Free Speech

USC "Casting Insult Toward the Chinese Language"

More on the Mandarin "neige" controversy.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

[UPDATE: I have posted what appears to be a copy of the letter, which strikes me as very effective.]

From the L.A. Times (Nina Agrawal), also echoed in (un-paywalled) Newsweek, based on a (paywalled) L.A. Times article, about the controversy I mentioned here:

This week a group of nearly 100 USC alumni, most of whom are Chinese by ethnicity or nationality, wrote to the school's administration in support of their professor, saying his use of the Mandarin word for "that" was accurate and "an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses."

The alumni said they were "deeply disappointed that the spurious charge has the additional feature of casting insult toward the Chinese language, the most spoken in the world, and characterized it and its usage as vile."

"We feel Marshall should be open to diversity in all areas," they wrote..

I haven't seen the alumni letter; if anyone can point me to it, I'd be much obliged. My personal objection here isn't to the "insult toward the Chinese language" as such; it's to USC's treating some students' objection to hearing the word as a sound criticism and a reason to apologize. Instead, USC should have recognized this as the students' error—an error USC, as an educational institution, should strive to correct—stemming from lack of understanding about how people should perceive speech in foreign languages.

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  1. Good for the alumni.

  2. “Micro-aggressions” cut in many directions. Apparently one does not not need so much intelligence to be a university administrator. Only excess wokeness is required.

    1. Not really. There’s a racial hierarchy among the woke. The preferred races can be intentionally mean to the non-preferred races. Micro-aggressions are only considered bad when committed by lower tiers against higher ones. The top has no responsibility to avoid micro-aggressions.

      1. And it’s explicit. “Punch up” implies the existence of a hierarchy, and that offense given of even violence performed in the approved direction is not merely accepted, but lauded.

        1. “And it’s explicit. “Punch up” implies the existence of a hierarchy,”

          And it’s a terrible analogy. In real life, there’s a very good reason not to “punch up.” In wokish, not so much.

    2. My micro-aggressions identify as a laser sword. They cut a lot of things.

  3. “My personal objection here isn’t to the “insult toward the Chinese language” as such; it’s to USC’s treating some students’ objection to hearing the word as a sound criticism…”

    Por que no los dos?

    1. I mean, the Dean’s actions here are a very slightly more highbrow version of the blond girl claiming that Asians at UCLA are always saying “ching chong ding dong” on their cell phones in the library.

    2. “Por que no los doe?”
      Because the incident at hand might not exactly involve “insulting a language”; that sounds like a pretty strong charge.
      .
      “Insulting a language” and the culture surrounding it might be a fair characterization of the tradition of Hollywood westerns in which the speech of the natives is pretty much limited to How, Ugh, and pidginized sentences. Or old-time Hollywood mockeries of immigrants groups and their languages, including, of course, Chinese.
      So before we label this as “insulting the language” we might want a little more definition around that term. But indeed, if the charge against Mandarin is that its grammar is such that the speaker just can’t avoid saying the n-word all the time — a charge which is almost true, because the word in question, “neige” is pretty much equivalent to English “that” as in, “that one”, “that man”, “that house” — and that therefore the language itself is offensive, then yes, then that is one serious over-the-top criticism of a language and the people who speak it.
      So, while EV writes that it’s about “treating some students’ objection to hearing the word as a sound criticism”, we might say that it is so far from any possibly sound criticism, that giving it any credence at all is an insult.

      1. Imagine a person who said that he was offended by hearing someone speaking Chinese because it sounded like the speaker was calling him a ding-dong.

        The students who claimed that they were offended, and their enabler in the Dean’s office, were doing the same thing.

        1. I don’t know why Hanlon’s razor shouldn’t apply (cringingly) to the students and maybe even (more cringingly) to the Dean. But not to Blond Library Girl.

      2. Ahh I remember the good old days when they first released lists of words Thou Shouldn’t Say, because, though etymologically there’s no problems, but they could sound offensive to the ignoranti. Like “jigsaw”. There’s a word for such picayune fussiness in the exact same vein as the story, but nobody gets hot and bothered about sound offenses to the English language.

        Interesting. Is a sound criticism sound criticism?

