Three Hits: Language and Geopolitics

Forget the Mullahs, did you hear Laurel or Yanny? In honor of that internet-busting question from last week (we think its Laurel, no question), we take a look at three stories in which language is bound up with politics.


Do you say it right?

Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, one of two anti-establishment parties currently forming a government there, has notoriously bad grammar. (He routinely screws up the subjunctive and conditional tenses.) But with populist politics on the rise, a certain roughness in speech isn’t such a bad thing. Most people’s grammar isn’t perfect, after all, and this guy talks like me has a certain appeal when bashing elites. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte certainly knows this: His coarse language is a totem of his politics. And needless to say, Donald Trump’s simplistic, repetitive, and often vulgar formulations on Twitter are the essence of his norm-busting political brand. Populists aren’t just changing how we vote, they’re changing how we talk.

How do you say it?

China is home to more than 130 different languages and dialects, but the government has long prioritized one, Mandarin Chinese, as the lingua franca. Now, The Economist reports, as President Xi Jinping looks to burnish his country’s image as a global power, his government is softening restrictionson the use and teaching of non-Mandarin local languages spoken by many people in the Chinese diaspora whom Beijing wants to woo for investment and commercial opportunities. But China needs to walk a fine line: encourage (certain) regional cultural identities without fomenting a level of regional identity that could, in time, be destabilizing.

Can you say it at all?

For all its virtues, Facebook, as anyone knows, also overflows with all manner of vile, offensive, hateful trash. But is it OK to censor it? Hundreds of Facebook employees at a center in Germany, profiled by The New York Times, have the power to decide. In January, Germany passed a stringent new hate speech law that requires online platforms to identify and remove anything that crosses the line. When in doubt, the decision is kicked up to lawyers. Two major political questions here: First, is it acceptable for a government to outsource interpretation of its laws to a private company like this? Second, does this set a risky precedent for authoritarian governments who can use their own definitions of “hate speech” to squelch dissent?

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, but that means it creates a lot of waste in the form of cups and used coffee grinds. Every year, we drink out of 600 billion single-use plastic and paper cups, most of which end up in a landfill or our environment. Could coffee also contribute to a more sustainable future? A German company is now recovering leftover coffee grounds from bars, restaurants and hotels, and it's recycling them into reusable coffee cups. In other words, they're creating cups of coffee made from coffee.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

What technology was used to assist Eliud Kipchoge's historic sub two-hour marathon time?

A lot. If you watched the video of him, you saw that he was within a pace group, a whole bunch of runners in front of him cutting the wind. Some runners behind him, actually improving his wind resistance by having people behind him. There was a green laser showing him exactly what time he had to run. He had really high-tech gels that he took, these Maurten gels. I actually like those a lot, too. But the main thing were the shoes. These are the early prototypes of the shoes or the first version. He's now in the third version. But what's most important is there is a carbon fiber plate. You cannot bend this thing. So, Nike introduced these shoes, I don't know, two years ago. Now, there's a new generation. It's very controversial.

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Will the Catalonia question be a big issue in the Spanish election coming up in November?

You bet it will. Passions have been further inflamed now, and the question that has been difficult from the very beginning, by the very heavy prison sentences that was given to those that are accused of sedition, that is organizing the independence referendum. So, passions are heating up. It will be a difficult issue for the entire Spanish political system to handle for years to come.

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You'd think, being the relatively hopeful person that you are, that the nauseating anguish of Brexit would be more or less over now that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally reached a deal with Brussels on how to extricate the UK from the European Union.

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