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Chinese Linguistics

This semester I’m taking a class on Chinese Linguistics, and it’s one of the more interesting and useful classes I’ve ever taken. I really wish I could have taken it when I started learning Chinese, because suddenly, a lot of things that seemed random suddenly make sense. This post probably won’t interest anyone unless you like linguistics or speak Chinese, but one of my favorite things about learning Chinese is discovering all the weird ways that it makes sense, even though it seems pretty arbitrary.

For example, “this” and “that” in Chinese are “这” and “那”. But sometimes, even most of the time, you’ll hear people pronounce them as “zhei” or “nei”. I thought that it was just kind of a weird accent, lots of people in Chinese have accents and nobody really pronounces things exactly how they sound on textbook CD’s. But that’s not the case! It actually makes so much sense, because “zhei” and “nei” are just shortened versions of “这一” and “那一” (zhe yi and na yi), meaning “this one” and “that one”. It’s a little thing, but it makes so much more sense now.

If you’ve ever written a paper in Chinese, you’ve hopefully used the great trick of mentioning someone or something with a really long name, and then instead of just using a pronoun, write out the whole name as often as possible to help bring up the character count. Maybe not everyone does that, but I do that. And if you haven’t done it, that’s the way to go when You’ve also probably noticed that if you do this you don’t ever get called out for it. Apparently, that’s because Chinese speakers tend to use third person pronouns a lot less than English speakers do, and it’s totally normal to just say the full name all the time. I never noticed before, but now that I’ve been told this, it’s really noticeable every time I read something in Chinese.

There are a lot of other small things that I found interesting, which I won’t go into here becasue this post would be really long otherwise. I would really encourage everyone learning Chinese, or any second language, to take a linguistics class specific to that language, it uncovers a lot of connections that were unclear before, and helps make sense of all the things about language that seem really arbitrary.

Start of the semester post!

Obviously, it’s the start of the semester which seems like a good time to post and talk about some (okay, only one) of the fabulous international clubs that OU offers. I’m talking about Chinese Language club, the best club there is if you want to practice speaking Chinese and go to cool China-themed events. I’ve been trying to get more involved with CLC this year, so I volunteered to table at the involvement fair and talked to some super cool freshmen who joined our mailing list (Probably some GEF’s in there!). I also became secretary for the club, which is pretty exciting.

This semester we’re hoping to host some small, inexpensive events in addition to the usual Moon Festival and Chinese New Year celebrations, specifically a movie night and language practice sessions. If you’re up for free food and learning about Chinese language and culture (or just watching a movie!), we have cool events for you! I’m really excited to see how Chinese Language Club takes shape this semester because it really does tend to be just a little bit different every year. I really hope it goes well now that I’m partially responsible for how things turn out. I’m especially excited for the Moon Festival celebration, which will be on or near September 15th. I haven’t been able to attend the last few years due to crazy practice schedules and then going abroad, and I want to see what it’s all about! Plus there will be moon cakes, which are delicious.

Here’s to a great semester, everyone!

Chinese New Year in the U.S.

One of the things that disappointed me most about studying abroad fall semester father than spring was the fact that I did not get to experience the lunar New Year in China. However, I did get to do the second best thing, which was attend the Chinese New Year celebration with the Chinese Language Club. First of all, let me apologize for being so late. Chinese New Year was 3 months ago or something, but I haven’t had time to write about it.

Before the celebration, some of went to our teacher’s house to help her make jiaozi (dumplings) to serve at the celebration. I’ve made jiaozi before, but it is always a fun activity. Particularly when incredible Chinese teachers who have backyard chickens are involved. This year, we also made some fun jiaozi that looked like bai cai (I think that’s bok choy?) by rolling together plain dough and dough that was colored green with crushed up spinach. Even though I didn’t get to spend the Spring Festival in China, I still got a little bit of taste of how much work Chinese families put into preparing meals for it. Our teacher had already made the dough and filling when we arrived, as well as prepared several other dishes, and we were there for several hours just wrapping the jiaozi.

