florid swearing, the New York Times has opted for allusive characterization of this talk, without attempting to convey (however indirectly) the actual expressions used; contrast this with the paper’s recent treatment of Samuel L. Jackson (here).


No word for hot flashes in Japanese?

April 25, 2012

Victor Steinbok has been collecting “no words for X” claims recently; here’s a find in Japanese:

To regain a sense of control over your body take the following steps: become an informed consumer, consider experimenting with lifestyle changes, and connect with a qualified physician who shares your view that perimenopause is not a disease, but a transition from one phase of our lives to another. Each woman experiences this time in her own way. It is interesting how differently women in other cultures experience these times. For example, Japanese women report fewer menopausal symptoms, and have no word for hot flashes. It is suspected that this may in part be related to their high consumption of soy-containing foods. (link)

Victor noted that hot flashes actually isn’t a word in English, but a two-word phrase; that the implication of the piece is that there’s no concept of ‘hot flashes’ in Japanese; and that “it may also be that the unidentified author is simply misinformed”. I was immediately suspicious of the claim, and consulted Yoshiko Matsumoto, who is not only a Japanese linguist but also the editor of Faces of Aging: The Lived Experiences of the Elderly in Japan (Stanford Univ. Press, 2011).



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