[lg policy] Linguistic xenophobia

Elena Bashir ebashir at UCHICAGO.EDU
Tue Jan 17 16:55:50 UTC 2012

Dear Hal and list,

Yes, I've also observed many of the things Hal mentions about language 
and gender.

- Speaking French has frequently been reported as being perceived as 
- Interestingly, when Kerry or Romney is reported as speaking French, 
it's portrayed (by some in the current context) as negative, but when 
Jackie Kennedy was famous for speaking French, it was admirable.
- I've noticed that young women in urban Punjab in Pakistan are more 
likely to switch to the higher-status language (Urdu) from their first 
or local language (Panjabi) than are young men.

On 1/17/2012 10:30 AM, Harold Schiffman wrote:
> My take on this is that learning and speaking another language,
> especially speaking
> it fluently, is a woman's thing.  (It may be un-American, too, but
> I'll concentrate on the
> other.)  My evidence for this claim is that while using film and other
> media in a course
> on "Language and Popular Culture" it became obvious that when a character needs
> to speak a language, or even decipher hierglyphics, it's usually a woman who is
> depicted doing this.  Real men don't speak foreign languages, at least
> in America.
> The only exception to this that I saw was in the Indiana Jones films,
> where occasionally
> he comes out with a phrase in Mandarin, or Hindi, or whatever.  But
> even there, in
> one of the films where decipherment of some new world hieroglyphics is required,
> his MOTHER does the job.  Also in one of those mummy movies there's a "girl" who
> does the needful.
> See also TV:  in NCIS, currently, the Israeli-born Agent Ziva David
> "speaks 12 languages" including Pashto.
> As someone who spent 30 years of his academic life teaching Tamil, I
> often discerned
> that language teaching is also a feminized profession, so what was I
> doing teaching one?
> (What did that say about me?)
> One even hears of research that seems to show that "girls" do better
> in language classes,
> that females are more sensitive to language, do more code-switching
> from their native
> lects to "higher status" lects, and so on.  Bourdieu even indicated
> that French women
> who start out as lower-status speakers of French or other francophone
> lects (les idiomes,
> the same ones Gregoire railed against) switch to higher status lects,
> or even "standard"
> French in order to get better marriages, leaving the men of their
> communities behind,
> unable to find wives.
> I observed while living in France for two years that Americans I knew
> there would "dumb down" their French when speaking to French people,
> if Americans were present, but didn't do that so much when Americans
> were absent.  I asked one such person about this, and he said he
> needed to show he was a "real" American, not a "wanna-be French
> bootlicker".  Maybe if he'd been female, he wouldn't have done this...
> Hal Schiffman
> On Mon, Jan 16, 2012 at 4:34 AM, Dave Sayers<D.Sayers at swansea.ac.uk>  wrote:
>> I was searching for Ann's excellent "exotic or maybe even subversive" line
>> (below) in preparing this email, and I decided to reply to this old email
>> thread since it follows quite neatly. I've changed the original email
>> subject though, to a more generic one.
>> Anyway... perhaps some US-based subscribers could comment on the recent
>> kerfuffle in the Republican candidate grudge match, namely that Jon Huntsman
>> speaks Mandarin, and Mitt Romney speaks (shock horror) French.
>> I remember when the UK media used to (occasionally) mention that Tony Blair
>> spoke fluent French, usually including a clip of a TV interview in France. I
>> recall it being a mix of gentle mockery and begrudging pride.
>> I'm sure these sorts of things are either hilarious, baffling, or both, to
>> the world's bi-plus-lingual majority.
>> Dave
>> --
>> Dr. Dave Sayers
>> Honorary Research Fellow
>> College of Arts&  Humanities
>> and Language Research Centre
>> Swansea University
>> dave.sayers at cantab.net
>> http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers
>> On 19:59, Ann Anderson Evans wrote:
>> Coming from a country (the United States) where speaking a second language
>> is considered exotic or maybe even subversive, I found your posting spot on.
>> Ann
>> On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 6:42 PM,<dzo at bisharat.net>  wrote:
>>> Or is it really so weird? I've sometimes wondered why countries with
>>> essentially one "national language" (mother tongue) don't seek to distribute
>>> second language learning more often. Arguably it could have benefits in
>>> terms of external trade and relations, and facilitate a kind of "crossroads"
>>> effect to the extent that it facilitates selective borrowing (and
>>> "digestion" in the nationally spoken language) from diverse other parts of
>>> the world.
>>> Not sure if Hungary has considered that aspect, but could there be any
>>> merit to this position? Examples? (Japan from the late 1800s to WWII??)
>>> Could this be an advantage of more or less monolingual states that Hungary
>>> has stumbled upon withou knowing it?
>>> Don
>>> Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: Harold Schiffman<hfsclpp at gmail.com>
>>> Sender: lgpolicy-list-bounces+dzo=bisharat.net at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>>> Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2011 13:48:35
>>> To: lp<lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
>>> Reply-To: Language Policy List<lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
>>> Subject: [lg policy] Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy
>>> Hungarians Perplex World With Weird Language Policy
>>> Ann Althouse picks up one of the oddest reports of the week: the
>>> Hungarian government wants to discourage students from taking English
>>> as their first foreign language because it is so easy!  The original
>>> article in The Wall Street Journal is a head-scratcher:
>>>     Hungary’s government wants to dethrone English as the most common
>>> foreign language taught in Hungarian schools. The reason: It’s just
>>> too easy to learn.
>>>     “It is fortunate if the first foreign language learned is not
>>> English. The initial, very quick and spectacular successes of English
>>> learning may evoke the false image in students that learning any
>>> foreign language is that simple,” reads a draft bill obtained by news
>>> website Origo.hu that would amend Hungary’s education laws.
>>>     Instead, the ministry department in charge of education would
>>> prefer if students “chose languages with a fixed, structured
>>> grammatical system, the learning of which presents a balanced
>>> workload, such as neo-Latin languages.”
>>>     Besides giving a deceptive sense of achievement, English learning
>>> also makes acquiring other languages more difficult, the ministry
>>> argues. Reversing the order, on the other hand, makes learning English
>>> essentially effortless, it added.
>>> The mystery deepens as the WSJ reporter, Gergo Racz, tells us that
>>> Hungary’s real problem isn’t that too many Hungarians take the wimpy
>>> way out and learn English; it is that most Hungarians don’t learn any
>>> foreign language at all.  In fact, 75 percent of Hungarians say
>>> (presumably in Magyar) that they don’t speak any foreign language at
>>> all, and only six percent claim to speak one well.
>>> Surely a government in this situation would go for the easiest
>>> language on offer?
>>> Few countries need foreign language fluency more than Hungary.  The
>>> Magyar language is distantly, very distantly related to Finnish, but
>>> otherwise Hungarian is in a world of its own.  A traveler in Europe
>>> who has even a smattering of familiarity with a Romance, Germanic and
>>> Slavic language will generally get around pretty well; the language
>>> roots allow you to decipher some of the basics: words like
>>> ‘bookstore’, ‘toilet’, ‘train station’ and ‘trolley’ don’t vary all
>>> that much within the language families.  Be able to sound out the
>>> Cyrillic and Greek alphabets and you can survive if not always thrive
>>> from Vladivostok to Valencia.
>>> In Hungary you can forget that; when I first visited Hungary about
>>> twenty years ago, even a word like ‘restaurant’, which is pretty
>>> recognizable all across Europe, was no use. The Magyar word for
>>> ‘restaurant’ is (if I still remember this correctly) ‘etterim’. At
>>> that time, Germany was the English of Budapest, and English was the
>>> French.  That is, if you needed to discuss directions or money with a
>>> taxi driver or a news vendor, German was the language to use.  If you
>>> wanted to talk literature with a journalist or professor, English was
>>> the way to go.
>>> Poland was a different case back then.  Everybody over fifty spoke
>>> German and everybody under fifty spoke Russian — but given the
>>> circumstances attending the introduction of those languages in Poland,
>>> nobody wanted to admit a knowledge of either.  Almost nobody spoke
>>> English there back then — the Soviets discouraged English study even
>>> more than the Hungarians.  If you asked for directions in the former
>>> occupation languages people pretended they didn’t understand you; the
>>> only way out was to be able to say in both German and Russian, “Excuse
>>> me, please.  I’m an American and I don’t speak Polish.  Can you tell
>>> me…” and then you ask your question.  Once the ice was broken, people
>>> were happy to help.
>>> None of this explains the mysteries of Hungarian language policy;
>>> perhaps some Hungarian bureaucrats have a little too much time on
>>> their hands?
>>> http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/08/20/hungarians-perplex-world-with-weird-language-policy/
>>> --
>>> **************************************
>>> N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
>>> its members
>>> and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
>>> or sponsor of the list as to the veracity of a message's contents.
>>> Members who disagree with a message are encouraged to post a rebuttal,
>>> and to write directly to the original sender of any offensive message.
>>>   A copy of this may be forwarded to this list as well.  (H. Schiffman,
>>> Moderator)
>>> For more information about the lgpolicy-list, go to
>>> https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/
>>> listinfo/lgpolicy-list
>>> *******************************************
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
>>> lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>>> To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
>>> https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
>>> lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>>> To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
>>> https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
>> --
>> *Ann Anderson Evans*
>> *Writer and Adjunct Professor, Montclair State University*
>> *(201) 792-6892 or (973) 495-0338
>> *
>> *www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com*
>> *www.annandersonevans.com*
>> The Abortion Wars:  Is a Truce Possible?
>> on Kindle ebooks.
>> *
>> *
>> *
>> _______________________________________________
>> This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
>> lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
>> To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
>> https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

E. Bashir, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer in Urdu
Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
The University of Chicago, Foster 212
1130 E. 59th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
Phone:  773-702-8632
Fax:    773-834-3254

This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format: https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list