Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chinglish/Hinglish/Spanglish and the Death of English?

As more people around the world learn English, what's going to happen to he "purity" of the language? Wired magazine looks at the issue in a recent article in respect to China and its efforts to monitor English during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The author concludes that all languages evolve over time and that the Chinglish is likely to influence modern English usage as well.

While I was in India, Hinglish (a Hindi-English mix) is common. People liberally intersperse English into their Hindi (or Urdu or Kannada or Tamil, etc.) conversations and vice versa. Spanglish is another familiar amalgamation here in the US. In NYC, I experienced this all the time.

There are some confusing, frustrating and amusing misunderstandings that come from this richness and diversity of language. Purists will bemoan the loss of our linguistic purity, but looking at the history of the English language, I'm not so sure any such purity existed. English is a pretty promiscuous language and has incorporated lots of syntax and vocabulary from Latin, German, Arabic, etc. It's going to get confusing as English becomes even more of a world language, but I think the prospects are thrilling. Just as we have difficulty understanding Chaucer's English or the English of Beowulf, future generations of Chinglish/Hinglish/Spanglish or whatever else evolves, will have difficulty understanding our patterns of speech. Such is life.

Friday, July 11, 2008

House Of Lords Reaches Out To The Young People

The House of Lords in the U.K. has decided to update its image as a boring chamber where elderly aristocrats snooze through meaningless debates on legislation that the Commons really controls. Wired magazine reports that the Lords is trying make itself more accessible through the creation of a YouTube channel.

Here's their hot new video entitled "Why Get Into Politics?" Given that most British subjects will never even be eligible to serve in the House of Lords, this seems a bit odd How does an essentially aristocratic institution promote democratic participation?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Too Much Homework?

Souly Catholic, a very interesting education blog, has a great article on homework. It raises some of the very same issues I've been struggling with as a parent and educator -- do kids have too much homework? I started out my career as an educator giving piles of homework. When I taught AP European History, the amount increased even more. But in the past few years I've begun to rethink my philosophy and have cut back considerably. Anecdotally, I'm not sure my students are any less capable or skilled than they used to be, but they are a good deal more engaged in what we're learning. I've also noticed that kids often go home and follow up on what we've done in class. In the past year, I've had kids read Sun-tzu, Buddhist scriptures, and the like. That didn't happen nearly as much in the past when I piled work on the kids.

The article does a good job showing both sides of the homework debate but the author is clearly on the side of "less is more". Critics will no doubt point to the loss of "rigor" when homework is reduced, but I often wonder exactly what that means anyway.

The article also has an interesting video on a recent Wall Street Journal article that discussed the same topic:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Music -- Rameau

I like the French composer Rameau and found this video on YouTube. I won't elaborate -- I think the music speakes for itself. Just to show you that I'm not just about Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols...

Monday, July 7, 2008

God's Harvard

I didn't have any expectations one way or another when I started reading Hanna Rosin's God's Harvard. By the end, though, I was hooked. Rosin does a great job taking a pretty fair look at a "fundamentalist" university. The book examines life at Patrick Henry University in Northern Virginia. The school's mission is to provide a cadre of well-trained and well-connected young women and men to promote conservative Christian principles in the arts, the media, politics and business.

I've spent a fair amount of time in fundamentalist circles and this book gets down the essence of the movement just about right. Rather than the banjo-strumming hayseeds we see portrayed in the media, Christian conservatives are well educated, well-spoken and entirely reasonable.

That's not to say that I agree with the mission of places like Patrick Henry. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they alarm me to some extent. But to demean these people's faith and commitment serves no good and does not seem to exhibit a commitment to democratic tolerance. God's Harvard really helps promote understanding between groups and people who don't tend to see eye-to-eye.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

American Nerd

As I continue my reconnecting with my inner nerd, Benjamin Nugent's American Nerd provided an interesting stroll down memory lane. The book chronicles the history of nerdiness and the many pursuits and passions that makes one a nerd. Nugent does a good job of outlining the history of the term and shows how such literary giants as Mary Shelly, Jane Austin, and E.M. Forester set the standard for future depictions of the nerd.

The most powerful theme of the book explores the contrast between the nerd and the jock stereotype. The jock is the child of the movement known as "muscular Christianity" in the 19th century. Teddy Roosevelt and "Tom Brown's Schooldays" set the standard for the idea of a "well-balanced" gentleman who stood in stark contrast to the weak and effect intellectual. This contrast reflects the 19th and early 20th century fears that elite W.A.S.P.s were being overwhelmed by more intellectually capable Jews and East Asians.

The book is a bit uneven and Nugent's treatment of video games, and debating don't really add up to much. Still in all, the book is thought-provoking and his discussion of "cool nerds" is pretty funny.