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Randy_Tam As I said earlier, what a native speaker looks more on is the meaning (which, if broadly defined, can be regarded as a 'rule'. After all, language as a whole can be defined as a 'social institution'.) instead of the structural rules which constitute the language, as it is something 'inside'.
Not quite. I look up pronunciations in Chinese dictionaries. (I won't speak for other languages--inadequate sample. I'd infer incorrectly. I suspect Japanese native speakers look up pronunciations too, with their on and kun readings)
In this case the term is an include - all word, which has virtually no meaning, and resembles 'All human beings have a physiological brain.'
The laws of science aren't arbitrary; but the rules of human institutions could be argued as such. Language is not science (unlike "earth as a cube", which isn't common sense either).

Your argument has a local flavor to it. Hong Kongers hang on to the bones because they are getting less meat (cultural literacy). Had they done more "immersion", they'd have had more "instinctive"/native-speaking feel of Eng. The diff. between L1s and 2s here is perhaps sheer exposure.

I see the impact of the exposure problem even on university research. English students prefer linguistics because it's more tangible than cultural literacy. Local research is now lopsided-too much on structures and theories; not enough on literature/etymology-hence my criticism on learners treating language like science. I see the influence even on their writing. If they become profs, the Eng. ed. curriculum and research will be even more unbalanced. Hence my jab at Chomsky (though I'm not picking on him per se.).

An excellent lang. ed. curriculum should cover:
1. Three writing courses at least 2. literature (7-8 courses, covering poetry, drama, fiction and prose) 3. Greek and Latin roots of Eng. 4. English and American civilization 5. child psychology 6. Children's lit. (for primary school teachers) 7. Juvenile lit. (for sec. school teachers) 8. Two years of foreign lang. 9. Public speaking 10. phonetics and syntax 11. History of English 12. Intensive listening lab 13 music (for primary teachers)

Save pedagogy for the last year. Make IELTS (with a minimum of 7.5) a graduation requirement. Bump up teachers' salary for those who make the cut.

Many people, like myself, form their own theories based on life experiences. Instead of talking about love, I want a real love affair with English. I'd pick an Ishiguro novel over Chomsky's papers any given day.

There, I feel better now.

Hope you're not homeless (hey, the library has internet access!) Merry X'mas [:-)]
Comments  
I am not quite close to 'homeless'. I am living at my aunt's home because my granny invited 3 of her siplings to stay... aiya, according to my parents this is going to last 2 weeks or more. I am currently using my uncle's PC just to get here and take a look at what you say. Though I cannot come here as frequently as I used to.

Looking at dictionaries for meanings, phonetic representations whatever does not mean you are forming rules of some sort. I am sorry I didn't include this in describing what a native speaker's going to do with a dictionary... lol. This is especially true with languages belonging to the Sino family, the orthography of which is ideographic, for which reason the phonological form can hardly be guessed just from its shape (I remember I read a passage during my F3 Chinese lessons called <漢字的結構>, in which the author asserted that there's a kind of Chinese letters, the 形聲字, whose pronunciations could be guessed. I can hardly agree with this. Even an L1 speaker of Chinese, without prior training, can hardly succeed in this.). This is also true, to a certain extent, of English because of its hybrid source of etymons (... um... I mean the root of a lexical item. I don't really remember the English jargon for it): French, Old English, German, Irish, Greek, Latin... all contribute to the English language as it is today, leading to the lack of consistency between the orthographical and phonological forms of English words. These little 'cracks' of course can not be formulated by the human cognitive system (simply by means of conjecture, etc).

Language is of course not a science, but the STUDY into it can be, just as one may well argue whether translatology is an art or a science.

