"That, that, that…", part 2

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Happenings at USC Marshall School of Business.

Dear Full-Time MBA Class of 2021,

Thank you for your interest and involvement in the current situation concerning the Class of 2022 and their GSBA-542 experience. This matter is of great importance to all of us. Accordingly, I want to make you aware of the action we are taking. This action is described in the attached email* that was just sent to all students in the Class of 2022.


Geoff Garrett

[*see next item below]


Last Thursday in your GSBA-542 classes, Professor Greg Patton repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English. Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry. It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students. We must and we will do better.

Professor Marion Philadelphia, Chair of the Department of Business Communications, will take over teaching the remainder of GSBA-542, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday August 25.

Over the coming weeks and months, I have no higher priority than to work with Vice Dean Sharoni Little, Vice Dean Suh-Pyng Ku and the other members of the Marshall leadership team to identify and redress bias, microaggressions, inequities and all forms of systemic racism associated with anyone’s identity throughout our school. We each must grow and learn always to engage respectfully with one another while fostering and exemplifying the knowledge and skills needed to lead and shape our diverse and global world—such as courage, empathy, compassion, advocacy, collaboration, and integrity.

I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma. What happened cannot be undone. But please know that Sharoni, Suh-Pyng and I along with the entire Full-Time MBA Program team are here to support each of you. We welcome the opportunity to have conversations with any of you individually.


Geoff Garrett


Mr. Patton,

I am a student from your communication class in last year's term 1. I received an email from the dean regarding your removal from teaching communication class because of your use of the word  (nà ge) in Chinese as part of a communication example. I am disgusted with the administration's response and their lack of support of a colleague that did nothing wrong. If students seek to mis-interpret the word as a racial slur and claim their "mental health has been affected", so be it.  Please know that there are many people that support you and are sick of this hyper-sensitive, McCarthyism-like environment that is being fostered across the country."


Here's a video, with transcription, of Prof. Patton pronouncing the Mandarin equivalent of "that, that, that…" as a pause particle:

Grammatically, "nèige 那个" begins as a demonstrative, but it is frequently attenuated to become a pause particle or filler word.  It is often uttered many times in succession, thus "nèige nèige nèige…", and people who have a tendency to stutter may get stuck on it for an embarrassingly long time.  Even individuals who are not actually stutterers may have an excessive addiction to such words.  One can also say "zhèige zhèige zhèige… 这个 这个 这个… (this this this…)".  I've even heard people say "zhèige zhèige zhèige… …nèige nèige nèige…" and vice versa.

A close Chinese relative of mine was fond of filling her speech with empty verbiage like this:  "Zhèige rén zěnme nàme nèige? 这个人怎么那么那个? (how can this person be so [like] that?)", though she would draw out such sentences and speak them in such a manner — filled with hints and innuendoes — that one might suspect she was actually saying something of grave significance.  She was also given to saying "zhèige zhèige zhèige…" and "…nèige nèige nèige…" — "this this this" and "that that that".

Selected readings

[Thanks to Miles Yu]


  1. Jim Breen said,

    August 28, 2020 @ 7:15 pm

    "Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, …". Understandably? I'd have said "Incomprehensibly". I understand and support the removal of racial slurs from English, but stamping out vaguely sound-alike sequences in examples from foreign languages is ridiculous.

  2. ycx said,

    August 28, 2020 @ 7:27 pm

    This sounds equally asinine and appears to come from the same type of ignorance as the censorship of the English word "niggardly".

  3. Twill said,

    August 28, 2020 @ 7:51 pm

    I suppose it is "unacceptable to use words that marginalize", but perfectly acceptable to marginalize every other language on this planet by insisting that any words that might arbritrarily offend English speakers should be stricken from the dictionary, no matter what they actually mean or are used. I fail to see how we can "engage respectfully with one another while fostering and exemplifying the knowledge and skills needed to lead and shape our diverse and global world" if we don't extend the courtesy of letting other languages speak for themselves.

  4. David C. said,

    August 28, 2020 @ 8:52 pm

    I don't have a lot more to add to what has been said very well by commenters above. What disheartens me is that for all the window-dressing that is going on, there continues to be so much more to be done to strive for "courage, empathy, compassion…" and a genuine respect for others' views and their manner of expressing them within the confines of a free and democratic society.

    The instructor in one of my Chinese classes resorted to calling me "那个那个谁" (nèige nèige shéi; literally "that that who") and "谁谁谁" (shéi shéi shéi; "who who who") whenever he drew a blank on my name.

  5. Scott P. said,

    August 28, 2020 @ 11:42 pm

    I can't seem to find any corroborating information that the above letter is genuine. There is no indication on any Marshall-affiliated page that Prof. Patton has been suspended from teaching. Are we certain that events transpired as described?

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 2:29 am

    The story, if true, is an appalling indictment of those responsible for the removal of Professor Greg Patton from his position as teacher of this class. Our (Portuguese) head waiter frequently writes an order for the kitchen or bar which seemingly contains a forbidden English word, but no-one is horrified, simply amused.

    But on the linguistic side, I am very interested in Victor's transcription of 这个 as zhèige — in Kan Qian's Colloquial Chinese, the phrase first crops up in session 4, dialogue 2, where David asks 你知道这个饭店有游泳池吗 ?, which the book transliterates as "Ní zhīdào zhè ge fàndiàn yǒu yóuyǒng chí ma ?". We (all westerners) in the class clearly heard "zhèige fàndiàn" but the written Pinyin text equally clearly reads "zhège fàndiàn". We asked our lecturer about this, and she appeared to suggest that it was just an idiosyncracy of the particular speaker, but it would seem from Victor's text above that 这个 should have been transcribed "zhèige", not "zhège"

  7. David Morris said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 2:56 am

    Without doubt vile racial slurs are unacceptable in a university classroom, but foreign words which just happen to sound like vile racial slurs shouldn't be. I'm sure there's some perfectly ordinary words in English which just happen to sound like vile racial slurs in some other language.

    Searching online reveals that that subject is titled 'Communication for Management', which answers my first question.

    Having skimmed over the story, I missed the name of the lecturer in question, and assumed that it was someone Chinese or of Chinese background, who might well 'pause' in Chinese rather than English. So my first question becomes 'Why was Dr Patton saying anything in Chinese?'. Searching online found the course syllabus, which doesn't mention Chinese. Does the USC Marshall School of Business have many Chinese students? Does it have many students of the relevant racial group? Regardless of the makeup of the class, I can imagine that the vile racial slur in question might be *referred to* in a presentation on 'words you shouldn't use in communication for management', especially if the class was predominantly of students from non-English speaking backgrounds (which a business management class at a university in LA might well be).

  8. Charles Antaki said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 4:55 am

    A bad business all round. Carelessness on the one hand and over-reaction on the other.

    Taking up the thread of David Morris's last para – if a lecturer was looking for a word where any of a large class would have done (as seems to have been the case here), then it would have been sensible to avoid an example which might be catastrophically misunderstood.

    And if one had to use a riskier example for good reason (suppose, here, the lecture had been on comparative conversation analysis), then one could head off trouble by "I'm going to use an example here which sounds a bit like a bad word in English" or words to that effect, or just left it on a slide as text.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 5:55 am

    Was it carelessness, Charles ? Just because a foreign word or phrase can sound like an offensive word in English, is that any reason to avoid its use in a context where the intended language is clear ?

    For better or for worse, we live in "politically correct" times, but I do not think that that requires a speaker to review his or her intended presentation looking for words and phrases that might offend were the language of that word or phrase to be misunderstood, tho' it would behove him to ensure that any risk of the language being misunderstood was minimised.

  10. Cervantes said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 6:28 am

    Not directly on topic, but "este," which means "this," is a common filler word by Spanish speakers. Interesting that this occurs in two unrelated languages.

    That said, the actions of the administration in this case are asinine.

  11. Tom Dawkes said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 6:47 am

    No doubt choirs will now be barred from singing any setting of the Song of Songs verse 1:4 “Nigra sum sed formosa” — see http://www2.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Nigra_sum_sed_formosa — on TWO accounts, because it's 'racially' [nigra] and politically [Formosa] offensive!

  12. Rose Eneri said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 8:01 am

    The school is doing its students a huge disservice. Wait until one of these coddled USC graduates tries to get a job. I would not hire one to sweep the floors.

  13. Cervantes said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 9:22 am

    BTW in Spanish negar is a very common word, it means to deny, and might well be repeated several times rhetorically.

  14. Paul said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 9:51 am

    What a niggardly attitude towards a word.

    Have we learned nothing?


  15. Bathrobe said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 9:57 am

    @ Charles Antaki

    Did it ever occur to you that it might not even occurred to Professor Patton that 那个 might be understood as the word that nobody wants to write?

    And if the ignoramuses who complained are so clueless about foreign languages that they are unable to understand from context that 那个 is not the word they are taking offence at, what the hell are they doing at a university?

  16. Scott P. said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 10:20 am

    So my first question becomes 'Why was Dr Patton saying anything in Chinese?'.

    He was a member of the US-China Institute at USC and his specialty appears to be in business with the Pacific Rim. He appears to lead/have led MBA programs in China and Korea.

  17. David C. said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 10:38 am

    zhèi has its origins as a contraction of 这一, same for nèi for 那一 (This one; that one). It is used informally and only when followed by a quantity or a count word, though the quantity may be greater than one.

