Friday, March 31, 2017

U Washington: English Grammar is Racist

By Professor Doom

     One of the many strange decays in higher education today concerns language skills. In times past, every college graduate had to take at least a year’s worth of some foreign language. 

      Now, I grant that Latin (a common option, decades ago) wasn’t particularly useful all by itself, but studying another language is incredibly helpful for mastering one’s native language. Even my very crude understanding of other languages has from time to time given me some insights into English. I mean, Spanish has such easy pronunciation, French has an interesting adherence to aesthetics, Mandarin has a very streamlined structure (those are just the languages I can at least barely speak). All of them, overall, are so much easier than English.. . I have a real appreciation for people who have learned English as a second language.

      Unfortunately, in administrative eyes, foreign languages were a real problem: there’s just no way to fake your way through a foreign language. You study, and learn the vocabulary and grammar…or you do not study, and fail. There’s nothing in between. You can’t load up a campus with fake students if you have real courses.

      So many courses we offer on campus now require practically no studying; a student can casually fake his way through wide swaths of courses offered on today’s campuses. Foreign languages just can’t compete with fake classes, and so admin just got rid of these courses, in favor of feel-good courses where it’s easy to pass without study.

     Today our students learn nothing of other languages and, looking at e-mails and such from students, it’s clear they know little enough of English.

      It seems administrators just can’t stop debasing education, however. The latest is to attack students even learning English. I’m serious:

     Hey, I’m willing to admit English is a brutal language to learn, the worst is the vocabulary. English is the Pimp Mac Daddy of all languages, we’ve stolen so many words from other languages that we don’t notice when a word “isn’t from around here.” For example, some of my Chinese friends didn’t understand why everyone was freaking out that a “hurricane” was coming. I told them that a hurricane was a “typhoon” (i.e., “tai phun”)…and they understood that word, and the concern for the approach of such a storm. Most people don’t know that “typhoon” is really not a native English word, and English is loaded down with words whose origins are far, far from English.
     On the other hand, when you listen to a speaker from, say Japan, talk about modern, Western concepts, you can clearly pick out the words that, quite obviously, are not Japanese—a sararii man (“salary man”), gasorine (gasoline), and quite a few others are just slight adaptations with modified pronunciation. When English takes a word, it often as not doesn’t even try to make the pronunciation fit within the usual English pronunciation…anyone learning English de facto must learn words and pronunciation from many other languages.
     English accepts words wholesale, and doesn’t try to change them. How is this racist? Why does the University of Washington writing center, which is supposed to be about teaching students how to write, have a statement on antiracist, and social justice work in the writing center? Why not have a statement regarding teaching students to write well?
     Instead of being about writing, the writing center is…off the rails:

The writing center works from several important beliefs that are crucial to helping writers write and succeed in a racist society. The racist conditions of our society are not simply a matter of bias or prejudice that some people hold. In fact, most racism, for instance, is not accomplished through intent. Racism is the normal condition of things…

---from the Writing Center statement, it goes on and on like this, I lost interest and so can’t even tell you if it eventually ever talks about writing being important to the Writing Center.

      I can’t emphasize strongly enough how misguided this foolishness is. The whole point of writing is to be able to express concepts clearly (with a secondary standard of eloquence). Instead, the writing center is a train wreck:
“We promise to emphasize the importance of rhetorical situations over grammatical ‘correctness’ in the production of texts,” announces the poster. “We promise to challenge conventional word choices and writing explanations.”
--seriously, what does this even mean?

     Honest, standard English is a good idea: it gives people a basis from which to formulate and express thoughts. Having standard conventions for how this language works helps with that. If “anything goes,” why does this university need a writing center? 

      One question comes to mind: why isn’t education on the table here? The answer is the administrative takeover of higher education. Instead of scholars making decisions about scholarly activities like writing, we have administrators with no interest or respect for education. Instead, they just want to expand their fiefdom. Let’s hear an admin justify the lunacy regarding that social justice statement:

“[The statement] is a great example of how we are striving to act against racism,” said Dr. Jill Purdy, Tacoma’s vice chancellor of undergraduate affairs. “Language is the bridge between ideas and action, so how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do.”

      One of the things we need to do is thin out the administrative caste. The quick rule of thumb is to eliminate all positions whose titles are twice as long as the position holder’s name. In this case (and, in fact, nearly every case I’ve found in this blog), the title “vice chancellor of undergraduate affairs” is clearly long enough to be eliminated with no risk of harming any student’s education in any way. 

     Considering education is supposed to be a primary mission of higher education, why can’t we start helping out students?