Archive for Language and education

Manx

I've always pronounced it as rhyming with "thanks", but Wiktionary makes it sound more like "monks" in German, Dutch, and UK English.

"Manx" is the English exonym for the language whose endonym "is Gaelg/Gailck, which shares the same etymology as the word 'Gaelic', as do the endonyms of its sister languages Irish (Gaeilge; Gaoluinn, Gaedhlag and Gaeilic) and Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)." (source)

Manx (or Manx Gaelic) was declared extinct as a first language in 1974 with the death of Ned Maddrell, but then achieved the remarkable feat of revival.  Since the topic of language extinction / survival / revival came up recently (see "Selected readings" below), I was especially drawn to this newspaper report:

An Ancient Language, Once on the Brink, Is a British Isle’s Talk of the Town

After being nearly silenced, Manx is experiencing a revival on the Isle of Man, thanks in part to an elementary school and some impassioned parents.

By Megan Specia, NYT (Nov. 24, 2022)

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Palestra: wrestling of the mind

I played college basketball for Dartmouth for four years.  That means I had ample opportunity to play in Penn's hallowed Palestra.  All of the Ivy League schools had unique, distinctive gymnasia, and they remain sharply etched in my mind.  But the Palestra was something else altogether, as though it belonged in a different league, a different world.  Entering the vaulted space was intimidating enough by itself, but the fact that the bleachers (in)famously came right down to the edge of the floor, with no separation of the fans from the game, made it all the more nerve-wracking to play there, not to mention that the Penn teams were always extremely well coached and fiercely determined.

Since I do not know of any other sports arena in America that is called by such a classical, Greek sounding name, nor of any other that has such a distinguished history, it would be worth our while to inquire how it became so.

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Calligraphy as a "first level discipline" in the PRC

I am making this post because I think it is something that we should be aware of and try to understand in terms of the motivations of the Chinese government in enacting and carrying out these policies.

"First-level discipline a new starting line of calligraphy", China Daily (9/28/22)

The Chinese term for "first level discipline" is "yī jí xuékē 一级学科".  Here's a recent list of the first level disciplines in the Chinese educational system.  You will note that the disciplines are arranged from sciences at the top (with math at the very top), then moving down through history, engineering, agriculture, medicine, military science, management, philosophy, economics, law, educational science, literature, and art.  Calligraphy (shūfǎ 書法) was not included on this list of first level disciplines, which accords with the great commotion its addition to the list is currently causing.

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Super color Doppler, part 2

[This is a guest post by Greg Pringle, in response to questions I posed regarding the photograph at the top of this post from yesterday, mainly: 


What does the Mongolian script say?  Does it match the Chinese*?  Are there any mistakes in it?

*The Chinese is short for "in color with Doppler ultrasound".]

The Mongolian says önggöt – het dolgion – zurag (ᠥᠩᠭᠡᠲᠦ ᠬᠡᠲᠦ ᠳᠣᠯᠭᠢᠶᠠᠨ ᠵᠢᠷᠤᠭ). It literally means "coloured ultra-wave picture" or, as Google Translate has it, "colour ultrasound imaging”. My Inner Mongolian dictionaries confirm that önggöt het dolgion zurag means literally “彩色超声波图” in Chinese and it is found on the Internet with that meaning.

You quote Diana Shuheng Zhang as saying the Chinese means "Color Doppler Ultrasound". I did find önggöt doppler zuraglal (Өнгөт Допплер зураглал) "coloured Doppler sketch” in Mongolian-language pages on the Russian Internet, and Jichang Lulu found a couple of sources from Mongolia.

Rather than continue confirming what you already know, I think it fair to bring up the issue of terminology.

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Infinitely malleable electronic brain — software and hardware

When I was a little boy, among the gifts from my parents that I treasured most were science kits that allowed me to construct my own instrumentation and use it for various experiments and observations, e.g., microscopes, radios and other electronic circuitry, chemistry sets, ingenious language games, and so on.  (This was in the late 40s and 50s in rural Stark County, northeast Ohio, mind you, when I was between the ages of about 5 and 15.)  But my favorite of all was a box full of materials for computer construction.  It consisted of a peg board, switches, wires, screws, small nuts and bolts, metal bands and clips, batteries, little light bulbs, etc.  Please remember that this was long before personal computers were invented.

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Grammar in schools

"Rules for teaching grammar in schools", The Economist 3/12/2022 ("It may not make children better writers. But it is valuable all the same"):

Absence of evidence is not, as the saying goes, the same thing as evidence of absence. But if you continue looking for something intently, and keep failing to find it, you can be forgiven for starting to worry. And so it is with the vexed—and in Britain, highly politicised—subject of explicit grammar teaching in schools, and its link or otherwise with improved writing ability.

Another study, in this case a large randomised controlled trial, has recently been added to the expansive literature on the subject. Like nearly all its predecessors, it found that teaching kids how to label the bits and pieces in a sentence does not make them better writers.

[…]

In retrospect it scarcely seems surprising that learning to underline a modal verb, such as “can”, “should” and “may”, does little to help students use them effectively in their own writing. These words are anyway grasped by tiny children without the need to know what they are called. This may tempt the conclusion that the teaching of grammar should be shelved altogether. But there are reasons to reform it rather than scrap it.

Understanding of language is part of a wider education in what makes human beings human.