  18. James Wimberley said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 10:42 am

    English, like other languages, is replete with offensive, sometimes very offensive, words for foreigners and minority groups, words which no person of normal sensibility would not dream of using. But they can all be mentioned orally or in print, with a warning never to use them: kike, Jewboy, wop, dago, gyppo, Paki, Polack, Boche, Chink, Jap, Hun, Frog, and so interminably on, not to mention French leave and welshing on a debt. With one exception: the n-word alone has progressed to a full taboo as That Which May Not Be Uttered. What is the mechanism here? It can hardly be argued that anti-semitism is any less odious in historical speech and practice than prejudice against Blacks, but the classic expression for one is taboo and expressions for the other not.

  19. Cervantes said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 10:52 am

    I can't really agree with that. None of those words is acceptable in discourse, and some of them are certainly as fully taboo as the word in question here. I'm really not taking your point.

  20. Lugubert said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 11:03 am

    James, there's one item in your list that might lead to misunderstandings between English and e.g. Swedish. Polack is the Swedish word for a person from Poland. Wikipedia on Polack and (in German) Polacke gives more examples where Polack etc. isn't a slur but the normal and official word.

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 12:51 pm

    James, I respectfully disagree — the n-word has not progressed to a full taboo, at least not in intelligent discourse such as is to be found here. I have used the word in full in at least one earlier comment, and other instances can easily be found using Google. I deliberately refrain from using it here, since to do so would add nothing, but when it is necessary to use it, use it I will.

  22. David Morris said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 6:02 pm

    @Tom Dawkes: Many years someone I met at a choral event said that his chamber had been invited to sing at a carols service at a local church. They led the congregational in hymns/carols and sang a few choral items, one of which was Bruckner's Christus factus est. After the service the minister rounded on him and said how dare they use such a word in a carols service!

  23. AntC said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 7:42 pm

    Victor has written previously (and IIRC there was some cellphone footage) of Chinese speakers on the subway using that sound, and a black American overhearing and taking offence — even though the whole conversation was in Putonghua. Partly it was that the word was repeated and stressed in isolation from the flowing speech — presumably as a pause-filler.

    It's no surprise words in one language would be soundalikes for offensive terms in another — or soundalikes for all sorts of words. MBA students should learn enough life skills to cope with that in the melting-pot of the U.S.

    The Patton incident is rather different (if it was along the lines of the video): Patton is speaking in English and mentioning a single foreign word in isolation. It wasn't strongly marked 'here's a foreign word coming up'. If Patton wasn't aware of the soundalike, that seems rather negligent on his part. Since this wasn't (apparently) a language class, I would have taken pains to pronounce it as differently as possible from the word offensive in the main language of the lecture — to the extent of pronouncing it almost unrecognisably to a Putonghua speaker. nay-ee-gaaaah

    Come to that, was there really any need to pronounce it at all? Just say: the Chinese equivalent to 'that, that, that'.

    OTOH "caused great pain and upset among students" I don't believe. Please can I claim offence for all the MBA weenies who come out of business school with their arrogance and cultural insensitivity, and go about wrecking businesses.

  24. True Trust said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 8:58 pm

    This is why none of my six kids will be indoctrinated in college.
    One already makes 220k per year with her own business already.
    The others as A students have already acquired hefty incomes from internet and other self-managed business.
    College is mostly for socialists and followers that are destined for cubicles.

  25. Twill said,

    August 29, 2020 @ 9:41 pm

    @AntC I don't think it was along the lines of the video so much as it was exactly what transpired. I think you're interpreting the incident somewhat uncharitably: he clearly did prime the audience to hear the foreign word, being preceded twice by the phrase "in China", and it was in the context of culturally contextual fillers. It did not seem to me to be a very prepared remark, most likely just an aside that came to mind, and so he did not forewarn them that he was going to use a word that sounds somewhat like a taboo word, nor take any great pains at enunciating it (though it still to my ears is clearly not that word, and sounds instead like the prefix nega-, if that is still permissible to use).

    Perhaps if he had meticulous prepared what he would say he would have avoided using the verboten verbiage, but that more or less grants the point that English speakers should not be subjected to potentially wanton-sounding words in barbaric tongues, at least without sufficient disclaimers. Indeed, I would be much more concerned if there was a disclaimer, because that implies that the word has been identified as offensive, that each ought be apprised of this fact, and that the judgment has been made that despite this manifest offense it will be used anyway. I recall in middle school we read a text that contained the word "shit", and I somehow doubt much would have been gained if the teacher had steeled out sensitive little ears for hearing so crude a word.

  26. John Swindle said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 12:31 am

    Is it relevant that the words in question don't even sound alike?

  27. Robot Therapist said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 2:05 am

    It brings back memories of being taught about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundt%27s_tube in class

  28. AntC said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 2:45 am

    Perhaps if he had meticulous prepared what he would say he would have avoided using the verboten verbiage,

    (And a propos myl's post of the Australian mimicking the NZ accent, amongst others ….) there's a town in NZ 'Whakatane', /fɑːkɑːˈtɑːnə/ authentic pronunciation here. The first syllable, to Australian ears, is a swear word.

    When NZ'ers go to Aus, drunken louts love to taunt Kiwis into pronouncing it; and we all have to be very careful to practice our Te Reo so as to disappoint them.

    So yes I think 'meticulous preparation' is called for under some circumstances.

    IIRC re the incident on the subway I mentioned, Prof Mair guessed immediately what the Putonghua word in question would be. So purely as precaution, Patton should have shown more circumspection.

    English speakers should not be subjected to …

    And unarmed blacks in America should not be subjected to getting shot by the police; whilst armed whites at a shooting incident are just waved through. There's heightened sensitivities in America at the moment; Patton should show extra care.

    I'll say again USC Admin's reaction to the incident is all out of proportion.

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 3:36 am

    "zhèi has its origins as a contraction of 这一, same for nèi for 那一" — Thank you for that most interesting explanation, David : all is now clear. But in view of that, what would you regard as the better Pinyin transliteration of 这个 — should it be "zhèige" or "zhège" ? Presumably there would be no doubt if the Hanzi were 这一个, in which case the only possible transliteration would be "zhèige", I assume.

  30. John D. Van Fleet said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 4:42 am

    i have known Professor Patton for 20 years – he is an outstanding teacher with not a racist bone in his body – anyone who takes offense at this completely accurate (i've lived in Shanghai for 20 years as well) description of Chinese speech, just because it happens to sound like the N word, is asinine at best –

  31. Michael Watts said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 8:02 am

    In my experience, 这 is pronounced zhe under all circumstances, and 那 is pronounced ne when followed by 个 and na otherwise. I have known a single person who told me the normal pronunciation was nei.

    So I think of this as a regional feature. Some additional explanation would be required for why "na yi" would contract to nei rather than nai; the most likely would seem to be that people just like matching 那 with 这.

    Presumably there would be no doubt if the Hanzi were 这一个, in which case the only possible transliteration would be "zhèige", I assume.

    It's quite possible to realize a full "zhe yi ge", three syllables.

  32. Margaret H said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 8:08 am

    There's a similar controversy in the Kpop world, with some people taking issue with the Korean words 내가 (naega, "I" + subject particle) and 네가/니가 (nega/niga, "you" + subject particle) in song lyrics.

  33. Joshua K. said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 11:28 am

    @Rose Eneri: You might think that students who take offense at everything might have trouble getting a job, but, from what I hear, human resource departments across corporate America and academia now include plenty of people who think that same way too.

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 11:48 am

    "It's quite possible to realize a full "zhe yi ge", three syllables" — yes, of course, I had completely overlooked that possibility. Thank you, Michael.

  35. Mark Metcalf said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 4:08 pm

    Canadian-Indian (or is it Indian-Canadian?) comic Russell Peters has an entertaining NSFW routine about encountering the use of this term at a KFC in Beijing:


    Perhaps someone should forward the link to USC?

  36. Stephen Hart said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 5:54 pm

    And one wonders what to do with "black" (the color) in Spanish, which we might hear in any grocery store, let alone on any campus.

  37. AntC said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 8:15 pm

    i have known Professor Patton for 20 years – he is an outstanding teacher with not a racist bone in his body

    That's a particularly unfortunate turn of phrase. Trump, too, claimed "there isn't a racist bone in my body". I don't know Prof Patton, nor you, @John D. so are you saying Patton is actually as much a racist as Trump?

    It may be that Patton is very sensitive to Chinese/Asian cultures, but not so much to other cultures in his own country; and that he hasn't paid attention to how the word in question triggers a reaction. The Peters video shows there is such a reaction; and I was aware of it from previous posts on LLog. I am not in America/not in Academe/nor do I work in a 'Politically Correct' or 'woke' setting. I don't speak Putonghua; and yet I was aware. How could Patton not be aware? Casual racism?

  38. David C. said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 9:26 pm

    @Philip Taylor
    Both zhèi and zhè are acceptable for transliteration, in this case. zhè is acceptable in all circumstances, and zhèi is used informally but is nonetheless an accepted reading. I would suspect that 这个 is rendered zhèige by more people in casual conversation than the more formal zhège. I'd add that zhèi does not necessarily need to be followed by 个 (ge) – 这些年 (zhèixiē nián; these years) is perfectly normal.

  39. Twill said,

    August 30, 2020 @ 9:46 pm

    @AntC That's a particularly unfortunate turn of phrase. Trump, too, claimed "there isn't a racist bone in my body". I don't know Prof Patton, nor you, @John D. so are you saying Patton is actually as much a racist as Trump?

    It's rather unfortunate that you used a scurrilous and baseless association with a politically anathema figure to insinuate something nasty about someone, as that parallels how Hitler used Bolshevism to portray the Jewish populace as enemies of the German people. I'm not saying that you harbor neo-Nazi ideas, but I am saying that the specious accusation you threw out there is reprehensible.

