Showing posts with label linguistic_imperialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label linguistic_imperialism. Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Bilingual By 2030 Throwdown

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Bilingual by 2030 is a complicated topic on its own terms alone. Using it as a hook on which to hang your favorite opinion without discussing the merits of the actual policy is not the way to go with this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Of #nnevvy, Subaltern Linguistics and Global Divides (social justice language and authoritarian agendas: Part 2 of Zillions)

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Strap in, folks, because this post goes to a few different places.

Anyone who cares about regional politics in Asia and hangs out on Twitter was treated to an absolute delight recently, when the hashtag #nnevvy went stratospheric. The details don't exactly matter - some movie star's girlfriend, named Nevvy, said she was dressing like a "Taiwanese girl", some Chinese Twitter users (and by "users" I mean a combination of real users, paid trolls, and bots) got mad and...honestly, who cares. The trolls look for reasons to get angry, so the actual reasons generally don't matter.

This caused huge numbers of young, progressive, socially-networked Thais to start roasting the Chinese trolls, whose insults about their king, government, level of economic development etc. didn't work. The big joke among Thais, of course, was that they actually love dunking on their government and new king, and basically pulled the century's greatest "Yes, And" on the trolls, trolling them back with Tiananmen Square and insisting Taiwan and Hong Kong were independent. Young people across Asia started getting in on the fun, including scores of Taiwanese. Among them you could find people from India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines and more all coming together to roast Chinese Internet users (yes, there were several "Avengers, Assemble!" memes, because of course there were).


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I noticed two things about this, before I get into what I really want to say. First, I adore the sarcastic nihilism, the absolute existential absurdity, of the expert use of "Yes, And". It's an interesting contrast to the deadpan ironic humor of Taiwan, which often veers either into mildly dirty jokes (e.g. intentionally labeling a hair dryer "Blowing With Love") or wordplay.

So if you're ever tempted to go off on some Chad rant about how this or that group of Asians "has no sense of humor", I kindly suggest that you follow the advice of the hair dryer. 






Second, I am loving on the subaltern linguistics of it all. One will still meet English teachers and students who think of "learning English" language as a foreign system to be acquired (Pennycook and others call this langue).

What we saw with #nnevvy, however, was not langue - it was people from across Asia either translanguaging (using their own language and translation tools as necessary to be understood in a second language), or using often-imperfect English in order to negotiate and express meaning - not to 'inner circle' White native speakers, but other non-native speakers, for their own purposes. White-People-English had nothing to do with it. This is parole - language in performance.

The choice of English for these international exchanges occurred naturally in the moment, in the minds of users, but the fact that English was there to be used - enough of them had studied it and younger generations across Asia grow increasingly more adept at it - was neither a natural occurrence nor a neutral one. It was, of course, the role of imperialism both overtly (colonial) and implicitly
 (economic).

But the spread of English on the back of colonialism (both neo- and the regular kind) doesn't mean that it cannot be appropriated, or that its use cannot be empowering. If anything, these days in Asia the linguistic imperialism mantle has switched to Mandarin - again, a change that is neither natural nor neutral, and of dubious benefit. Of course, this is in line with China's attempts to step up to the plate as both regional and global hegemon. With this comes a healthy dose of Han supremacy, and tied to that, linguistic imperialism.

So when a bunch of people from various nations across Asia - some of whom speak Mandarin but many of whom don't - needed to take a collective dump on the regional supremacist jerk and their drone army of bots and trolls, they chose not the language of those bots and trolls (Mandarin), but the choice that has, by circumstance, become more neutral and therefore ripe for appropriation.

Honestly, I'm kind of waiting for the West to figure this out, because so many people seem to think the only flavor available at Ye Olde Supremacy Shoppe is vanilla White. 



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The main reason I found #nnevvy interesting, however, is how neatly it tears down a construct that the CCP is absolutely desperate to promote: the East-West divide. So many of their arguments - this is how we do things here, you can never understand our 5,000 years of culture, Asian-style democracy (thankfully no longer a buzzword), you're using Western thinking to try to understand Eastern ways but you can't push that imperialism on us! - are predicated on this.

Why? Because Westerners often buy it and then all their Orientalist fantasy "worldliness". Because if a person from "the East" insists it's true, it's difficult for a person from "the West" to contradict them without sounding like an ethnocentrist (this is actually a massive issue in intercultural communication, with no clear answers). Or worst, a "colonizer". Because it gives them a handy platform from which to say "you can't tell us what to do", which they then promptly use to tell the rest of Asia what to do. Because it gives them a region - a bloc of people supposedly "like them" - which they can then dominate without "the West" complaining too much, because to them, it looks like Asians working with Asians which sure seems a lot more PC than Westerners doing the same thing.

This is all cloaked in the language of pan-Asian cooperation - after all, why shouldn't the dominant voices from Asia be Asian? I'd certainly agree with that, when it's meant sincerely.

But, of course, the CCP's actual goal is to become the dominant voice from Asia, not to participate in (or even benignly lead) a cooperative effort. They squash rather than uplift the marginalized voices that are inconvenient to this narrative.

Cultural differences between regions do exist, on a broad scale. But there is no "East" and "West", but rather a variety of communities within each, with their own power and privilege differentials. There are people who believe in freedom, and those who believe in authoritarianism with many shades in between. There are people on an entire spectrum of liberal to conservative, and young people across Asia increasingly differ in values from their elders. They may express it differently, so you might not have noticed, but it's there. 


These ideas straddle "East" and "West", to the point that a little cultural adaptation goes a long way when befriending locals my age or slightly younger, whereas I suspect my Grandma L., were she still alive, would get along quite well with a typical KMT Taiwanese Christian Auntie.

To the extent the idea is useful, it's to demarcate an extremely fuzzy boundary for the purpose of examination, with the hope of deepening knowledge, exploring intersectionality and building inclusivity, not creating new fiefdoms for new pantsless bear-kings.


Basically, you can tell they're full of shit not because they voiced the idea of an "East"-"West" cleavage, but by what they want to accomplish by advancing it.

It also serves the CCP's purpose to convince you this divide means that "democracy" and "human rights" are inherently "Western" and therefore not suitable for "Eastern" people. And boom, you've just been talked out of believing that democracy may not be perfect but it's sure better than dictatorship, that human rights are universal for a reason, or even believing that these are false constructs of "Western" imperialists - imperialism is only "Western" in this worldview, see - there's no Han or Chinese imperialism possible. That's pretty convenient, eh? You've conveniently forgotten how many Asian nations are successful democracies and want to stay that way, including Taiwan! You definitely don't remember that human rights have been defined by an organization - the UN - which has Asian members.

In fact, you may even become convinced that Asian countries, like Taiwan, who ascribe to certain so-called "Western" values and try to build sincere, friendly relations with Western nations are filthy dens of evil capitalist brainwashed colonizer sympathizers. You might start thinking of them as one of the "bad" guys, because they've teamed up with the Evil West and don't want to cooperate with their friendly local hegemon.

If you go down this path, you've talked yourself into believing that you support people across Asia by opposing "Western imperialism", when all you've really done is become a useful idiot for the power that seeks to rule them.


Take one look at #nnevvy, however, and you'll see it's all a ruse. So many people across Asia can't stand the CCP, and can't stand their cyber-armies of rabid nationalists (both the real ones and the bots). I mean, it felt like almost all of Asia just teamed up to take them down, so the idea that they're all on some sort of "same side" and China is simply the munificent and benevolent leader of that "side" is a joke.

Honestly, if you're a long-time reader, you know all this. Even a casual visitor has probably got a clue.

But you'd be shocked how many tankie so-called leftist Westerners there are who still haven't figured this stuff out. They tend to substitute viciousness for evidence, and as such I find them hard to talk to, so I'm not really sure how to help them see the toxicity, authoritarianism, anti-Asian racism and straight-up Orientalism of their views, all cloaked in the 'social justice' language of supporting people of color. All while making excuses to deny those people of color the same rights and freedoms they themselves enjoy.

I have more to say about global divides and suddenly believing ideas like human rights are "relative", but will save those for future posts.

In the meantime: