Dreaming in Different Tongues: Languages and the Way We Think

Uploaded by UCBerkeleyEvents on 19.09.2011

Alix Schwartz: Good evening everyone. My
name is Alix Schwartz. I coordinate the On the Same
Page program for the College of Letters and Science, and
on behalf of our dean, several of whom are here, I would
like to welcome you to this our keynote event for On the
Same Page, 2011. For those of you who don't know what
On the Same Page is, I'm just going to give a little
brief overview. The main goal of On the Same Page is to
pick a book or a theme or a film or something that all
of our new students and all of our faculty will all
experience so they'll have something in common
intellectually when our students first get here.
And by extension we want to include the whole Cal
community. This year's theme is the voices of Berkeley
linguistic diversity. I'm super excited about this
theme, not only because it spans so many disciplines and
therefore engages so many faculty and students, but also
because it inspired a dedicated group of faculty, many
of whom are sitting right here to really work hard on
this program, and I think it's the richest program we've
had because of it.
I'm also excited because we had an experiment
this year with our students. How many of you heard
about the start by talking back experiment? Raise your
hand. Okay. Quite a few of you did. Professor Keith
Johnson who is here tonight did an experiment with our
students, our new students. Invited them to submit a
voice sample and over seven of those voice samples are
mapped on a Google map that any of you can see on our
OntheSamePage.Berkeley.edu website. It's really
fascinating to see where our students come from and how
they sound and who they sound like. There are a lot of
fun things to do with the map and I think you'll enjoy
it. I was wondering if all the new students can raise
your hands.
>>: Freshmen.
Alix Schwartz: Yay. Whoa. This is
literally the most new students we've ever gotten to an
On the Same Page event. Thank you so much for coming.
[Applause] okay. I also wanted to let you know about
the remaining On the Same Page activities and events
that are still coming up. Tomorrow we have a
fascinating discussion panel called a discussion of
language and mind. That will be at 3:30 p.m. in 315
Wheeler. I really encourage you to come. It's again
free and open to everyone. You'll also find on our site
a link to information on four wonderful events that the
Berkeley Language Center has coming up in the next
couple of months. The Berkeley Language Center has been
a very active and very appreciated partner this year.
Also, the Berkeley Art Museum has been a partner. We
have a special exhibit. The artist, Theresa Cha, when
she was an undergraduate here at Cal did a video
installation about being in exile from her home in Korea
and her home language. It's only an eight-minute video
and it's really worth going to see. Finally for all the
undergraduates in the audience I wanted to remind you we
have a one minute video contest still going on. The
student who best captures linguistic diversity in a one
minute video on your cell phone or video camera, however
you want, will win an iPad two. The second place is a
Kindle. The deadline to submit your videos. [Laughter]
what's so funny about the second place? [Laughter]
okay. First prize is a Kindle. [Laughter] okay. I
love my Kindle. Did you guys go to the new media panel?
Come on. The deadline to submit is October 3rd. I want
to let you know that On the Same Page is made possible
by donors to the L and S leadership fund and cosponsored
this year by the departments of English and comparative
literature and the Cal Student Store. At this point it
gives me great pleasure to introduce our moderator for
tonight's event who will in his turn introduce the other
remarkable panelists. For many of you professor Geoff
Nunberg's voice may be more familiar than his face. His
regular commentary on language on NPR's Fresh Air never
fails to entertain and edify us. We are fortunate to
have him on the faculty of UC Berkeley's, sorry, school
of information. His most recent book is the years of
talking dangerously and you may also have heard of the
book before that one, Talking Right, How Conservatives
Turned Liberalism Into a Tax Raising Latte Drinking,
Sushi Eating Volvo Driving, New York Times Reading, Body
Piercing, Hollywood Loving Freak Show [Applause]. Whew.
We were delighted when he agreed to moderate our keynote
event. Please join me in welcoming Geoff Nunberg in
tonight's distinguished panel. [Applause].
Geoff Nunberg: Thank you, Alix. Good
evening. Bonsoir, buona sera, guten abend. Somebody
help me. Andrew, where is Andrew Garret? Can you not
hear me? Andrew. That's Yurok? Yurok is a California
Indian language. Dan Slobin from Turkey. Somebody else
give me some help. Over here. From what language is
that? Greek. And over here. Lithuanian. Wow. Back
there. [Laughter]. That's Chinese. Others. Over
here? Buenas noches. Yay. Over there. Russian. Over
here. Armenian. Others way back there in the back.
Swahili. Over here. I'm sorry? Farsi. Let's take 1
or 2 more. Over there. Hebrew. And way, way, way in
the back over there. And that is? Hindi. We could go
on at some length I think. And you know why? Because
this is Berkeley. And what's an unusual relatively
unusual situation here is in fact in most of the world
and for most of history the normal state of affairs.
Most places, in most places all over the world most
people have always spoken more than one language. And
in fact it's only in recent times that you could have
this attitude that you sometimes find in parts of
America that there's something odd or even disloyal
about speaking more than one language. You know,
there's a story about Ma Ferguson who was the governor
of Texas in the 1920s who was said to have said, if
English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for
me [Laughter]. I don't know if she ever said that, but
it's certainly an attitude that people have in this
country. And it's one that comes up a lot in modern
political discourse, one of the things we'll be talking
about. The other thing about multilingualism,
bilingualism is how often it comes up in the academic
world. I tried to make a list of all of the programs
and departments at Berkeley in which multilingualism
might come up in one or another way. Psychology,
literature and linguistics, languages, area studies like
Middle Eastern studies, cognitive science, sociology,
anthropology, political science, education, media
studies, history, even computer science and information
studies. And I probably left some out. So the odds
that any of you, the freshmen in any event will get
through your Berkeley career without at one point or
another having to study or think about multilingualism
are negligible. We would love to have been able to put
together a panel in which we deal with all of these
aspects of multilingualism. It would have taken a long
time and there wouldn't have been enough chairs frankly.
What we've done instead is to bring together four
people, all of them distinguished who can speak to one
or another aspect of this remarkably protean phenomenon
and what I would like to do is introduce each of them
alphabetically and then ask them all to come out and we
can greet them together. Let me start with Lera
Boroditsky. Let me ask you before I start with Lera.
Let me do a little experiment. Would all of you close
your eyes, no cheating. You back there close your eyes.
And point southeast. Okay. You can open your eyes now.
[Laughter]. We're going to ask Lera why that's
interesting. Why a room full of students at one of the
great universities in the Western world is incapable of
pointing to the southeast. The question of the way in
which language influences thought is one that linguists
and psychologists and philosophers have dealt with for a
very long time. Is thought kind of universal and is
language merely a matter of packaging? Or does the
language we speak actually influence the way we see the
world, talk about the world, think about the world.
This is a subject that only recently psychologists in
particular have begun to be able to study. They can ask
questions like, does it matter that in German the moon
is he, in French it's she, in English it's it? Does it
matter that some languages have one word for blue-green?
And other words have different words for blue and green?
Does it matter that in English we make between I'm going
and I go and other languages don't make that
distinction? Recently there have been psychologists
who've actually been able to deal with this as an
empirical experimental question. Some of them are here,
Dan Slobin from our department. And Lera Boroditsky, a
young psychologist, has become very well known for her
work in this area. She is unfortunately at a college
across the bay in Palo Alto [Laughter] Stan, it's a very
good school and don't let anybody tell you differently.
But we're very honored to have her here. She's an
assistant professor there. Did her graduate work, Ph.D.
work there as well. Taught at MIT for a while and
Stanford managed to get her out here. She's quite a
young star in that field. John Cho I manage is the one
of our panelists who most of you have heard of. He was
born in Seoul, Korea. He came here when he was four.
He grew up in LA. He came to Berkeley, came to Cal.
Was an English major. Became interested in theater when
they put together Cal local company put together,
Berkeley Rep put together a production of the Woman
Warrior, the novel by Maxine Hong Kingston who as it
happens is another of our panelists. Good hooked on
theater. The rest as they say is history. He made a
wonderful film in 2002 called Better Luck Tomorrow which
really if you haven't seen you should see. I think one
of the great films about Asian American. Very dark,
interesting film. Better known for his work in American
Pie, the American Pie series. And then as one of the
stars of Harold and Kumar. Go to Whitecastle. Escape
from Guantanamo I'm told is another one coming. He's
been on Ugly Betty and a number of TV shows. In
the 2009 production, version of Star Trek he played
Mr. Sulu from the nation of Asia as you'll recall. A
part that was originally played by George Takei in the
television version who was also a Berkeley grad. And in
fact Chris Pine who in that same movie played Captain
Kirk was also, also Berkeley. It was like an all Cal
holodeck at the time. He's not the only celebrated
actor certainly for Berkeley. Stacy Keach went here,
Gregory Peck went here. But I think it's safe to say
he's the only one who was voted sexiest man of the year
by People Magazine [Laughter]. Lily Wong Fillmore has
until recently been retired as a professor in the School
of Education. He's been particularly concerned with
these questions about bilingual education. How do we
manage to incorporate the speakers of other languages
into the English speaking world without having them lose
their languages and their cultural heritage? It's been
a politically charged issue. She has been a strong, I
think most people who know her would say ferocious
advocate of bilingual education for a long time. Has
done a lot of work in this area. She grew up in
Watsonville in a Chinese speaking family, went to
University of, San Jose State. Then to Stanford. And
we were lucky to get her here some years ago and she was
in the School of Education for a number of years and as
I say is now retired. Finally, Maxine Hong Kingston,
the author of a number of books which I imagine some of
you have read, including The Woman Warrior, which I
mentioned before. It was an extraordinarily influential
book. It came out in 1976. It was memoir, it was folk
tales, it was creative nonfiction, it was just Maxine.
It created an enormous impact and has had an enormous
influence if you think of all the work, the writing for
instance from Chinese American writers like David Henry
Hwang and Amy Tan and Gish Jen and Sandra Tsing Loh and
so on. They all have their roots in that work as does a
lot of work in other ethnic traditions where people have
tried to deal with the problem of being, in literary way
of being of an ethnic group and at the same time being
American. After that book wrote China Men which won the
National Book Award. Trip Master Monkey in 1989. She
taught at Berkeley for a number of years in the writing
program and has been an inspirational figure to students
here and I think to all writers. So let me now bring
them out and ask them to come on the stage and let's
welcome them all [Applause]. These are Maxine, Lera,
Lily and the tall one is John. I wonder if we can start
out Maxine by talking with you and the rest of you all
had the same experience of beginning your lives speaking
another language. Chinese, Russian, Chinese, Korean.
And at a certain point had to move, had this realization
that there were other languages in the world and in fact
you were poised between these two languages. Maxine,
you've written about this in The Woman Warrior and so
on. How did that experience affect you? At what point
did you come to that realization?
Maxine Hong Kingston: I think I first
figured out that other people had a completely different
language was when I went to kindergarten and, but I was
only three and a half years old. And my parents wanted
a head start program for me. And so they put me in
school and when I got there, I had such a terrible
feeling that I could not communicate with other people.
And the consequences of that reverberate to this day.
The first circumstances were that I, they, I flunked
kindergarten. So I have that on my record. And then
they gave me an IQ test. And it came out 0. So I have
a 0 IQ. And then soon after that I, oh, the influence
of this is that I think I have a lifelong drive to be
able to communicate and to make connection with other
people. Then I went to, then they sent me to Chinese
school. Then I found out that we speak an entirely
different peasant dialect from other people. And so,
again, there was another language that I, around to this
day I don't say that I am fluent in Chinese at all
because all I know is this peasant language. And what,
but going to China I had wonderful linguistic
experiences, adventures. Starting out traveling from
Beijing and needing translators, but the closer I got to
our little village which is in the middle of nowhere
then I could understand everybody and I could
Geoff Nunberg: Lily, was your situation
like that?
Lily Wong Fillmore: Well, unfortunately I
was more stupid [Laughter] and I started school with no
English. And I just took it for granted that the people
at my table seated at my table were speaking English.
Well it turned out, you know, I learned things like
andale and so on. And it turned out they were speaking
quite a different language from the teacher who
eventually realized that maybe she had to do something
about me. So she said something that sounded a whole
like gobble gobble gobble, Lily, gobble gobble gobble
gobble color crayons. All right? And this girl across
the room heaved a big sigh, walked over to me, took my
box of color crayons, you know the Smith and Binney
eight colors, threw them on the table and she said red.
And I said, uh-huh. She said, red. And that was when I
learned that the word for hong in English is a two
syllable word, red. She came, she was one of the
English speakers in my class. She came from Texarkana
and was one of the Dust Bowl families fleeing the Dust
Bowl so I was some interesting influences in my English
you might say. But I didn't even realize this was a
problem for a long time. People called me mush mouth.
Geoff Nunberg: How about you Lera? You
grew up speaking Russian and you came here when you were
12, is that right?
Lera Boroditsky: Yes, I was 12. I was
actually exposed to other languages in Russia. I lived
in Belarus and my grandparents lived in Ukraine. I
would travel back and forth and so, but my only exposure
to Belarusian and Ukrainian was watching soccer because
soccer for some reason, all the best games would be
broadcast in either Belarusian or Ukrainian. And for
that reason I can never keep the two languages apart
because the only context I ever heard them in was in the
context of soccer. That's my association. When I came
to America I was 12. I started learning English in
school, but I didn't really know what I was in for. And
12 is also around the age you start being concerned with
being cool. And arriving in a new country, all of a
sudden discovered how horribly uncool I was in this new
place. And not only that I didn't speak English and so
I made this pact with myself that I would have to learn
to speak English. I refused to speak Russian for a
whole year while I learned English. I had actually a
really similar experience. I started emulating someone.
I couldn't quite pronounce English Rs right. I couldn't
get them except I could emulate this one boy in my
class, my home room. And I was very proud of myself and
I discovered several years later I had acquired this
lisp because the reason I could pronounce his Rs and not
anybody else's, he wasn't pronouncing them correctly. I
taught myself to do that. But I was disappointed, I
learned to speak English pretty well, but that didn't
fix the coolness problem. There were other problems.
Language wasn't the only thing to figure out.
Geoff Nunberg: No. John. You grew up
speaking Korean. That was your first language; is that
John Cho: Yeah. Korean was my first
language. We moved to the United States when I was six
and I have a traumatic kindergarten memory as well. I
was six. I was a little late. Also dumb [Laughter].
But they dropped me off at school. It was the first
time I'd spent any time away from my parents and I
didn't know how to communicate with anyone. It's one of
my few memories from that age. And at the same time I
saw, you know, my mother and father who were obviously
both fluent in Korean, I saw my father navigate his way
successfully in the world because he spoke English very
well. He was taught my missionaries in Korea. And my
mother did not speak English very well. And she, to
some degree, you know, her social life in the United
States was defined by that inability and became a little
unhappy. You know? And so looking back I feel like my
life has been trying to master language when I became,
when I came to Cal I studied English and now I'm an
actor and that is, you know, looking for clues in
language and looking at words and looking what's not on
the page and sort of a life problem I've been trying to
Geoff Nunberg: You were saying earlier that
the reason you got involved in acting was because you
were a Cal student or as it happened?
John Cho: Yeah. This is interesting. I
haven't seen Maxine in 15 years which is when I did The
Woman Warrior, the adaptation of the book. And at the
time I didn't know what I was going to do with my life
and I thought that maybe I would get another degree in
English because I wanted to find another way to keep
reading books. I read The Woman Warrior in class and
was an admirer and when I got a chance to be in the play
it was an interesting experiment to study the work in
the classroom and then study it, you know, backstage.
And I found that I preferred one over the other. That
sort of made the decision for me.
Geoff Nunberg: When you first read it when
you were in the play did it resonate with your own
experience in learning English from Korean at a
different historical moment?
John Cho: It did. Although I had two
experiences. One was fellowship with another Asian
American, but I also saw it as, I also read it with some
curiosity. You know, this is a Chinese American
experience. This is interesting. It differs from my
experience as well. It was, I hadn't known other Asians
growing up either. So it was a part of, it kind of
began my journey of learning and socializing also with
other Asian Americans on campus I mean.
Geoff Nunberg: I was thinking about the
phrase mother tongue. In the bookshelf that freshmen
who are here participating in the program have, there's
a wonderful essay by Tom Laqueur, who is here, who is a
historian at Berkeley that appeared in the London Review
of Books in which he talks about his experience of
speaking German in Turkey in the late 40s before he came
here and then having to realize German was not only the
language of his family. I was thinking about that
phrase, mother tongue, or muttersprache in German. And
this is association of the language with appearance.
And in Woman Warrior there's this remarkable anecdote I
guess you'll say, I'll say the narrator because I don't
know if it happened to you, but where her mother snips,
the frenum, that little flap of flesh under the skin
under the tongue so that she can become fluent in more
languages. Did that?
Maxine Hong Kingston: You know, my mother
was a doctor in China and she had all kinds of medical
theories. And one of them is that if she could cut the
frenum under my tongue then my tongue would be very
loose and I'd be able to speak English and Chinese and
I'd be able to say anything. But when you say mother
tongue, I thought it would mean what is the first
language, what is the, what is the language that gave,
that is the mother to your ability to communicate and it
so happened that my mother was the big talker and my
father was a silent person. And I was thinking both of
you talking about being dumb, the, you know, one reason
for thinking that we were dumb. I was dumb too, but in
many ways. You know, intellectually and the other way
dumb, not being able to talk. I think I was so
traumatized by the wrong language that I spent about a
year not being able to talk to people. And, you know,
this is back in the days when there was no ESL. And so
the, I remember in first grade when the boys were bad
they had to sit in the corner and I was bad too because
I couldn't talk. And so I sat in the corner with the
bad boys. And so, you know, I hope that this doesn't
happen any more with ESL. But I think, but it also
makes me feel that maybe we don't even need a systematic
way to learn English. We can somehow pick it up
already. Especially if your mother cuts your tongue
Geoff Nunberg: Lily, I know you've spoken
eloquently about the importance of that connection with
the family in the language and I actually have a
quotation from one of your articles, when parents are
unable to talk to their children they cannot easily
convey to them their values, beliefs, understanding or
wisdom about how to cope with their experiences. They
can't teach them the meaning of work or personal
responsibility. The children have too few guide posts
to follow. What are lost are the bits of advice, the
consejos, parents should be giving. And this was for
you an important element of your commitment to bilingual
education. Wasn't it?
Lily Wong Fillmore: It was and very much so
and I think maybe it was inevitable that I should take
the kind of interest in children coming from other
language backgrounds, other cultural backgrounds, trying
to make their way in a society that is not very
forgiving of differences. And, you know, the result of
course is many, many, many children, and especially now,
faster than ever before, give up their mother tongue in
the belief that doing so will make it possible for them
to learn English better and to be more accepted. To be
a part of this beautiful world that they want to be a
part of. The consequence of course, and of course the
younger children are when they give up their language of
the home and family, the greater the disturbance in the
things that have to go on in the home, the socialization
that must continue through the life of a child. You
know, well into adulthood. How do parents know what's
going on in their children's lives when they don't speak
the language. Because unfortunately for the most part,
immigrant parents do not learn English as quickly as the
children do. The children move out beyond the parents,
are unable to communicate with their parents. Unable to
learn what they've really got to learn from their
parents. So that has really created a lot of
disturbances in families. My commitment is in that way
and really believing that it makes a person richer and
it gives them a greater source of support when they are
able to maintain a kind of intimacy with family that is
only possible when parents are able to talk easily with
their children. You know, we get by. We manage. But
without the closeness when that isn't possible.
Geoff Nunberg: I can remember in some of
the articles. Maybe it was the work on Yup'ik or
recently where you talked about, this is my memory of
it. But kids being almost cast adrift linguistically,
losing the connection to their mother's tongue and yet
not really being able to catch onto English.
Lily Wong Fillmore: There was some research
done by a researcher, Kenji Ima, in San Diego which
found that a lot of the gang problems among Southeast
Asian kids say ten years ago had to do with the children
not being able to talk to family. Not being able to
communicate easily with parents. And parents not
knowing where their kids were or what they were doing,
what was going on in their lives. It's really a
hardship. And by the way, there are some differences
across language groups in how quickly children lose the
language. Maybe in some languages like Korean, losing a
little bit means losing a lot. Because of the way the
language is structured. You don't talk the same way to
parents or to figures of greater importance in the same
way that you talk to peers or to siblings. And when
children lose that system in Korean, they have greater
problem communicating with parents and grandparents.
John Cho: I was forced by my father to
watch my brother and I were forced to watch television
circling back to the dumb thing, but, and we lost our
Korean pretty quickly. My brother more so than myself.
But one thing that it does within the family, I found,
it keeps you an infant because you keep talking this
baby talk with your parents until into adulthood. And
also keeps you a child within the, within your ethnic
community. So my relationships with Korean adults were
poor. I couldn't communicate with them. And there was,
there's also a power dynamic where particularly these
older immigrant men would refuse to speak to me in
English even if they knew some. Even if they knew
enough to communicate with me in English they wouldn't.
So it, you know, my father was a preacher in a church
and I could never really become a man in that system.
You know. And what's interesting though I'll say now,
one by-product of being well known is that Korean people
now speak to me in English [Laughter].
Geoff Nunberg: Is that because they think
you don't speak Korean?