    You point out that you were aware of the potential controversy with 那个 as somehow demonstrating its eminent offensiveness, but you fail to acknowledge that an extremely common and perfectly neutral word in a language you regularly speak is not going to be internalized as offensive in a completely different context. Yes, Prof Mair did immediately realize what word he was talking about in the prior post, but that was in the context of being asked about a discourse marker that sounded like the slur. To suppose that failing to identify the word as offensive must imply some measure of "casual racism" or otherwise cavalier or worse attitude toward race is to grant that this taboo is so dire that it must transcend any barriers of language or usage, and that this is not somewhat vastly more problematic than the utterance of phones in the pattern of /nVgV/.

  40. Philip Taylor said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 2:27 am

    Thank you for that further clarification, David — very much appreciated.

  41. John Swindle said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 3:05 am

    But, Michael Watts, is the 那 in MSM 那个 'that' really supposed to be pronounced "ne", same vowel as in the particle 呢 ? (If of course a different tone.) I don't know anytning about Shanghai; could that be another Shanghai thing? Or does Hanyu Pinyin "ne" cover two different vowels in MSM?

  42. Chris Straughn said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 8:51 am

    Interestingly, English "um" sounds disturbingly like Turkish "am" (cunt). I was horrified to learn that I'd been throwing around vulgarities when I couldn't think of the correct Turkish word. In Standard Anatolian, at least, the correct filler word is "şey" (thing).

  43. Keith said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 10:04 am


    I, too, was reminded of a Youtube video… in my recollection, it was an African-American who supposedly was working in Korea as an English teacher. He was on a bus and a Korean couple spoke to him; he misinterpreted the "니가" as a racial slur and became very agitated and angry.

    One video of the incident is here:

    And there is an interesting response to it (containing a link to what might have been the same video, but which has been removed for some unspecified "policy violation"):

  44. AntC said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 7:25 pm

    Thanks @Keith, I'm pretty sure that's not what I had in mind (but memory plays tricks). The one I'm trying to remember, I strongly recall was in Putonghua, and Prof Mair guessing immediately that the word was the one under discussion here. I've hunted around LLog and can't find it.

    It is of course cultural insensitivity the other way round: the guy in the baseball cap and dreads is (conspicuously) a guest in a country that usually speaks something other than his language. He should expect not to understand; and not be surprised by soundalikes. (How did he get so far as to be travelling in a bus and not already figure that?)

  45. Michael Watts said,

    August 31, 2020 @ 10:15 pm

    Michael Watts, is the 那 in MSM 那个 'that' really supposed to be pronounced "ne", same vowel as in the particle 呢 ? (If of course a different tone.) I don't know anything about Shanghai; could that be another Shanghai thing? Or does Hanyu Pinyin "ne" cover two different vowels in MSM?

    I wrote ne because that is the pronunciation I meant. I assume that the phrase 那个 is pronounced "nege" because it is common enough that the first syllable assimilated the vowel of the second.

    It's possible that it's a Shanghai thing; as I said above, I consider na vs nei to be a regional thing. But I believe on the basis of weak evidence that "nege" is a little more universal than that.

    Is it really supposed to be pronounced that way? That depends what you mean. If you ask a Chinese person about it (I have), they will most likely say "it's SUPPOSED to be nà, but saying it this way is easier".

  46. John Swindle said,

    September 1, 2020 @ 3:52 am

    Michael Watts: Fair enough. That would also align it with the vowel I hear in 那么 nènme.

  47. Rodger C said,

    September 1, 2020 @ 7:12 am

    AntC: Never underestimate the number of people who just can't get their heads around the concept of foreign languages.

  48. Kevin Akiyoshi said,

    September 1, 2020 @ 2:14 pm

    Dear USC,

    Is it now also banned to speak or write the word "black" (i.e. negro) in Spanish? Thank you to those that have posted video links; it seems perfectly clear that there was no ill intent nor any context–direct or implied–to the offensive "N" word.

  49. Former SCMBA student said,

    September 1, 2020 @ 10:42 pm

    So any word that sounds like another country’s word can be deemed racist?! Professor Patton is not racist and an amazing professor!!!

  50. SRC said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 12:06 am

    I’m a former MBA student of Prof Patton. I am posting the following message that I received from Prof Patton via an administrator.

    “Prof. Greg’s memo below –
    There are three key individuals (first three) who will frame the future on this issue. Murat is the Academic Director of the FT MBA Program. Any message should be sent to these four individuals.
    Professor Dan O’Leary, Chair USC Marshall Faculty Council (oleary@usc.edu)
    Professor Geoffrey Garrett, Dean Marshall Business School (ggarrett@marshall.usc.edu)
    Professor Sha Yang, Vice Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs (shayang@marshall.usc.edu)
    Professor Murat Bayiz, Academic Director of the FT MBA Program (murat.bayiz@marshall.usc.edu)

    The best emails would be sent individually, heartfelt about Professor Patton, include specifics and clearly express your feelings about the event and how it makes you feel that a USC faculty was pulled for sharing a Chinese language example – and then for the Dean to vilify the language itself. You should mention if you are a USC or Marshall Alumni. You may wish to include some thought and some of your ideas in the Chinese language within the email to show support for the Chinese language and the culture. Sha (the new Vice Dean of Faculty) is fluent. Plus Americans should learn some Chinese to enhance the diversity of voices and cultures they are exposed to… including Chinese in the email would be a step towards building their awareness at USC and make them reach out to native speakers.
    The Faculty Council has formally reached out to all Marshall Faculty to brief them on the events and gain their reaction – Faculty are stunned, pissed and offended by the Dean's actions. The survey closes Wednesday September 3rd when they will compile a report. Your emails would help Dan (Founding GEMBA Faculty Member in SHA) to include your voices with the faculty to build a stronger response.
    Any messages sent to the four above individuals on this issue would best be received before Wed Sept 3rd (Trojan Time/PST) to have the strongest impact.”

  51. USC! said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 2:38 am

    Nikias, Dean Ellis, now Patton! Plus the Lori Laughlin scandal! USC is letting me down!!!!

  52. Arnold said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 10:39 am

    And this is why Trump will win again in 2020. Stupid self-victimizing black students that are getting offended over a Chinese word. This is disgusting – some USC students are such snowflakes.

  53. Bertha Lovejoy said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 10:55 am

    It is always oversensitive white guilt "social justice warriors" or martyr complex black students that throw fits over mundane things like this. They demand safe spaces and open communication, yet expect censorship for anything that 'triggers' them.

    I do not know how these students expect to find happiness in this world. They are always complaining and getting angry about the most stupid things. What a bunch of sad losers in the class of 2022. They should be more worried about their job prospects with the global pandemic instead of throwing a tantrum to USC's administration over a Chinese word that offends them.

  54. 赖杰安 said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 11:31 am

    I'm half Chinese and have taken over 4 years of Mandarin, and I am absolutely disgusted right now by the USC administration's response. 那个 is literally THE most common filler word in Mandarin, and I hear my Chinese family members say it in rapid succession all the time as they're trying to think of the next thing they're going to say. How the h*ll can this USC dean claim to strive "to lead and shape our diverse and global world" when they're CENSORING another language? What stung me the most, though, was how the Dean called the professor's explanation of 那个 a "disturbing episode". So now, a colloquial Chinese phrase is "disturbing"? A phrase that's the equivalent of "uh" or "um" or "like"? Are they gonna be consistent and forbid anyone on their campus from saying filler words in any language? Don't get me wrong, it goes without saying that the n-word is vile and horrifically offensive when said by a nonblack person. But that is simply not what happened. Wielding one subtler form of racism (censoring Chinese speech) in blind defense of a much worse form of racism (the genuine use of the n-word) does NOTHING but trivialize ALL forms of racism.

  55. Former SC Student said,

    September 2, 2020 @ 11:37 am

    what's next? they want to censor the word 'negro' from spanish? some thin-skinned, looking-to-whine, powderpuff students went shrieking to the dean. In a sensible world the dean would have instructed the aforementioned students to kindly go fuck themselves.

  56. DCA said,

    September 3, 2020 @ 1:22 am

    In 1981 I had a Chinese officemate from Shanghai (very early example of an exchange scholar)–weirdly, reading about this I could immediately hear his voice saying exactly the triplet in question. (I'm an English monoglot). I do not remember consciously making the association with the English slur–but clearly some part of my mind found it memorable.

    Like many stories of this type, it appears to feature immature adolescents (but I repeat myself) and terrified administrators.

  57. Rodger C said,

    September 3, 2020 @ 7:00 am

    will frame the future on this issue

    When the first sentence contains such dread-inspiring bureaucratese …

  58. Jim D. said,

    September 3, 2020 @ 9:05 pm

    The professor can and should take this to court.

  59. AntC said,

    September 3, 2020 @ 9:15 pm

    I've just watched again the video of Prof Patton. I find the high dudgeon from most comments here not justified.

    Is the Spanish for 'black' used as a filler word? Is it multiply repeated with emphasis? Or does it appear merely as an adjective within continuous speech?

    Prof Patton says the word in question once in continuous speech. Then repeats it three times with increasing emphasis and rising tone — with exactly the cadence used by football crowds to shout the slur (back in the day). I don't think anybody in English says "um, um, um" like that or "y'know, y'know, y'know". Would that kind of cadence be used with the word in Putonghua?

    And note this is on social media, with no means for the audience to pick up on non-verbal clues — as perhaps Prof Patton might be more used to with in-person lectures. Given Prof Patton's apparent age, he's at least not being savvy enough for social media.