  4. Foreign languages shouldn’t be taught at college or in high school. The dumbest person in Mexico can speak better Spanish than my Phi Beta Kappa friend that studied Spanish in a top ranked Spanish department. The dude that carried my luggage in Cabo spoke enough English to tell me where to procure marijuana.

    1. S.C.
      That is a completely stupid comment. I could read German fluently 30 years after studying the language in high school. You have generalized from the case of a single case of a person who is deficient in language abilities.

      1. I can read French without ever having taken any type of course on French. The fact the dumbest person in Mexico can speak Spanish and the typical Cabo bellhop can speak English means studying foreign languages in college is stupid. Learning Latin still makes sense but universities should get rid of their foreign language departments ASAP.

        1. You actually make no sense at all with you arguments and present no real evidence. You’re not worth a conversation. And you clearly do not understand the rationale for university departments in any language.

          1. Why can a 10 year old in an immersion school speak better than 22 year old college graduate that took 2 years of the same foreign language?? Can the 10 year old do calculus like the college graduate??

            1. You need to learn languages before puberty.
              I honestly don’t know why.

              1. Because it obviously has nothing to do with intelligence or classroom learning…which is why the dumbest person in Mexico can speak Spanish.

              2. Same reason you don’t remember your early childhood, but can remember clearly incidents from college when you’re in your 60’s: Not long after puberty your brain undergoes a change that drastically reduces neural plasticity.

                The down side is that you have considerably more trouble learning new things. The upside is that you stop forgetting things you don’t frequently use. Think of it as being switched from learning mode to operational mode: Evolution assumes that you’re going to have acquired every skill you’ll ever need by the time you’re 20, and the important thing is that you don’t lose them again.

          2. You’re not thinking at all about what he said.

            All around the world, kids learn languages and speak them fluently, while college kids in other countries spend years and never learn the same languages anywhere near as well.

            Try thinking about it for a second instead of your knee-jerk reaction that it is nonsense.

            1. The notion that we learn languages more easily at earlier ages is rather obvious. But I do not see what that has to do with teaching languages in college.

              The actual “language instruction” part of the curriculum usually only lasts one year. After that, the focus is more on literature and culture.

              Why is it a bad thing to give people the opportunity to gain a reasonable degree of fluency in a foreign language where they did not have that opportunity before? Moreover, where they did take the opportunity to learn a language at an earlier age, they can skip they instructional-level prerequisites and move straight into the literature and culture courses.

              1. Apparently many universities have been dropping foreign language requirements and departments now that the enrollment boom is on the downside…I guess I just happened to go to college at the wrong time and at a school in which the foreign language requirement was seen as a very positive thing.

    2. What do you call a person who can speak three languages? Trilingual.
      What do you call a person who can speak two languages? Bilingual.
      What do you call a person who can only speak one language? An American.

      1. Exactly, I worked with women from Holland that spoke multiple languages and they weren’t geniuses. In fact one spoke English without an accent and often strangers would come away from a interaction thinking she was an imbecile because they didn’t realize she was a foreigner.

        1. You really are confused about the difference between simple conversational facility and the ability to read difficult text and write without errors or even write credible literature. And how you jump from that to “abolish departments” is a mystery.

          1. Teaching foreign languages has a place in society just not in American universities. Furthermore, if I were to learn Swahili and attempt to write a book in Swahili I would be accused of cultural appropriation and I would be cancelled.

            1. I don’t know what you’re smoking. But I want me some of that.

              1. Immersion schools exist because wealthy Americans realized college is too late to learn French. The reality is you can learn any language at any age if you really need to learn it…Americans just rarely need to learn another language because generally the foreign language people really need to learn is English which Americans already know!?! Immersion schools for wealthy families are great but many kids in Tijuana also probably grow up bilingual and it apparently isn’t a recipe for success.

      2. Of course, here in metro D.C., if I wanted to speak everyone I meet’s language, I’d have to know 20 or 30.

    3. “Sebastian Cremmington…Foreign languages shouldn’t be taught at college or in high school.”

      Lol I guess we know Dean Garrett’s internet handle.

  5. It’s time for the dean to take out the chart and look at the rankings to see whose outrage is woker than the others’.

    And the other chart which looks at how much the complaining alumni tend to contribute to the University.

    Balancing these key educational factors, the Dean should make a proper decision.

