Fake 'Asian' speech at commencement

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Here's a different take on "plastic" Chinese… Michell Quinn, "PNW Chancellor Keon apologizes for ‘offensive and insensitive’ remark during commencement", Chicago Tribune 12/14/2022:

Purdue University Northwest’s Chancellor Thomas Keon is apologizing for a culturally insensitive remark he made during the first of two commencement ceremonies Dec. 10.

The comment was a response after commencement keynote speaker Jim Dedelow finished his speech. Dedelow in his speech talked about a made-up language he created to entertain his new granddaughter and at one point used it to calm the baby from the stage when she squawked during his speech.

As Dedelow sat down, Keon came back to the podium and said, “Well, all I can say is,” and proceeded to speak in a made-up language that sounded as if he were trying to speak Chinese. He then said, “That’s sort of my Asian version of his …,” trailing off before going back on-script.

It wasn't really a "remark", in my opinion:

Jim Dedelow's immediately-preceding contribution, which he identified as the "Ishka Maloofka" language, is more like fake Russian (or at least some Slavic variant):

Here's a clip giving more context for Thomas Keon's "remark":

Fake Chinese-like vocalizations have been a standard form of ethnic insult for more than a century. As far as I know, there's no comparable tradition of fake-Slavic slurs, though perhaps a reader will know more.

Double-talk imitations of American English have been discussed here before, e.g. "Yaourter" and "Prisencolinensinainciusol", though those (at least the second link) are more hommages than slurs.



  1. Peter B. Golden said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 3:23 pm

    Victor, I agree completely. It was no "remark." It was an example of garden-variety racism. It is a sorry business that people like this are involved in higher education…or any education at all.
    Making fun of foreign accents is as American as apple pie – in a nation of immigrants. Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers put on a quasi-Italian accent, but it was never used (as best I can remember) in an ethnically derogatory way. Sid Caesar did very funny comedy skits, usually based on a non-English-language movie, in which he spoke in a gibberish that sounded like German, Italian, Japanese etc., without actually saying a coherent sentence in any of those languages. English words were occasionally tossed in (and sometimes Yiddish too) so that the audience could follow, but the intent was never ethnic slurring. Using foreign accents was a standard comedy bit in vaudeville, but the person doing it usually came from the ethnic group whose accent he was using. During the Cold War there were any number of characters (often in cartoons) who spoke with heavy Slavic accents, but in my memory at least never used an actual Slavic (Russian) word other than "da" or "nyet". With imitations of Chinese, however, with its exaggerated "sing song" accent attempting to reflect the Toisan topolect so common in times past to the various Chinatowns of the US, it was definitely racist.

  2. Charleston C. K/ Wang said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 5:46 pm

    December 15, 2022
    Dear Mr. Michael R. Berghoff
    Chair of Board of Trustees
    Purdue University

    This gratuitous use at graduation of mock Asian accent shocks me and it should shock you too. From all people but the chancellor of Purdue. And at anytime but at graduation at Purdue. Worst it is totally made up gibberish and conveys no intellectual message but only encouragement for contempt for Asians. This is exacerbated by the speaker identifying this mockery as his "Asian version."

    I stand by freedom of speech but sorry to say this intentional insult crosses the pale and must not be allowed to stand. Such contempt is very dangerous as it is infectious as can be verified by the the faces and laughter of the people on stage – they were persuaded at the moment into thinking it was fun and games. It is not – it is hurtful to Asian graduates and students and demeans all who were present especially those who laughed and this misconduct continues to destroy if not meaningfully responded to.

    While the chancellor has apologized for the terrible misconduct, we believe more meaningful and substantial sanctions are in order. Such racist and contemptuous conduct within the university environmental and at graduation call for a termination from the lofty office this man has degraded.

    Please do the right thing and ensure such outrage never again happens at Purdue.
    Respectfully submitted,

    Charleston C. K. Wang, Trustee
    cc. Purdue Exponent

  3. Paul Garrett said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 6:29 pm

    Well, yes, there is the issue of "punching up" versus "punching down". Plausibly, in the current state of things, this is "punching down", which is not good.

    In contrast, the South Korean pop groups that intersperse English are, at worst, "punching up", and no one is offended.

    And, yes, this distinction is worthwhile, in my opinion.

  4. Terry K. said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 7:26 pm

    I'm not sure what Peter B. Golden means by "garden-variety racism". Would that be intentional putdowns, or the racism of unexamined stereotypes, or something else?

    But my view with regards to judging it is to take a middle stance. It's incorrect, in my view, to say "it was innocent, nothing wrong with it". But it would also be wrong to assume any ill intent. And also wrong to ignore the context of what it was responding to, if commenting on it. The kind of thing where the existence not of an apology, and the content of that apology, say more about the person than the remark itself.

  5. R said,

    December 15, 2022 @ 8:25 pm

    Regarding fake Slavic, all I've got is this: I've seen some late 19th-early 20th century examples in English-language text of ending words in -ski to make fun of Russian ("The Russian Czar no despot is / To Czarevitch, his kidski").

  6. Yuval said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 3:10 am

    For some reason, this is the storm I remember (1:44 is the crux; here's the NYT coverage).

  7. Anon said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 8:39 am

    To his credit, he at least makes an attempt to sound somewhat similar to how the Cantonese talk unlike the high pitched "ching chong" slurs which are always used in the context of mockery.

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    December 16, 2022 @ 2:00 pm

    Well yes intent/context/verisimilitude could all be factors but plug it all in and the answer is still >> 10/10 Do Not Recommend.
    This sounds a lot like Larry David's Cantonese on the bus in Curb Your Enthusiam at some point; don't know how this was received by Cantonese speakers.

  9. Rakesh R Chawla said,

    December 20, 2022 @ 9:37 pm

    I agree with Charleston C. K. Wang.

  10. Sanchuan said,

    January 12, 2023 @ 11:38 am

    Charleston C. K. Wang wrote:

    "I stand by freedom of speech but sorry to say this intentional insult crosses the pale and must not be allowed to stand."

    Is "cross the pale" common anywhere? Sounds like a happy mixture of "cross a line" and "beyond the pale" to me.

  11. Charleston Wang said,

    January 14, 2023 @ 10:22 pm

    The word "pale" refers to a fence that separates. To go beyond the pale is used to denote a transgression or trespass across a fenceline. Chancellor Keon crossed the boundary of propriety (not property) by his racist rubbish, charitably his "Asian version" as the man can say it with a smile on his face.

  12. Sanchuan said,

    January 15, 2023 @ 4:27 am

    @Charleston Wang
    Thank you for your reply there.

    Yes, that's understood: if something's "beyond the pale", it lies outside a metonymic pale, which we understand to mean a pale of propriety (or decency or morality etc).

    I just wondered whether the collocation "cross the pale", with "pale" used in this unspecified and metonymic form, is just as commonly used by some as "outside of/beyond the pale". It would be of some lexicographical interest if it is, as it's not a form attested in any dictionary I've seen, unlike the other two forms.

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