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May 03, 2007

Alicia Colon, ignorant bigot

Edwize informs me that New York Sun columnist Alicia Colon is freaking out over plans to open a bilingual English/Arabic public school in Brooklyn.

Colon writes:

When I first heard of this proposed school, I thought it was a joke. But then I read Daniel Pipes's column about this disguised "madrassa" and discovered who the major principals were. Now I can't dispel this feeling of disbelief and outrage. This proposal is utter madness, considering that five years after September 11, ground zero is still a hole in the ground and we're bending over backwards to appease those sympathetic to individuals who would destroy us again. Smart, really smart. [NY Sun]

This is a public school that will follow the same curriculum the other public schools in New York. The difference is that students will be instructed in both English and Arabic.

Where does Colon think tomorrow's intelligence analysts are going to come from if we put off foreign language education until kids' brains have already fossilized into monolingualism?

It's not even worth addressing her implication that any place where Arabic is spoken is a breeding ground for terrorism, even a New York City public school.

Bilingual education is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their kids children. I'm fluent in French because I went to French immersion for my first seven years of school.

More from Colon:

Daniel Pipes was too conservative in asking his readers to send e-mails to the Chancellor at JKlein@schools.nyc.gov. I say break out the torches and surround City Hall to stop this monstrosity. [NY Sun]

So, I'm writing to that address to congratulate the Chancellor on the Arabic language program. I hope my fellow New Yorkers will do the same.


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Comments

It's not even worth addressing her implication that any place where Arabic is spoken is a breeding ground for terrorism, even a New York City public school.

It's true. All those Mossad agents who speak perfect Arabic with a native accent? They're all double agents who help smuggle explosives onto buses in Tel Aviv.

The odd thing about this is that many students, at least at the college level in my experience, who take courses in Arabic, are Jewish.

What do you expect from the Sun?

Everyone knows that if you want to stop Arabs from becoming terrorists, the best thing you can do is isolate and economically disadvantage them. Duh.

This must be the first radical madrassa in the history of the world to be named after a Lebanese Christian. Because THAT'S HOW SNEAKY THEY ARE!

There is a French school less than a mile from me in Oregon and a German school a little way away! And those countries both opposed our invasion of Iraq! I say we get the pitchforks and stop these monstrosities!

Holy cow, that's amazingly stupid. Does anyone really take these folks seriously?

Just wait until they reveal the plans for the restrooms. I betcha the toilet seats will be CRESCENT-SHAPED! Sort of.

Better to have toilet seats that are crescent shaped than the kind of facilities that have a crescent carved in the door. (Does anyone remember when Lil Abner had a job as a crescent cutter at an outhouse factory?)

Mainly, wanted to report that my spell checker suggests Caliban when I write (in obvious sarcasm) Taliban. Not too bad, really, but one must teach these programs proper English.

Bilingual education is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give to their kids children. I'm fluent in French because I went to French immersion for my first seven years of school.

My parents did the same for me. They put me in a dormitory school in Germany, and it was one of the very best things they ever did for me. Learning a second language as a child not only widens one's world by however many millions speak the second language, but also tunes one's ear much more finely to the first.

So will "tomorrow's intelligence analysts" particpate in the overthrow of foreign governments, the torture of political enemies, or perhaps the murder of leftists.

I suppose I should thank my parents for taking me out of Israel. Now if only they'd done it a few years earlier, I'd have been able to speak this language without sounding like a foreigner.

With my little sister they did better. She speaks perfect American without having ever lived in the US or Canada, and is now immersed in French in Monaco. In contrast, the only languages I speak other than English have trivial numbers of speakers: Hebrew, a sci-fi constructed language of mine, an international constructed language I'm creating, etc.

That this was written by someone at The Sun n'est pas un suprise.

That said, over here in the UK there's a push to encourage children at school to learn other languages. Which would be a good idea. Being close geographically to Europe and all. That being said, the sheer determination of some people in the UK in refusing to learn other languages - and I know of a few people like this - is staggering.

Raised to speak Spanish, French, Punjabi, Urdu and a smattering of German, Arabic and Cantonese (not sure how that last one happened, though), I find it amusing and a bit irritating when I'd visit other countries and overhear an American or English tourist asking HOW...MUCH...IS...THIS or WHERE...IS...THE...HOTEL - as if being insulting (and looking dumb in the process) will speed up and assist in the translation process.

Isn't there an American equivalent of Muzzy, by any chance?

