Archive for Language and education

How to address your professor

Face to face, most students greet me as "Professor Mair", a few as "Dr. Mair". In e-mails and other written communications, they nearly all address me with "Dear Prof. Mair", "Hello Prof. Mair", or "Hi Prof. Mair", all of which sound natural and normal. I nearly fell off my chair when a female student from China recently sent me an e-mail that began simply "Victor". A few weeks later, I was stunned when she sent me another e-mail that began even more abruptly with just "Mair". This particular student's English otherwise is quite good, so I really don't know what's going on with her.

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Cantonese under renewed threat

When Great Britain handed Hong Kong over to the PRC in 1997, the communist government promised to maintain the status quo of the colony's laws, educational system, human rights, language policy, and so forth for half a century, until 2047.  It has only been a little over twenty years, and already virtually all aspects of government, society, and culture are being reshaped along the lines that are operative in the PRC.  Naturally, the aspect of Hong Kong life that concerns us at Language Log most are policies governing language norms and usages.

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English as an official language in Taiwan

I could see this coming years ago.  The writing was on the wall:

"Some subjects in Taiwan's schools to be taught in English:  As part of the goal of making Taiwan a bilingual country by 2030, some subjects in schools will be taught entirely in English", by Keoni Everington, Taiwan News, Staff Writer (2018/12/6/18)

That's quite an ambitious goal (a bilingual country by 2030), is it not?  Especially since English will be one half of the bilingual equation, while a mixture of Sinitic and Austronesian languages will together constitute the other half, though Mandarin will doubtless be the main component of the latter, at least initially.

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Idiosyncratic stroke order

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Sensitive words: “political background check”

Article by Mandy Zuo in today's (11/9/18) South China Morning Post, "Chinese education officials sorry for announcing Mao-style political background check on students":

Education authorities in southwest China have apologised after they hit a raw nerve by announcing students must pass a “political background check” before they can take the national university entrance exam next year.

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Gender bending in the Sinosphere

Don Clarke has called to my attention a new bilingual, digraphic expression:  “娘man结合”.  That's "niáng man jiéhé ('woman man [the English word] combination')".

It’s a women’s fashion style that combines femininity in one part of the outfit with manliness in the other — like wearing a colored print dress with an army jacket.  Supposedly, “man” is read in the first tone.

Don remarks:

This expression must have the authorities very distressed; not only does it contain foreign words spelled in letters, but it also has the disfavored style "niáng 娘" ("mother; woman; mum; ma; a woman; young girl / woman; young lady; a form of address for an elderly married woman; effeminate [coll.]") . No less than the Xinhua News Agency recently inveighed against the sissified “娘炮”之风 (basically, the Korean boy-band look) as unmanly.

Here’s an account of the controversy (in Chinese).

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Pinyin for phonetic annotation

One more reason for me to love Wikipedia.

I just noticed in this article on Chinese honorifics that some example sentences are phonetically annotated with Pinyin.  Not only that, it observes properly spaced word division, which must be technically difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, the Pinyin annotations are appropriately small, yet clear.

I don't know how widespread this usage has become in Wikipedia or elsewhere, but I can tell you that learning about it this morning brought me great joy.

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Style shifting in student writing assignments

Along with Valerie Ross, Brighid Kelly, and Helen Jeoung from Penn's Critical Writing program, I've been looking at material from student writing assignments (as part of an NSF-funded study*). One of the many topics of interest is the extent to which students, collectively and individually, succeed in shifting their writing style to suit different genres and audiences. As a first trivial exploration of this question, I took a quick look at some simple properties of overall word choice, comparing submissions to two different types of assignment. One of these assignments is a "Public Argument", which I believe is something like a newspaper Op-Ed; the other is a "Literature Review", where the appropriate style is more academic.

This morning I'll look at some of the simplest results of two simple explorations of properties that should be related to style shifting — the choice of words, and the length of the words chosen.

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How to teach Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese

The first thing we have to take into consideration is that Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese (LS/CC) is a dead language, i.e., a book / written language (shūmiànyǔ 書面語).  Nobody has spoken it for the purpose of spontaneous, unrehearsed conversation for thousands of years.  So we cannot and should not use pedagogical methods designed for living languages to teach LS/CC.

The next question is whether we should require a Mandarin prerequisite to take LS/CC.  I am strongly opposed to requiring Mandarin as a precondition for the study of LS/CC.  I know of many schools that require two, three, or even four years of Mandarin for students who wish to enroll in an introductory LS/CC course.  I think that is absolutely ridiculous.  I don't even think that we should require one year of Mandarin for students to take LS/CC.  I may be the only professor in the USA, perhaps in the whole world, with this outlook.  If there are others, they would only amount to a tiny handful of iconoclastic rebels.  I often have engaged in strenuous argle-bargle with colleagues who demand years of Mandarin before allowing students into their LS/CC courses.

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Toilet: A Love Story

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Massive miswriting

"Can Chinese Write Their Own Language?" | ASIAN BOSS (7/19/18)

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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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