Monday, 12 January 2015

On Learning Chinese (and NOT Learning Chinese) in Western Universities

Let's say that a team of researchers concluded that it takes 480 hours of instruction for an American student to reach level 1 in Chinese language ability, the lowest level of a five-level system of evaluation created by the American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).  Yes, as you might suppose, there's a citation coming up for that claim.  Without expanding too much on how this "level 1" might be defined, we've already got a significant problem in figuring out how such a huge number of hours could fit into a western-style university system.

The studies in question concluded that it took seven semesters to reach this 480-hour mark, even under "ideal conditions".  The trouble is that the level 1 described here just doesn't add up to all that much of an outcome, relative to the enormous cost to the student: "In other words, a student who started to take Chinese as a freshman, and who continued with it throughout his/her college career, would at the time of graduation be able to orally 'ask and answer simple questions involving areas of immediate need, leisure time activities and simple transactions.'" (Madeline Chu, 1996, p. 135)

Some students might be willing to sign on even for this limited outcome, but few employers would be satisfied with it: a graduate with a B.A. in Chinese is expected to be many levels higher than this standard, even in moving on to an M.A. program, let alone applying for a position in government service, teaching, or tourism.  Madeline Chu comments, "The description [of level 1] not only classifies [the] level of proficiency but also illustrates the reality of deficiency". (Ibidem)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Gidinwewin, a new (2011) Ojibwe language textbook

I thought I would post a review of Gidinwewin (by Roger Roulette,  2011), but the copy of the CD-ROM that arrived with the textbook doesn't work (or, at least, it doesn't work on my computer), so I can't really review the book (beyond a first impression).

This is a textbook created as part of a Grade 9 (high school) curriculum, produced  by the MICEC (Manitoba).

It uses what I would call "standard" Ojibwe spellings: it seems to consistently use the same spellings that you find in the Ojibwe People's Dictionary, despite the distance between Manitoba and Minnesota (i.e., the editors did not decide to "lean toward" a West-Ojibwe accent, nor Saulteaux spellings).

The textbook contains crossword puzzles and word-searches.  The majority of the pages are direct translation exercises (Ojibwe to English and vice-versa).

There are short word-lists and very short explanations, assuming either (1) a classroom instructor, or else (2) whatever help may exist on the CD-ROM (that I haven't seen myself).

Sunday, 28 December 2014

How the Thais Lost Laos

Although Thailand may have more freedom of speech than any of the countries it shares a border with, it nevertheless lacks freedom of speech.  Some aspects of the political history of the country are very, very difficult to talk about, within the bounds of what's permissible (I've just seen a few statements on Wikipedia that would be punishable in Thailand).

The feelings of the Thais toward Laos are too intense to be changed by facts.  Is there anything I can compare this to in contemporary Europe?  The English don't care nearly so much about the Scottish, nor do the Spanish have any such feeling toward the Portuguese, despite the long histories of war and rivalry in both cases.  Perhaps the only comparison would be the feelings that Russians have toward Crimea, in now claiming the latter as a province: more than just a claim that in the future they should form one-and-the-same country, the attitude is based on a presumption that the smaller country never had a right to exist, and that the border separating them only came about by trickery.  The sense that --somehow-- both sides were cheated out of their national destiny is strong in Thailand; it would make more sense if this sentiment were paired with the notion that the Thai and Lao are "one race" (as the Russians consider themselves the same race as Crimean Russians --although not the same as the Crimean Tatars) but, instead, it is juxtaposed to the very fundamental belief that the Thai and Lao are two separate races, and, unsurprisingly, the Thais consider themselves racially superior to the Lao.

An old book that I recently rediscovered on (link below) provides a reminder of a terrible truth that is inconvenient to both sides, as they now write the 19th century's history.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Mason's Pali Grammar, New for 2015

If a whole mess of historical anecdotes, grammatical tables, and etymological theories (about a dead language!) sounds like your idea of fun… then, well… this is the Pali textbook for you!

Mason's Pali Grammar was book that faced technical challenges at every stage, and ended up having several fonts created especially for it (at my demand!).  It is finally available for download from Google Books, about ten years after I completed my work on it… and almost 150 years after its first author began work on it, I suppose.

Admittedly, it's not for everyone…

Monday, 22 December 2014

Following up with Prof. Erick White (Buddhism and/or/as/vs. Politics)

Did you read about this in the J.I.A.B.S.? No? In any other academic journal?

There are two messages below: the second one is much more amusing than the first one, so you might as well just skip to it.  The first message  shows that I tried to be reasonable and somewhat polite (even finding something to apologize for, in a message that really isn't shouldn't contain an apology) --and then the second message is a bit more brutal.

The photo at the top (with its caption) sums up my feeling on the matter: real political history is unfolding in Theravāda Asia, and Buddhism is deeply involved, and if you can read about it anywhere it won't be in academic journals connected to Buddhism (so far as I know, it isn't covered in any academic journals at all!).  I do think that we have a real problem in that the journals who could be engaging with these issues have the attitude of either (i) no politics please, we're Buddhist, or else (ii) no Buddhism, please, we're political/historical/some-other-discipline.  Honestly, however, the most frequent obstacle I encounter is, (iii) "No Cambodia, please, we're Asian Studies" --and "Asia" is so often implicitly defined as "China plus Japan" (even if they do not say "East Asia" overtly).

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Brutality of the Cultural Revolution (a Small Reminder)

Translation by "Nomfood":
"One day, while everyone was working in the fields, a class enemy disregarded others and tried to attack them. Jin walked over and beat him up nicely, and immediately set up a criticism meeting. The poor farmers lauded the criticism meeting, saying that it raised the spirits of the revolutionary proletariats, and defeated the self-prestige of the class enemy."

Another Buddhist Publication Steals Another One of My Articles

These guys took the time to create an original illustration to accompany the article they stole (i.e., a time-consuming effort, even if inspired by the pastiche I made myself).  It would have taken much less time for them to send me an e-mail, asking for permission to re-publish the article.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

When Budgets Run Into the Millions

Britain's House of Lords has been having difficulty reducing its catering budget (ca. 1.3 million pounds); part of the problem, it was revealed, is their consumption of Champagne, amounting to 17,000 bottles from 2010 to some point in (mid?) 2014.*

The House of Lords has 790 members (not all of whom participate regularly, but we leave that aside).  The budget seems to allow for more than six bottles of Champagne per member, per annum.

Last year, here at the University of Victoria, more than $5.3 million dollars were spent on office supplies in a single year.  I do not know if that number includes Champagne.  Don't believe me?  See the screenshot [below], or check the numbers yourself (they're publicly available, as with the accounting for any charity registered in Canada).

Monday, 15 December 2014

Buddhism and/or/as/vs. Politics (Discussion)

A very short, informal article (and my first time posting to New Mandala in a few years, I suppose):

On Youtube: Kang Youwei's Utopia & Mao's Revolution

大同書: Kang Youwei's Utopia & Mao's Revolution (康有為 & 毛澤東)

What was the philosophy of Datong (大同) anyway?  Kang Youwei (康有為) was both an important influence on Communists and anti-Communists in China's 20th Century.

On Youtube:

Read more if you want to know more: