We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Why black graduates of the USC Marshall School of Business may start finding it hard to get international jobs

Back in January 2016 Victor Mair, professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, started an interesting discussion in the blog “Language Log” about a common Chinese word that sounds like a racial insult in English. Professor Mair wrote,

As soon as I read “a phrase that sounds uncannily like the N-word” in the first paragraph, I knew exactly what my colleague’s friend was talking about. The Chinese grad student was saying “nèige 那个 (that)”.

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.

That guy Mair must have a time machine. Scroll forward four years to 2020. Inside Higher Education reports,

Professor suspended for saying a Chinese word that sounds like a racial slur in English.

In a controversial decision, the University of Southern California replaced a professor of business communication with another instructor in one of his classes for saying a Chinese word that sounds like an English slur.

Late last month, Greg Patton, the professor, was teaching a lesson on “filler words” in other languages — think “err,” “um” or “like” in English — in his master’s-level course on communication for management.

“Taking a break between ideas can help bring the audience in,” Patton said, according to a recording of one of the Zoom course sections and a transcription that appeared next to him on screen. “In China,” for instance, he continued, “the common pause word is ‘that that that.’ So in China it might be ne ga, ne ga, ne ga.”

Patton, who has worked in China but is not a scholar of Chinese, did not warn students that 那个, or ne ga, (alternatively spelled nà ge and nèige) sounds something like the N-word — which it does. And some or all of the Black students across three sections of the course were offended by what they’d heard. So they wrote a letter to the dean of the Marshall School of Business, Geoffrey Garrett, among others, describing Patton as insensitive and incapable of teaching the three-week intensive communications course.

Whereupon one would expect to read that the University of Southern California told them that anyone above the age of ten should know that words which are harmless in one language but rude in another are ubiquitous, and that an intensive course on business communications that left out mention of such words would be a con. That’s the English meaning of “con”, not the French one.

“Whereupon one would expect…”, wrote I, sounding dead posh. Who was I kidding, this is 2020. What actually happened was this:

… Garrett, dean of the business school, sent students an email saying that Patton was being replaced as instructor of the course, effective immediately.

“It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” Garrett wrote. 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.”

If the students’ “psychological safety” is harmed by the knowledge that unfortunate cross-linguistic homophones exist, maybe “business communication” is not the best subject for them. Business often involves meeting foreigners, who at any moment might forget who they are talking to and speak their own language. Even in America one is not safe from people who speak other languages!

While the change was presumably applauded by those students who urged action against Patton, his effective suspension from teaching the course angered many other students and alumni.

One petition for Patton’s reinstatement with thousands of signatures says, “For him to be censored simply because a Chinese word sounds like an English pejorative term is a mistake and is not appropriate, especially given the educational setting. It also dismisses the fact that Chinese is a real language and has its own pronunciations that have no relation to English.”

Ninety-four Marshall alumni, many of whom are Chinese and now live in China, wrote their own letter to the dean and other administrators, expressing support for Patton.

“All of us have gained enormous benefit from the academic leadership of Prof. Patton. His caring, wisdom and inclusiveness were a hallmark of our educational experience and growth at USC and the foundation of our continued success in the years following,” the named alumni wrote.

Moreover, they said, “We unanimously recognize Prof. Patton’s use of ‘na ge’ as an accurate rendition of common Chinese use, and an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses. Prof. Patton used this example and hundreds of others in our classes over the years, providing richness, relevance and real world impact.”

After a gap of four years, Professor Mair wrote an update of his 2016 post in the context of Greg Patton’s dismissal: “That, that, that…”, part 2.

It is well worth a read. It quotes the full text of the grovelling letter to students written by Dean Geoff Garrett, a copy of which should be printed out and kept in your medicine cabinet should need arise for a quick-acting emetic.

This comment by “Twill” resonated with me:

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.

And what’s the betting that these people, who demand their delicate ears be protected from the sounds of the most spoken language in the world, call Trump voters “hicks” and mock their supposed provincialism?