John Cho: Maybe not, but I remember very
clearly there was, when I was younger and starting out
acting I'd be interviewed by the Korean newspaper and
they would ask me what my Korean name was so they would
print that name in the paper. There was a point at
which they stopped doing that. And they started
phonetically spelling out John Cho in the paper. And I
thought something had changed. It was a watershed
moment for me.
Geoff Nunberg: I have to just add to what
Lily was saying. I've been involved in the opposition
to the English only movement and you hear people saying
a lot, oh at the turn of the century when my
grandparents came here they learned English right away.
When in fact the time of transition from English, from
the native language to English was about a generation or
a generation and a half longer depending on the group in
1900. From now that transition is much more rapid
because you've got media, because it's an urban
environment, because kids hold on to the language less
intensely. Because there are fewer religious
connections, for a lot of different reasons.
Lily Wong Fillmore: And also I think
there's a whole lot more sociopolitical pressure on kids
maintaining a mother tongue or not having perfect
English, for example. So the schools will treat a child
even after they have pretty much lost their mother
tongue as if they were incompetent in English and
continue them in programs meant to deal with their
language deficits. This is how the inability to speak
English perfectly is seen in many, many, many places.
And kids feel that. They just put their fingers in the
air. They can feel it in the wind. Okay? They can
feel this. And this is what drives, nobody forces a
child to give up a language. Children give those up
because they feel that they've not been accepted as
speakers of whatever language.
Lera Boroditsky: I wanted to pipe in and
say there's certainly countless advantages to being
bilingual. You get to be a double agent in lots of
situations, spy on conversations, but there are also
some dangers. So one thing I've discovered if I meet
someone for the first time and they don't know I'm
Russian, I have to tell them very early on because if
they know me for a couple of weeks and I still haven't
told them, when they find out they become very
suspicious of me. Almost like she's some kind of
Russian spy. Sometimes people can't hear my accent and
it just seems to strange that someone would sound so
American and all of a sudden you discover they grew up
in this other world, because language is so tied with
identity you just put a particular identity on someone.
So when someone hears me speaking American English they
imagine a very American upbringing and American
identity. And then when they realize, oh, she came from
Russia, that really turns them around. In fact lots of
research shows that when people speak in a different way
than you expect from the way you look they seem
suspicious. So, for example, if folks whose family came
from Pakistan start speaking with a Scottish accent,
there's something very suspicious sounding about that.
People don't trust that. They want there to be a clear
relationship between identity and language because we
feel so strongly about the languages we speak.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Lera, when you speak
English do you feel that you have one personality and
then when you speak Russian does, is your personality
Lera Boroditsky: I think most bilinguals
feel that. It's hard to separate whether it's a
function of language or whether it's a function of the
associations that you have with speaking that language.
So for me Russian is the language of my family and my
childhood and then English of course is the language of
work now and language of adulthood and of course they
have very different associations. And they have very
different, I play very different roles. But this is a
very, very common experience, bilinguals very often
report they are a very different person. And actually
there are a couple of studies. Jamie Pennebaker in
Texas has done a couple of studies where he had
Spanish-English bilinguals talk either in Spanish or in
English and he videotaped it and then showed silent
videos to other people and asked them to rate
personality. How outgoing is this person? How
energetic? And he at least from these silent videos he
saw differences. That people acted differently. Of
course, again, there may be cultural conventions that go
along with how much you gesture when you talk, things
like that. But it's certainly a very common experience.
Do you feel like you are a different person when you
speak different languages?
Maxine Hong Kingston: Yes, but you know
there's one, you know how I feel that so easy for
Americans to say I love you. [Laughter] and it's
impossible to do that in Chinese. And, okay, there's my
mother, she's on her deathbed, okay. And this is the
time. I've got five brothers and sisters. This is the
time to come to her deathbed and say I love you, mom.
Okay? We couldn't do it. I mean I couldn't do it. And
then my youngest sister, who is more American than I am
because she's nine years younger and she went to the bed
and she said we love you mama. And I thought, yeah, I
can do that. [Laughter]. So, what is that? It maybe
has to do with a communal language. Oh, English is a
language that's very individual. The I. That capital
I. And in Chinese it's more we can speak for us. We
are family. And I can say we love you, but, boy, I love
you is so hard.
Geoff Nunberg: You know that sort of takes
us to the question I raised when I was introducing Lera
about the degree to which language makes you think
differently, see the world differently. You were
backstage. We did have people point to the southeast
with their eyes closed and it was just all over the
place. This is a room full of as capable and
intelligent a group you could assemble on this coast and
it was a catastrophe. What does that say about them and
are there other people that could do that better and
Lera Boroditsky: Don't feel bad you guys.
We had our own disagreement back in the green room.
Eventually I had to get my iPhone out and get the
compass going. Then we weren't sure if the compass was
right because none of us really knew which way southeast
is. Um, this is a very common affliction for English
speakers and lots of folks around the world. Let me
make a couple of observations about what you guys did.
When Geoff asked you to point, a lot of you laughed
because you thought, what a ridiculous thing to be asked
to do. How am I supposed to know that? Right? A lot
of you didn't point. That's a very low compliance rate.
I was peeking and I saw a lot of you just weren't even
playing the game. And then for those of you who did
point it took you a while to do so. You had to think
about it. It wasn't something you automatically knew.
So that's a very slow reaction time. As a psychologist
I like to measure these things. And then of course
there's the accuracy problem [Laughter]. I still don't
know which way southeast is, but I saw you guys pointing
in every direction. So not all of you could have been
right. Now there's some people in the world where you
can ask even quite a young child point southeast and
they can do it and it's no problem. They get it right.
And speakers of languages like this, the reason they can
do it their language requires them to stay oriented just
in order to speak properly. They don't use words like
left and right. Instead everything gets put into some
kind of absolute or cardinal direction space. North,
south, east, west is one good system. So if you speak a
language like this you have to say things like there's
an ant on your south southwest leg. Or move your cup to
the north northeast a little bit. And not only do you
have to be oriented in the moment. You also have to
have all your memories oriented so you can speak about
past experiences. Imagine you are staying in a hotel.
You leave your glasses by the telephone. You have to be
able to produce a sentence like I must have left my
glasses to the northeast of the telephone. You must
have encoded your room in those absolute coordinates in
order to report on your past experience. And so folks
who speak languages like this are remarkable at staying
oriented. They are able to dead reckon, this is a
spatial ability that we used to think humans didn't
have. We always had excuses for why birds could do it
better, why ants could do it better, etc. Oh, the birds
have magnets in their beaks or the ants count steps.
There was always some reason why humans by our biology
couldn't do it. Turns out if you are just forced to be
oriented because your language, your society requires
it, you can do it. One of the languages I had a chance
to work with, Kuktayor, this is an aboriginal language
in Australia, just to say hello you have to be oriented.
Because the way you say hello is, which way are you
going? And the answer should be something like north
northeast in the far distance, how about you?
[Laughter]. So imagine as you walk around every person
you say hi to you have to report your heading direction.
That would get you oriented pretty fast. Because if you
didn't, if you weren't oriented, if you could don't that
you would be completely socially excluded. You would
not be, you would literally not be able to get past
hello. So if you speak a language like that you stay
oriented. That's a marvelous thing to be able to do.
Geoff Nunberg: Do people, I'm sorry, Lily,
go on.
