One life, Suffering and Pīnyīn

This letter written by Mi Fei. By 米芾(べい ふつ、1051年 - 1107年、中国の北宋末の文学者・書家・画家) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This letter written by Mi Fei. By 米芾(べい ふつ、1051年 – 1107年、中国の北宋末の文学者・書家・画家) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The New York Times today has a magnificent article by Margalit Fox, “Zhou Youguang, Who Made Writing Chinese as Simple as ABC, dies at 111.” I’ve been studying Mandarin for a year now, and like all new learners I am using Pīnyīn. Zhou Youguang led the effort to create Pīnyīn, the romanization system that allows Chinese to be written without characters. There were other previous efforts to create an alphabet for Chinese, but after the Chinese government adopted Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, all the others quickly fell out of favor.

What struck me about the article, whoever, was less Zhou Youguang’s intellectual achievement in helping to create Pīnyīn, but rather the breadth of his life. Here is someone who lost a daughter to appendicitis during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, and who was sent to the fields to harvest crops during the Cultural Revolution. Yet he published ten books after the age of 100.

While remarkable, Zhou Youguang was not unique. The Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer continued to design major buildings well after he turned a 100. And the Brazilian poet Cora Coralina was born in 1889 (the year the Brazilian empire ended, and one year after the abolition of slavery) but did not publish her first book until 1965. Of course she had been writing for most of her life, but she flourished after this book was published at the age of 76. Without question, she is one of Brazil’s canonical poets. Our culture celebrates youth, including in academia. Forbes has a “30 under 30 list” of young entrepreneurs; literary competitions seek to identify new talent; mathematicians who turn 30 begin to wonder if their best years are behind them. And yet, some of the world’s most insightful and creative poets, thinkers, and designers do their best work in their senior years. How much talent is lost because people assume that older people can no longer be creative?

Cora Coralina described a deep personal change when she turned 50, which she described as a “loss of fear.” Similarly, Zhou Youguang became a well known critic of the Chinese government, whose age made him almost untouchable. For these thinkers, there was a freedom that came with time, which enabled them to speak truth to power, and to create work without worrying what others thought. Zhou Youguang’s father served in the last Chinese dynasty, and he lived through the Second Sino-Japanese war. Out of a life that knew suffering he crafted a new writing system, which has helped hundreds of millions of people learn Mandarin. May we all remember what is possible if we have the good fortune to have a long life, and the wisdom not to see aging as only a loss.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Globalization, Internationalization, and English for Academic Purposes

Kimberley Brown
Portland State University
Guest blog post

Many campuses in the US and Canada have formalized comprehensive internationalization plans that call for increased numbers of international students on campuses, augmented numbers of outbound study abroad students, and expanded partnerships with universities around the world. International Studies Programs may have a unique role to play in these efforts on their respective campuses. If you have an ESL program for incoming international students, you may want to consider an on-campus partnership that allows advanced ESL students to use the academic theme of globalization in their courses and to collaborate with your students in your classes.

Recently two former students (who both completed their BAs in International Studies and their MAs in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) decided to use our textbook in Japan and Mexico for advanced level students in their English for Academic Purposes courses. Another MA student, heading off to teach EAP in Germany for a year, chose to work through basic globalization concepts covered in our introductory course and to write a brief reflection on the link between globalization and English for Academic Purposes. His goal in Germany is to introduce globalization concepts in his high level academic English courses that he will be teaching. Chen (2012) looks at the ability of the content area of globalization to serve as a way to introduce students, who are a few terms away from becoming matriculated students at their respective institutions, to the discourse of higher education. …

Sheng: Cultural Globalization and New Languages in Africa

With cultural globalization comes cultural change. I have been on the Rio Negro in the Amazon rainforest, only to hear a canoe approach with someone playing Madonna. Hip hop has become a global phenomenon. Many people decry what they see as the emergence of a new global culture: shallow, celebrity-focused and American dominated. Part of this critique focuses on the danger not only to local cultures, but also to languages, thousands of which are endangered globally. The Enduring Voices project of National Geographic is currently seeking to record some of these tongues before they disappear forever, not only to document them for history, but also to facilitate efforts to revitalize them. I have thought about indigenous language based on my field work in Oaxaca around HIV/AIDS. How do you do HIV prevention work in a region that may have more than 16 different indigenous languages, each of which has many different dialects? Zapotec itself has more than twenty dialects, each of which has its own name, such as Lhej, Xan, Xhon and Xidza. The diversity of these languages is amazing. Mazotec is a tonal language, which has a whistled form, so that people can communicate across the valleys through whistles. But while we focus on language loss, and indigenous languages, it is interesting to also remember that new languages are also being born. …

Language and Maps in Global Studies

I’ve mentioned my favorite website, Strange Maps, in an earlier post. Part of the reason I enjoy it is that it’s filled with visual information, which makes it fun to examine after a long day of reading or writing. But I just came upon one post with images so striking that they made my jaw drop. Frank Jacobs recently came across a map created by a team (Mike McCandless and Eric Fischer) who found a way to use Google Chrome’s tracking feature to analyze language use in Twitter, and to display it on a map. The resulting images are as informative as they are beautiful. They not only show where people are using twitter around the globe, but also the language that they are using it in.

As Jacobs notes, what’s fascinating about these images is that they allow us to contrast official language regions with how language is actually being used. For example, as he points out, Catalan emerges as a major voice on Twitter. Some aspects of the map are to be expected. For example, North Korea disappears into blackness. But other aspects are surprising. Who knew that the Dutch were addicted to Twitter? One of the most interesting aspects of this map has been the comments that it has attracted, both on Jacobs’ site, as well as on the original posting by Eric Fischer. A lot of the discussion seems to focus on language anomolies. Why do so few people twitter in Ukrainian or Belorussian? Why aren’t Celtic languages such as Welsh apparent on the map? Are most tweets in India really in English? And is that really Dutch being spoken is southern France, or Occitan?

A key topic in Global and International Studies is language. We even wrote an additional chapter on language, which we couldn’t include in the textbook for reasons of length, but which is available on this webpage here. This chapter might form the basis for a class lecture. And this particular map would be a great tool afterwards to begin a class discussion about minority languages, technology and cultural globalization.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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