This will have a predictable effect on the value of a USC Marshall MBA. Imagine you are the CEO of an international company. You seek to fill an executive position that requires the postholder to move confidently between Western and Chinese business environments. Are you going to go for the candidate from a school where students are taught honestly about the potential pitfalls of cross-cultural communication, or the one from the USC Marshall School of Business who has only been fed the Disney version? The issue is not limited to that one word 那个, or to the Chinese language. It is about whether a potential employee can cope outside the bubble of an “elite” US academic institution.

And of course the bad effect on a candidate’s chances will be reinforced if the candidate is black, whether or not they personally had anything to do with this affair. No need to assume the potential employer is racist. They simply will prefer not to hire someone who has been primed to freak out when a Chinese colleague says the equivalent of “like, er, you know” for a word on the tip of their tongue.

China’s Soweto

The Soweto riots were the beginning of the end for Apartheid in South Africa. This is how they began:

Black South African high school students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50–50 mix as languages of instruction. The Regional Director of Bantu Education (Northern Transvaal Region), J.G. Erasmus, told Circuit Inspectors and Principals of Schools that from 1 January 1975, Afrikaans had to be used for mathematics, arithmetic, and social studies from standard five (7th grade), according to the Afrikaans Medium Decree; English would be the medium of instruction for general science and practical subjects (homecraft, needlework, woodwork, metalwork, art, agricultural science). Indigenous languages would only be used for religious instruction, music, and physical culture.

Forty-six years later, in Inner Mongolia, sorry, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China (not to be confused with the neighbouring sovereign state of Mongolia), children of another subjugated land are protesting against a decree that forces their schools to use the oppressor’s language as the medium of instruction:

Inner Mongolia protests at China’s plans to bring in Mandarin-only lessons

Thousands of ethnic Mongolians have protested across northern China in opposition to Beijing plans to replace the Mongolian language with Chinese in some school subjects.

Tuesday marked the first day of a policy revealed in June, to gradually transition the language of instruction in Inner Mongolian schools from Mongolian to Mandarin Chinese. The change affects three subjects over the next three years in the autonomous region. The education bureau said Mongolian and Korean language classes would remain.

The official explanation for the change to a bilingual education system was to ensure the curriculum and textbooks were of a high standard, and that government documents cited by analysts also referred to president Xi Jinping’s push for shared language as part of a common identity.

However mass protests in Inner Mongolia – referred to as Southern Mongolia by ethnic rights and independence groups – have revealed the depth of fear that Mongolian would be relegated to a foreign language as part of government plans to assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture.

I called this China’s Soweto. But don’t expect any equivalent to UN Security Council Resolution 392.

Other links concerning this story:

Tightening the noose on Mongolian in Southern Mongolia

Rare rallies in China over Mongolian language curb

The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

Hats off to the Guardian for the pun in this headline:

Shock an aw: US teenager wrote huge slice of Scots Wikipedia

Nineteen-year-old says he is ‘devastated’ after being accused of cultural vandalism

The Scots Wikipedia entry on the Canada goose – or “Canadae guiss” – was at first honest about its provenance. A tag warned: “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

But, as the author grew in confidence, so he removed the caveat, and continued on his Scots-writing spree.

Now an American teenager – who does not speak Scots, the language of Robert Burns – has been revealed as responsible for almost half of the entries on the Scots language version of Wikipedia.

If you are wondering how a nineteen year old managed to be responsible for creating or editing tens of thousands of articles, the answer is simple:

He wrote: “I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can’t see that the habit you’ve developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older.”

Naming no names except my own, that sounds like a few of us here. Ten edits a day, most days, for two and a half thousand days. The work of half his life. The thing that made him special. And now they revile him for it. Believe me, I am not laughing when I call this a sad story.

Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots. The Samizdata “Languages” category includes many other posts by me about endangered tongues. I want them to survive and grow. A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up. Less portentously, I like the vigorous style of Scots. The fact that it is mostly mutually intelligible with English English has been the source of endless arguments about whether it is a dialect of English or a language in its own right. It is a pity that this question has been politicised. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that although Scots was a separate language in the Middle Ages, enough linguistic convergence has occurred to say that nowadays it is a dialect of English. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be equally valid to say Standard English and Scots are both dialects on the continuum of English (and that the group as a whole is called “English” is just a matter of historically familiar terminology, not an attribution of superiority. Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

It is a sad reflection on the state of Scots that nobody stopped “AmaryllisGardner” for five seven years. Scarcely anyone seems to have questioned him. I cannot help thinking this fiasco would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

I am an anti-prescriptivist myself when it comes to daily life. It is wrong to sneer at anyone for their local mode of speech, and still worse to beat it out of them as was common in the past. The variety of any language that has become the standard did not do so because of any intrinsic superiority; it was mere chance. Nonetheless a command of standard English can unlock doors across the world for children in Barlanark, as it does for children in Brixton or Beijing. Fortunately children are good at picking up more than one language and code-switching between them.

Meanwhile, in debate I will continue to extol both languages and Wikipedia as splendid examples of spontaneous order. They still are. Most of the time.

A contribution to debate

The Right Wing Dictionary – Here’s what the words and phrases conservatives use REALLY mean.

They’re not sending their best. However I must admit that “arse-badger” is a nifty little insult which I shall save for future use.

If you do not have the time or energy to follow such an intellectual analysis of the true meaning of terms used in political debate, try this for light relief:

‘Defund the police’ is not nonsense. Here’s what it really means

It lets us pretend that it is us talking

Samizdata no longer needs me. Soon it will no longer need you. I took the text from the sidebar:

The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property.

and copied it into Talk To Transformer.

The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Most of them are rich white males who are probably atheists, but many are probably questioning the existence of a god as they revel in their limitless wealth. They believe that anyone who is unprotesting of their cause is a threat to their cause and a threat to their own existence. They don’t care if you are a child and a physician or an Arab and a journalist. You must conform and accept their conspiracies. This is the true face of

Comments are, as ever, welcome. Even from humans.

“Extinction Rebellion isn’t about the climate” says one of its founders

“I’ve been with Extinction Rebellion (XR) from the start”, Stuart Basden explains.

And for the sake of transparency: that previous paragraph is all about me ‘pulling rank’ — I’m trying to convince you to listen to what I have to say…

And I’m here to say that XR isn’t about the climate. You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system of that has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence (especially) over the last 600 years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further back.

As Europeans spread their toxicity around the world, they brought torture, genocide, carnage and suffering to the ends of the earth. Their cultural myths justified the horrors, such as the idea that indigenous people were animals (not humans), and therefore God had given us dominion over them. This was used to justify a multi-continent-wide genocide of tens of millions of people. The coming of the scientific era saw this intensify, as the world around us was increasingly seen as ‘dead’ matter — just sitting there waiting for us to exploit it and use it up. We’re now using it up faster than ever.

Euro-Americans violently imposed and taught dangerous delusions that they used to justify the exploitation and reinforced our dominance, while silencing worldviews that differed or challenged them. The UK’s hand in this was enormous, as can be seen by the size of the former British empire, and the dominance of the English language around the world.

This article is a year old, but someone on the UK Politics subreddit called “WhereHasCentrismGone” posted it with the comment that it made the now rescinded decision by the police to include Extinction Rebellion in a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent anti-terrorism programme seem more reasonable. I think it was out of order for the police to put XR on a terrorism watch list – their stunts annoy but are not violent – but we should be grateful to Mr Basden for reminding us that XR should be avoided by anyone who seriously wants to protect either the environment or their own mental health, seeing as the organisation is an anti-scientific cult fuelled by the neurotic self-hatred of privileged dilletantes in rich countries.

The tour guide

This BBC story by by Steve Rosenberg starts in quite an arresting manner…

Berlin Wall anniversary: The ‘worst night of my life’

It’s one of the most bizarre guided tours I’ve ever been on. I’m driving around Berlin with Egon Krenz – the last communist leader of East Germany.

Thirty years ago today the Berlin Wall came down.

