Archive for Language teaching and learning

On how (not) to learn Latin via French

And how (not) to learn Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese via Mandarin

A "Little Horatian Satire" by E. Bruce Brooks

A section of Classical Chinese Primer by E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks

The dominance of modern-Chinese based curricula may be inevitable in the present political climate, but it is objectively strange all the same. In practice, it prevents the classical language from being acquired by anyone who does not have a use for the usual prerequisite: two or three years of the modern language. The comparative philosophers and historians, the students of ancient technology, and those moved by mere intellectual and literary curiosity, are thus excluded at the outset. Is it healthy for the field, to have nobody to talk to in these neighboring disciplines? And what of the future Chinese classicists themselves, whose linguistic antennae are being tuned, by arduous toil, to a point 2,000 years later than the texts of primary interest to them?

What if the Mediterranean Classicists did as the Sinological Classicists do? An American college freshman with perfect SAT's and a burning desire to investigate the metrics of Horace walks into the Classics program advisor's office and announces her goal. She expects a welcome, and a fast-track Latin class. Instead, she gets the following:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (33)

Hokkien at UCLA, part 2

Referring to the first post in this series, "Hokkien at UCLA" (4/20/22), Chau Wu writes:

I totally agree with you about the Chinese prerequisite.

When I was younger (no, a lot younger) back in Taiwan, I had known a few grandmotherly Christian ladies who were illiterate in Sinitic script but perfectly at home in reading the Taiwanese Bible in Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ), i.e., Church Romanization (see below at * for further discussion). The following pictures appeared in the Taiwanese newspaper 自由時報 (Liberty Times) (Hokkien POJ Chū-iû-sî-pò; Hanyu Pinyin Zìyóu Shíbào) a few years ago about a Mrs. Lin (unrelated to any of the ladies I knew of) reading the Bible (Note the Bible shows signs of having been heavily used):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (12)

Hokkien at UCLA

Article in Taiwan News:

"UCLA students learn about Taiwanese Hokkien in MOE*-supported course:

Course examines Taiwan’s widely-spoken dialect ‘in different forms of cultural production’", By Stephanie Chiang (4/19/22)

*Ministry of Education

UCLA began offering its first Taiwanese Hokkien course in January 2020:

The description of the course entitled “Taiwanese Language and Culture” reads, “Taiyu, or Taiwanese (also known as Minnan, Hoklo, or Hokkien, depending on context or region), is the language that most Taiwanese people use in daily lives, including everyday interaction and communication, entertainment, social and cultural events, etc.” The four-unit course offered to upper-division students requires students to have taken at least a year of Chinese courses or a Chinese placement test showing equivalent knowledge.

I wish they didn't have the prerequisite mentioned in the last sentence and don't understand the reason for such a requirement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (26)

Rusyn

[This is a guest post by Grant Newsham]

My mother was Rusyn. (Carpatho-Rusyn, Ruthenian, Lemko [in Poland]).  Originating in a small village, Volica, up in today's northeast Slovakia — though she grew up in coal country near Pittsburgh.  Her first language was Rusyn — but I don't think she really knew exactly what language it was until much later in life.  They had no real sense of nationhood.  She said she spoke 'Russian' — but referred to it as just 'Kitchen Russian' — or some inferior form of Russian.  I think it did kind of bother her – thinking that she was a hillbilly of sorts and speaking uneducated Russian.

However, the language is basically Ukrainian (with some differences) — so close that the Ukrainians don't consider it, or the Rusyns, as distinct entities.  After the communists were overthrown, the Slovak government allowed Rusyn nationality (and have set up some Rusyn-language schools [a cousin teaches at one]) and you'll see signs in Rusyn, but the Ukrainians still do not.  My grandfather was very clear that they were not Ukrainians.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (45)

A mishmash of languages, "dialects", and characters

We've just been through the problems of standard language versus the vernaculars in Arabic (see "Selected readings" below).  Now we're going to look at a photograph, a caption, a book review, and a letter to the editor that encompass these contentious issues in spades — but for Chinese.  Here's the photograph:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Japanese translation bumbles, fumbles, and stumbles

New article in Japan Times (1/21/22) by Eric Margolis:  "Translator trip-ups: What do they mean for learning Japanese?"  It is so rich in insights that I will quote from it liberally (well, the whole kit and caboodle, broken up a bit):

In the recent issue of the literary magazine Monkey, which publishes new and old Japanese writing translated into English, a dozen literary translators dished out their thoughts on the hardest words to translate from Japanese into English. These choices ranged from the omnipresent いらっしゃいませ (irasshaimase), which is used as a greeting when entering a store, to sentence endings like the emphatic よ (yo) and the interrogative かしら(kashira, I wonder?).

Examining the words chosen by these translators can shed light on why communication between languages requires so much more than one-to-one translation. It also demonstrates how important it is to have a high level of cultural understanding for speaking fluent Japanese.

I want to take a look at five of these words and dive into why they’re significant and how Japanese learners can embrace and grow by using them. These words are: いらっしゃいませ、おじさん/おばさん (ojisan/obasan, mister/missus), 懐かしい (natsukashii, nostalgic), はあ(, an interjection) and 心 (kokoro, heart). Why did translators choose these words as being hard — even impossible — to translate? As we’ll soon see, the parenthetical definitions are woefully insufficient. We’ll need to dive deeper.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (27)

Language is not script and script is not language

Trying to clear up the confusion between the two is a battle we have been waging for decades, and nowhere is the problem more severe than in the study of Sinitic languages and the Sinographic script.  The crisis (not a "danger + opportunity"!) has come to the surface again this month with the appearance of a new book by Jing Tsu titled Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern (Riverhead Books, 2022).