    I'll repeat myself: Prof Patton should have been more circumspect; USC Admin have over-reacted.

    Do we know how any of the students have reacted?

  60. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2020 @ 10:28 pm

    As has been pointed out countless times in the o.p. and comments to this post and the first "That, that, that…" post more than four years ago (1/24/16), Prof. Patton pronounces the expression "nèige nèige nèige…" (N.B.: not "ni-ge, ni-ge, ni-ge) repeatedly the way Chinese themselves employ it as a filler word. One of my Chinese sisters-in-law is especially fond of this usage. It's like saying "uh, uh, uh" in English. And that's how Prof. Patton used it in his lecture, where he was demonstrating the effectiveness of pauses and fillers in communication.

    Note that Prof. Patton is Professor of Clinical Business Communication.


    Greg Patton is an expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness. He has received numerous teaching awards, been ranked as one of the top teaching faculty at USC and helped USC Marshall achieve numerous #1 worldwide rankings for Communication and Leadership skill development. Professor Patton has extensive international experience, has trained, coached and mentored thousands of leaders worldwide, and created scores of successful leadership programs. He has advised on several hundred consulting engagements throughout the Pacific Rim, serves as a keynote speaker and has held more than twenty leadership positions in national and international organizations.



    And who is Geoff Garrett, the dean of the USC business school who removed Prof. Patton from his teaching duties? Until recently, he was dean of the Wharton School at Penn, which always ranks way above the Marshall School of Business at USC. It was a mystery why Garrett left Penn for USC, but I can tell you for sure that people here are mightily relieved that he departed before committing such a huge blunder here as he did at USC.

  61. SYang said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 1:41 am

    Re: AntC

    Native Mandarin speaker here. I'll add to the other comments affirming that Prof. Patton used the filler expression *exactly* as many native speakers do. When I first saw the video, I was in fact surprised by how accurate his usage was.

    The rest of your comment – about being more "savvy" or "circumspect" – seems to assume that Prof Patton was aware that his choice of a Chinese expression sounds like a racial slur in English before he decided to use it. That's dubious. My experience is that this type of phonetic resemblance is much more obvious to people who *aren't* fluent in both languages.

    Speakers who are multi-lingual to a certain extent – as Patton appears to be – don't rely on a mental mapping from one language to the other, so it seems quite impossible to expect them to cross-reference a common Chinese expression with a set of taboo expressions in English before using it.

  62. AntC said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 4:31 am

    Prof. Patton used the filler expression *exactly* as many native speakers do.

    How accurate was Prof Patton's reproduction of the sound is not the point. His audience were not listening with Putonghua ears.

    That (repeated three times with rising cadence) is *exactly* how it sounds as the worst sort of slur. Quite possibly if you didn't go to football matches (in the UK) in the 1970's, you won't have heard it. It has (I hope) died out from embarrassment in that context; but let's pay attention to who's more likely to have carried it in memory. That cadence is not how a repeated filler sounds in English. Again, this wasn't a foreign language lesson.

    What I don't get is: Prof Mair and others are pointing to previous examples, where exactly this expression in Putonghua has triggered exactly this response (with milder reaction). Prof Patton is supposed to be "an expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness". Presumably Prof Patton has used this example before. Are his interpersonal and communication skills so poor that he's never noticed the reaction?

    Did he go on to say, under his remit for 'Clinical Business Communication': Putonghua-speaking clinicians should avoid this usage when in the hearing of English-speaking patients?

  63. Luke said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 7:04 am


    He warned his viewers that he will be referring to a filler word commonly used in China. It doesn't matter how filler words are used in English, because that's how it is used in Mandarin. I have personally heard the use of the word nèige used in exactly the same way Prof Patton did in that lecture. Was his intent malicious? I'd suggest that it wasn't because all he did was quote how a foreign word was used in a foreign language. The only way to create a problem here is by assuming that his intentions were to offend, which is rather uncharitable given the context that he explicitly told viewers that the word he is speaking is not in English.

  64. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:02 am

    USC Suspended a Communications Professor for Saying a Chinese Word That Sounds Like a Racial Slur

    Greg Patton was describing the Chinese filler word "nega," which earned him a temporary suspension.

    Robby Soave | Reason | 9.3.2020 3:29 PM


  65. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:07 am

    From a colleague who is highly proficient in Mandarin:

    I've used the common expression "this or that" in Mandarin for years. Don't think I will any more.

  66. S said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 8:45 am

    @AntC "Did he go on to say, under his remit for 'Clinical Business Communication': Putonghua-speaking clinicians should avoid this usage when in the hearing of English-speaking patients?"

    There was news earlier this year about a professor who was placed on leave for telling a Vietnamese student named Phuc Bui to anglicize their name because of the name's resemblance to an unfortunate English phrase. By your argument here, was he justified in doing so?

  67. Ivy said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 9:58 am

    Will someone please share with me the original email Geoff Garrett sent with signatures and verifications? Thank you!

  68. Courtney said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 10:43 am

    Hi Dr. Mair! I'm interested in this story but am having a hard time finding solid sources. You are obviously highly respected so my question is, did you receive these communications directly or is there somewhere on the USC website to access them?

  69. Philip Taylor said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 11:20 am

    "There was news earlier this year about a professor who was placed on leave for telling a Vietnamese student named Phuc Bui to anglicize their name because of the name's resemblance to an unfortunate English phrase".

    No-one should tell anyone to change their name, but advising a Vietnamese that the name "Phuc" may lead to unwanted ribbing would certainly be a good idea, IMHO, if one was sure that Phuc's knowledge of English obscenities was likely to be minimal.

  70. Morpheus said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 10:00 pm

    Korean song

  71. Morpheus said,

    September 4, 2020 @ 10:13 pm

    Chinese song

  72. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 4:53 am

    @This comment by AntC above:


    Prof Patton says the word in question once in continuous speech. Then repeats it three times with increasing emphasis and rising tone — with exactly the cadence used by football crowds to shout the slur (back in the day). I don't think anybody in English says "um, um, um" like that or "y'know, y'know, y'know". Would that kind of cadence be used with the word in Putonghua?


    This is not an accurate representation of the way Prof. Patton repeated the "nèige 那个" ("that") filler. Listen for yourself at 0:31 here:


  73. AntC said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 5:32 am

    am having a hard time finding solid sources.

    Thank you @Courtney and @Ivy, good point! We might all be chasing a spoof or a beat-up. I can only find news reports citing other news reports.

    The most-quoted source seems to be a National Review article — I see NR is described as a 'conservative editorial magazine' by wikipedia, and has been embroiled in some 'fake news' episodes. They quote an email from students:

    “It was confirmed that the pronunciation of this word is much different than what Professor Patton described in class,” the students wrote. “The word is most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables. In addition, we have lived abroad in China and have taken Chinese language courses at several colleges and this phrase, clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term, and should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States.”

    The students accused the professor of displaying “negligence and disregard” in using the word …

    Hmm. I consider it unlikely that the whole of a MBA class has "lived abroad", etc. OTOH that rather awkward language sounds authentic as an email drafted by a collective of students.

    his [Patton's] intentions were to offend

    No I did not impute that intention. I said Prof Patton was careless, and negligent in being unaware that the word had been taken as a soundalike — which is what the students' (alleged) email is saying. I am being generous in attributing it to to Prof Patton's being unaware, because in his role and with his experience, it's his job to be aware.

    In the hot-house of American racial politics, with recent shootings, with Trump and Fox News stirring it up, with a contentious election in a couple of months, that carelessness/negligence is too easily taken as offensive. Patton (and educational institutions generally) do not live in a bubble/ivory tower; they should be precautionary.

  74. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 6:51 am

    USC Marshall professor takes pause after using Chinese phrase that resembles racial slur

    Students have spoken out against and in support of Professor Greg Patton following his Aug. 20 lecture.

    By: Christine Kim
    September 4 at 3:57 PM USC Annenberg Media


    On Aug. 20, USC Marshall School of Business professor Greg Patton was giving the students in his courses on communication management tips on how to present information effectively. “Taking a break between ideas can help bring the audience in” he told them. To illustrate his point, Patton cited Apple founder Steve Jobs’ use of breaks and included examples of pauses in different languages. “In China,” the professor said, according to a recording of the lecture, “the common pause word is ‘that that that.’ So in China it might be ne-ga ne-ga ne-ga.”

    The next week, USC Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett sent an email to students announcing that Patton would no longer be teaching this semester. “It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” he wrote.


    VHM: worth reading in its entirety.


    USC Annenberg Media

    Google search here

  75. Mark Metcalf said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 8:20 am

    And now even CCP tabloid Global Times has picked up the story:

    "US political correctness implicates a Chinese filler word

    Greg Patton, a professor at the University of Southern California, was placed on leave after he gave a lecture about a Chinese filler word that sounds like the "N" word in English, according to National Review on Thursday.

    "Neige", or "um," is a commonly used Chinese word. There has been a joke saying that people should not use the word in the US to avoid being caught in trouble. Unexpectedly, this joke has actually become truth in the US…"


  76. Courtney said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 8:23 am

    Thank you Dr. Mair! The article linked does not contain the emails displayed above. It also seems to rely heavily on a National Review article which is getting its information from a Campus Reform article. Campus Reform is not an unbiased nor reliable source of information. So my question is, is there truly enough information about this to be whipping up the vitriol towards black students that you can see cropping up in the comments section of your post? There are comments calling black students stupid and accusing them of being martyrs. This sort of article and post is written for a reason, which I'm sure you understand. Before we give into outrage at the "snowflakes" it would be good to know where these emails came from.

