Friday, September 12, 2014

So Why Study French?

In the last post here a topic was taken back up from the spring in regard to the importance or need or usefulness of teaching and learning French. My posts from the spring focused on a couple of John McWhorter's articles that essentially argue that French is no longer an important language and, therefore, should not be emphasized as much as it is in American schools. So can I, as a French professor, argue for the importance of French and, more specifically, its place in language departments?

For me the essential first step is to pose the right question. I would not want to ask why anyone should study French -- or assert that anyone should either. Thus the title of this post. If someone is interested in learning a new language, and is perhaps considering French, what are potential reasons in French's favor? That is how I want to approach the matter. Thus, this post is not about its title, or not about answering the question in its title -- but rather calling attention to that question as opposed to other similar but, I think, misleading questions (Why should I study French? or, Why should my child study French?).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Background to John McWhorter's Recent Article Against French

Eons ago, I started to analyze a couple of articles that had riled about (French) language teachers, one from this year saying that French is not really an important language. The author's main point, writing in the context of New York City, was that French is disproportionately taught, particularly in NYC immersion schools. The best of intentions proved insufficient in finishing my thought process in relation to those articles. So now that I am even busier than I was last academic year, I have decided to revisit and, I hope, close out, the topic.

Just as a refresher, it might be interesting to read the New York Times' article that prompted McWhorter's somewhat unconsidered (and largely discredited) response. In addition, it would probably be helpful to read an attempt at providing not so much a response to McWhorter as positive reasons for learning French. A piece came out on Business Insider that, for me, gives not entirely persuasive reasons to teach/learn French. I would be interested in knowing what you think of the reasons given in that article, if you have any more extra time in your life than I do.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Raymond Chandler on realist fiction

In the classic essay on the genre of the detective novel, "The Simple Art of Murder," Raymond Chandler is keen on distinguishing realist detective fiction from escapist detective fiction. The latter, in its most celebrated manifestations of Sherlock Holmes or Hercules Poirot, follows basic formulas of studied improbability and non-realism.

Chandler, on the other hand, wants to write detective fiction that does have something profound to say about reality, and thus, he says, "The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the fingerman for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket." The entire paragraph is worth citing or reading, but I want to get to the description of the "world" that grabs my attention in this particular historical moment. This world is one
where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.
I would not take sides in the debate over what is art or "serious" literature, as I think Chandler mistakenly does (or as does W.H. Auden, in an even more elitist, unfair manner, in his similarly celebrated essay on the detective story), but I would make the observation that escapist detective fiction (or any escapist fiction) does not move me by, say, its accounts of death or injustice. I read it for very different reasons, and a character's death means no more to me, usually, than that of a character in a video game. Realist fiction, by contrast, exists to say something about the reality I live in, not to help me escape it. Thus, a detective story like Crimen en el barrio del once moves, saddens, and angers me as it makes me ponder the themes that Chandler alludes to of state violence and systemic injustice.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jeunes de France, où est votre salut?

Exactly two years ago, three French men (a journalist, a businessman, and a rapper) made a big splash with an article attacking France and saying that French youth would assure themselves a better future by, essentially, ditching their country. They even have their own website to support French youth in this endeavor -- barrez-vous, they encourage them (scram, run off). One of the original authors had an opinion piece on the same theme published by the NY Times' editorial page.

I am not sure whether this was (is) grandstanding, but obviously it's not something that most people, particularly French young people, can or do take too literally. But the socioeconomic causes behind the article are interesting -- a country with fewer and fewer opportunities, a worsening economy, an overregulated job market.

And yet, working in France (or more generally, the E.U.) has distinct advantages to working in the U.S. And some people on this side of the Atlantic, like me, would rather be living in France right now (or any francophone country, really) than in the U.S. (but not because of any specific gripe with the U.S., which I also enjoy very much). And ultimately, do people really take other people seriously when they tell them just to leave their own country? Why not at least try to improve it first?



 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Death and the World Cup

The 2014 FIFA World Cup starts tomorrow.

Marcela Turati in Fuego Cruzado: "El 11 de junio de 2010 no sólo pasó a la historia como el día de la inauguración del Mundial de Futbol en Sudáfrica, en donde el equipo tricolorse batió con el anfitrión; también es recordado como el dí en que hubo más asesinatos en el sexenio. Fueron 89. Tantos, que alguien en su blog ironizó: "Más de 70 ejecutados y un gol". Bajo el imperio de la muerte la sociedad pide su dosis diaria de homicidios. Se acostumbró a desayunar viendo la pira funeraria que muestran las noticias" (46-47).