I am not really sure whether university English courses lay more stress on the scientific side of languages than on the cultural side thereof. To the best of my knowledge, this is not the case. Both are given equal stress. I come to this conclusion from information available to me. Lingnan University, where I am taking my undergraduate yr1 course in Contemporary English and Education, and Chinese University, where a friend of mine is currently a yr2 student in English, both have introductory courses into 'English Grammar', as well as introductory courses into literature in English. The workload is virtually the same for the 2 parts, at least in yr 1. But as the course goes on, more such courses as 'language and culture' or 'sociolinguistics' are available, making the curriculum more relevant to the relationship between language and social factors.

But your statement is true in that Hong Kongers are culturally more and more illiterate, being ignorant not only in foreign cultures but also in their own. Their ignorance in local culture being irrelevant here, I'd like to suggest some plausible reasons why language education from a cultural perspective is losing its ground.

1. It appears students are less motivated (in their learning) these days. What I mean by this is that days at school become more and more dreary: schooling is more or less a long toil, against which students devise one of the most primitive countermeasures known to man --- go have some sleep and look for your Juliet in your dream, handsome Romeo.

But this 'countermeasure' has its roots in that at night students have to attend tutorial classes, which they deem even more useful than classes at school. They having had such classes head back home have their dinner, do some homework and perhaps some reading as well, and, hey mama, I need time to play and relax a while. Voila, time to sleep puppy, it's already 0300 in the midnight. Frankly last year when I was having my A Level, I spent almost 7 hours everyday after school just to revise and read something more (I didn't take tutorial classes, save for economics), it was already 1200 when I returned home from the self - study facilities. It was hell. All this lead to a persistent fatigue in students.

So, the consequence is that, even if the cultural side of language is come across at school, there could hardly be anyone listening (lol.... reminds me of my UE class. Almost 2 / 3 of our class were sleeping if no assignments were given).

2. One may well ask an old question, 'why do students opt for tutorial classes instead of school?' To this old question I give an old answer, 'because students think tutorial classes are more useful, in that they cut the craps and just get straight to the point.' ---> I didn't take tutorials so don't blame me for that. But from what I hear, from my ex - gf (...), my friends, and my classmates, this is the case.

What is meant, then, by 'craps'? ie. anything that is not relevant to the examinations ahead. Examinations, strangely enough, dominate students' minds. My classmates may well think that I am good at linguistics, and so they will immediately conclude, without exception, 'so you must score a high GPA'... Sadly, the thing that is immediately associated with 'good or bad' is a score.

Your suggestion about IELTS (that I took 2 years ago lol without attending any tutorial classes or doing preparations of any sort... just fulfilling your 'minimum requirement' when I was a 6th former) therefore, in this context, does not really render any use in determining the (always abtract) 'language standard' of English teachers. IELTS has nothing about 'culture'. Given that absurd formula (good / bad = score), and given the fact that actually there are tutorial classes given on this test available in Hong Kong, IELTS is simply another UE.

3. These lead to the 3rd possible cause: All that Hong Kong (as a physiological identity separated from its people) wants about English is to make it a little utility: the current English curriculum is concerned with how to use English (as the name of the subject suggests: Use of English), not how to appreciate English as a language or, as Sapir - Whorf's hypothesis suggests, a fruit of a culture. Think about the writing assignments: Letter to the editor, Letter of complaint, Informal letter to a friend (sharing students' own experience perhaps), and essays (on the sheer knowledge on some current social issues). Listening is more or less to make students a 'phono - type', write whatever you hear. (of course, that needs some thought... but what is needed in a real dialogue: any puns suggested? the attitude of the speaker? 'slips of tongue'? all these are absent). Oral~ haha, that's a joke. Just keep talking and make your points understandable to your partners to score high. If this is not enough, sham having some 'foreign accents'. What is the most 'important part' in English exams in Hong Kong, as an interviewee in a programme produced by TVB (name really forgotten, but the programme is great!) pointed out, is 'comprehension', not how to express oneself, accounting for the 'deteriorating English language standard' these days.

