1.07.2010

Totally Screwing Over Tibet Aside...

Listen from about 9:50 - 10:25.


The man being interviewed -- blurred out so that Chinese enforcers don't sentence him to prison like they did the creator of this film -- says that he is working so that all Tibetans can be as one big family. He says it's important that they are all educated in their own culture and their own language.

Is it? My linguist friend [...herein misrepresented...] has tried to convince me that there's no reason for Americans to try to stick to one language. I'm skeptical, and believe that a culture/civilization will fall apart in the absence of a shared linguistic tradition.

8 comments:

Wishydig said...

i think you have misunderstood your linguist friend.

i have never said that a shared language doesn't matter. that's ridiculous.

i've said that legislation and english-only policies are unnecessary; they don't accomplish what they are intended to accomplish; and they create unnecessary problems of exclusion and alienation.

this point of education in a language is a perfectly reasonable method of preserving that part of the community. notice that it's the sub-culture preserving itself, not by legislating against the intrusion of a minority language, but by providing a place for its own language within the force of a dominant language.

what i have argued against is the view of those who would argue that the dominant language is at risk in this situation.

those who have ears, but will not listen…

Casey said...

Okay, that's a good distinction. I see the difference. And you've showed me a possible danger of my own argument: if we follow my line, the Chinese might decide to impose Mandarin on all Chinese (including Tibetans, whom they are gobbling up as "Chinese), thus threatening the minority language.

But still I wonder if it's completely irrational for a government to encourage/enforce, by legal means, that all citizens learn a single language... this wouldn't be a law against Spanish, say, but a law demanding that English be taught at public schools.

I'm actually more interested in the culture -- is it possible to have a civilization that shares no fundamental culture? Do "we" Americans share any fundamental culture? Etc.

Wishydig said...

well, let's consider how that law would be shaped:

define a level of proficiency that meets the requirement.

find a way to test that.

administer that test not only to students (where it's already a requirement for graduation) but to their entire family (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles…)

make language training available (it already is, so this part is taken care of)

enforce the enrollment in training for those who have failed the proficiency test

either trust that completion of a program meets the requirement, or re-administer the test.

keep on the lookout for proof of proficiency with every person you meet.

oh wait-- i see that you mentioned that english has to be taught at public schools. that's already in place, so… are we done?

(ok, on the culture stuff… not my area. i need to think about how i understand the question)

comentr

Casey said...

No you're trapped in your liberal-academic world. The fact is, a nation could strictly limit the number of immigrants who don't speak the chosen language, showing preference to those who can prove proficiency, etc.

Gretchen grades those tests for non-native speakers all the time. It's easy and damn-near "objective" (which surprised me, I admit).

And this is my direction, ungentle as it's becoming: it IS an interesting and possibly-noble impulse to want to turn your ship into the world (I'm thinking of the Pequod in Moby-Dick, of course, which features not only wide-eyed Ishmael, but also Queequeg, from the South Pacific, and Fedallah, from India, and the whole world is represented). Maybe we can have that kind of civilization. But I'm trying to ask whether it's possible -- to make us pause before continuing in that direction.

And yeah I don't have a problem with bilingualism -- in fact, I think it's awesome and want my daughter to be at least bi-lingual. So we don't need other enforcement beyond public school... but I have heard stories of public schools in Texas on the border considering teaching primarily in Spanish, for example. Or, ten years ago, talk about schools in LA teaching primarily in "Ebonics."

I guess I fear Faction like Hamilton and Madison. I'm wondering what "we" I'm supposed to be a part of... and suggesting, gently, that I don't feel it as much as I want to, regardless of what "we" anyone tries to say I'm a part of.

One Nation, Under God, Indivisible... obviously that's politically incorrect. But there it is. Is it us? Was it ever?

Wishydig said...

ok, now you're saying something else: that immigration should be limited to some extent, based on language.

why? it's unnecessary. the latest study i read showed that non-english speakers are currently learning the language more quickly and in greater percentages than before. that bodes well for english. it shows that english might even become the dominant language in this country some day. oh wait…

"but I have heard stories of public schools in Texas on the border considering teaching primarily in Spanish, for example. Or, ten years ago, talk about schools in LA teaching primarily in 'Ebonics.'"

come on casey. you know those stories are 60% bull and 39% shit.

the oakland ebonics issue was a statement made by the school that recognized that the primary language of many students was a dialect other than Standard English. that fact needed to be understood and acknowledged *so that* an approach to teaching standard english as a beneficial skill would be better focused. school systems that "recognize" other languages are not turning their back on english.

this has nothing to do with a liberal academic perspective. it has to do with trusting the slow and deliberate approach of linguistics to questions of acquisition, learning, contact, dialect, standardization, literacy, and levels of competence.

the alternative is a quick and careless approach. those aren't worth as much to me.

this country is both divisible and indivisible. i'm just wondering here if your fear of faction is grasping at straws to keep itself company.

unhips

Gretchen Pratt said...

Well here's how I roll: I ask people I trust questions that I'm genuinely not sure about... and then I trust them again.

So I'll tuck this one away for a while, and trust that my fear is irrational and based on personal insecurities and/or nebulous uncertainties caused by my personal dislocation from my homeland (i.e., Michigan).

[Although: as a rhetorical point: why be snipey about it? If the stuff about teaching in Spanish or Ebonics is 99% bullshit, just agree with me that it would be stupid to teach in Spanish or Ebonics.]

Wishydig said...

is this gretchen valiantly defending casey, or is it casey whining that i was too mean?

but no, you're right. i don't need to jump on you for asking an honest question.

it's just this (rationalization alert): you get really excited about your ideas. really. that's great. you grab on like a weasel (read annie dillard's essay). so remember that scene in moonstruck where cher slaps nicholas cage and yells 'snap out of it!'? that's what i sometimes feel like offering when i see you heading into traffic.

i hope you still trust me.

Casey said...

It was Casey posing as Gretchen defending Casey.

No, yeah -- that's why I trust you. I tended to self-identify as a pit-bull, but a weasel will do.