It must be sad for him, no longer being able to rule over Germans as a dictator. Still, at least he still gets to be der Reiseführer.

Dear Japanese Government: fuck off

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan aims to change the way Japanese names are written in English by putting the family name first, the same way they are written in Japanese, in a triumph for conservatives keen to preserve traditional ways in a fast-changing world. Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama proposed the change to Cabinet ministers on Friday and the government will now study how to implement it, the top government spokesman said […] Foreign Minister Taro Kono raised the suggestion in May saying foreign media should write the prime minister’s name in the traditional way – Abe Shinzo.

Shinzo Abe can fuck right off, because that is not correct when using English. Follow your own heathen customs when using Japanese, old chap, but no government gets to decide how English is used, that sort of bullshit only happens in France and Japan 😛

Two takes on the decline of foreign languages in British schools

“Brexit ‘hitting foreign languages in schools'” says the BBC, quoting its kindred spirits in the British Council – which for those that don’t know is the Muggle Wizengamot a worthy body formed in the 1930s, a decade after the BBC, in order to promote British culture and the teaching of the English language abroad and of foreign languages in the UK.

Brexit is causing poorer children to fall further behind in learning foreign languages, says the British Council.

Parents in disadvantaged areas are telling teachers languages will be less useful after Brexit, it says.

The graph that comes with BBC story gives no support whatsoever to the claim that Brexit is hitting foreign languages in schools.

It is true that the number of English, Welsh and Northern Irish pupils taking a foreign language at GCSE level is in apparently inexorable decline. Why? Because of the rise of English as a world language. However the inexorable decline is, er…, exored at two points.

The first break in the downward slope of the graph comes about half a year after the introduction of the English Baccalaureate in 2010. Despite its name the Bacc is not an educational qualification. It is a performance measure that the government imposed on schools. The aim is to stop schools gaming the system by putting the pupils in for lots of easy exams. To this end schools, not pupils, are marked on how many pupils get decent grades in proper subjects, including foreign languages. “That which is measured, improves”, as the saying goes – and that explains the uptick after 2010. But by 2013 or so (the unmarked horizontal axis of that graph is an abomination) the downward trend returns.

The second, lesser pause in the decline happens about six months after Brexit. The line flattens. Allowing for the same time lag as followed the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, Brexit if anything seems to have stemmed the decline in numbers of British pupils studying foreign languages. Perhaps some kids calculate that if there will be fewer native speakers of those languages around to compete with after Brexit, then any linguistic skills they might obtain will be more in demand.

OK, OK, correlation is not causation. But at least that hypothesis actually has some correlation to wave a hand hopefully at, unlike the preferred hypothesis of the BBC and the British Council:

The British Council report also describes a shift in attitude, with some parents saying languages are “little use” as the UK is due to leave the European Union.

Teresa Tinsley, the report author, says secondary schools in poorer areas are reporting a very definite Brexit effect, which could lead to an even sharper decline in language learning.

Brexit has superpowers: it could do almost anything.

Scattered at random among the single-paragraph sentences of this BBC report there are two that point to a more likely possible culprit than Brexit-bourne viral xenophobia:

It warns that GCSEs and A-level languages in England are seen as being hard subjects in which to get a good grade.

and

It warns of growing concern that GCSEs and A-levels in modern foreign languages are seen as harder than other subjects.

That, unlike Brexit, is something they really do talk about at the school gates.

But why are the grade boundaries in language exams getting harsher? That is the point that the Times has chosen to focus on in its piece on the same British Council report: “Bilingual pupils distort results in language exams”

Schools are enabling pupils to take foreign language exams in their native tongue, making it harder for everyone else to get the top grades, a report has found.

The British Council’s annual Language Trend Survey found that more than 80 per cent of schools now arrange for pupils to take exams for the language they speak at home, with the most common being Polish and Portuguese. Often pupils need only a few lessons in exam technique rather than any formal lessons in the language itself.

In the report teachers expressed disquiet at this growing trend. “In some languages, for example Italian, the number of native speakers taking the GCSE and A-level exams are skewing the grade boundaries hugely — why is this allowed?” said one.

