Archive for Language and education

Censored letter

A current cause célèbre in China concerns a letter that was supposedly written by a little boy to the President of China, Xi Jinping:

"‘Not as skinny as Obama, like Putin is okay.’ China censors schoolboy’s suggestion that Xi lose weight" (12/18/14)

"A 9-year-old told China’s president to lose some weight—and censors shut him down" (12/18/14)

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Chinese characters and eyesight

There was an interesting article in the Economist a couple of day ago:  "Why So Many Chinese Children Wear Glasses" (11/9/2014)

Myopia is epidemic in China, and the percentage of those with this affliction is increasing each year.

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

The following diary entry by an elementary school student is making the rounds in the Chinese media and in the blogosphere:

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Chineasy2

I was hoping that, after writing "Chineasy? Not", I wouldn't have to concern myself with this pedagogical bugaboo again.  Wishful thinking!  For reasons that escape me, the Chineasy juggernaut continues to rumble forward

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Foul Meat-gate

In "Dead and alive: metaphors for (dis)obeying the law " (7/27/14), we discussed the food scandal that has rocked China in recent days.  Abe Sauer had earlier made this post to the brandchannel:  "China's Latest Meat Scandal Could Deal a Death Blow to Brands Like KFC " (7/23/14).  In it, Abe remarked, "Taking a note from America's Watergate-based nomenclature, the scandal is being called 'Foul Meat-gate' ('臭肉门')."  Ben Zimmer, who called Abe's post to my attention, asked, "Is '-gate' really working as a morpheme here?"

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The future of Chinese language learning is now

When I began learning Mandarin nearly half a century ago, I knew exactly how I wanted to acquire proficiency in the language.  Nobody had to tell me how to do this; I knew it instinctively.  The main features of my desired regimen would be to:

1. pay little or no attention to memorizing characters (I would have been content with actively mastering 25 or so very high frequency characters and passively recognizing at most a hundred or so high frequency characters during the first year)

2. focus on pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, particles, morphology, syntax, idioms, patterns, constructions, sentence structure, rhythm, prosody, and so forth — real language, not the script

3. read massive amounts of texts in Romanization and, if possible later on (after about half a year when I had the basics of the language nailed down), in character texts that would be phonetically annotated

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Translating Chinese poetry is hard

Wei Shao sent me this photograph of the English translation of a famous Chinese poem:


(Click to embiggen.)

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Chineasy? Not

Last Friday, the following article appeared in The Wall Street Journal:

"A New Way to Learn Chinese:  Entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh aims to bridge the gap between East and West by teaching Westerners how to read Chinese".

The article is preceded by a video that begins with this note:

Entrepreneur and author ShaoLan Hsueh has devised a simplistic method for teaching English speakers to learn to read Chinese.

It is true that her system is "simplistic", but it is not true that people who use it "learn to read Chinese", despite her repeated claim that "it works."

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Phrase-hoarding

What do the following phrases or sayings have in common?

  • first-year experience
  • fast-track MBA
  • be the difference
  • cure violence
  • student life
  • students with diabetes
  • one course at a time
  • touched by a nurse
  • we're conquering cancer
  • working toward a world without cancer
  • imagination beyond measure
  • tomorrow starts here

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How to learn Chinese and Japanese

Some years ago (in 2008, as a matter of fact), I wrote a post entitled "How to learn to read Chinese".  The current post is intended as a followup and supplement to that post.

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Is Cantonese a language, or a personification of the devil?

Whether Cantonese is a language or a dialect is a subject that we have touched upon many times on Language Log, e.g., "Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" (see especially the remarks in the second half of the original post) and "English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage ."

But now it has become a hot-button issue in China, especially in Hong Kong, where the government's Education Bureau recently made a monumental gaffe by declaring that Cantonese was not an official language of the Special Administrative Region:  "Education Bureau rapped over Cantonese 'not an official language' gaffe:  Claim Cantonese 'not an official language' leaves public lost for words."

Here's an article in Chinese on the uproar that followed the announcement of the Education Bureau that Cantonese is not an official language of Hong Kong.

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Three cheers for Michael Gove

This is a guest post by Richard Hudson, who proposed the title "The death and re-birth of grammatical analysis in UK schools". Americans who don't know who Michael Gove is may want to skim his Wikipedia page in order to appreciate what it means that Dick ends his post

So three cheers for Michael Gove! I never thought I'd live to read those words, let alone write them myself.


A few weeks ago, Mark Liberman kindly accepted a guest posting from me about sentence diagramming. In his introduction he said "This is a guest post by Dick Hudson, who has promised a later submission about his experience helping to organize the re-introduction of grammatical analysis in the British school curriculum." So here I am again, to try to explain a rather complicated bit of recent history in UK education.

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Putting grammar back in grammar schools: A modest proposal

A few days ago, out of the 21,595 visitors to LLOG that Google Analytics counted, 88 arrived after asking what part of speech is the, and thereby landing on Arnold Zwicky's post "What part of speech is 'the'?", 3/30/2006. Unfortunately, if they were looking for how to fill-in-the-blank on a homework assignment, they probably went away unsatisfied, because Arnold's excellent post starts by complaining, cogently and at length, that "the school tradition about parts of speech is so desperately impoverished", and closes by noting that

[A] linguist who proposes to introduce, say, the technical term determiner for a class of pre-adjectival modifiers in English that includes the articles, demonstratives, quantifiers, possessives, and more is likely to be seen as UNDERMINING tradition, casting off the sureties of the past in favor of fashionable jargon.

All true — but hard for a student to boil down to a single label. And just as hard for a teacher to use as the foundation for an assignment. This confusion and controversy about what standard grammatical terminology (and methodology) ought to be is one of several reasons that grammatical analysis has all but vanished from the curriculum of American schools.

I feel that it's past time to do something about this. So, as a Christmas present to the English-speaking world, let me propose a simple and practical way to cut through the tangled undergrowth of grammatical tradition and the dense thickets of recent grammatical argumentation. The goal: a standard, canonical grammatical description for English. Yes, really. It's already Out There — all we need to do is to recognize it for what it is.

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