Saturday, July 31, 2010

on more than one language

Hey so, I speak some languages! And I am very interested in the structure of languages, and how they work, and how languages contribute to our thinking! I am one of those people who enjoys learning many languages. (I speak three, from time to time, four if 'a sort of Manglish-Malay patois' counts as a language. And I enjoyed learning German for a year and a half! But then I moved and didn't find a new class. Anyway.) I like being able to communicate with lots of people! I like reading about languages! As if I was some sort of language nerd! Also, I lament that I didn't do linguistics at university (sometimes I wish I did chemistry, too).

So hey: this is a post about languages (as opposed to language, which will be another post later).

A few blogs have been linking to and/or discussing this New York Times article: As English Spreads, Indonesians Fear for Their Language. The article itself talks about Indonesians who cannot speak Bahasa Indonesian, or speak it badly; speaking English instead. But as Michel S at Ruminations on a Distant Homeland* points out, there are reasons why this is a little less dramatic than the article articulates. Bahasa Indonesian was adopted as the national language only in 1928, so for huge chunks of Indonesia, the official language is not actually their first language anyway.

Similar issue in Malaysia. I have friends (or family of friends) who, despite growing up in Malaysia, never learnt Bahasa Malaysian (BM) very well. When you grow up in a house speaking (for example) Cantonese, and go to an English speaking school, and all your friends speak Mandarin, well, BM becomes just another subject you have to do, and some people are good at it, and some people aren't.

That's not me passing comment on whether one should have to learn the national language. That's just, you know. An anecdote.

Speaking of national languages, in the USA there's some concerns the opposite way, that sometimes people don't speak English in public, and therefore English is at risk (?!) and maybe it should be the national language. My word, what a fucking outrage. So What if Nobody Speaks English Anymore at is a look at that, and asks the question: does it matter?

THIS MAY SHOCK YOU (note: if it does, I am very concerned), but maybe speaking more than one language is kind of cool, and possibly even useful! The WSJ has an article up that doesn't say anything new, but is a nice summary of research that demonstrates that language shapes the way we think: Lost in Translation. Here is a large excerpt:
Do the languages we speak shape the way we think? Do they merely express thoughts, or do the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express?

Take "Humpty Dumpty sat on a..." Even this snippet of a nursery rhyme reveals how much languages can differ from one another. In English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we say "sat" rather than "sit." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) change the verb to mark tense.

In Russian, you would have to mark tense and also gender, changing the verb if Mrs. Dumpty did the sitting. You would also have to decide if the sitting event was completed or not. If our ovoid hero sat on the wall for the entire time he was meant to, it would be a different form of the verb than if, say, he had a great fall.

In Turkish, you would have to include in the verb how you acquired this information. For example, if you saw the chubby fellow on the wall with your own eyes, you'd use one form of the verb, but if you had simply read or heard about it, you'd use a different form.

Do English, Indonesian, Russian and Turkish speakers end up attending to, understanding, and remembering their experiences differently simply because they speak different languages?
In fact, here is a 2009 essay on exactly this research! How does our language shape the way we think? I highly recommend this piece, it is a good essay and I refer to it often.

I think it's really cool and interesting, the way that language shapes thought. And I mean, I think about this all the time in another way (removing ableist, transphobic, homophobic, racist, etc, words from casual use), but talking about the impact that grammar patterns have on thought construction is really cool too. What influence does language have on our personalities? On our cultures and traditions?

Anyway, given how cool it is, it's funny, then, that there's a rumour getting around that the Chinese government is looking to limit the amount of Cantonese on Chinese TV. Almost as if there's an attempt to impose a national language that was only made a national language in the last hundred years. It's been kind of a concerted effort. And here's an oldie but still relevant: Language is Power; Let us Have Ours:
Much of the evidence the world over suggests that bilingual and multilingual language processes accelerate one's capacity to acquire English. So why are Aboriginal children being treated as if this were not so? Why is the role that parents and grandparents play in teaching their children being diminished?

Aboriginal languages, for the most part, are not officially recognised and, therefore, sit outside the nation's formal structures.
So here's the thing about Mandarin, and also Bahasa Indonesian and Bahasa Malay, and in fact English, too: they're kind of dialecty. Sometimes they're not what you're expecting. Mandarin in Beijing is different from Mandarin in Xi'an. The Cantonese my family speaks (being from Malaysia) is totally different from the Cantonese spoken in China. The English I speak in Australia is quite different from the English I use in Malaysia (sometimes referred to as 'Manglish').