The actual celebration went really well. Everyone loved the jiaozi (how could they not?), and there was a lot of Chinese candy. There were games like Chinese chess and Majiang, which nobody knew how to play. Apparently, all the people in Chinese Language Club who know how to play Majiang graduated last year. There was also a presentation on the history and mythology behind Chinese New Year. Even though I’ve gone through countless Chinese class presentations on Chinese New Year, I still didn’t know all of the stories that were talked about. Just about everything that Chinese people do on the New Year has meaning behind it. For example, fireworks and the color red are so popular due to a legend involving a demon/dragon creature named Nian. (Nian also means year). On the first day of the year, Nian would attack the villages, eating any crops, livestock, and people who remained outside. The villagers lived in fear, until they learned that Nian feared bright colors and loud noises. To this day, people wear red, set off fireworks, and celebrate loudly to ward off Nian. Chinese New Year is also a time for a lot of interesting Chinese puns. People eat fish for the New Year, because “Year after year have fish” sounds like “Year after year have excess” in Chinese (nian nian you yu). People will also hang signs with the Chinese word for luck (fu) upside down on their doors, because the word for “upside down” sounds the same as the word for “to arrive”, so “luck upside down” (fu dao le) sounds like “luck has arrived” (also fu dao le). There are a lot more interesting Chinese New Year customs that I don’t have time to talk about at the moment, but perhaps another Chinese New Year post can happen next year.

Chinese Maoist Cinema Roundtable

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about Chinese Cinema, which is why going to a talk on Maoist cinema seemed like a good idea. The talk was meant for Zhu Laoshi’s Chinese Cinema class, which I’m not in, but the event was open to anyone who was interested. Three speakers presented at the roundtable. The first was a Chinese major student at OU who presented on Maoist badges, which he has collected on his trips to China. I didn’t know anything about Maoist badges, or even that they existed, so his presentation was quite interesting. These badges are apparently quite common in antique stores in China, and they come in an infinite variety of forms. Most are made from metal and are fairly nondescript, but several of the badges in his collection were of ceramic, hand-painted, glow-in-the-dark, or other unique varieties. Maoist badges are interesting as just as an artifact, but become even more interesting when you think about the history and culture that goes along with them. Unfortunately, I’m not the expert on Chinese history and culture I wish I was, and this talk (particularly my lack of knowledge that these badges even exist) made me a bit more aware of that.

The other two speakers were guests, one from the University of Michigan and one from Hamilton College. Both gave very good talks on various aspects of Maoist cinema. One was based on a film that the students in the Chinese Cinema course had watched. I hadn’t seen the film, so I had a hard time following what was going on. As far as I could tell, the point was that a lot of Maoist cinema is quite melodramatic, with overdone emotions and ridiculously unlikely plot lines. It also tends to glorify the Chinese and the communist party. The final talk was much more accessible, since it was assumed that nobody had watched the films in question. It was concerned with Chinese comedies from 1959 to 1963. In that time period, the official attitude towards comedies and film in general changed several times, which affected what movies were made. Higher degrees of artistic freedom were granted at times when people began to resent the communist leadership, and was restricted again as soon as people began to produce art that portrayed the leadership in a negative way. Very few comedies came out of this period, since the social landscape was so chaotic, but the comedies that were produced became very popular. Many of them subverted the acceptable attitudes toward Mao and his army, but did so in subtle and funny ways, so as to escape official disapproval but still criticize the government. Again, I don’t know as much about Chinese History as I wish I did, but it was really interesting to see how fast the political and social landscape changed under Mao. Overall, the roundtable was a lot of fun; I learned a few things about Chinese cinema and Chinese history, and realized that I should probably do some more research before I go to China next semester.

Chinese Language Club

Hi again! I still exist! Clearly, I’m not doing very well on my goal of one post per week. Nor am I doing too well on many of my other goals. But one thing I am doing well at is getting more involved in international clubs, particularly the Chinese Language Club. I was a bit afraid to try and become really involved in any clubs first semester, because I was afraid of over-committing myself. Then this semester, I believed, for some reason, that it would be awkward to try and join any clubs because I hadn’t been in them first semester and everyone else would already know each other and not want to talk to me, or something like that. Luckily, this definitely wasn’t the case.

My first experience with the CLC was at a Chinese New Year event, where my friend from Chinese class and I learned to play Ma Jiang with the president of CLC. The Chinese New Year event was so fun that I decided to go to a few language practice meetings hosted by the CLC in the library. The meetings were basically Chinese Corner with more people and no professor, and it was a lot of fun. We spoke a lot of Chinese, I learned (and promptly forgot) everyone’s Chinese names, and I got to know a few of the CLC officers. They’re all really cool, and very good at speaking Chinese. They’re also all graduating soon, leaving the future of the CLC uncertain. Although I’ll be in China next semester (It’s actually happening! I have official paperwork to do and everything!), I’d really like to run for an officer position when I get back, so I can have an active role in making sure that the CLC stays alive and well.

