Archive for Language and education

Central government control over words for grandmother

Recently there was quite a ruckus over the correct word to be used for "maternal grandmother" in second-graders' textbooks in Shanghai:

"Much Ado About Grandma: Textbook Change Sparks Linguistic Debate:  Critics call ‘waipo’ to ‘laolao’ change ‘cultural hegemony’ from the north", Kenrick Davis, Sixth Tone (6/22/18)

"A debate over the word for ‘grandmother’ in China exposes a linguistic and political rift", Echo Huang and Ziyi Tang, Quartz (6/26/18)

The big controversy was over whether students should be taught to say "lǎolao 姥姥" or "wàipó 外婆", both of which mean "maternal grandmother".

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No dictation

The boy in the photos below is Alexander Aurelius Wang.  He is one of our youngest fans in Shenzhen.  He doesn't like writing characters from dictation (tīngxiě 听写 / 聽寫):

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The Future of Cantonese

[This is a guest post by Robert S. Bauer]

HK’s Cantonese language continues to attract attention and be a topic of discussion.

Two Mondays ago (May 14, 2018) I was a guest discussant on RTHK Radio 3's Backchat programme.

The topic was "The Future of Cantonese" (in Hong Kong).

In addition to the two main hosts, Hugh Chiverton and Mike Rowse, the following people joined in the discussion:

Simon Liang, Member, Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis (a group promoting the correct usage of Cantonese)

Peter Gordon, Editor, Asian Review of Books; and Language Critic

Benjamin Au Yeung, TV host and Linguist

Robert Bauer, Honorary Linguistics Professor, University of Hong Kong

Li Hui, University of Hong Kong

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Call it what?

Gráinne Ní Aodha, "German students say English exam that asked them to explain Brexit was unfair", The Journal (Dublin) 5/4/2018:

German students have complained that an English exam that asked them to discuss Brexit, among other things, was too difficult and “unfair”.

Over 35,000 people have signed an online petition to voice their opposition to the challenging English paper, saying that the reading comprehensions and current affairs topics were unfair.

Christopher Schuetze, "Thousands of German Students Protest ‘Unfair’ English Exam", NYT 5/5/2018:

Complaining that your final school exams are too tough is a rite of passage — almost a tradition.

But German students in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg who hunkered down in April to take pivotal final secondary-school exams have gone a step further in their protests about the English-language portion of the test, which they said was absurd, with obscure and outdated references.

More coverage e.g. here.

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Kanji as commodity

On Friday, April 27, I participated in "Seeking a Future for East Asia’s Past:  A Workshop on Sinographic Sphere Studies" at Boston University.  Among the participants was Terry Kawashima who talked about the commodification and fetishization of kanji.  The following paragraphs are a revised version of a portion of her remarks:

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Julie Washington on Dialects and Literacy

Read here now: the fine profile of my friend and research collaborator Julie Washington in the April issue of the Atlantic magazine. It’s been out for a while but you might not have seen it if, as in Madison WI where I live, it’s still February (we had the biggest snowstorm of the season this week). Julie is a professor at Georgia State University and the head of their program in Communication Sciences and Disorders. She’s an expert on the structure, acquisition, and use of African American English (AAE), and her research focuses on how use of the dialect affects reading achievement and educational progress, the assessment of children’s language and reading, and the identification of developmental language and reading disorders. The article describes her view that children who speak AAE in the home and community will make better progress in learning to read, and in school, if they can code switch between AAE and the mainstream dialect, often termed (though not by her) "standard" American English.

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Anti-MSM sentiment in Sichuan

Photograph of a slide shown during a lecture at a university in Sichuan:

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The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?

Just as all school children in the PRC learn to read and write through Hanyu Pinyin ("Sinitic spelling"), the official romanization on the mainland, so do all school children in Taiwan learn to read and write with the aid of what is commonly referred to as "Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ "), after the first four letters of this semisyllabary.  The system has many other names, including "Zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號" ("[Mandarin] Phonetic Symbols"), its current formal designation, as well as earlier names such as Guóyīn Zìmǔ 國音字母 ("Phonetic Alphabet of the National Language") and Zhùyīn Zìmǔ 註音字母 ( "Phonetic Alphabet" or "Annotated Phonetic Letters").  From the plethora of names, you can get an idea of what sort of system it is.  I usually think of it as a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary.

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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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