Lily Wong Fillmore: I was going to say this
is what is lost when we lose languages, the languages
that children bring to us in this society that people
bring us in this society. This is the richness. I
think that this is the greatest loss I can imagine, and
Lera Boroditsky: Every language contains in
it the knowledge that was honed and developed over
thousands of years by folks in the culture. Right?
It's an incredible treasure-trove of cultural knowledge
and so it creates that connection to the past, to all
the things that were important to folks in your culture.
They are incredible instruments, languages, they are
exquisitely structured. They have just incredible power
and expressivity, but each one is very different. Each
one has very different nuance. They are like parallel
Maxine Hong Kingston: Here's something that
one gains or loses if you have a linear language like
English and then you have a language that's pictograms
like Chinese. And Chinese also being a tonal language.
There is evidence that the left brain, the rational
brain, this is where you store English. Where that part
of the brain gets highly developed with this rational
linear language. Now this other language like Chinese
which only has 400 syllables versus English which has
4000 syllables. And so these syllables which are in
tones and also drawn in pictures, they develop the other
half of the brain, this hemisphere, the right
hemisphere. The one that dreams. The one that is not
as rational. There's even been evidence with people
who've had brain damage you could lose one language, but
you have the other one because it's developed in a
different part of the brain. So it's not just losing
nuances. It could be a whole, a whole area of
Geoff Nunberg: I have to add, I don't know
if it's taken place yet or not, but one of the events
associated with the On the Same Page program involved
dying languages and endangered languages and if you
think of each of these languages as encoding and
incorporating a whole world view, a whole world picture,
then every time a language dies, that world picture is
just gone. Inaccessible to the whole of humanity. The
rate at which languages are dying off makes the rate of
disappearance of biological species like just a campfire
against the Holocaust. They are going at an
extraordinary rate. I forget what the numbers are, but
half of them won't be spoken in a few decades and it
Lera Boroditsky: Some estimates say we're
losing one a week.
Geoff Nunberg: I'm sorry?
Lera Boroditsky: One a week.
Geoff Nunberg: One a week. And there are
about 6000.
Lera Boroditsky: 7000.
Geoff Nunberg: Do the math.
Lera Boroditsky: One quote I really like, I
think it's from Ken Hale, he says whenever a language
dies it's like a bomb being dropped on the Louvre
because you're just losing that whole cultural heritage.
There's no way to recover languages that don't have a
written form leave no trace. There's no way to go back
and hear them again. Lots of languages were lost before
recording began and so we'll never know what they were
Geoff Nunberg: John, have you, you've held
onto your Korean or?
John Cho: I'm trying to get it back.
There's a year and a half difference between myself and
my younger brother and he doesn't have the, in Korean
you say parum, which means wind. Which is your
pronunciation. And for some reason I've, I think I
still have it and I feel like if I spent six months or a
year in Korea I could absorb it again. But he, for
whatever reason, he just doesn't have it. And it's lost
to him forever.
Geoff Nunberg: Do you think that has
anything to do with your turn toward acting and having
an ear?
John Cho: I don't think so because it's
been true since we were children that he for some reason
just lost it more permanently than myself, but yeah.
Lily Wong Fillmore: The younger you are
when you begin that process of loss, the more complete
the loss will be. In fact this is one of the things
that has worried me a lot about educational policy in
our country. We've over the past four administrations
there has been a huge effort to get children from
minority language backgrounds into schools early, early,
early education programs from 0 to 5 now, away from the
influence of family so that the children can be taught
English as early as possible. And this is one of the
greatest disservices we can do to families especially
when the parents don't speak English or are trying
desperately to revitalize their languages as is the case
in New Mexico with the pueblo groups that I've worked
with and with the Navajos who are losing their languages
so rapidly it is painful. In a decade you can see the
loss where practically every child came to school
speaking Navajo to a point where only a handful does
anymore. Or up in Alaska with the Yup'iks, the
indigenous Alaska natives on the west central coast of
Alaska where I have worked.
Geoff Nunberg: If, we were talking about
earlier what Lily was saying she keeps sending in the
$75 in hopes she'll win the dinner with Obama. We'll
send the $75 and put your name too, but.
Lily Wong Fillmore: Listen, if you guys
have any influence, I'd love to have a word or two
Geoff Nunberg: What would you tell him?
Just about I'm sure it would go beyond language, but
what would you tell him? What should we be doing.
Lily Wong Fillmore: I have a real list
[Laughter]. Listen Obama is great, but I would tell him
to kick, you know what real quick for one thing.
Geoff Nunberg: What should America be doing
in terms of language?
Lily Wong Fillmore: I think the one thing
America has got to be doing is building the efficacy of
its families along with everything else. It's like to
cut the family out of education seems just very, very
wrong to me. I think that this is not malice certainly
not on President Obama's part, because I think he's the
president, the best president we've had for a very long
time. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about
language and about the role it plays in people's lives
and what it means to be able to communicate easily with
your children.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Lily, could I ask you
a question about learning language? I have noticed that
there are friends and people who easily pick up
languages. They can do 6, 7, 8 languages. And they'll
say oh, I'm going on a vacation somewhere so I'll just
pick up the language. And I cannot do that. And I
wonder, are there some people who just have a better
ability to learn languages than other people? And are
there people who just can only learn one.
Lily Wong Fillmore: Dan Slobin here in the
front row certainly is one of those guys who can pick up
languages very quickly and my husband, Charles Fillmore,
the linguist can as well. But, you know, there are
individual differences. There are many individual
differences, but I think it gets harder when you have
something that you feel you've got to protect, which is
who you are. As you grow older it does get more
difficult and not because you are not as able, but I
think we carry a lot more social baggage perhaps,
psychological baggage. To try speaking a language that
you don't know well means to expose yourself as being
that dumb person unable to do something that you think,
well, I really should be able to do that. And children
do it quite easily, quite naturally. Children who are
free and easy about this because children differ a lot
too. Something I've studied in their ability to hear
everything that they should be hearing, for example.
And to be able to mimic what they hear which is a part
of it, at least initially. But then opportunities as
well can differ. If you're in a situation where you're
only talking to people who speak that language, the one
you want to learn, you're going to have an easier time
of it than if you could switch to English if they are
going to accommodate you and make sure you understand
and you can participate then you are not going to learn
as quickly.
Lera Boroditsky: I want to put maybe a more
hopeful spin on this. People always talk about how it
gets harder to learn a language as you get older.
That's true. At the same time it's never going to be
easier than it is now [Laughter]. So if you think about
it, in ten years you'll only be worse off. So the right
time to start learning is now. Think about it
Lily Wong Fillmore: Good point.
Geoff Nunberg: Go ahead. Please.
John Cho: I have a three-year-old and it's
becoming, it's been a bit of a turf war with my parents
when they come into town. My wife is Japanese. And,
you know, my parents don't live in the state anymore.
And when they come to town they're very aggressive about
speaking Korean to him. And so to, you know, to keep
the peace I feel like we're speaking English. Yeah, but
it's a bit of a point of contention.
Geoff Nunberg: Is he learning any Korean?
Are you trying or Japanese? Are you trying to?