AP U.S. History

This post isn’t really international in nature, but I think it’s still important to write about. Recently, the Oklahoma House Committee on Education approved a bill that would cut all government funding for AP United States History courses, essentially removing AP U.S. History from public high schools in Oklahoma. Supporters of this bill say that AP U.S. History is “anti-American” and emphasizes the negative aspects of American history, rather than painting American historical figures in a positive light. The bill’s main supporter, state representative Dan Fischer, said in a committee hearing that the AP US History curriculum “trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of Constitutional government in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” according to a CNN report. The bill also proposed a curriculum for a replacement U.S. History course, which emphasized the documents important in laying out the ideal values of American democracy. AP U.S. History has sparked controversy in other parts of the country as well. In my home state of Colorado, student and teacher protests were sparked when the Jefferson County school board mentioned plans to change it’s district’s AP U.S. History classes to be more favorable to the U.S..

The AP U.S. History controversy brings up a lot of issues regarding education. I think we would all agree that “education” as an abstract idea is a good thing. We’re always talking about how education can pull somebody out of poverty, or how education can promote peace. But we have to think about what exactly education is. What exactly is it that we are being educated about? Historically, governments have used education as a tool to advance their agendas and beliefs. For example, the other day in one of my classes, we were looking at a math test from a school in Nazi Germany. The word problems on the test were pretty straightforward – simple multiplication and division – yet they still advanced a political agenda. The first question asked students to calculate how much money was used to care for mentally and physically disabled people in government institutions. The next question asked them to find how many houses could be built with this money. Though the questions were simple mathematically, they were still subtly telling students that money spent caring for those unable to support themselves could be spent for the more useful purpose of building houses, thus making students more likely to accept discrimination against, or even elimination of, people in government funded institutions.

The influence of an AP U.S. History course is even less subtle than this. What we learn in a history course forms our belief of what actually happened in the past, which in term influences what we will do in the future. Ask anyone why learning history is important, and the go-to answer is always “so that we can learn from our mistakes”. The AP U.S. History curriculum is being criticized for it’s emphasis on the United States’ mistakes, but isn’t that the point? Aren’t we supposed to learn about our mistakes so that we don’t make the same ones again? Yes, I agree that it’s important to learn about the positives as well, about the democratic ideals that made this country distinct, but those ideals aren’t the only aspect of our collective past. Maybe our history isn’t quite as pretty as we want it to be

Goals for Second Semester

I’ve finished the first week of second semester, and now seems like a good time to quickly lay out some of my goals (mostly the Global Engagement related ones) in writing.

1. Go to more international events. This semester, crew practice is going to be in the morning instead of the evening, so I have no excuse to miss all the meetings and fun events that go on between 5:30 and 8:30 pm. In particular, I want to go to Chinese Corner more often, which should be possible since Chinese Corner will actually be twice a week this semester.

2. Join the Chinese Language Club. The first meeting is this Wednesday (in the evening of course – if this was last semester I wouldn’t have been able to go), and I will definitely be there.

3. Finish applying for study abroad and scholarships well before the deadline. Not 10 minutes before the deadline, WELL BEFORE THE DEADLINE!!!!

4. Talk to my OU Cousin more. She’s really cool and I’d like to be less antisocial than I was last semester. Plus she speaks and texts me in Chinese, so I can practice my language skills.

5. Volunteer as an ESL tutor. I’ve emailed both Norman Public Schools and the Norman public library, and I’m sure at least one of those options will work for me. I don’t have a car but I am 100% willing to run, walk, or bike to anything reasonably close!

6. Think of some more creative and interesting posts. These long list posts get old after about the first one. I made a really fun video about OU Cousins for the Global Engagement class last semester, so I might try to do some more of those. I also want to have some more pictures on here, since right now I have exactly zero. I’ve been told that I don’t take or share enough pictures, so maybe that can change. I might also try to do some random posts about international news or interesting TED talks.

7. Post something on this blog at least once a week. If I do everything above, I should have plenty to talk about.

First Post!

Hi everybody! This is Louise at the University of Oklahoma. The point of this blog is to track my progress through OU’s Global Engagement Fellowship and beyond. The goal of the Global Engagement Fellowship is exactly what you might expect – to encourage global participation and engagement at the University of Oklahoma. The program helps students become engaged through language learning, study abroad, and engagement with international groups on campus. This year, I’m a freshman in the Global Engagement Fellowship program. I’ll be using this blog to document all of my exciting international experiences and travels over the next four years, and hopefully even after I graduate!