  77. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 9:18 am

    The following article is from Poets&Quants, which, so far as I can tell, is an unbiased, impartial, apolitical website dealing with all aspects of business school education. The article is quite lengthy and thorough.


    "USC Marshall Prof Replaced After Using A Chinese Term Similar To The N-Word"

    by: Marc Ethier on September 04, 2020



    USC Marshall’s MBA fall semester began remotely August 17. On August 20, Patton was giving a virtual lecture about the use of “filler words” in speech when he used the Mandarin word, saying: “If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”

    Patton was accused shortly after the class of mispronouncing the Chinese expression purposely to make it sound like the N-word, and of “conveniently” stopping the Zoom recording right before saying the word to give it greater emphasis. In an email to the business school leadership obtained by Poets&Quants, a group of students wrote that the incident “shocked” the Black members of the Class of 2022, and “collectively we are in disbelief that you all would allow this to go on in this program.” The students wrote that their mental health had been affected, and called for the school to take the incident seriously and address it.



    The second page of the article carries the e-mail from the USC Marshall students, which begins thus:


    Good morning esteemed Marshall Administration and Staff,

    It is with heavy hearts that we write this letter only four days into our USC Marshall MBA journey as we are very displeased with Dr. Greg Patton. Yesterday, August 20th in all of our GSBA 542 core classes, he made use of the Chinese word “Na ge – 那个” and pronounced it as NIGGA consecutively approximately five times in every communication core class.

    While he was using the words as an illustration of filler words used the Chinese language, the way he pronounced the word was exactly like the word NIGGA and offended all the Black members of our class.



    That is followed by Dean Geoff Garrett's response and Prof. Greg Patton's letter to the school leadership.

    At the very end come some interesting comments by readers.

  78. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 9:29 am

    Here's another current article from Poets&Quants. Curiously, it bears awesome news about the Wharton School at Penn, where, until recently, USC Marshall Dean Geoff Garrett was dean. Garrett's abrupt departure from Wharton, one of the top business schools in the world, to take up the deanship at USC Marshall, left people puzzled and wondering what the real reason for his departure was.

    "MBA Applications To Wharton Soar By 21% To A New Record"

    by: John A. Byrne on September 04, 2020


    Applications to the Wharton School‘s MBA program soared by 21% in 2019-2020 to a new annual record, leading to the largest entering class of MBAs ever at the school. The University of Pennsylvania’s business school today (Sept. 4) reported that 7,158 candidates applied to its full-time, two-year MBA program, an increase of more than 1,200 applicants from the year-earlier total of 5,905.

    Despite widespread concerns over the difficulty of international applicants getting student visas and the abrupt shift to online learning in Wharton’s MBA program, the increase in application volume led to an entering class size of 916 students, up 7% from the 856 who enrolled in the class that entered the school last fall. That outcome is a direct contrast to what happened at Harvard Business School this year. Harvard enrolled its smallest class in decades, just 732 students, some 200 students short of its more typical 730-to-740 class size. As a result, for the first time ever the incoming class of MBAs at Wharton is larger than Harvard’s class.


  79. Robert Reynolds said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    The response from the School of Business posted above has not been contradicted, so I take the situation to be exactly as Prof. Mair has stated. The absurdity of all this, however, is still difficult for me to take in.

    I'm an American who received a Ph.D. in Chinese historical linguistics in the U.S. teaching in Taiwan for twenty four years now (CHL is not a high demand subject!) My experience includes over twenty years teaching English to Chinese translation, and I frequently use the nei-ge nei-ge example in discussing problems like how to translate English er and um into Chinese. Prof. Patton's discussion both is apt and well presented.

    The true bizarreness of his suspension has still not been adequately presented here, I think.

    Is it the filler usage of nei-ge nei-ge nei-ge that is deemed offensive? Don't use it as a filler and you're okay? Should it be forbidden to teach or even mention filler phrases such as this?

    Or is it also offensive when used as a plain demonstrative pronoun "that"? What if I want to point to three different objects: that, that, that. Is this offensive?

    Chinese also uses repetition for emphasis, where English often uses stress. nei-ge, nei-ge nei-ge is frequently used when English would say for example _that_ one.

    Is it the number of repetitions? How many "that"s in a row are non-offensive? Is it the speed, which causes the vowel to lax a little bit, that lends the word an unfortunate phonetic semblance to the "vile slur"? You can use multiple thats, just don't say them so fast?

    In fact, speed is not even a question. nei-ge is a function word, just like English 'that' and failure to lax is incredibly awkward. These grotesquely arbitrary restrictions are truly dfficult issues for any language teacher to determine.

    Or is it the mere phonetic resemblance of the single compound nei-ge, which as pointed out above is actually quite distant from the slur?

    Is the idea that the Professor should avoid using the demonstrative pronoun nei-ge, meaning 'that' in Chinese at all? Nei-ge is one of the highest frequency compounds in the Chinese language. This is an intolerable restriction, absurd beyond description.

    Why have the USC Chinese teachers not spoken out on this? USC has more than one distinguished Chinese linguist in its ranks. What about the professional associations of Chinese language teachers? What is their stance on this incredible controversy? I don't understand.

    I will say that I don't think it's fair to blame students who somehow took offense at this. It's the fault of USC, which has left students believing that they can judge the Chinese language itself as insulting or deficient. This is the very antithesis of what multi-cultural education should be.

  80. AB said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 10:31 am

    When it comes to the cultural negotiations of appropriate behavior, it is never possible to draw a clear line as many commenters would like.

    I think there is no way to read the video and the student response except to conclude that the students had a legitimate concern.

    However, I am deeply disturbed that it appears that there was no effort to de-escalate and have the students directly work with the professor on their concern as a first attempt at resolution. After all, at the most what he did was insensitive, and pretty far removed from an intentionally direct or cavalier use of the offensive word itself.

    In dealing with student complaints about instructors, the first move should be to encourage the students to contact the instructor and inform them of their concerns, unless the instructor is unsafe (for example, an obvious racist, a predator or an alcoholic, etc) or there is reasonable evidence that the instructor might retaliate. Student, being graded, are usually concerned about retaliation, but that is not reason in itself to avoid resolving an issue. A dean can try to find out in advance if the instructor might be retaliatory and adjust accordingly, but unless there is an existing concern about that or safety, students should be encouraged to try first to address the issue with the instructor and then the return to the Dean if they are not satsified.

    In this specific case (again, unless there are preexisting issues with the instructor), a good dean would have met with the emailer and encouraged them to contact the instructor and explain how the repetition was taken, and offer how he could still teach about the filler-word, include the problem with what it sounds like in English, and at the same time avoid actually using the n-word. He might even encourage students to warn Chinese speakers about using this filler word in English contexts and relay, apologetically, his own experience as a White man who was unaware of its impact. A good dean might even help a student leader think clearly about how to best approach the instructor, which can be a great teaching moment.

  81. Mark Metcalf said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

    For semi-completeness, here's the Wikipedia page for "filler (linguistics):


    Given today's hypersensitive millieu, I'm confident that anyone who tries hard enough will be able to find *something*, in addition to 那个, that is offensive..

  82. Philip Taylor said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 1:05 pm

    "Harvard enrolled its smallest class in decades, just 732 students, some 200 students short of its more typical 730-to-740 class size" — surely something wrong here : 732 clearly lies between 730 & 740 rather than falling some 200 short.

  83. Philip Taylor said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 2:23 pm

    "I think there is no way to read the video and the student response except to conclude that the students had a legitimate concern" — a legitimate concern, perhaps, tho' such a concern could easily have been resolved at the time : "Excuse me, Professor, did you just say 'nigger' ?" would have been a perfectly reasonable response. But for " [t]he students [concerned to write] that their mental health had been affected" is beyond belief. Had they written "some of us were deeply offended" would be understandable; but to claim that their mental health was affected can be nothing but pure hyperbole.

  84. Conal Boyce said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 3:08 pm

    We wait with bated breath for AntC's rebuttal to someone's invitation to "Listen for yourself at 0:31." Will AntC still maintain that the professor's delivery resembled a football hooligans' chant? Will his rebuttal include another 'IMHO' or 'IIRC', or will it perhaps begin with "Um…" the quintessential cyberspace way of flexing?

    As for race, let's approach it from the other side. I've heard it said that blacks are allowed to use the word among themselves. But who exactly is black enough to join that club? Is being 75% black good enough? How about 50% or 25% 'high yellow'? For that matter, why not 1.5625% black, since that is the "one drop" rule-of-thumb for being black in the eyes of certain racists (the white ones, I mean, not the black ones). And guess what? By now, it's likely that just about everyone in the US (who didn't immigrate here recently from Syria to make a living by giving fake lectures on "What it's like to be a woman-of-color in the US"), _is_ 1.5625% black, at least. We're all "black"; therefore, we may all use the word (including any foreign word that resembles it). Problem solved.

  85. Martino said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

    The guy clearly had no malicious intent. He was trying to explain a concept As a professor myself we care for our students and do not have malintentioned purpose like they are making it sound here. the benefit to the doubt should go to this great professor

  86. Robert Reynolds said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 7:47 pm

    It always helps to learn the details of controversies. Thanks to Professor Mair for the link to the Poets and Quants website, which provided the text of the complaint, The student accused Patton of mispronouncing the Chinese expression purposely to make it sound like the N-word, of saying it without pauses, of “conveniently” stopping the Zoom recording right before saying the word to give it greater emphasis. This makes it clear that USC has grossly mishandled the incident.