Ignorance Is Strength.

"Isn't there an American equivalent of Muzzy, by any chance?"
Not a chance. I've actually seen a couple petitions that I had to lean over when paying at gas station/convenience stores urging school boards to drop foreign language instruction (meaning Spanish)in order that children not be deprived of time learning English. These were not petitions against instruction of Spanish speaking kids in Spanish, or bilingual instruction, but petitions to get instruction of foreign language to anglophone kids stopped. The idea apparently being that the human mind has room to learn only one language properly. These petitions were in an agricultural area -N.E. Oregon- that has seen a large influx of Spanish speaking labor over the last couple decades.

I might add that Hispanic labor in that particular place hadn't displaced native labor. It's the West: first there was ranching in a sparsely populated landscape of rock and sagebrush, then there was center pivot irrigation which required a new population of workers.

When my niece, Kilahni, is old enough to start thinking of her future I will encourage her to study Arabic, because she'll never be without a job if she can master it. There's a huge need for Arabic/English translators.

But Baby K just turned one, so it's a bit early to put too much pressure on her! This school sounds long overdue.

I think there's an even greater shortage of Mandarin speakers in the US. Like Arabic, Mandarin is a good language to speak if you want a job in intelligence. Unlike Arabic, it's also very important in business and only getting more important every year. And it outspeaks Arabic by a factor of about 3.

Seeing as how China will be burning an ever larger portion of a finite supply of oil, which in substantial measure is pooled under Arab feet, it would be insane for us to neglect Chinese and/or Arabic language instruction.

Well, the Middle East's starting to run out of oil; Saudi Arabia's just peaked, apparently, and Iran's increasing production won't be enough to make up for it. The most important language for today's children to learn if they want to do business with oil companies in the future is Canadian English.

For someone my age, I'd say the most important languages to learn are English, Mandarin, Spanish, and maybe Hindi, in that order. That, at least, is for purposes of business and possibly politics. For literary purposes the list is more conservative, so French, German, and Russian are more important. For scientific purposes it depends on the field, but you can usually get by with just English. In math, if you need a second language, the most important one is Mandarin, unless you're into algebra or number theory, in which case it's French.

The most important language for today's children to learn if they want to do business with oil companies in the future is Canadian English.

Just keep pumpin' gas till it's aboot full, eh?

They don't say "aboot" in Canada. The closest they come to it is "a boat" pronounced the British way, but that depends on how thick one's accent is.

It’s strange how it's easy to recognize various accents but recreating them in one’s mind’s eye, or ear as it were, is quite difficult. Very few of us can mimic accents convincingly, even those we're intimately familiar with. Accents, as an attribute of language, go to a mysterious, atavistic, almost indescribable core, like the attributes of sexual desire. Our accents are so deeply cut into our beings that we're amazed at actors that can parrot them believably. Almost as difficult an act to pull off realistically as gender reversal. When we hear someone's accent changing or changed, we're torn between admiration and a sneaking feeling that something's not quite honest. Think how odd it is really that we think Inspector Clouseau’s or Arnold Schwartzenegger’s accents are funny.

Someday I'll sit down and learn me the thing and figure out what distinguishes a labio-dental fricative from a post-alveolar affricate, how to read those damned pronunciation symbols, how the Great Vowel Shift happened, or even what it was exactly, etc.

So Alon, I assume you can tell a Russian from a Moroccan émigré to Israel by how Hebrew comes out of their mouths. I have wondered however, in a small and new country, are regional accents evolving? If I spoke Hebrew, could I tell if someone were from Haifa or Jerusalem over the phone?

So Alon, I assume you can tell a Russian from a Moroccan émigré to Israel by how Hebrew comes out of their mouths. I have wondered however, in a small and new country, are regional accents evolving? If I spoke Hebrew, could I tell if someone were from Haifa or Jerusalem over the phone?

I don't know of any regional accents in Hebrew. The accents in Israel are still heavily dominated by national origin. My mom, who is from a Haifa suburb, doesn't speak appreciably differently from my old social circle in Tel Aviv; some people detect a slight accent in her (and my) speech, but it's more German than Haifai. The only non-ethnic distinction, aside from those of social class - the Mizrahis who went to the same Ashkenazi-dominated schools I did use Ashkenazi consonants - is one of formality. In very formal Hebrew, you're supposed to pronounce r's as in Spanish or Italian; in practice, everyone except newscasters and a small subset of Mizrahis uses the French r.