John Cho: We're not being, and I'm kind of,
we're frozen in activity. We discussed it and talked
about it, but it seemed like should we enroll him in
Japanese school or Korean school? I don't know whether
we want to do that or, we're not bilingual any more
really. It comes off as false to me. What do you think
Lily? [Laughter] What should we be doing [Laughter]?
Lily Wong Fillmore: I'll give you the
address of a school. There are such schools. There are
bilingual schools. In fact there's a school in
Emeryville where the kids can learn Chinese, Japanese,
and English and they do. They learn all three. Which
is pretty remarkable. You know, children are really
able to learn as long as the conditions allow it.
John Cho: Meaning what? That it needs to
be spoken at home?
Lily Wong Fillmore: No, it needs to be
spoken to the kid. [Laughter] And it would help.
John Cho: That makes rudimentary sense
Lily Wong Fillmore: Certain amount of sense
in that. And then if you were to support it at home it
would be so much better [Laughter].
Lera Boroditsky: Your mom called.
Lily Wong Fillmore: By the way, when you
get to a certain age as a Chinese person you give advice
freely [Laughter] whether you know anything about the
problem or not [laughter and applause].
Geoff Nunberg: Before we turn this over for
some questions, the title of this event I think is
Dreaming in Other Tongues. And I was thinking when you
were talking, Lily, about feeling stupid in a language.
Every once in a while I will dream in French or Italian
and I just feel dumb. I mean, I can only have the
little paltry thoughts that my ability in those language
enables me to have and they're really boring little
stupid dreams. But I wonder if other people here being
truly bilingual, all of you have that experience of
dreaming in other languages or how it works in your
Lera Boroditsky: That's really interesting.
I wish my dreams were more realistic, but when I dream
in French I can actually speak French without an accent
and then it's really disappointing when I wake up and
try to speak it out loud and it sounds all jumbled and
French people look at me sternly. But in my own mind
I'm fluent and flawless.
Geoff Nunberg: It's like being able to fly.
Lera Boroditsky: Yeah, there's no problem
internally. It's only in reality when it becomes a
Geoff Nunberg: Do you dream in English and
Russian or did you use to?
Lera Boroditsky: Yeah for me I switch the
language I dream in depending on the context that I'm
in. Definitely if I go to Russia and I spend some time
there if I'm speaking Russian a lot I'm dream in
Russian. But that even happens when I go to places that
I don't speak the language well. So if I'm in a Spanish
speaking country after a few days there's this
phenomenon, maybe some of you experience this, the din
in your heads. The random thoughts that fly through
your head all day long, little snippets they start to
switch into another language and that's kind of how you
know you're switching into this other space and dreams I
think follow that. So whatever is the din in your head.
That for me is the language that I dream in.
Geoff Nunberg: How about you, Maxine?
Maxine Hong Kingston: When I have a dream
where I am primal, basic, and I am experiencing
something that is very deep in my feelings, then the
words are in Chinese. I think it's because dreaming
it's like returning to something child like and that is
the language of my childhood. There's a narrator in my
dream. Sometimes there's a voiceover [Laughter] that
narrates a whole story. And that's always in English
because that's the story of my, I mean that's the
language of my art.
Geoff Nunberg: John, is Korean still occur
in your dreams?
John Cho: I don't think so, in fact there's
very little talking in any dreams [Laughter]. There's
running and flailing [Laughter] mostly. But I don't
recall the last time I dreamt in Korean. I'm pretty
sure it's in English.
Geoff Nunberg: And how about you, Lily?
Lily Wong Fillmore: Well it's reported to
me by my husband that when I, you know, talk in my
sleep, I talk both Chinese and very, very proper
English, prim English. Not the salty English that I
want to use in my everyday speech. He says I'm saying
things like bless me, oh my goodness [Laughter]. So I
don't know what that means exactly. I really don't. So
unlike me.
Geoff Nunberg: I think we can open this up
to questions for a while. There are microphones on both
sides. Is that right? There's one over here and is
there one? Yes, over here as well. If you want to line
up at the microphones, ask questions. Please keep them
brief, crisp and pointed. Yeah.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Geoffrey, excuse me,
I was just thinking before questions could I just tell
people what I did today?
Geoff Nunberg: Yes, I'm sorry. By all
Maxine Hong Kingston: Okay.
Geoff Nunberg: Let's do it right. So,
Maxine, what did you do today?
Maxine Hong Kingston: Okay. Thank you,
Geoffrey. I just got off the plane from the border of
Arizona and Mexico. And I was a delegation that's
sponsored by the Asian American Writer's Workshop and
the Coalicion de Humanos Derechos. And we were there to
witness the border. And so the first thing, what we did
was to go through the fence back and forth across the
border in two places. And um, what I want to just show
you are about 8 or 9 new words that I just learned.
Just starting out by saying we went across the fence.
Right there that word fence is so inadequate. We have
to find a word that can describe that thing that is
going across the borders between our two countries built
by the material that was leftover from the Vietnam War.
And then we ran out of that material and we started
using the stuff from Desert Storm. And so it would take
me a whole story to be able to describe something that I
would like to say in one word that's not just fence.
The, then along the fence are stadium lights which means
that everything is lit up very bright and so that you
could, it interrupts the migrations of people and
animals. And they're called stadium lights, but there's
no stadium there. Can we find another word for that?
Okay. And then a shocking brand new word. And this
word is streamlining. Streamlining is a new judicial
process by which we can, by which we can deport 70
people in one and a half hours. And what happens is
that the, about ten people are brought into the
courtroom. They are all in shackles and they stand in
front of the judge in a row. And the judge asks a
series of questions and the answer to the questions are
si, si, yes, si, si. I'll just give you two questions.
One is, are you an alien? Si. For 105, let's see, for
105 days of detention will you waive your right to a
jury trial. And the answer is, si. I did hear one
person say no. And what happens to somebody who says
no? Oh, there's shackles, but also there's ear buds and
I think they are hearing the translation of these
questions. This legal language and then they hear the
translation and they give their answer. There was one
person who said no. I had a chance to ask the judge, so
what becomes of this person? And the answer is that
he's screwed. Because there is no way that he is going
to be found not guilty. And he will be found guilty.
And then he will get from 2 to 5 years in jail. And he
could have gotten off by just, with his hundred five
days. Okay. This is just treatment of live people. So
then we also went to the medical examiner's office. It
is called the medical examiner's office. You could also
call it the morgue or coroner's office. So you see all
these parts of dead bodies. Because the bodies are out
in the, when they have been exposed out in the desert
and there's animals and weather, there's just parts of
human remains. And so the human remains are, they are
put into bags and they are called UBC. Each set of
remains is labeled UBC. That stands for undocumented
border crosser. And the human rights people are saying,
can we change that name? Let's call them unidentified
immigrants. But the government doesn't want that. The
connotation immigrants means the motive of immigrating.
Which side of the border they are on when they are
immigrating. They want this border crosser. I think a
very wonderful interesting term the crossing. This
journey is called the crossing. And I hear it as, it's
the same kind of term as the middle passage. And to me
it also sounds like a rite of passage. It sounds very
religious. The crossing like a holy cross, cruzandos.
Same religious word. Crusade, the cross. Okay. When
they get across, where are they going? They're coming
here. There is a map of the United States that's made
by the Homeland Security. And you know how there's 50
states? Well, there are only like 12 sectors. And where
we are right now, this is called the Livermore sector.