Which is why I like this article: Standard English and the Literate Argument.
Is literacy so important to credibility here? Or, let me rephrase: Is Standard English literacy so important to credibility here? Or, let me rephrase again: Is white, upper-or-middle class English literacy so important to credibility here?

When we discount people and their arguments because of their command (or lack thereof) of grammar, what we are really saying is: Your thoughts are useless because you don’t use the kind of grammar I’ve come to expect from literate people on the internet. What we are also saying is far worse: You don’t have the privilege to have learned the “correct” way of writing or speaking, and, therefore, your ideas are worthless.
OH SO MAYBE, just maybe, a push to a national language is some sort of defensive bullshit thing? Maybe there's some racism and/or classism involved? What an unexpected and surprising conclusion to my post!

I don't want to hear anything from anyone about how learning a second language is a privilege or any crap like that. Because I think it's pretty clear that learning a second language is, in many cases, something so built in to a society that you don't even notice - many people know more than one language before they go to school (if they get to go to school). And for many people, learning the 'national language' (official or not) is already learning a second language. Or a third language. My mum was speaking five languages before she started attending school, and she was from a really poor family. So you know, the argument is at the least very erasing. I'll accept 'in a poor urban white monolingual family in the middle of Perth it's hard to attend language classes,' or something. And I'm certainly not accepting 'it's hard to learn another language so therefore we need a national language and no-one can speak anything else in public or have tv in any other language' or anything. That's crap. Also 'omg we all need to communicaaatteeee.' Often, that argument is used against people who already went out of their way (or, to be honest, could hardly avoid) to learn someone else's language.

Some further reading and anecdotes on the things I have discussed above:

*please note, the blog I have linked to has only one blog post on it! And no introductory! So I don't know anything about it, other than that I liked the solitary post.

Friday, July 30, 2010

ikea hacker badger haj

I like checking out Ikea Hacker, because it's Ikea! and it's mods!

I don't need to do any Ikea hackery right now, so I did the next best thing:

badger haj

badger haj, a badge of our Ikea klappar haj.

This is basically my nerdy winter hobby.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

tuesday morning link town

Disclosure, Trans Panic, and Ciscentric Narratives of Honesty at Questioning Transphobia.
But I think this story touches on somewhat larger, more encompassing issues that trans people have to deal with. Thomas’ mother, for example, insists that her son didn’t know that Nikki was trans and separated from her shortly before his death, and that Nikki herself married Thomas for the money – that she’s a gold digger. Nikki, on the other hand, says that Thomas knew all along and was fine with it.
I believe Nikki’s telling the truth. I believe Thomas’ mother, Simona Longoria, is appealing to the narrative that will ultimately purchase cis sympathy for her plight. Simona’s claim makes Nikki out to be an opportunistic predator, a stealthy deceiver, a liar who wormed her way into Thomas’ life in order to not only feast on his assets while alive, but to cackle merrily on the way to the bank after his death. It is dependent upon (in addition to the Littleton precedent), painting Nikki as someone who deceived Thomas in order to not only get into his bed, but also into his life.
This is how many cis people love to paint trans women.
And also at QT; New York Times says Trans People are Ethically Required to Out Themselves on Dates.

Givenchy's Transgender Fall Campaign Model Posed Nude for French Vogue [NSFW] at NYMag. I can't decide (based on what I have been able to find out) if this shoot is all 'ooh, a trans woman!' or 'oh cool, a trans woman.' I link to it anyway. And the article, if you can read French.

Here's What White Privilege Sounds Like
Here’s what white privilege sounds like: I’m sitting in my University of Texas office, talking to a very bright and very conservative white student about affirmative action in college admissions, which he opposes and I support. The student says he wants a level playing field with no unearned advantages for anyone. I ask him whether he thinks that being white has advantages in the United States. Have either of us, I ask, ever benefited from being white in a world run mostly by white people? Yes, he concedes, there is something real and tangible we could call white privilege.