  6. All minorities are equal, but some minorities are more equal than others

  7. The “insult to the Chinese language” idea is just another group trying to use the cult’s nostrums to try to shield the professor from the cult tribunal’s judgement. I don’t think it will work. The woke see efforts to protect anyone from their wrath as a sign of heresy. The Chinese students should be careful.

  8. I also think this whole thing is dumb.

    But the prof seems to think it’s a good put.

    Patton denied intentionally mispronouncing the Chinese word and offered “another deep apology for the discomfort and pain that I have caused members of our Community.” He added that “While no derogatory or racial slur was or has even been used, and the example was framed as from China and in Chinese, and although my intent has been and always will be 100 positive towards every student, I recognize that I need to get better. And I will continue to learn from, partner with and grow together with my students in continually working to create a more perfect learning environment.”

    I dunno. Maybe I’m not figuring all I should about what’s going on here.

    1. It’s not that difficult to figure out what’s going on here. A man’s professional and personal reputation, and possibly his career and livelihood is being threatened by an ignorant mob enabled by a similarity ignorant Dean, and he’s doing what he can to minimize the damage, including issuing the requisite apology and groveling.

      1. They’re not the least bit ignorant. They all know exactly what they are doing and exactly how unjustified it is.

        Being facially unjust and making up facially ridiculous rules is to show who wields power and that the power is above and beyond facts, truth, and any judgement that values anything beside wokeness.

        1. Exactly.

          Right on down to George Floyd who “couldn’t breathe” because his lungs were full of fluid — pulmonary edema. According to the pathologist, they weighed “2-3 times what they should have.”

          What we didn’t know in May is that the Wuhan COVID virus can cause pulmonary edema, and Floyd not only told the cops he was recovering from it but tested positive for it.

          Essentially, the man drowned. And that doesn’t fit into the narrative, does it?

          1. You should go somewhere else with made up stories about news events. That’s not even the topic here.

            Even if he did have a separate condition and it weren’t 100% made up bullshit, the police are still the ones who committed the aggressive act that led to him dying. If you did what they did, you’d be on trial. And if the facts were what you say, you’d lose.

            1. Even if? From Hennepin County report:
              No injuries of anterior muscles of neck or laryngeal
              structures
              C. No scalp soft tissue, skull, or brain injuries
              D. No chest wall soft tissue injuries, rib fractures (other
              than a single rib fracture from CPR), vertebral column
              injuries, or visceral injuries
              E. Incision and subcutaneous dissection of posterior and
              lateral neck, shoulders, back, flanks, and buttocks
              negative for occult trauma
              VI. Toxicology (see attached report for full details; testing
              performed on antemortem blood specimens collected 5/25/20 at
              9:00 p.m. at HHC and on postmortem urine)
              A. Blood drug and novel psychoactive substances screens:
              1. Fentanyl 11 ng/mL
              2. Norfentanyl 5.6 ng/mL
              3. 4-ANPP 0.65 ng/mL
              4. Methamphetamine 19 ng/mL
              5. 11-Hydroxy Delta-9 THC 1.2 ng/mL;
              Delta-9 Carboxy THC 42 ng/mL; Delta-9 THC 2.9 ng/mL
              6. Cotinine positive
              7. Caffeine positive
              B. Blood volatiles: negative for ethanol, methanol,
              isopropanol, or acetone
              C. Urine drug screen: presumptive positive for cannabinoids,
              amphetamines, and fentanyl/metabolite
              D. Urine drug screen confirmation: morphine (free) 86 ng/mL

              Plenty of other factors. Chauvin likely should should have checked his vitals, he may have contributed to his death. It’s easy to armchair quarterback; you sound like that Smawley jamoke, commenting on Skenazy’s story about the sketchy WA sting when there was no crime. Reading minds, presuming to know intent, this isn’t how presumed innocent works. And contributing to Floyd’s death is not the same as killing him, or murder.

              Off-topic, but the bias, refusal to accept facts that don’t fit w/ the belief, looks similar.

              1. Not interested. Don’t kneel on someone’s neck for periods of time and you won’t have to try to sell [whatever] as a murder defense.

                If you push someone down the stairs and, instead of getting bruised, they die because they have brittle bone disease, it’s murder. He was fragile is why you shouldn’t be reckless and violent.