And it's made up of our state plus about four other
states. So this is the name of our place and it's
Livermore sector. There are openings in the fence.
And those openings are in the worst part of the desert.
You don't even need a fence because nobody can survive
going through that territory. And so then the only way
you might have a chance is if you hire a coyote. I heard
that word all the time. The coyotes will take them
through. And now as I say the word, I realize if we put
it in the dictionary, the way we pronounce it is coyotes.
And it sounds so funny now when I say coyotes because I
heard them say it this other way. It's such a serendipity.
Geoffrey and I are both on the board of the American
Heritage Dictionary. And so right now the ballot has
come out on new words or how to pronounce words. And
so I think we should put coyotes and how do you
pronounce that? Put that in there. Oh, yeah, across
these sections where the fence opens, there are drones
that fly there all the time. And then just thinking
about the American Heritage Dictionary, which I have
right now, I think the most interesting word that they
want us to judge is the word minority. Is it acceptable
to use minority in this sense: I am a minority. Or, as
a minority, I support the Latino studies. After my trip
to the border, I am marking the ballot that that is an
entirely acceptable usage of the word minority. I feel
like when I use the word minority like that, I feel
solidarity with those people crossing the border. Also
in solidarity because in Arizona they have already passed
a law to take out Latino studies. Okay? That's it.
Geoff Nunberg: Thank you, thank you. You know,
when you speak of this and I think about these paired
words, illegal, undocumented, immigrant, alien, which
alien actually going back to the 1920s had a pernicious
connotation. I think of what Lera was saying about the
different effects, speaking different languages and
realize that you can, you can have those effects without
having to step out of compass, the compass of English.
So let's take some questions now.
>>: I have a quickie for either Lily or Lera.
Lily, you said that kids oftentimes decide that they'll
drop their mother tongue because they think it will
help them learn English faster. Is there any evidence
that that's true or do they learn English as quickly
if they have two different linguistic communities, one
at home and one at school? What does the research
Lily Wong Fillmore: Well, I guess with the,
there are big studies. What's his name? Darn. These
days these references just pop right out of my head.
But there have been some large studies that kids do
give up their, see, no one tells you, they won't let
you speak your language at school. Now that's true.
But does that mean you have to give it up? Giving
the language up is a choice that children make. And
how do I know these things? Well, I've studied the
process over a number of years. In one case the
children of 1100 families across the country who
had had their, who had had their children in early
education programs that were in English only.
And the extent of the loss was so great that by the
time the kids were, let's see, how, I think it was
like two-thirds of the children had lost or unable
to communicate easily with family members in the
home language. Within a couple of years of being in
these early, early education programs. In schools
where I've done research, absolutely. And I've
continued to do research since retirement. I
spent two years in a school up here in Richmond
where 97 percent of the kids were English learners.
And, my gosh, I wish you could hear how completely
children can lose their language when they take a
mind to doing so. Including a child who did not
know the word hermano, brother, although he had
three brothers. And that's all there were,
boys in the family. So, kids can, they do.
And like I said, nobody tells them they can no
longer speak their mother tongue at home. The
parents don't speak any English at home. For
example, the children will start using English.
Initially, the parents say, how wonderful, the
kids are speaking English. They're so smart.
He's only six years old, etcetera, etcetera.
Well they welcome this. And before they know
it the child no longer speaks the home language.
I had the experience in New York City of talking
to a huge auditorium. Maybe twice the size of
this one. Packed with Asians from all different
backgrounds. And I was talking about this process
of loss and what the parents had to do. What they
had to do to stop the loss before it was too late.
And then I saw people coming up. There are a few
people lined up here. But, listen, the lines
snaked around the room. And people came up on the
stage and in very, very halting English told about
their children who could no longer understand them,
they could no longer talk. See, what happened to
the language? Well, you know, like I said,
nobody tells the children they cannot speak it, but
they give it up.
Lear Boroditsky: My quick answer is that
there are costs to learning languages at the same time
in the moment, but there are always benefits down the
line. So you are going to experience some difficulties.
That is, you are trying to learn two languages at the
same time. But the benefits of having gone through
that process will materialize later.
Lily Wong Fillmore: But the fact is that
there is nothing that says that children cannot learn
two or more languages as long as. There is so much,
so much is psychological and emotional and social.
Kids want to belong. They mistakenly believe that
giving up the mother tongue will make them more like
those desirables at school or out on the playground.
You know, it's a very interesting process.
Geoff Nunberg: Let's take a question over here
on the east side of the room.
>>: Hi. My question is for John. Actually,
I have a funny memory of my mom and I. I watched Star Trek
with her. It was funny because she was watching in
Korean subtitles and I was watching it in English. And
I think it's nice that we can share an English film
together where, so even though we can both understand
despite the fact that she doesn't know English. And
it's funny because she said in the middle of it that
we have similar qualities in appearance. And it's
funny because one of my friends were filming. And
it would mean a lot if I could get a picture with you
after all of this is over. [Laughter] It would only
take a few seconds and it would mean a lot to me.
John Cho: We can do that.
>>: Okay. Thank you.
John Cho: Thank you.
Geoff Nunberg: Is there another question over
here on the west? Yeah.
>>: It's about the children learning the
language again. And so we taught our kids Hindi,
you know, which is our native language, including the
script. And they learned it well. But over time they
start losing it. So my daughter who continued to use
it because she was learning Indian classical music. So
what I feel is that there has to be a continuing that
particular utility for the child in some domain of her
life. In a broader sense, in order to sustain linguistic
diversity, you have to sustain cultural diversity.
So if you don't have any value for Indian classical
music in U.S. where she lives, then the value for the
language also dies with it.
Lily Wong Fillmore: That's right.
>>: So really the core issue is that the
cultural diversity is disappearing at a fast rate.
That language doesn't go with it. I mean, how do you
preserve that is the real issue.
Lily Wong Fillmore: I guess you do if it's
really important to you and that's what I hope to make,
see, this society does not support the maintenance of
minority languages. It will not. And that's all there
it to it. Just look at the politics right now, right?
In Arizona, in many, many places. So it's going to
have to be family and community. The primary
community. The Chinese have always had Chinese schools.
Maxine went to Chines school when she was a kid. I
went to Chinese school. Hated every minute of it, but
it was good for me. I know. [Laughter] And it's,
well, you know. These are things, if a community
values it. If a community wants to, it can do that.
And I think this is going to, it has to be that way.
Families have to tell their children, look, this is a
Korean house. Under this roof, you eat Korean rice,
you speak Korean out of respect for me. The parents
who do that can get away with it. And actually get
away with it as long as they're tough. And we, Asian
parents are known for a certain level of toughness.
Lear Boroditsky: I'm not sure we're losing
cultural diversity here. Humans are endlessly
inventive. This is how we ended up with 7,000
languages in the first place. We're able to take
all these different perspectives on the world and
we have these incredible flexible minds. At the
core of human intelligence is just being able to
constantly invent. And I think they're, just as
there's a drive to affiliate and conform, there is
also a drive to diversify. And you see this all
over the world. We like to relate to larger groups
but we also like to have our own tribes. And I think
those are opposing forces that will keep diversity
alive for a long time.
>>: There are 7,000 islands without the
internet and now you don't have those islands.