So, if we live in a world of white privilege – unearned white privilege - how does that affect your notion of a level playing field? I asked. He paused for a moment and said, “That really doesn’t matter.” That statement, I suggested to him, reveals the ultimate white privilege: The privilege to acknowledge that you have unearned privilege but to ignore what it means.
Free Advice: A Bargain at Double the Price
Too often Nice White People are far more interested in being perceived as non-racist than they are in actually working to do something that might address the structural inequities racist beliefs and assumptions are built from and reinforce.
I know because I’ve been that Nice White Person. I still have my moments of it.
The only way to stop being that Nice White Person — if you’re interested in actually stopping — is to start with acknowledging two things:
Geek feminism as opposed to mainstream feminism, at geekfeminism, on the differences and conflicts between "mainstream" feminism and geek feminism.

FacePainting, on white-washing in movies.

Doctor Treating Pregnant Women with Experimental Drug to Prevent Lesbianism. ?!?!

On Dismissing Sexual Violence Against Some Women as 'Cultural' at the Curvature.

Why are social inequalities reproduced online?
When creating online avatars, people reproduce the racist, sexist and ableist structures of real life, writes Dr Eve Shapiro.

Many early utopian theories of computer-mediated communication asserted that as people “moved online” they would cast off gender, race, class, and body limitations to exist as undifferentiated equals.

But the suggestion that race, gender, class, and nation or any other embodied characteristics will cease to matter online ignores the fact that biases such as racism, sexism, and ‘ableism’ are not only individual prejudices but also structural inequalities.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

awesome ladies and not-white dudes in science fiction and fantasy

My Little Catwoman Pony

So I was making a flippant tumblr post (yes! I have a tumblr! It is fun!) about SFF My Little Pony Mods. And I love the mods! My Little Han Solo is great! Love the My Little Cthulu! Am totally all there for the My Little Aragorn! But I noticed that, of the fifty My Little SF Pony Mods, only nine of them are lady ponies (and two of them are Princess Leia - ANH white flowy dress and slave outfit). Nine fierce SFF presenting as women ponies, and forty-one not. Also, coincidentally, no humanoid-and-not-white ponies (Cthulu and the My Little Predator Pony don't count), except perhaps for a Klingon pony in blackface (And don't talk to me about how ponies are purple and blue and shit, you know what I mean).

That sucks, SFF. That sucks, and so does the fact that I was compiling a list of ponies I would like to see, and started to struggle a little bit. This is why I've been trying to expand my SFF, give preference to SFF where the characters are women and/or not white; mostly, I have been trying to find SFF featuring some awesome not-white-dudes. And it may not surprise you to learn that it is hard!

What I have so far read this year that fits into this category:
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, NK Jemisin
The Gaslight Dogs, Karin Lowachee
The Circle of Magic Series (four books), Tamora Pierce
Code Noir, Marianne De Pierres
The Ladies of Grace Adieu, Suzanne Clarke (this sort of fits into this category)

What I am hoping to read this year:
Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman
Herogiri, Mainak Dhar
A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, Ying Chang Compestine
The Dragon and the Stars (eds Derwin Mak and Eric Choi)

And I'd like to get my hands on a copy of the Apex Book of World SF, and So Long Been Dreaming: postcolonial Science Fiction + Fantasy, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to do so.

I read a lot of books in a year, and that I'm hopeful to hit such a small number by the end of the year says a lot, I think. It says, I don't know that many not-white-dude protagonists in SFF. It says, there are not that many not-white-dude protagonists in SFF.

I don't really have an answer to this. It's just something that bugs me.

Some reading:
The White Male Nerd & his Cult of Awesome.
Sirayn asked me to comment on John C. Wright's latest fail (warning for all kinds of gender/trans/feminist fail), and when i asked who he was, she told me he was "a multi-published Nebula finalist SF author with Tor." And I thought, gee, what a surprise, another random asshole on the internet turns out to be a highly decorated white male SFF author. It's not the genre's fault that when the general standard of male behavior often defaults to "asshole," it's going to attract a lot of red-headed stepchildren.
When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?
Critics have called alien epic Avatar a version of Dances With Wolves because it's about a white guy going native and becoming a great leader. But Avatar is just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy. Spoilers...