        2. They’re not the least bit ignorant.

          They’re not ignorant about what they’re doing here. I suspect that does not carry very far.

      2. I’m sure that, given his familiarity with Chinese culture, he knows how the Red Guards treated insufficiently woke professors during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and he’s trying to avoid that fate.

    2. “But the prof seems to think it’s a good put.”

      Lol. Yeah, so did Tituba. Seriously, Sarcastro, they’ve broken you.

    3. Y’all think the prof isn’t being sincere.
      Maybe he is indeed saying whatever to save his job.
      Maybe he legit believes what he’s saying, and that’s dumb.
      Maybe there is something pedagogical going on here.

      Regardless, I think it’s nontrivial bit of information to add to this picture.

      I tend to agree with the folks here that think this is dumb and bad and silly.
      But I don’t think my knee not jerking makes me broken.

      1. “Y’all think the prof isn’t being sincere. Maybe he is indeed saying whatever to save his job.
        …Regardless, I think it’s nontrivial bit of information to add to this picture.”

        It’s possible that the professor is mouthing a bigoted position in order to save his job. It’s also possible that the Chinese-speaking
        professor suddenly turned into a bigot in response to this controversy. It doesn’t really matter.

        But Sarcastro, the Dean and maybe now the professor are claiming that speaking Chinese is offensive.

        Surely you’re not claiming that this is anything other than a straight-up bigoted position, right Sarcastro?

        Because Dean Garrett, the complaining students, maybe the professor, maybe Sarcastro, and anybody else who thinks that speaking Chinese is offensive, ought to just put on the hoods and go to the meetings.

      2. Nobody in history who has said “I recognize that I need to get better” has ever been sincere unless he or she was talking about recovery from covid.

        1. I’ve heard it on the left a decent amount.

          Virtue signaling perhaps, but not ridiculous.

          The question is, even assuming this is sincere, does it matter at all? I’m not sure it does.

        2. Nobody? You personally know every person who has stated this? Mindreaders and those that presume to know the intent of others are fascinating in their biases.

    4. I would not apologize here. The Dean is racist and kowtowed to racist students who felt offended solely because they think Chinese people talk funny.

      The Dean needs to be called on hi racism.

      Black students should not apologize for the offense they “cause” racist white students by sitting in the front of the bus. Same here. To apologize to racist trolls is to feed them. It only encourages more trolling.

    5. Maybe I’m not figuring all I should about what’s going on here.

      Why don’t you read up about the Cultural Revolution in China, 1966-76. That ought to enlighten you about “what’s going on here.”

      1. Yeah, this isn’t that.

  9. Once you’ve had some training and experience, it’s easy and not very painful to crank out apologies like that. On the other hand, finding another job in that field is not easy and quite painful if the first thing Google shows is that you were fired for racism. Even worse if you’ve got a spouse that doesn’t want to move to another city.

    The guy wasn’t trying to make some point of high principle, and wasn’t looking to be a Hero of Academic Freedom. He was just giving a routine example in class that blew up in his face, and he probably just wants this to go away. If grovel theater is what it takes, why not?

    1. Sorry, that was a response to Sarcastr0.

    2. There is no job for Hero of Academic Freedom. Best you can hop for is an early retirement funded by a lucrative lawsuit.

      1. Jimmy, eventually the tide is going to turn. It has to.

        I look at the Northeastern University 11 and wonder why any foreign student would want to come to America.

        I look at this and wonder why any Asian student would.

        And I;’ve long wondered why any American goes to college anymore.

        1. The Chinese student wants to come here because if he doesn’t, he and his whole extended family will disappear. When the Communist Chinese Government says “Go to America and spy for us, “no” is not a good response.

          1. Sure, call all Chinese students are spies.

            Not racist at all.

  10. The problem is that Americans do not seem to be able to do much of anything in moderation; it’s always one extreme or another. I doubt many here would want to go back to the days of Jim Crow and other open racism, but we have replaced that by going to the other extreme in which any accusation of racism, be the interpretation ever so tenuous, and regardless of intention, can destroy someone’s life. The idea that there might be a medium happy point doesn’t occur.