    Patton did not mispronounce the expression. The students who wrote to the school to complain say that they asked their Chinese classmates, who confirmed Patton said it wrong. Does anyone who has seen the video and is competent in Chinese believe Patton's pronunciation, vowel, speed, or usage, is wrong? Please post here and give an example of the correct pronunciation or usage. There are beyond a doubt many, many examples of native speakers using nei-ge that one could find on Youtube or Tik-tok which are indistinguishable from Patton's pronunciation.

    The students are objectively wrong in their belief that Patton mispronounced it. This could have been handled by having any member of the Chinese language faculty discuss the usage with them and reassure them that the pronunciation is correct. The Chinese students who apparently misinformed their classmates could have joined in such a discussion. What actions did Dean Garrett take before suspending Patton? Did he arrange such a discussion? Since we know that the pronunciation is correct, he leaves us to wonder if he suspended Patton for pausing Xoom at the wrong place.

    What will happen if the students complaining go to China on business? Sooner or later they will hear this phrase or some other form of the high frequency compound nei-ge, said in just this way. Will they expect their hosts, their companies to apologize? Will they accuse them of racism? Should we talk of cultural negotiations of appropriate behavior in this case? USC's failure in this case is not just a classroom failure, it is a professional failure. It will damage their students' careers, it will produce ridiculous cultural misunderstandings. USC should correct its error. Reinstate Prof. Patton immediately, and reassure language teaching staff they will not be subjected to similar mistreatment.

  87. AntC said,

    September 5, 2020 @ 9:29 pm

    @Conal, no I'm not going to respond to your baiting breath. I have listened to the video many times now. (The sound quality in Prof Mair's O.P. seems to be better than the youtube snippet he linked latterly.)

    I think somebody pre-disposed to hear Putonghua (specifically the tones), will hear Putonghua. Those not pre-disposed (like me, and I suspect most of the audience) will hear the tones as some other cadence. Listening repeatedly will not alter those pre-dispositions. It matters not whether Prof Patton's pronunciation was accurate Putonghua. As I said much earlier, he should either have warned his audience of a possible sound-alike; or gone out of his way in his pronunciation to avoid any interpretation of sound-alike.

  88. Sam said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 12:06 am

    Why did the Professor agree to cowtow this 1984-like idiocy and flagellation? He should have full court press threated to bring media and embarrassment to the UCS administration. Russell Peters the comedian even has a skit about this exact situation! Politcal correctness gone amuck.

  89. Everglade "Lifes" Matters said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    Really? I have a question; is it working both ways?
    What happens if some Chinese words or in other languages will sound like "whitey" or something like that? This is ridiculous. Nobody sees that???

  90. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 6:50 am



    (The sound quality in Prof Mair's O.P. seems to be better than the youtube snippet he linked latterly.) VHM: emphasis added


    repeats it three times with increasing emphasis and rising tone — with exactly the cadence used by football crowds to shout the slur

    It's the same recording, with the same cadence and tone, which are exactly the opposite of what is claimed: not "increasing emphasis and rising tone", but decreasing emphasis and falling tone.

  91. Dr. Emilio Lizardo said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 8:03 am

    I would have handled this differently, as well.

    The school (frequently called the 'University of Spoiled Children') should have acknowledged Patton's contribution to cross-cultural discourse and reiterated that, while from a monolingual American perspective such a pronunciation might have sounded like a racial slur, such an example demonstrates the importance learning foreign languages, of college (and particularly graduate) students being open to new perspectives, and willing to accept new concepts. Instead, USC played to the shallow prejudices of the infantilized and the self-important.

    Although Patton explained the context of his comments, the students were totally unwilling to consider the example from any perspective other than their narrow world-view (i.e. "Everything that *I* say is 'racist' is racist because that's how I *feel*!").

    Such "students" shouldn't be in graduate school. Hell, they shouldn't even be college graduates (yes, there's social promotion in college). They aren't in college to learn or even consider challenges to their world views. They're in college to affirm their individual biases and to noisily reject anyone who disagrees with their opinions. They exhibit the intellectual development of a high school sophomore and the self-control of a toddler.

    Instead of saying "suck it up, buttercup", USC did its students (both the whiners and the silent majority) irreparable harm by giving credence to their illegitimate claims and by punishing a professor who had attempted to educate them. But I guess that's how you're supposed to treat "customers".

    Next time, they should try this: "I've explained this to you and acknowledged your opinion. No further in-class discussion of the topic. See me after class if you want to discuss it further. And if that's unacceptable to you, there's the door."

    (written before finishing my first cup of coffee)

  92. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 8:04 am

    "Controversy over USC professor’s use of Chinese word that sounds like racial slur in English"

    By Nina Agrawal Staff Writer
    LA Times | Sep. 5, 2020
    5 AM


  93. Conal Boyce said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 9:23 am

    There is also the phoneme angle to consider (hinted at in one of Victor's posts, not too far back in this same 那个那个那个 thread).
    According to internet sources, it appears that English has 44 phonemes, two of which are
    /eɪ/ as in 'neigh' (or 那个) and
    /ɪ/ as in 'willy' (or….).
    What the USC administrators are saying, in effect, is that the English language REALLY has only 43 legitimate phonemes, not 44. This is thanks to their clever observation that /eɪ/ and /ɪ/ are treated as "the same sound" by many speakers. This leads to various linguistic puzzles, though. Henceforth we must understand that the following two utterances are "phonetically equivalent" hence semantically ambiguous:

    A. His kale was caked and ripped on Monday.
    B. His kill was kicked and raped on Tuesday.

    Let's say these are statements given to detectives by witnesses A and B, who employ different SUB-phonemes of the newly recognized big phoneme, call it /eɪ~ɪ/. Up until the 'Monday' or 'Tuesday' part, EITHER sentence can mean EITHER of two things — something about kale preparation and something about a crime. How, then, can the detectives discover what this criminal actually did? Did he do the same thing on both days? Or, if he did different things, was the kale preparation on Monday or on Tuesday? Detectives get rather anal about these things. But until they learn more about his dining habits and criminal habits, there is no way for them to be sure, in this Brave New World of only 43 phonemes.
    Alternatively, might it be that the taboo word under discussion in this thread, when pronounced authentically, employs a sound that is in-between the existing phonemes, /eɪ/ and /ɪ/. (I believe it is, in fact.) In that case, the USC deans and bureaucrats should be applauded for having advanced the science of Linguistics in a different direction: Their subtext is that the inventory of English phonemes should be immediately emended to include a 45th phoneme that lies midway between the two traditional phonemes discussed above. (Whoever comes up with a good IPA symbol for the new phoneme should be awarded a USC Trojans jersey of his or her choice.)

  94. Robert Reynolds said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 10:51 am

    :I think somebody pre-disposed to hear Putonghua (specifically the
    :tones), will hear Putonghua. Those not pre-disposed will hear the tones
    :as some other cadence.

    I don't understand. Forget about tone. Patton told the students that he was giving an example in Chinese. The sounds they heard were indeed Chinese. Did they not understand this? What does pre-disposition have to do with this?

    The basic problem is that P. told the students the phrase was Chinese, but they reacted as if it was actually English. They seem to be claiming that he wanted to insult and humiliate them, but was afraid to do it directly, so he disguised his insult by saying he was speaking Chinese, when in fact he was speaking English. That is pretty damn bizarre. The basic lesson for the students here is that you shouldn't try to interpret foreign languages like that.

    The school seems to have taken the position that P. somehow said something wrong. Otherwise why suspend him from class? Is it that his spoken Chinese is so bad, it's not safe to let him use it in class? The school should explain what P. was disciplined for if it wants to retain any credibility. The Chinese program should have been consulted in this. Was it? Explain, please.

  95. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 11:53 am

    "THAT’s racist: California professor suspended, students offered emotional ‘support’ to remedy ‘harmful impact’ of CHINESE word"

    RT 4 Sep, 2020 00:09 / Updated 2 days ago


  96. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 1:43 pm

    From anonymous:

    I just wanted to comment on the irony of him being a professor of cross cultural communication who got suspended for allegedly screwing up cross cultural communication.

  97. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 2:44 pm

    From Clayton Dube:

    Victor Mair's language blog brought the USC issue to the attention of many. It included an email to students from Dean Garrett announcing that because of the incident, Prof. Patton would be replaced in this class by his department chair. Prof. Mair included a short video clip of Patton's lesson where he illustrates pause words and begins to explain how they can be avoided.


    Some context:

    Greg Patton has been a popular teacher at USC for a long time. He taught in the USC/Jiaotong University executive MBA program in Shanghai, participated in other executive education programs for Chinese companies and organizations, and worked with Marshall's many Chinese students. He likely used the Chinese thinking pause as an example to bring them in and to highlight for all students that every culture has pause words.

    Geoff Garrett has had a distinguished career as a scholar and administrator. He served as dean of UCLA's International Institute, president of the Pacific Council, head of the United States Center at the University of Sydney, before becoming dean of two business schools in Australia. He was dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business for seven years before returning to USC where he had led the Pacific Council and was a professor of Business and international relations. He was named to the position in 2019, but did not assume responsibilities there until this summer. Garrett is not a China specialist, but has worked on issues such as globalization and helped set up Penn's Center in Beijing.

    In a note quoted by the NY Daily News, Patton wrote,

    “I have strived to best prepare students with Global, real-world and applied examples and illustrations to make the class content come alive and bring diverse voices, situations and experiences into the classroom,” the letter states. “This particular international illustration is a class example I have received positive feedback when presenting in the past. Yet, I failed to realize all the many different additional ways that a particular example may be heard across audiences members based on their own lived experiences and that [is] my fault.”