Whether Avatar is racist is a matter for debate. Regardless of where you come down on that question, it's undeniable that the film - like alien apartheid flick District 9, released earlier this year - is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it's a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?
Space: One More Imaginary Frontier
Not because, as she implies, SF has a long and noble tradition of AUs, which the SF tradition has taught her not to take personally, ("Men get killed all the time in comics, how is it sexist if a woman is?") but because SF has carefully cultivated a space for a myth that is steeped in racism: the frontier. Terra Nullius, the new world, the edge of the map, the discovery of new lands, all of these have been a lie for all of human history.
Shame is an essay by Pam Noles on whitewashing in SFF stories.
Dad had his own names for the movies.

What's this? 'Escape to a White Planet?
It's called 'When Worlds Collide.' I'm sure I sounded indignant.

'Mars Kills the White People.' I love this one.
Daaaaad. It says it right there. 'War of the Worlds'. I know I sighed heavily, but was careful to turn back to the tv before rolling my eyes.
And the followup; The Shame of Earthsea: A Public Response To What Some Folks Are Saying About That Essay
My identity as a black person is challenged every day in genre. But what my parents took the time to do (once they realized they couldn't do anything to cleave me from genre), was help me question why me and my kind weren't in those fantasy worlds. That question, once recognized, evolved into my finding ways to take action and claim my right to exist and participate in those worlds."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

cross-cultural superstitions

I love Chinese superstitions. Actually I love everyone's superstitions, but my own most of all. When I was a kid I was told a lot of them, and I was never sure what to believe and what not to believe. We had a rule that we weren't supposed to talk about them outside the house, because we couldn't expect the not-Chinese people to understand. Which I think is not always true, because there are many superstitions which seem to cross boundaries.

Via haohao report, I have come across this list of 31 Ridiculous Chinese Superstitions, of which I am familiar with ALL OF THEM. Oh, wait, all but one. But I leave you to guess which ones I actually believe now, it should be obvious if you know me, I think.

Tell me your superstitions, or your cultural superstitions! It's intriguing to see what superstitions cross cultural boundaries. I'd like to know why - if it echoes to something common, or if it's because of trading or colonial relationships centuries ago, or what. Like black, for example. That's pretty standard. Owls or crows indicating a death, that feels familiar for more than just Chinese stuff. I admit, particularly when my mum was pressuring me to eat all my rice, I used to wonder if the finish your rice / bad luck to play with your chopsticks stuff was just a way of imposing obedience or politeness at the dinner table.

Number 17 (Never comb your hair in front of the mirror after midnight because you might see something with a long hair from the reflection. That I mean not human.) is one of my favourites, not because I believe it but because it's creepy. You know some of the horrible Chinese creatures that could be staring out at you in that situation? CREEP TOWN.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

commitments in activism

So, here's an assumption I make in my work pretty much all the time: if I want random people to change something (I work in behaviour change), I can't just lecture them on the benefits of a meat-free diet or taking shorter showers or whatever; I have to, somehow, ask them to first a) agree with me, and then b) agree to do it.

It's called 'making a commitment,' and I used to laugh but it totally works.

Erik at made a post Animal Advocacy and The Power of Asking, and it reads like maybe he didn't know it! So I've put together a little reading list that's applicable to any activist, internet or otherwise, who is trying to make people change. I know this seems really formal and theoretical, but it's actually really applicable right down to the little things.

Commitment approaches to behaviour change can be seen in all sorts of things - buying a whatevercolorribbon is actually used as a commitment to the cause, and sometimes as a point of escalation (towards more action, more money, etc) by many charities and groups. And stakeholder commitment is considered an essential step to any organisational change, especially policy stuff.

Recommendations for behaviour change programs to reduce greenhouse impact in SA, a 2005 report written by the Conservation Council of SA. This is a broad overview of issues.

Quick Reference: Community-Based Social Marketing. CBSM is sort of the hip new thing that everyone is getting in to in behaviour change, and its premise is this: analyse people, educate people, normalise what you want them to do, then make them commit to it.

Community-Based Social Marketing as a Planning Tool, a 2002 thesis, chapters five and six in particular.

And one from outside the enviro/sustainability sphere:

Commitment to Change Instrument Enhances Program Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation, The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 2004.

