Archive for Language and education

Chinese (il)logic from inside

[Prefatory note:  The Chinese author of this guest post, TCI (encrypted acronym to protect her identity) holds a humanities M.A. from a top tier American research university which she attended from 2016 to 2018.  She has been employed for several years as an adviser to  students in China who desire to study abroad (especially the USA) in high school, college, or university.  Her statement will be followed by the remarks of a long experienced, well established practitioner of that profession (application counselor) in China who explains its aims and modus operandi.

The author (TCI) emphasizes what she considers to be a lack of logic in Chinese thought.  It is ironic that her focus is very much on the gender of personal pronouns at a time when many people in America are trying to do away with or downplay that aspect of personal pronouns.  Before dismissing what she says out of hand, bear in mind that for TCI it is a cri de coeur.  She grew up in China learning one system of thought, came to America and struggled to learn another, and now she has gone back to China and is trying to teach the next generation of students who want to come to America and think like Americans how to be less fraught in learning this new way of thinking.

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Charlie Chaplin in French class

In addition to a proto-regular-expression for English monosyllables, Benjamin Lee Whorf's 12/1940 Technology Review article has a weird diagram showing how a linguist (?) would organize French language instruction along the lines of mid-20th-century factory work:

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Trends in Foreign Language enrollments

Karin Fisher, "It’s a Bleak Climate for Foreign Languages as Enrollments Tumble", Chronicle of Higher Education 11/15/2023"

Enrollments in foreign-language courses tumbled nearly 17 percent between the fall of 2016 and the fall of 2021, the largest decline in the six decades the Modern Language Association has been conducting its census of American colleges. […]

Since peaking in 2009, foreign-language enrollments have deteriorated by almost 30 percent, the MLA found. This is a stunning reversal: Over the previous 30 years, the number of students studying languages had been on a steady upward trajectory.

Ryan Quinn, "Foreign Language Enrollment Sees Steepest Decline on Record", Inside Higher Ed 11/16/2023:

While the COVID-19 crisis lowered enrollments generally, the new report notes that the overall number of students in U.S. colleges and universities only fell 8 percent between 2016 and 2021. While those aren’t directly comparable figures, the drop in enrollment in non-English-language classes was over twice as much — and the 2021 decline in language-taking continues a pre-pandemic trend.

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The LLM-detection boom

Joe Marshall, "As AI cheating booms, so does the industry detecting it: ‘We couldn’t keep up with demand’", The Guardian 7/5/2023:

Since its release last November, ChatGPT has shaken the education world. The chatbot and other sophisticated AI tools are reportedly being used everywhere from college essays to high school art projects. A recent survey of 1,000 students at four-year universities by Intelligent.com found that 30% of college students have reported using ChatGPT on written assignments.

This is a problem for schools, educators and students – but a boon for a small but growing cohort of companies in the AI-detection business. Players like Winston AI, Content at Scale and Turnitin are billing for their ability to detect AI-involvement in student work, offering subscription services where teachers can run their students’ work through a web dashboard and receive a probability score that grades how “human” or “AI” the text is.

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The AI threat: keep calm and carry on

Three weekends ago, I delivered a keynote here:

New Directions in Chinese Language Education in the 21st Century

The Eighth International Conference on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language

Swarthmore College, June 9-10, 2023

———–

Abbreviations:

    AI — Artificial Intelligence

    DT — Digital Technology

    IT — Information Technology

    DH — Digital Humanities

    AGI — Artificial General Intelligence, where machines supposedly can accomplish any intellectual task that a human can (to me that's a pipe dream)

(given for present and future reference and use)

Title "Aspects of AI and digital technologies in Chinese language teaching"

Abstract

In recent decades, language processing hardware and software have progressed at an astonishing rate, one that is geometric rather than arithmetic.  The opportunities these advances offer and the challenges they pose require our thoughtful attention and careful response, lest the machines get out of control and affect our students in detrimental ways.  DeepL, ChatGPT, and other constantly evolving technologies possess enormous power to manipulate language, power that we can utilize for the enhancement of Chinese language pedagogy.  On the other hand, we must monitor and adapt this potential in such a manner that it fits our purposes and meets the needs of our students. 

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Five old, white men

I promised that I would tell the story of how five old, white men persuaded me to begin the study of Asian languages two years after I was out of college.  Here it is.

When I graduated from Dartmouth in 1965, I joined the Peace Corps for two years in Nepal.  Although I contracted fifteen diseases, some quite serious, lost fifty pounds, and had three nearly deadly trail accidents, the experience was transformative.

I was an English major in college and wrote an undergraduate thesis on Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde".  At the end of my Peace Corps service, I still wanted to study for a PhD on Chaucer.  So, among other applications to graduate school and for funding, I applied for a Woodrow Wilson fellowship.  In those days (1967), that was a very prestigious prize.

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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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