Thursday, July 23, 2009


Others have excellent suggestions. Let me add that for now, you can imagine you're giving a presentation in your native language, Chinese, and on the fly, translating that into English. Many language teachers oppose this way of learning (you do translation in your brain). But I disagree. Once you're fluent in English, the explicit translation in your brain silently yields to "natively" thinking in English.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Off-topic: Language education to solve Chinese ethnic conflict

The ethnic conflict, or riot, in Xinjiang of northwestern China, caused more than 150 deaths. To be politically correct, the central government will probably not reveal the ratio of Uyghur to Han ethnic death tolls, and I won't comment on that, even though pretty much every Chinese having lived there or having friends or relatives living there have a very well educated guess. But even mention of that guess causes sadness. A more interesting and constructive discussion, though, should be about the way the Chinese government improves its strategy to ease the ethnic tension. We all agree that so far the preferential treatment of, or affirmative action toward, the ethnic minority in China causes grief to the Han ethnicity yet at the same time does not adequately meet the request of the minority. This lose-lose situation will not go anywhere in the future. While the government provides financial and other support, the love is largely unrequited. The Uyghur think their culture is violated, even though the government encourages them and spends money for them to promote their own language.

Human language is the key to human gathering. Why is there natural, spontaneous separation between Han and Uyghur, or between any two ethnic groups for that matter? Because they have difficulty communicating. No doubt the Uyghur people are forced to learn the Chinese language, not by law, not at all, but by the economic opportunities. But there's not much assimilation in the other direction, i.e., the Han learning Uyghur. If the Han have no basic skills in the language of the previously dominating residents in this region, they don't feel their culture is respected (enough). The government should have a mandate that all the Han Chinese living in that area, perhaps younger than say 50 years old, learn the Uyghur language for 3 months, and review once every 3 years for 10 or so years. Once this done, the Han and Uyghur will mingle much more easily, in the neighborhood as neighbors, in the work place as coworkers, and in public areas as citizens. Separation is rooted in lack of communication, which starts from nowhere else than everyday life.

Interesting References:

I. Wang Lixiong, My West Region, Your Eastern Land
王力雄, 《我的西域,你的东土》, p.187, "一九五六年新疆的汉族有十五万... 他们在这里学会了维语。毛泽东让他们首先要学维语,要学当地的语言... 一九五三年他从上海到新疆来的时候,库尔勒有汉族学校,可是讲维语,让那些汉族孩子必须学维语,民族学校却不要求学汉语。那时毛泽东说没有大汉族主义就不会有民族分裂主义,所以有很多尊重少数民族生活习惯的政策。那个年代的干部和汉族人比较尊重少数民族。" [In 1956, there were 150,000 Han ethnic people in Xinjiang... they learned the Uyghur language here. Mao Zedong required them to first learn the Uyghur language, learn the local language... In 1953 when he came to Xinjiang from Shanghai, there were Han ethnic schools in Korla but Uyghur was spoken in the school; the Han school children were required to learn the Uyghur language, while in the minority ethnic schools the Chinese language was not required. Back then Mao Zedong said that there will not be ethnic separatism if there is no Han-chauvinism, and so there were many policies that respect the customs of the minority ethnic people. The cadres and the Han people in those years well respected the minority ethnic people.]

II. Nicholas Ostler, Empires of the Word
Garcilaso certainly held the view, still widely held today though not among knowledgeable linguists, that a shared language makes for common understanding and good mutual relations: 'because the likeness and conformity of words almost always tend to reconcile people and bring them to true union and friendship'.[Father Blas Valera's words, quoted by Inca Garcilaso, Commontarios Reales, part I, vii.3: 'porqué la semejanza y conformidad de las palabras casi siempre suelen reconciliar y traer a verdadera unión y amistad a los hombres.']