So it basically boils down to this: give them something specific to do. Then get them to say it, written or whatever. It helps.

linkies of local stuff

"local" hee

Here are some links about things going on in Australia:

Aged care forcing gays 'back into the closet': Australia's homosexual population is being sorely neglected when it comes to aged care, according to new research.

Trans death in custody: inquiry demanded

A different indigenous death in custody: Aboriginal Legal Service 'flabbergasted' by death in custody decision

Deep in the heart of Adelaide with Tony Zappia, on street corner politics.

Is Mining Truly Good For Indigenous People?

Sleepless in Canberra, written pre-spill, on Rudd being a workaholic.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

white not whatever

When I was younger, I used to laugh at all the skin-lightening ads I saw. I still remember them, the close up of a Malay or Chinese woman, her hair shiny, and her skin light, and the green bottle, or the white bottle. I remember them in magazines and on bus shelters and sometimes on tv.

I used to laugh because this was another segmented aspect of my life - yet another thing that was part of my Malaysian life and not part of my Australian life, because I'd only see them in magazines in Malaysia, on bus shelters in Penang.

As a light-skinned Chinese woman living in Australia, I feel the pressure to be light-skinned at exactly the same time as I feel the pressure to be tanned. As a woman I'm more beautiful if I'm tanned! (also perhaps more attractive and fit? beachy-sporty-Australian-culture and all that) But my word, those dirty Asians, migrating here and blah blah blah. Like Carmen says in Ethnics, Ethnics, EVERYWHERE:
We really can’t win, can we? When we try and integrate by having the same interests and hobbies, maybe marrying or having kids with white people, we’re “taking over”, but when we try and stay out of it, set up schools to not tread on the toes of state school education or put adverts on dating sites for Asians only, we’re “not integrating”. Make your bloody minds up FFS or fuck off back to your imaginary white island.
Never be white enough to not be a horrible foreigner or an exotic Asian woman; never be tanned enough to be beautiful; there are so many intersections here sometimes I don't know where to start to explain. How can I explain why it is this way? It doesn't mean I want to lighten my skin or darken my skin, but these messages, they're just always there and always make me want to roll my eyes until they fall out of my face.

Or something.

So there's a facebook app to lighten your skin in profile pics:

Vaseline launches skin-whitening Facebook tool for India
In 2009, a poll of nearly 12,000 people by online dating site, revealed that skin tone was considered the most important criteria when choosing a partner in three northern Indian states.
AND WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS, EXACTLY? I don't know where to start. I don't know where to START.

WELL, I DO. COLONIALISM AND MISOGYNY, THAT'S WHERE. And then maybe we'll talk about appropriation again later.

Friday, July 2, 2010

dear sbs

Dear SBS,

Souvlaki to star power, the changing face of SBS
THEY have made sense of Inspector Rex and Ingmar Bergman, translated Mongolian yak herders and Zulu warriors. But it seems the show will soon be over for SBS's internationally acclaimed subtitling unit.

News that 10 members, or one-third of the unit, will soon be made redundant has been greeted with disbelief by staff and viewers, who see it as one more step in the Anglicising of Australia's once proud multicultural broadcaster.
SBS, you have always been my favourite. When I see that the translation on the thing I am about to watch was done by you, I have faith that it will be an accurate translation, both linguistically and of intent. I know that when I turn to you, I will get to see non-Anglo faces, hear non-Anglo words, regardless of whether I can understand them or not. I know that you will give me things that are difficult to find in our Anglo-monoculture.

When I was tiny, you gave me Akira, and the Ninja Scrolls, and all those Chinese Ghost Stories; as I grew older, you gave me news in languages I was learning, and Inspector Rex, and movies that allowed my mother to use languages she'd spoken well before she'd learnt English. Now that I am grown(ish), I don't watch you so much, but you're my first stop when I'm buying movies in languages I don't speak. I want to give you money for these things, to support you in these endeavours, because the things you give us back are so important; by which I mean, translating the world for Australia, ensuring that those of us from non-Anglo cultures can share ourselves with our friends, or ensuring that we can learn about and access cultures not of our own, and not of Anglo-ness.

If I wanted to watch that other stuff, I'd turn to some other station.

SBS, I am going to miss your awesomeness. Sorry it had to end this way.

All the best,
A Penguin