The finding comes alongside a warning by the British Council that the newly reformed and tougher GCSE and A levels were putting pupils off languages, with many believing they stand a far better chance of gaining top grades in almost any other subject.

I do not see any easy way round this. Any attempt to make separate exams for native and non-native speakers will be bedevilled by edge cases. And there is a harsh logic to the idea that if you hold an examination to measure how well someone speaks Italian, for example, then if it shows Italians speaking Italian better than all but a few non-Italians it probably means that the examination is functioning correctly. I certainly do not propose that the government shove its oar in.

I was merely interested to see what very different structures the BBC and the Times built upon the same foundation of that British Council report.

Added later: The Guardian’s treatment of the same story, “Brexit ‘putting pupils off modern foreign languages'” , displays the same oddities in its structure and choice of headline as did the BBC article. It briefly mentions that far more of the teachers surveyed cited the difficulty of the exams as the cause of the reduced interest from pupils in taking GCSEs in foreign languages than had cited Brexit. Then it goes on at length about Brexit.

While more than two-thirds of teachers surveyed by the British Council said the difficulty of the exams was causing concern, one in four said Brexit had “cast a pall” over pupils learning any foreign languages, with some parents actively discouraging their children.

Teachers told researchers that they have seen a shift in attitudes since the Brexit referendum, with one reporting: “We have had parents mention that they do not believe their son or daughter should be studying a language as it is little to no use to them now that we are leaving the European Union.”

Another teacher noted comments from pupils, “obviously heard at home, such as now we’ve left/are leaving the EU you won’t need this any more”.

Corbynization

THE CORBYNIZATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CONTINUES APACE: New York Times international edition prints anti-Semitic cartoon of Trump, Netanyahu.

I found the term used in this Instapundit article as interesting as the short article itself. Corbynization: now in use outside the UK to describe the mainstreaming of institutional anti-Semitism.

Spanish practices

Taxi drivers in Madrid are on strike over “unfair competition” from online ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify, reports El Pais. In English. On the internet.

Discuss.

Death to English!

As part of my homework for this, I read, and have carried on reading since, a book by David Crystal entitled English as a Global Language. I’m enjoying it, and I especially enjoyed this (on page 90 of my paperback edition):

International politics operates at several levels and in many different ways, but the presence of English is usually not far away. A political protest may surface in the form of an official question to a government minister, a peaceful lobby outside an embassy, a street riot, or a bomb. When the television cameras present the event to a world audience, it is notable how often a message in English can be seen on a banner or placard as part of the occasion. Whatever the mother tongue of the protesters, they know that their cause will gain maximum impact if it is expressed through the medium of English. A famous instance of this occurred a few years ago in India, where a march supporting Hindi and opposing English was seen on world television: most of the banners were in Hindi, but one astute marcher carried a prominent sign which read ‘Death to English’ – thereby enabling the voice of his group to reach much further around the world than would otherwise have been possible.

Crystal dates the rise of English, from a merely big language among other big languages to its current status as the clear front-runner for global linguistic hegemony, from the immediate post World War 2 period. I recall noticing the phenomenon some time in the 1960s, when, in Youth Hostels in continental Europe, I observed conversations between groups of Europeans (not all of them Scandinavians, by the way) in their teens and twenties, not one of whom (I have a pretty good ear for accents) was speaking English as his or her first language. Interesting, I thought. And having become interested in where English seemed to be going, I became interested also in where it had come from.

The global English story is more complicated than just the matter of educated non-Anglos communicating by means of standard English, and Crystal seems to me to tell it very well, with lots of maps and historical details of how English spread in this or that particular place.

Crystal himself is anything but an English linguistic triumphalist. He lives and works in Holyhead, in North Wales, North Wales being the part of Wales where the Welsh language is strongest. Although Crystal is a major figure in linguistics and in English teaching, I have been unable to discover how fluent he is in Welsh. But as an academic whose basic tool is the English language, he entirely gets why English has gone global. It’s just so useful, for communicating with other people.