    Geoff Garrett was hired by USC after the controversial dismissal of Jim Ellis, Marshall dean for a decade. Ellis seems to have been dismissed for not acting more aggressively to address complaints of gender bias and harassment. Ellis says he did not know of most of the complaints. During his tenure the school achieved gender parity in student admissions and hired more female faculty. The dismissal came at a time the university was also coping with revelations that a staff gynecologist had mistreated student patients over two decades. That and other factors led to the USC president, Max Nikias being forced out.

    For those who are interested, the following articles help to illuminate the situation Dean Garrett entered this summer. Of course, the heightened attention to issues of racism and police misconduct are decisive factors as well. All want to be sensitive to student concerns.

    Dismissal protested


    Jim Ellis removed


    University position




    Ellis letter


    Ellis op-ed


  98. Dan R said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 5:38 pm

    I'm a USC grad, a non-native but fluent Chinese speaker, someone who has lived in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and a staunch progressive and BLM supporter. I think it's ridiculous that this professor was accused of doing anything wrong whatsoever. The students who felt their "mental health" was hurt really need to get a life. Are we going to erase the country "Niger" from the map? Are we going to ban the word "niggardly"? Some words sound like other words. So what? They are NOT related.

  99. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 7:36 pm

    From W. South Coblin, a professor of Chinese historical linguistics:

    Oh yes, this is not new to me. A year or so ago one of the visiting instructors in Chinese here told me that the director of the language program had mandated that 那個 could only be pronounced nàge in the Chinese classes, so as not to offend anybody.

    A day or so ago I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, the third of her Wolf Hall series of novels. There, in the concluding chapter she mentioned that somebody in the story had “sniggered” the (usual British form of what in the US would be pronounced “snickered”.) Had she been American rather than British, I suppose that, like her protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, she would have been beheaded. The book is huge (nearly 800 pages), and it took me ages to finish it. I borrowed it from the public library several times, because I was too niggardly to buy a copy for myself.

    In the matter of myopic English monolinguals becoming offended by words in other languages, I wonder how the dean would have felt if he went to lunch with the professor in a Hakka-operated Chinese restaurant and was invited to shit, as in shit fàn (食飯), the standard Hakka expression for “to eat a meal”!

    Watch your language!

  100. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 7:51 pm

    From Perry Link, a professor of Chinese language and literature:

    My beef is with the psychology of the dean, whose principle is: "be sure to come down HARD on any sign political incorrectness–not from any examination of the merits but because I have to be viewed as politically-correct-with-emphasis-no-matter-what. It is a career credential for me to be viewed that way." Disgusting, yes, but also very common.

  101. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 9:34 pm

    US academic is suspended for using the Chinese word for 'um' because it sounded like a racial slur

    Greg Patton lectured on use of 'filler words' at University of Southern California

    He mentioned the Chinese expression 'neige' (pronounced 'nee-gah')

    He was placed on administrative leave while the university 'review the situation'

    By Caroline Graham In Los Angeles For The Daily Mail On Sunday

    Published: 17:01 EDT, 5 September 2020 | Updated: 09:33 EDT, 6 September 2020


  102. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2020 @ 9:35 pm

    From Geok Hoon (Janet) Williams:

    I read this post 2 days ago, and this afternoon I shared it on LinkedIn. Credit mentioned.


    I also included the explanation by Chinese Grammar Wiki:


    What do I think about whole thing? Absolute bonkers! It’s all about ‘feeling’ these days, isn’t it!? The world has gone mad. It’s the same in England. It’s ‘woke’!

    LinkedIn is not the right platform for me to elaborate on this, so my purpose was simply sharing the news. I did not interpret it too much.

  103. Leo said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 2:01 am

    I think we should be grateful to Victor Mair for the PoetsAndQuants link, which provides a lot of useful detail. The more we know about what happened, the further we can get from a simple "Professor Fired for Speaking Chinese" story which just acts as a template for pre-existing views on campus politics.

    It's important that the students who filed the complaint believed – evidently incorrectly – that Prof. Patton mispronounced nèige, making it sound more like the N-word. If this was a genuine misunderstanding on their part, it shifts the blame towards the USC administration, who, as many have pointed out, should have handled this very differently.

  104. Philip Taylor said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 2:07 am

    Regarding Professor South Coblin's "somebody in the story had 'sniggered' the (usual British form of what in the US would be pronounced 'snickered')", the word "snigger" (v. and sb.) and its derivatives is so common in British English that no-one gives it a second thought, and it therefore took me quite some time to understand what point Professor South Coblin was seeking to make. In British English, if someone were reported as having "snickered", it would be assumed that they had eaten a particular brand of chocolate bar.

  105. BG said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 4:07 am

    Dear Dean Geoff Garrett –

    The first syllable of your name is "penis" in Chinese.

    It is unbelievable why you would choose to use such a vile slur in Chinese as your name. This is causing great pain and upset to the one billion Chinese people in this world.

    For fairness and political correctness, we demand UPenn to suspend you along with Professor Greg Patton for your intentional vulgarness against the Chinese ethnicity.


  106. David said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 5:19 am

    Americans are just crazy. The scary thing is that some of their stupidities are coming to our continent too thanks to the globalisation. Best regards from a fellow European.

  107. Jan Smite said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 6:31 am

    Sorry to ask, but those students that felt "great pain"… do they have a brain at all? They they now what CONTEXT is? Do they really are UNIVERSITY students? Do they have any reading comprehension, even if it was spoken? If that is really the level of the students at that university, if I were the rector I would be VERY worried…

    I just can't believe this level of STUPIDITY… :facepalm:

  108. Kirill said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 7:06 am

    What a stupid situation, fired for nothing… By the way, if you learn Russian language, there is a word "книга" – "book" (noun), which sounds like "k-niga" (i don't know English transcriptions, the word just sounds like that bad word with added "k" in front). So now to complain and remove all russian teachers?

  109. Joan Gallardo said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 7:35 am

    Those who pay attention to stupid people like those who felt injured with no reason, are just doing a favour to real racists. I can't understand what is happening in the USA, I hope this level of stupidity doesn't arrive here in Europe.

  110. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 7:45 am

    From Yijie Zhang:

    As a native Mandarin speaker, I was not very surprised when I heard that a US professor was accused of potential racism and his integrity was impugned for saying the Chinese demonstrative or pause particle "那个" (nèige), since I've been aware how it could spell trouble as a bilingual speaker; it was the following episode that surprised me. As you already discussed and explicated in Language Log as early as in 2016, "那个" in Mandarin is usually no more than a filler word and is considerably common in normal daily speech. Its pronunciation, which indeed sounds very much like the racial slur in English, has provoked a great deal of controversy for long when the actual usage and the specific cultural sensitivity overlapped. It reminds me of an interview in which Yao Ming described his experience of using "那个" with a White interpreter in Rockets' locker room (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXJ3d53MeKs), a Chinese music video which was heavily disputed because of its frequent use of "那个" in its lyrics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YG4iTGjuoKw), and other similar circumstances that happened in the past.

    I noticed that most Chinese media have not been treating this event seriously. Rather, many reported it almost as a jest. The event was way less provoking than it has been in the US, and it never ignited any vigorous debates in Chinese society (see the following two news titles).

    多年段子成真了? ("A Long-lasting Joke Comes True")
    老梗成真? ("An Old Shtick Term Comes True")

    From the cavalier and carefree attitude that most Chinese media adopted when dealing with this event, one could tell that Chinese Mandarin speakers have been quite used to this possible misunderstanding scenario and the culture gap, although I have been expecting more serious, profound, and impartial articles by Chinese media with sufficient awareness of the significance of this race-related event, as well as other racial concerns, with full consciousness of China's inevitable involvement and its own role in this circumstance, and without coordination with the state propaganda. But still, these news titles, exemplifying Chinese reactions, are indirect proof that using "那个" itself is not bound to be offensive.

  111. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 8:08 am

    Please, please, please, everybody, watch the video (cited by Yijie Zhang in the previous comment) of the interview in which Yao Ming describes his experience of using "nèige 那个" with a white interpreter in the Houston Rockets' locker room (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXJ3d53MeKs).

    It is soooooo hilarious, because — even though nèige 那个 is a super common word in Mandarin — the interviewer just cannot get Yao Ming to pronounce it on camera. His blushing embarrassment is so charming that it made me burst out loud with laughter. As a language specialist, watching him try to spell the sounds of 那个 was all the more mirthful.

    By the way, it also made me laugh out loud when Yao Ming reveals that his favorite American food is Philly cheesesteak.

  112. rodrigo said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 9:31 am

    u muricans are so crazy lol

    ur country is a distopia complaining about nonsense

  113. Asgard said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 10:46 am

    If somebody in the US cannot say the word 那個 , then, as a Spanish person, I demand that any English speaking person stops using the verb "put up", since it also sounds very similar to some offensive word in the Spanish language.
    And, since we are at it, given the chances that any word would sound similar to an offensive term in any of the hundreds of languages worldwide, I demand everyone to become dumb.

  114. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 10:48 am

    From Zeyao Wu:

    I have to say this accusation is ridiculous, and I laughed out loud when I read Professor W. South Coblin's comment. My mother-in-law, who is a Hakkanese, always asks me to eat the meal by saying something like shit fàn (Mand. "shi fan"). If people interpret this pronunciation in the English context, they will never find food in the Hakka area.

  115. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 1:46 pm

    From a colleague:

    What would happen if a Japanese named Tamada* applied to a job in China? Or somebody named Slaughter applied to med school? (Both may have happened.)

    *Cf. Mand. tāmāde 他媽的 ("his mother's", i.e., "f*ck"), China's "national swear word" (guómà 国骂)?

  116. apmk said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 2:07 pm

    (Background: Cantonese is my mother tongue and live in Hong Kong)

    The first time I learn the English word "deal" in school, I laughed so hard. Because it sounds 100% like – 屌 – which is the f-word (verb) or referring to the male organ (noun) in Cantonese.

    Come on, the context of the lecture is so crystal clear that how on earth is it understandably that it could be interpreted as the n* word by anyone?

    Add on that it's a MBA communication class, and students are supposed to involve in International business. They should really take it as a example that a random common word in one language could be weird silly or offensive in another language, so does body language and hand sign.

  117. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 3:44 pm

    Russell Peters In China


    Canadian comedian of Anglo-Indian descent


  118. Jose E Blanco said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 5:39 pm

    I would advise you tha is a schools joke in Galicia – a part of Spain with a local lnguage similar to portuguese- to say the english sentence “THE PICTURE IN THE CORNER” . That sound like “ THE PICHA IN THE CONA”…a melange between english and galician that means more or less THE PRICK IN THE CUNT.

    All the case on professot Patton seems a stupid puritan joke. NEGRO, the spanish word origin of the term NIGGER, means literally black, a colour, an has absolutely not offensive content.

  119. Victor Mair said,

    September 7, 2020 @ 10:22 pm

    From Dr Edward McDonald 马爱德
    老马文通 / The Compleat Translator, Sydney Australia

    I found myself somewhat nonplussed by the pseudo-technicality of the students’ complaint: what’s a “phonetic homonym” when it’s at home – well that would be a “homophone”; and what’s this nonsense about there being “a pause being both syllables” of the offending vocable? (something they claim to have picked up from their Chinese consultants). The whole THING is a pause, but it’s a two syllable pause – nobody in real life talks like the opening lessons of a Chinese textbook….

    But what I found most disgusting was the Dean’s response to the students, which I read in the materials you kindly linked me to. Completely ignoring the nonsense that a pronunciation could be offensive in itself no matter what it means in any particular language, what oozes from him is a stream of icky paternalistic reassurances, with no attempt to support the teacher or to apply any intellectual rigour at all to the situation: “let’s not analyse, let’s all just emote”.

  120. Victor Mair said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 6:42 am

    From Bob Bauer:

    Interlingual Taboo Homophony Thai and English 08092020

    The following text is Footnote 3 from page 444 of Bauer, Robert S. and Paul K. Benedict. 1997. Modern Cantonese Phonology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    “3. Thai-English bilingual speakers show sensitivity to interlingual taboos. Haas (1978:13) described how Thai- speaking students in the USA avoided saying the Thai words phrík ‘chili pepper’, fàk ‘pumpkin’, and khán ‘to crush, squeeze out’ because they sounded too much like the tabooed English words prick, cunt, and fuck. In 1994 one of Bauer’s Thai colleagues told him that she would never utter the Thai word fàk-thong [VHM: transcription simplified] ‘a kind of pumpkin’ because the first syllable sounded too much like the tabooed English word.”

    Haas, Mary R. 1978. Interlingual word taboos. In Anwar S. Dil (ed.), Language, Culture, and History: Essays by Mary R. Haas. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Pages 12-21.

    Details of the original publication of this journal article are as follows:
    Haas, Mary R. Interlingual word taboos. 1951. American Anthropologist 53.3:338-341.

  121. Philip Taylor said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 10:27 am

    Most British fans of Thai cuisine are aware of Nam phrik (น้ำพริก, /ná(ː)m pʰrík̚/, but although it occasionally provokes a little mirth, few if any would avoid using the phrase bcause of the vaguely smutty homophone of its second element if that were the dish that they wanted.

  122. Claw said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 2:00 pm

    apmk said:
    > The first time I learn the English word "deal" in school, I laughed so hard. Because it sounds 100% like – 屌 – which is the f-word (verb) or referring to the male organ (noun) in Cantonese.

    This puts the "Art of the Deal" in a whole new light.

  123. California Dreamer said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 3:41 pm

    http://www.uscannenbergmedia.com/2020/09/04/usc-marshall-professor-placed-on-leave-after-using-chinese-phrase-that-resembles-racial-slur/ I strongly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I have trouble accepting the allegation that Professor Patton's behavior was in any way inappropriate.

  124. Terry Collmann said,

    September 8, 2020 @ 5:36 pm

    Sounds like the shit has hit the fàn

  125. Bertha Lovejoy said,

    September 9, 2020 @ 2:00 am

    Does anyone know how donors and the rest of the senior administration or board are reacting to the dean's decision? The bad press must be a major strike for him.

  126. Long said,

    September 9, 2020 @ 9:04 pm

    If I were a reporter from China, I’d report this like I’ve never reported news before, from different angles, for a straight week, just to show how backwards and ridiculous “western democracy” is.

  127. John Swindle said,

    September 9, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

    But he said nèige, with a first vowel like "neigh." For me American English pairs like Laker/liquor, Quaker/quicker, ladle/little, cable/kibble are distinct, despite Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. Now every time I hear "Naples" I'm going to think of nipples.

  128. Victor Mair said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 5:36 am

    From a former Penn student who has been living and teaching in China for the past ten years:

    I saw your language log post, which was super informative on the happenings at USC, and sent it around to a bunch of other people here in China. Everyone seems to be pretty shocked that a professor at a so-called "liberal" university could possibly be suspended for explaining and speaking one of the most common terms spoken in Mandarin. Some people here even sent messages to Garrett.

  129. Victor Mair said,

    September 10, 2020 @ 3:35 pm

    Professor "Fired" in USA For Speaking Chinese


  130. Victor Mair said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 12:31 am

    Suspension of a US professor sparks debate over a Chinese word
    By Kerry Allen BBC Monitoring


  131. Charles Antaki said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 9:02 am

    It's disappointing that this thread – now very long – has included a number of posts which seem to make absolutely no allowance for the histories and experiences of black people in America.

    Hearing a word which sounds like an appalling slur about people like oneself and one's familywould be, unless one was well prepared, a shock.

    Yes, that should only be a momentary. Yes, they put the wrong interpretation on it. Yes, the matter should have been resolvable by explanation.

    But those of us who don't have the history that would make us targets of racism might reflect on the feelings of those who do, and why they might have long, bitter cause to be sensitive.

  132. Hiroki said,

    September 11, 2020 @ 1:37 pm

    Charles, the problem is you're trying to carve out room for some kind of reasonable reaction to an unfamiliar word, while the actual reaction was unreasonable.

    Here's how a reasonable academic interaction could happen with students that have a genuine interest in communication:

    Professor Patton: "If you have a lot of 'ums and errs,' and this is culturally specific, so based on your native language…like in China, the common word is 'that, that, that.' So in China it might be 'nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.'”

    Concerned student: "Excuse me, but did you just use the N-word?"

    Patton: "Sorry for the misunderstanding, again, this is a Chinese word meaning "that," and it's very commonly used as a filler word just how you might say 'like' or 'um.' In English you might spell it out as n-è-i-g-e. To be honest, based on my years of work experience in China, it's such a common word that it didn't cross my mind at the moment what it might sound like to an English speaker."

    [Assuming Patton knows from his experience working in East Asia, he could also point out other phonetic homophone like 내가 in Korean, and the value as a business student of being culturally open-minded about linguistic differences when *communicating*.]

    Concerned student: "Oh, that's an unfortunate linguistic coincidence but that's perfectly understandable, thank you for the explanation! I will have to keep that in mind if my future degree takes me into business with China or any other countries with similar homophones."

    The end.

    That would be a great moment for some cultural growth, experience and learning. The students would be reminded that there are inter-linguistic homophones that can offend (notably, English words that are offensive in other languages too!), and the professor might decide to utilize a preface to any future usage of said homophones.

    The problem is there's little room for "understanding" the students when the reaction by students was to instead write a frankly ridiculous, deceitful and dishonest letter.

    A) They claim the word is pronounced with a pause. Deceitful, any native speaker knows that's not true in day-to-day usage, based on how it is often attenuated in quick succession.

    B) They claim the professor stopped the recording before saying the word. Dishonest at least in some regard, since we have a video clip of him saying it. From the wording of the various news articles, it seems there may have been multiple sections of the course? So while it's possible he accidentally turned of the recording for one of the classes, it seems unlikely that it was some ill-intentioned trick so that he could say the N-word.

    C) They claim to have had their "mental health" impacted by the incident. Ridiculous, and if such an innocuous linguistic incident impacts their mental health, then they should consider whether they're actually fit for studies at an international academic institution with a melting pot of students from around the world.

    And of course the pièce de résistance of their letter is that Patton "disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities and by extension creates an unwelcome environment for us Black students" while the letter campaigners themselves disregard cultural diversity and fail to consider how their actions might make international students or immigrant descendants feel incredibly uncomfortable speaking their own languages.

    Professor Coblin accurately above described such people as "myopic English monolinguals." Reading the snippets of their letter as an Asian-American, there is a hilariously American-centric, English-centric viewpoint present. I wouldn't give any credence to the "horseshoe theory" of politics, but the disregard for non-native English speakers does sounds more like something I'd expect from the "other" side of the political spectrum horseshoe. It's basically cultural imperialism, asserting that non-English speakers need to curate their language to shield uninformed monolingual English speakers from their own unfounded assumptions.

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