Archive for Language and education

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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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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