Monday, May 26, 2014

Today in Language: May 26

The Today in Language feature has always focused on one or two people, but today, because 1) there are a lot of language-related items to talk about, 2)  there are several miscellaneous items I want to mention, and 3) it's my 30th birthday and thus intrinsically an important date, this Today in Language post will break the mold.

Today in Language:
*As far as birthdays go, apart from yours truly, Count Zinzendorf was born on this day in 1700 and the French writer Edmond de Goncourt in 1822.

*As far as random theological events, John Calvin and some of his followers were ran out of Geneva on this day in 1538. That was an unfortunate event in itself, although perhaps just as unfortunate was Calvin's own behavior once he returned to that wonderful city.

*As for hugely significant world events and journalistic malpractice, on this day in 2004 the New York Times admitted that its genuflecting to the government and uncritical coverage of the leadup to the Iraq war contributed to the WMD lie and botched invasion.

In short, this day in history is a day of birth, concrete theological battles, and journalistic confession. Happy May 26th!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Language of the Future . . .

This post is not a poll, though if it were what would you predict as the language of the future?

According to a recent study by a French investment bank, it appears that in a given future (2050) and according to a given (problematic) methodology, French may just be the most up-and-coming language. I have yet to find the actual study by Natixis bank, but I will share it when I do. According to an American news source and a French news source, the study asserts that French will be the fastest-growing and perhaps most widely-spread language in a few decades.

It is important to note, first, that there is a restricted sense to this idea of any "language of the future." French will certainly not be the only language, or even the lingua franca since that will still be English. The most rapidly growing language is the category under discussion, so some of the news headlines are misleading at best (though thereby antidotal to other bad headlines that are negative rather than positive in regard to the French language).

In second place, the biggest problem with the study is its methodology, as the Forbes writer points out. The study lumps together all inhabitants of countries where French is an official language as speakers of French -- and obviously not everybody is francophone in every francophone country. We are not talking about minor percentages either. In some of the African countries that may have the fastest growing populations and economies in 40-50 years, the French-speaking populations are very small.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I would point out that the biggest category of language on the Forbes' chart, both today and in 2050, is that of "Autres." Now, this requires a bit of explaining. "Autres" is a highly technical, French linguistic term that means "Other." So both today and when I am (God willing) a grandfather in the mid-21st century, the most "important" language will not be French or English or Spanish or Chinese but all other languages. What does this mean? This means that all languages are significant to varying degrees and that legislating language (on which French and most other dominant languages have depended for their advancement) is not advisible, given the swath of humanity that it negatively affects. This also means that "language of the future" may not be a terribly helpful linguistic category.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

An Idea for Smartphone/Tablet Manufacturers

The Caveat: I thought I had this really great technology idea. I know it would be really great for me; I don't know whether it would excite many other people. Upon very brief research, I found out that it is being tried, though it is recent and details were scant (nonetheless, any claim I could have made to originality have been flushed down the toilet).

The Idea: Create a smartphone-tablet duo. It would be a smartphone that could live inside a tablet when not in use. This would not be a dock for a smartphone and a tablet; it would also not be a smartphone-tablet hybrid (although that is what Asus calls theirs; but "hybrid" has been used to refer to tablets like the Samsung Galaxy 10 which is not what I am referring to). The smartphone and tablet would remain two distinct devices but the smartphone would have a dock on the back of the tablet somewhere. Ideally, the smartphone could charge when docked in the tablet and users could move apps and music and other files between the two devices by simply swiping.

The AdvantagesSyncing the two devices would be more streamlined. Most of the time I would have only one device to keep track of instead of two. This would also probably mean that I would have a lot fewer apps on my phone. In addition, when driving I would not be tempted to pick up the phone (a temptation against which I am fairly strong except when on barren, boring interstates) -- assuming of course that I had the self-discipline to always dock the phone in the tablet before driving.

Just an idea. We'll have to see what comes of Asus'.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Non-Language Related Post

Huge news for anyone wanting free photos for a blog: Getty Images has announced that it will make something like 35 million of its photos available for free. On the one hand, it is unfortunate though not unsurprising that in the Internet age it is impossible to keep people from pirating photos, videos, and music. On the other hand, however, the Getty executives' view that they should look for the opportunity in the situation rather than just continue cracking down legally is an intriguing, positive approach.

Note on Articles on French Language Education

I started posting about a couple of articles regarding the French language in American schools, and then the vicissitudes and vagaries of life rudely interrupted what could have been an uninterrupted, seamless series. I do plan to get back to it, probably next week.