The publication of Tsu's book has generated a lot of excitement, publicity, and reviews.  Here I would like to call attention to the brief remarks of an anonymous correspondent (a famous, reclusive linguist) that are right on target:

Reimagining "antiquated" Chinese

Reproduced below is the text of a book review in Science that you may not have seen. It is classified as "Linguistics", though the reviewer is a historian at Cal State Poly, Pomona. Notice that Chinese is assumed to be "antiquated" and in need of being "reimagined"!  There is simply no sign of Science understanding the difference between a human language and a writing system. This is consistent with the way they have always treated linguistics; they have no idea what the subject really is.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)

Saving a critically endangered language one child at a time

A recent blog on Miao/Hmong posted on Language Log reminded Chau Wu of an earlier news report from Taiwan about a 5th grade girl from Hla'alua (Lā'ālǔwa zú 拉阿魯哇族) who won a speech competition using her native language (article in Chinese).

"With fewer than 10 native speakers and an ethnic population of 400 people, Saaroa (= Hla'alua) is considered critically endangered," according to the article on Saaroa language in Wikipedia.

Here is a 4min-33sec YouTube video as a brief refresher on the small Austronesian tribe.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Circumspection, circumlocution, irresolution, and indecisiveness in Japanese

I don't recall how I learned first-year Japanese half a century ago (perhaps through self-study), but I remember very clearly my ascension to second-year during 1972-73 at Harvard University.  My teacher was young Jay Rubin, and our textbook was the famous Hibbett and Itasaka*.  It was a veritable baptism by fire.

[*Howard Hibbett and Gen Itasaka, ed., Modern Japanese: A Basic Reader, 2 volumes (Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press, 1965).]

This was real Japanese, no more made-for-gaijin pablum.  It was a big book with a wide variety of humanities and social science genres, and no punches pulled.  All of the texts seemed very difficult, and I will explain the main reason why below.  One of the essays haunted me for years, and still sometimes it comes back to fill my mind with melancholy and morbid thoughts.  It consisted of the reflections of an author on the best way to commit suicide.  He dwelt on all aspects of the act of suicide.  Surprisingly, the emphasis was not on which method was least painful or most effective, but rather — at least as I recollected his thought process — more on which act was most elegant or least repulsive.  Reading that essay was so wrenching that I was almost afraid to decipher the next sentence after having figured out one with great effort.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (21)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Taiwanese resurgence

We have often experienced vexation and consternation over the future of Taiwanese / Hoklo, especially in light of what's happening to Cantonese in the PRC.  Now comes some welcome news from Ilha Formosa.  A renewal of Taiwanese has recently been spurred by a least expected source, China.

Chinese Pressure Fuels an Unlikely Language Revival in Taiwan:

Local tongues gain popularity as more people on the self-ruled island, where Mandarin predominates, disavow their connection with China

By Joyu Wang, WSJ (12/22/21)

Pranav Mulgund remarks:

A recent aversion to the CCP has pushed people in Taiwan to stop speaking Mandarin. For instance, “One enthusiastic participant is Lala Sin, a 35-year-old mother of three, who has largely avoided speaking Mandarin Chinese, the most used language in both Taiwan and China, since last winter, instead talking with her children exclusively in Taiwanese Hokkien, or Taigi (pronounced 'dye-ghee')”. Teachers of the language have experienced a tripling in enrollment from 2012 to 2020. I think it’s quite an interesting idea to revolt through language. It’s obviously not an unprecedented idea, but quite fascinating to happen in modern times.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Japanese and Korean on a roll

There are reasons why this is so:

"Can you say Squid Game in Korean? TV show fuels demand for east Asian language learning:

Japanese and Korean are in top five choices in UK this year at online platform Duolingo"

James Tapper, The Observor (12/24/21)

The surging growth of Japanese and Korean language learning is a veritable phenomenon:

Whether it’s down to Squid Game or kawaii culture, fascination with Korea and Japan is fuelling a boom in learning east Asian languages. Japanese is the fastest growing language to be learned in the UK this year on the online platform Duolingo, and Korean is the fourth fastest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Should non-native students of Japanese pay close attention to pitch accent?

From a long-time learner of Japanese language:

I must say that the Japanese instructors at the Foreign Service Institute were NOT inclined to teach — or even acknowledge — pitch … and, for that matter, in all but rare cases, "bother" to correct students save on the most egregious botching of vocabulary or grammar.

Their core view, perhaps not atypical for the era, or, who knows, even for today, was "No foreigner is EVER going to learn to speak Japanese, so it is senseless to devote effort to minor things."

All that was part and parcel of the famous (=infamous) "study" by the Japanese who devised a means of determining WHY foreigners could never speak Japanese properly, and why Japanese could never speak foreign languages properly.  After wiring up his brain to gerry-rigged electrodes and electrical impulse measuring devices, he concluded (he was a dentist, I believe, and not a scientist let alone a linguist) that Japanese is a vowel-rich language, foreign tongues are consonant-rich, vowels and consonants are processed on opposite cerebral hemispheres, so "of course" it would be "impossible" for Japanese to speak foreign languages (he excluded vowel-rich Polynesian languages as inferior and unworthy of serious attention) and vice versa.  When asked how it could be, then, that Japanese diplomats so often spoke foreign languages fluently, without accents, he replied "Because they are no longer TRUE JAPANESE.  Their brains have altered."

A gentler version of that is found in this posting to a language forum, with extensive comments providing a variety of viewpoints on the subject:

"Pitch Accent? Should Learners of Japanese master it?", Ling!Q (April 2011)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (45)