It takes a pretty long time for regional accents to evolve. The US still has traces of a linguistic backwater in it, having been settled by English speakers for only 300 or 400 years. West of the eastern seaboard, there used to be no regional accent distinctions until the mid- or late-19th century. The accent clock in Israel started around 1950; maybe if the country survives into 2100, which is doubtful, it will evolve regional dialects.

It's a function of time rather than size, though. Scotland, with a slightly lower population than Israel, has plenty of regional dialectical variation. So does Denmark. And Britain has much more accent variation than the US.

My sister and I learned German as a second language as children around Stuttgart where we lived for eight years. We returned to the US as teenagers. Native German speakers pick up our Schwabian (S.W. Germany) accents immediately. When my sister went back to Germany to study at Göttingen (N. Germany) she was actually told to lose the accent as she sounded to northern Germans like a Schwabian farmer. Her accent is thicker, as she attended more rural schools than I did.

Here’s something I’d like to ask a linguist: language obviously changes with time; have there been changes in pronunciation broadly spread in the U.S. over the last century or so? Specifically: in some recorded American speech from the gramophone era I sometimes hear a change in the way the words “you” and “do” are pronounced. The old vowel sounds occasionally to me like the way we now express disgust when we say “eeeuw” as opposed to the way many of us pronounce you and do today as yoo and doo. Bizarrely, I hear some of my grandmother’s vowels on old scratchy Robert Johnson and Delta blues records. She grew up on a homesteaded ranch on the Canada/Washington Okanogan border, as far culturally, geographically, racially, and presumably linguistically from Mississippi sharecroppers as it was possible to get. And yet there they are. Am I just hearing things? Was my grandmother’s speech just a fluke? I don’t hear that “yeew´ ”deew” pronunciation much from anything post-WW II, though I have a co-worker, a white Mississippian, who has a trace of that pronunciation.

Sound clips illustrating accents of English speakers from all over can be found here.

Here’s something I’d like to ask a linguist: language obviously changes with time; have there been changes in pronunciation broadly spread in the U.S. over the last century or so?

Yes, but only a few are cross-regional. The cot-caught merger began in the 19th century in, I believe, Texas, but only became widespread in the 20th century. Right now it's ubiquitous in North America; most people here in New York, traditionally the area with the sharpest cot-caught distinction in the English-speaking world, merge the two. An earlier merger, incidentally, is that of balm and bomb, which is standard enough that it made it to the pronunciation guide on Webster's.

Another one that if I'm not mistaken dates back to the 1920s is the simplification of the clusters ty, ny, and dy. In Britain, the words tune, new, and due have an audible y after the initial vowel; in the US, that y disappeared, so that due and do merge.

The US also exhibits many vowel mergers before r, but they may date to the 19th century: hoarse-horse (also found in Britain), merry-marry-Mary, serious-Sirius, worry-whirry. A few Southern holdouts keep distinguishing hoarse and horse, and a few Northeastern ones keep distinguishing merry, marry, and Mary, as well as worry and whirry, but again, New York's supposed to be one of those holdouts and still only people over 40 or 50 make those distinctions.

Finally, there's the flapping of t, d, n, and nt before unstressed vowels and after a vowel, as in ladder, latter, kitty, Carter, corner (but not hypothetical cornter), authority, center, winter, and winner. In that context, t and d become something that sounds like a very short d, and is in fact identical to a single r in Spanish or Italian; nt and n both become a very short n, which is a nasalized version of the Spanish r. I don't know when t and d got flapped, but the flapping of n and nt is a fairly recent phenomenon.

None of these changes is especially big. The big changes are regional. For example, in the South and West, the vowel in soon is fronted almost to sühn. In the South and increasingly in California, the same thing is happening to the vowel in boat, which becomes pronounced the British way. In California, the short i and e vowels of bit and bet sound almost like the vowels of bet and bat elsewhere, and the short u of but sounds something like the British pronunciation of Burt. In the South and increasingly in the surrounding regions, pin and pen merge; in various areas of the South, so do pill and peel, or Pell and pale, and in parts of the Midlands, pool and pull merge. And around the Great Lakes, the short vowel system is in total chaos: cat becomes something like kee-at, cot becomes cat, caught becomes the old cot, cut becomes caught, and ket becomes cut. All of those regionalisms are fairly recent. Older ones, like New York accent, became seen as substandard and uneducated and disappeared. The shift around the Great Lakes was only noticed in the 1960s, and the one in California even later.

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