    And that’s true of other areas as well. Once upon a time children were essentially the chattel property of their parents; so long as a parent didn’t actually murder a child, they could do pretty much anything else, including beatings, neglect, abandonment and other nasty things. So, we’re now at the opposite extreme in which any disagreement between a parent and a social worker will result in a judge ruling for the social worker. Again, the idea of a happy medium between the two extremes simply escapes us. Sex offender registries are another example: Someone who raped multiple children should not be allowed to quietly move next door to a school without anyone knowing it, but neither should a college student who gets drunk and pees in public have his life ruined over it.

    And I think that would be a solution to a lot of our problems: Trying to find a happy middle rather than insisting on extremism at one end or the other.

    1. Amen.

      Although, I’m a little more optimistic about the broad middle of the political spectrum. I think there are a lot of reasonable people in the middle. They just tend to keep their heads down and mouths shut, because they aren’t zealots; they are just trying to quietly raise their families and live their lives. We should perhaps do a little more ignoring of the people on both tails of the distribution.

      I remember the days when elections were between, say, a Nelson Rockefeller and a Hubert Humphrey. You’d do your research, figure out which you thought was best, and vote accordingly. But when you got up the next morning, you didn’t dread opening the paper to find out who had won, because things were going to be OK no matter which one got the job. We seem to be squeezing the centrists out of politics.

  11. Consider the following theory.

    Dean Garrett, an anti-Chinese racist, wanted to create a hostile environment for Chinese students and faculty and to discourage prospective ones from applying. So he set out looking for an ordinary and regularly used word of the Chinese language he could pretend to find offensive, to instill fear in Chinese students and send a clear message of their not being welcome. The sole purpose of his collaboration and conspiracy with a group of allied racist students was to perpetuate this racist scheme.

    He was clever. And he was a clever racist, he looked for a situation where a white professor would say the word, and where black students would pretend to be offended by it.

    But it was all pretext, and transparent pretext at that. If white students had complained that Chinese-speaking people had called them ding-dings or similar, he knew that nobody would ever take his pretense of indignation as anything other than abject racism. But by taking advantage of the current atmosphere of “wokeness” — by searching out for a white professor and black students – gave him a cover by which he hope that others might take him seriously, enabling him to take advantage of the confusion to perpetrate subjecting a disfavored minority to an abjectly racist hostile environment while pretending, cynically, to be anti-racist.

    I think if Dean Garrett were brought to justice a jury might very well accept this theory. The whole purpose of the incident is to stigmatize the Chinese language and instill fear in Chinese students, putting them on clear notice that if they ate so foolish as to attend UNC and are caught speaking their native language, they can at any moment be subjected to hate and harsh “discipline” under a pretext of anti-racism.

  12. “Casting insult”??

    A casting insult was when Stanley Kubrick offered the role of Humbert Humbert to Cary Grant.

    1. Funny, but mocking ESL speakers is shitty.

  13. Consider the following theory.

    Dean Garrett, an anti-Chinese racist, wanted to create a hostile environment for Chinese students and faculty and to discourage prospective ones from applying. So he set out looking for an ordinary and regularly used word of the Chinese language that he could pretend to find offensive, to instill fear in Chinese students and send a clear message of their not being welcome. The sole purpose of his collaboration and conspiracy with a group of allied anti-Chinese racist students was to perpetrate this racist scheme.

    He was clever. As a clever racist, looked for a situation where a white professor would say the word, and where black studemts would pretemd to be offended by it.

    But it was all pretext, and transparent pretext at that. If white students had complained that Chinese-speaking people had called them ding-dings or simillar, he knew that nobody would take a pretense of being offended as anything other than abject racism. But he thought taking advantage of the current atmosphere of “wokeness” – searching for a white professor and using racist black students as his partners in crime – would give him a cover bywhich he could hope that others would take him seriously, enabling him to take advantage of the ensuing moral confusion and others’ moral slumber to perpetrate subjecting a disfavored minority to an abjectly hostile environment while pretending, cynically, to be anti-racist.

    I think that if Dean Garrett were brough to justice a jury might well accept this theory. The whole purpose of the incident was to stigmatize Chinese students and put them in fear, giving them clear notice that if they are so foolish as to attend USC, a more favored racial group is entitled to subject anything it wants about them – even speaking ordinary words of theri native language – to a fit of racist pique, subjecting them not just to hate but to harsh official school discipline, under an Orwellian pretext of anti-racism.

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