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Support for non-Mandarin languages and topolects in Taiwan

Judging from this article and other news I've been receiving on this subject in recent days, this is one more piece of evidence that Taiwan is serious about supporting languages and topolects other than MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin):

Taiwan university offers raises to encourage faculty to teach in native tongues

Instructors eligible for 50% hourly wage hike for conducting classes in Indigenous languages, Taiwanese, Hakka, Taiwan Sign Language, or Matsu dialect

By George Liao, Taiwan News (1/3/22)

The article is short but sweet:

National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) recently passed a national language development measure that encourages full-time faculty to teach courses in the country's native languages by raising their pay.

These languages include Taiwanese, Hakka, Indigenous tongues, the Matsu dialect, and Taiwan Sign Language, CNA reported.

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Speak not: dying languages

In Asian Review of Books (10/20/21), Peter Gordon reviews James Griffiths' Speak Not: Empire, Identity and the Politics of Language (Bloomsbury, October 2021).  Although the book touches upon many other languages, its main focus is on Welsh, Hawaiian, and Cantonese.

That Speak Not is more politics than linguistics is telegraphed by the title. For Griffiths, language is the single most important aspect of group identity, both as marker and glue: that what makes the Welsh Welsh or Hawaiians Hawaiian is primarily the language, rather than lineage, culture, belief systems or lifestyles. While some might debate this, governments have all too often taken aim at minority languages with precisely this rationale in the name of national unity.

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Simplified characters defeat traditional characters in Ireland

Article by Colm Keena in The Irish Times (8/2/21):

"Decision on Mandarin Leaving Cert exam ‘outrages’ Chinese communities:
Exam subject that students can sit from 2022 will only allow for simplified Chinese script"

Here are the first four paragraphs of the article:

Chinese communities in Ireland are “outraged” by the decision of the Department of Education to use only a simplified script in the new Leaving Certificate exam in Mandarin Chinese, according to a group set up to campaign on the issue.

The new exam subject, which students can sit from 2022, will not allow for the use of the traditional or heritage Chinese script, which is used by most people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other, mostly non-mainland-China locations.

The decision by the department is a “discrimination against the heritage Chinese learners in Ireland,” according to Isabella Jackson, an assistant professor of Chinese history in Trinity College, Dublin, who is a member of the Leaving Cert Mandarin Chinese Group.

“It is wrong for our Irish Government to deny children of a Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau background the right to sit an examination using the Chinese script that is part of their heritage.”

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Taiwanese vs. Mandarin in a village school half a century ago

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Absence of language study in humanities programs

Tweet from Bryan Van Norden:

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Curated language

Like the previous post (7/7/21) on gender-inclusive French, it is difficult to refrain from quoting the bulk of this thought-provoking article by John McWhorter in The Atlantic (7/4/21): 

Even Trigger Warning Is Now Off Limits

The “Oppressive Language List” at Brandeis University could have come from countless other colleges, advocacy groups, or human-resources offices.

—–

Thirty years ago, someone taught me to say actor rather than actress and chairperson rather than chairman, to discourage our thinking of occupational performance as elementally distinct depending on sex. I understood. Language does not shape thought as much as is often supposed. But words can nudge concepts in certain directions if the connection between the word and the concept is clear enough; the compound of chair and the gender-neutral person hints that, for most purposes, the listener doesn’t need to know whether the individual running a meeting was male or female.

In the same vein, I heartily approve of the modern usage of they (Roberta is getting a haircut; they’ll be here in a little while). I also like the call to replace slave with enslaved person. Slave can indeed imply a certain essence, as if it were a status inherent to some people. Enslaved person points up that the slavery is an imposed condition. The distinction matters given how central, sensitive, and urgent the discussion of slavery is in today’s America.

But according to counsel from Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center, or PARC, considerate people must go further: Apparently, we must retire victim, survivor, trigger warning, and African-American too. We must do so, that is, if we seek to ignore some linguistic fundamentals while also engaging in distinctly callow sociological calisthenics. When we are to even “consider” avoiding the word prisoner (try person who was incarcerated) or walk-in (because not all people can walk) and the phrase everything going on right now (I’ll leave you to find out what’s wrong with that one), we are being preached to by people on a quest to change reality through the performative policing of manners.

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Dissension over the role of the alphabet in literacy acquisition in the PRC

A graduate student from the PRC told me that the situation regarding instruction in Hanyu Pinyin has become quite chaotic in recent years in China.  Hànyǔ Pīnyīn 汉语拼音 ("Sinitic Spelling"), or Pīnyīn 拼音 ("Spelling") for short, is the official PRC Romanization of Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), i.e., Pǔtōnghuà 普通话.

For many decades, it used to be that all students — beginning in first grade of elementary school — learned to read and write via Pinyin.  Indeed, under the program known as "Zhùyīn shìzì, tíqián dú xiě 注音识字,提前读写" ("Phonetically Annotated Character Recognition Speeds Up Reading and Writing"), or "Z.T." for short, which actively encouraged children to use Pinyin Romanization for characters they were unable to write, the promotion of Pinyin continued well into upper grades. See "How to learn to read Chinese" (5/25/08).  In the last few years, however, it seems that instruction in Pinyin — at least in some schools — has become "optional".  Some teachers are simply not teaching the basics of pinyin.  As a result, many students are no longer competent in it, so that when they get to the dreaded gaokao (National College Entrance Examination [NCEE]), where mastery of pinyin is required, they're not prepared for that part of the exams.  Parents are complaining.

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