Geoff Nunberg: Over here on the east. I think
it feels like the shrine game, doesn't it? [Laughter]
>>: Um, I was actually noting a link between,
there was another link between crime in the southeast Asian, I
think there was a crime in the southeast Asian community
and perhaps a link between whether or not they were able
to speak, the children were able to speak the language of the
parents. Also thinking in regards to the program in
which, I think it was in New Mexico where the children were
being forced into an English-only environment in that divide.
And I was wondering if do you think a program in which both
the students and the parents or try to incorporate together
perhaps to learn English? Both together, parents learn
English. Do you think that would find that balance
between this divide that comes as children when they grow up.
And even perhaps help them maintain home language even
at home as long as they had the languages they are
able to go back to perhaps.
Lily Wong Fillmore: That certainly would be
great because the parents need to learn English
because there's just no way that you can, that you can
learn if you don't speak any English. I mean,
you're always going to be outside the economic
mainstream. And it is important. But there are not
enough classes for adults to learn the language.
People, immigrant parents usually work much, much
too hard, too many hours to even have time for
that. So these are always things that are very
desirable. For me, I view myself as a family,
an advocate for families, all right? We've got
to do the most doable things first. And that is
educate the educators. So they go easy on the
kids. And make sure that the kids feel they don't
have to make that choice because it's really a
unnecessary one. Truly a unnecessary one. And then,
to educate parents to understand what is at stake
because that is exactly what the problem is.
There is a lot at stake for a family, for an immigrant
family. To maintain, I value the diversity, I value
the languages. But more than anything else I'm
concerned about the integrity of families.
Geoff Nunberg: I should just add that the
last time I looked it was about 10 years ago. I haven't
checked the figures lately. There 50,000 people on waiting
lists in LA County alone for adult English classes.
Similar numbers in Northern California. With the present
state of the State budget, I don't even want to think what
those numbers are. But at the same time people are saying
people have to learn English and so on. They're not making
the resources available. Over here.
>>: One of my favorite things about different languages is that there are a lot
of words that aren't directly translatable, at least into English. And I
was just sort of wondering for all of you if you had a
favorite word in another language that wasn't really
directly translatable into English, either your native
language or another language you might know.
Geoff Nunberg: That's a good question. Maxine, do
you have a.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Well, on the virtual
bookshelf, I put a glossary from my book. And I got the
confidence to do that from being on the board of the
American Heritage Dictionary. But I just put words,
they're my favorite words. And each one has in a way
not translatable. Okay, I'll just pick out one. It's lie.
It's a confusion word. It's a confusion value. And
it means tradition. It means the right conduct. That
very Buddhist kind of term. Right conduct. But also on
a very light level it also means good manners. And so
every time you use when you are in interaction with
someone you use good manners, it also means that you are
doing a ceremonial good gesture toward them. And thinking
of a way to define li, I found somebody who did it for me.
And that was Thomas Murtin, the Catholic priest and monk.
I guess he's a Catholic monk. And he defined li using
Christian terms. And so I used his definition in that, in
my glossary.
Lera Boroditsky: Let me give you two examples.
Some of my favorite words that you can't translate are
words that I never thought you would need a word for or
I would need a word for. So when I was learning Indonesian
at some point I learned a word madu, which means co-wife
or fellow wife. As in another wife of the same husband.
And I thought I never would need that word. But now I have
it and I felt, I felt incredibly happy to have learned it.
I also felt really bereft because I thought when am I
actually going to use that word? When will my opportunity
come? Another word, another example is from Russian. And
this is. Russian allows slightly more complicated
morphology than English does. And why I love this example
is how it shows you nuanced meaning can get if you allow
just a little bit of morphology. Russian allows you to put
on all these prefixes on verbs. So you can something like
[Speaking Russian]. It has to root for to drink. But it
means something like I meant to drink too much but I didn't
quite get there. [Laughter] And it's the feminine past
tense perfective. So it has all those, singular, right.
So it has all of those meanings. Whenever I think about
that word I think about the question people ask. Oh, does
English have a word for X or Y or Z? And are there, no
language. You could ask does English have a word for, I
I meant to drink to drink too much but I didn't quite get
there in the feminine past tense singular perfect. Almost
no language should have a word like that. That should be
a pretty rare occaission.
Geoff Nunberg: But if one does it should be
Russian. [Laughter] How about you?
Lily Wong Fillmore: None of them are very nice.
[Laughter] There is an expression in my language where
you call someone constipated dog. And when I'm driving I
use that expression a whole lot. But actually my favorite
expression is from Spanish, Mexican Spanish. A word I
learned from all the kids who taught me what I though was
English when I was back in Watsonville. [Speaking Spanish]
You know, I don't even know how to translate it exactly.
It's sort of all at lose ends, untidy. I know how to use
it. Any of you Spanish speakers can provide a better
translation for [Speaking Spanish]?
>>: Discombobulated?
Lily Wong Fillmore: Discombobulated but a little,
okay. Yeah, yeah. That sounds pretty good actually. Sort
of like blech.
Geoff Nunberg: John, any words for you?
John Cho: I don't know that I have a favorite
but I thought of a word that I recently learned, a new
word in Korean. When I was in Sol last a reporter told me
that I was an [Speaking Korean]. Which is a combination
of three words. [Speaking Korean} which means mother,
[Speaking Korean] which means friend, [Speaking Korean]
which would be son. Mother's friend's son. And that was
meant as a great compliment that would mean you are
desirable to women [Laughter]. And I said in the English
translation that would mean the opposite, I think.
[Laughter] But that was interesting. But in support of
bilingualism I think it's interesting. Because to what
you were saying earlier, Maxine, my mother and father, I
think, can, maybe about five years ago became very about
saying I love you.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Oh, good for them.
John Cho: And it rolls off the tongue very easily
now. And they say it all the time. I think it's so
interesting that if there is a language blocking, you can't
express it in one language. It's fantastic that they can
just switch up.
Maxine Hong Kingston: You mean they can say it in
English when they don't say it in Korean?
John Cho: Yeah, they'll be speaking in Korean
sentence and say, okay, we're leaving now in Korean
and then say I love you in English. That's keeping the
beat. So, path of least resistance.
Geoff Nunberg: I find the words that I miss most
when I'm speaking a foreign language are often these little
particles that you can't translate. I mean in German you
say [Speaking German] and it means I'm finished. The ya is
doing something that English has no idea what to do. I
once asked an Italian friend who spoke English very, very
well, I said when you're speaking Italian, what's the
expression you most miss? And he thought, he said, by all
means. [Laughter] Maybe we can take one more question
over here because we are getting late. And then afterwards
we'll give everybody a round of applause and then
afterwards people, I take it the panelists will be willing
to take questions on the stage. So, one more question
over here.
>>: Hi, I speak Spanish. I learned it in grade
school. And then afterwards I completely forgot it. And
so I wanted to relearn it. I traveled to South America for
four months thinking I'd learn it immediately. And for the
first two months it worked. I picked it up real quickly.
But after that point I sort of hit this plateau where I
couldn't get any further. I knew all the basic language.
I could enter business negotiations and I could talk with
friends and I could flirt a little bit. But I couldn't
reach those sort of higher concepts. I couldn't have a
really good conversation with anyone. And I don't know