Archive for Language and education

Kulchur wars: Literary Sinitic YES; Hip hop NO

The following article by Xiong Bingqi appeared in today's (2/1/18) China Daily, China's leading English language newspaper:  "Ancient texts not a burden on students".  Here are the first two paragraphs of the article:

The newly revised senior high school curriculum includes more ancient Chinese poems and prose for recitation, sparking a public discussion on whether it will increase the burden on students. A Ministry of Education official has said recitation should not be regarded as a burden, as it will make students more familiar with traditional culture.

Some people consider an increase in the number of subjects, texts or homework raises the students' burden, while reducing them eases their burden. But they fail to identify the real source of students' burden. By learning something they are interested in or something that is inspiring, the students will actually gain in knowledge and resolve, so such content cannot be an additional burden on them.

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Forcing Mandarin on Hong Kong

According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by the Prime Ministers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK) governments on December 19, 1984, the way of life in Hong Kong would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years from the time of its handover to the PRC in 1997. This would have left Hong Kong unchanged until 2047.  I never for a moment thought that China would adhere to this agreement, and we see in countless ways how basic rights, laws, and socio-political institutions have been changing radically since the handover in 1997, only twenty years ago.  One of the most noticeable aspects of these changes has to do with language.

Cantonese is rapidly being pushed aside in favor of Mandarin, and this is not what the people of Hong Kong would have wanted to happen.  The threat to Cantonese is manifested in many ways, such as more and more schools being required to provide classroom instruction in Mandarin instead of Cantonese.

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There is No Racial Justice Without Linguistic Justice

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

One of my favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotes come from a speech he delivered at a retreat attended by staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in South Carolina, one year before he was assassinated:

“We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can't solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can't really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.” (King 1967)

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Mandarin neologism: "appointment to fire a cannon"

One constantly encounters new terms in Chinese.  You may never have heard of an intriguing expression, then all of a sudden it is everywhere.  One that I hadn't heard of before today is yuēpào 约炮 (lit., "agree cannon"), which garners three quarters of a million ghits.

A Chinese friend called my attention to this richly illustrated article which talks about yuēpào 约炮 in the context of "bottles for bodies" at Tianjin Normal University.  Apparently guys will drive up outside the campus and place beverage bottles on the hood or top of their fancy cars, different types of bottles standing for different prices to be paid for a one night stand or booty call.

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Slaps on the face for forgetting how to write Chinese poetry

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


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Uyghur language outlawed in schools of the Uyghur Autonomous Region

I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw the Radio Free Asia headline:

"China Bans Uyghur Language in Xinjiang Schools" (7/28/17)

Some excerpts from the article:

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Dialect readers redux?

In a recent article Patriann Smith, a professor of Language, Diversity and Literacy Studies at Texas Tech, makes a bold proposal: that “nonstandard Englishes” such as African American English (AAE) and Hawai’i Creole English be used as the primary language of instruction in educating children who speak them. ("A Distinctly American Opportunity: Exploring Non-Standardized English(es) in Literacy Policy and Practice", Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9/12/2016) Smith reviews evidence that speaking “nonstandard English” (her term) as a first language interferes with children’s educational progress, given the way children are taught and progress is assessed. She also questions the privileged status accorded to the “standard” (aka mainstream, higher status) dialect of English (SAE) used in education, business, government, and other institutions, and the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read that dialect. Hence the proposal that children be taught in their native dialect whether “standard” or not.

In this post I'll look at some implications of this proposal for learning to read. The idea that children who speak AAE (or another nonstandard dialect) might benefit from being taught to read using materials written in their dialect isn't new.  Some 40 years ago there was a brief, a mostly-forgotten educational experiment with "dialect readers".  They weren't widely accepted then.  Has their time finally come?

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New York high school Chinese test

Zhuang Pinghui, in the South China Morning Post (1/18/17) has an article that is truly baffling:  "US high school Chinese test stumps internet users in China".

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A Chinese primer for English (1860)

During the last few days, there has been a flurry of excitement over the circulation of photographs and information concerning an old Chinese textbook for learning English.  Here are a couple of pages from the book (click to embiggen):

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A child's substitution of Pinyin (Romanization) for characters, part 2

This is a photograph of a page from an essay written by a third grade student at an elementary school in Suining, Sichuan Province, China:

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"Modal verbs? Not a clue!"

A couple of years ago, a LLOG guest post by Richard Hudson proposed "Three cheers for Michael Gove" in recognition of his role in "the re-introduction of grammatical analysis n the British School curriculum".

Now Ben Hemmens draws our attention to A L Kennedy's recent BBC 4 manifesto, "The power of language", which introduces the topic this way:

My work has been translated into more than twenty languages, I've won national and international awards, even, and yet I have no idea what a fronted adverbial is. Modal verb? Not a clue. In three high-functioning decades, I've never needed that language to describe my language, my personal voice rendered in writing; and I am lost for words when I learn that primary school children are now forced to scramble over unwieldy syntactical terms in order to communicate.

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Death to Chinese language teachers

In "Character amnesia in 1793-1794" (4/24/14), I described the so-called Flint Affair, which refers to James Flint (?1720-?), one of the first English persons to learn Chinese.  For his audacity, Flint was imprisoned for three years by the imperial government, and two Chinese merchants who helped him write a petition to the emperor were executed.

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Tibetan language instruction in Greater Tibet

Edward Wong, "Tibetan Entrepreneur Has Been Illegally Detained, Family Says" (NYT 3/10/16)

A Tibetan entrepreneur who is a vocal but moderate advocate for bilingual education in schools across Chinese-ruled Tibetan regions has been illegally detained by the police for one and a half months, his family said.

The man, Tashi Wangchuk, 30, who lives with his parents in the western town of Yushu, has written about language policy on his microblog. He has highlighted the dearth of meaningful Tibetan language education and expressed concern that many Tibetan children are unable to become fluent in their native language, a widespread worry in the ethnic group.

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