Monday, August 24, 2015

通用奶茶 We all scream for ice cream!

I wonder if calling it 通用話 or 通用語言 might capture the spirit of the enterprise a little more, and sidestep some of the political friction from nationalist 國語 or classist 普通話 choices. (Great for constructing societies, maybe not so hot in the modern era where we lack consensus on "the nation" or disagree on promoting class conflict as a mode of revolutionary change. ‪#‎politics‬)

Of course, people who use the words 國語 or 普通話 might not see these particular connotations, because the usage of the phrases is so common/widespread 普遍 in their own societies. But upon closer inspection, the current choice of what we call our language does raise an eyebrow.

If we care about 正名 (or the "rectification of names"), then in terms of defining a mission of language and urging its acceptance among populations who do not currently speak it, we should focus on its applicability, utility, and ability to serve as a means of communication—not on its nation-building 建國 character.

We may also prefer using the name of our language to elevate discourse, not as a tool for fighting class battles. "Common," as in "common tongue" in English, has a uniting character, i.e. what we have "in common" with each other. It contrasts with 普通 "common; ordinary; plain; average" which could be interpreted as emphasizing an elite-commoner divide, and in regular usage feels "pedestrian."

華語 is okay too, but it gets into the whole ethnic question of "Who is 華?" Although maybe that's a good thing, because then only 華 people should have to use Mandarin, and you don't get to impose it on other non-華 groups.

So in terms of identifying the purpose of language, while keeping it politically neutral and viable, 通用 seems to deliver the message in a way that more Sinophone communities could swallow. It also doesn't preclude foreigners and/or minorities from learning the language, because it doesn't force any particular appellation or uncomfortable surrender of identity on them if they choose to pick up this dialect.

There doesn't appear to be any ongoing debate about these monikers, but this particular line of thought was sparked while reading about the history of the "construction" of the national language—a language that, at this juncture, is not only for the nation.

Tiger Troll

Amy Chua is bringing her type of programming to Singapore. She's well-spoken and articulate in this interview, but I can't tell if she's massively trolling when she says these things

AFP | Getty Images via CNBC

I disagree with Amy Chua and with Tiger Parenting in general—supremely grateful that my parents weren't like that—but I have to compliment her on her writing style and wry tone. The behavior she describes in her book is pretty appalling, but it also made me chuckle. 

At the end of the day, the behavior and incentives it frames are antithetical to what I believe in, in terms of the kind of lives we live. For example, from my perspective, you should do something because you care about it, not because your parents make you do it. Otherwise it seems to demonstrate a lack of autonomy and self-direction.

On the other side of the coin, I'm not moved by the coddle-your-kids self-esteem-boosting approach practiced by a number of Americans, which verges on caricature. There's something to be said for a decisive, no-nonsense attitude, because kids *are* resilient and can handle it. That doesn't mean it should descend into paternalist, authoritarian, militant abuse. (Tiger Mom-ing is really a converse to helicopter parenting, which seems very New Age ... one leaves children unable to cope because too much is done for them, whereas the other leaves children unable to think because too much is constrained for them.) She seems too smart to fall for this parenting trap, which is why I think it's got to be, on some level, trolling. (Or to put it in a more high-brow way, a rhetorical exercise. Is this for profit? For making a reputation? For provoking American society so it shakes off its stupor and gets moving?)

It does speak to the anxiety of immigrants, and also the sense of cultural disconnect, which is where a good deal of the humor comes from too. Something like this:


which in my mind is still the classic video on Asian parenting.

In both "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and in this YouTube video, there is recognition, as well as an almost perverse sense of pride regarding the differences in cultural values. Perhaps it is only in retrospect, as survivors viewing the situation through the lens of parodic humor that we can gain the distance to laugh.

Then again, the job of children is to accommodate, resist, and negotiate cultural norms of both Old World and New. Thus, the conversation raised is an important one. It is a little odd that she feels the need to bring this mentality to Singapore, because they're already doing a great job at paternalism, but I suppose they're also in the midst of their Anglicizing-Modernizing moment when parents educated in Chinese schools are raising kids raised with English as their native language. It's a nation of immigrants and children of immigrants without the immigrating!