4. What makes the situation even worse is the availability of such 'lures' as PC games, movies, and the Internet (-_-... am I not surfing the net?). Students 20 years ago may take pleasure in reading fictions: Le Docteur Pascal, Women in Love, the God of Small Things (I didn't take AL E. Lit.; I really read it for pleasure), Sybil (by Benjamin Disraeli), these are all fictions that I like. But as other forms of leisure can be more easily reached today, reading (to learn from the 'experience of another person': a 'function' of literature) becomes a hefty burden from which every students wants to escape.

So... the entire 'English pedagogic machine' becomes a miserable thing brewing students who treat English as nothing more than a tool to show their 'erudition', as is observed from the fact that complaint letters written in English to the Government or to such other authorities as concerned are paid more attention to, even if the author thereof is a Hong Konger. I do not mean Hong Kongers are in their nature 'inferior' to non - Hong Kongers. What I am trying to bring out is that there exists a sort of 'linguistic discrimination', even if the government has declared equal legal status of Chinese and English. Discriminations of this sort conduce to English being treated the utilitarian way. Actually I was writing an essay on this attitude toward English when the semester started. But the 'study' was halted by the profs, on the grounds that I am but a yr1 student, so that I should leave the topic to my yr 3 (actually yr 4) final paper. Anyway, I don't give a damn anymore.

Your suggestion relative to the English curriculum is good... but I wonder if it would be possible even in the university, as the topics suggested are each already a large topic. Or are you actually suggesting it as a framework that is to be followed through during the 16 years (university years inclusive) of schooling?

I love linguistics not really because I treat language in a parochial scientific way. I am limiting 'language' to the 'essence' (leaving this undefined) because I am more interested in the common traits shared by ALL human languages. Culture... yes, that sounds great, and in my literature studies I remember I once looked into the relationship between 'gender roles' and why Alice Munro's <Boys and Girls> is written that way. But still, linguistics studied in the way I mentioned before is what I am most interested in, for which reason I am not really ok with the course I am taking and am therefore applying by non - JUPAS for CU linguistics... to see if I have a chance.
Yes, Hong Kongers adopt a rather utilitarian, if shortsighted, approach to learning. Sadly, the longest distance between two points is often a shortcut.

A-level shouldn't take up that much time. Active listening, thinking, and participation in class all minimize the need for revision. My elder sibling became 高考狀元 without burning that much midnight oil. (I did okay in my mock exams, though I didn't take the real thing.). Just goes to show you: in HK, quantity trumps quality--students put in more time to make up for their increasingly passive learning style (writing 50 essays with the same mistakes instead of doing one right, for instance) You've just proven my point.

etymons (... um... I mean the root of a lexical item. I don't really remember the English jargon for it):


Why use jargons when simple words will do?

Looking at dictionaries for meanings, phonetic representations whatever does not mean you are forming rules of some sort.


Didn't I say we would be spinning around our own definitions of "prescriptivism"? Your understanding of the term is framed by grammar; mine by the outcome.

In any case, the example proves we shouldn't make assumptions as to what native speakers use dictionaries for.

Language is of course not a science, but the STUDY into it can be, just as one may well argue whether translatology is an art or a science.


Last time I checked, linguistics is still in the Faculty of Arts. Never seen it listed among the sciences.

CUHK translation majors told me all they do is practise; no theories. Beijing U.'s foreign lang. institute (???) does the same thing: language labs all day long. They are not elite programmes for no reason.

I am not really sure whether university English courses lay more stress on the scientific side of languages than on the cultural side thereof.
You're mixing up English and Lang. Ed. programmes (Yes, Lingnan has both in the same dept., with IED components as an add-on) But most TEFL-like programmes cover mostly linguistic and educational theories, including sociolinguistics. Mandatory cultural literacy coverage, including literature, are kept to a max. of five courses. (Lingnan's has four; some have fewer or none.) No wonder my CUHK friend says "Lang. Ed." depts aren't real English programmes (sorry!). My TEFL friends tell me themselves how little they are learning (there's more, but I won't leave specifics here).

My IELTS suggestion isn't about cultural literacy; I'd like the incompetent English teachers screened out. I've nothing against exams, as long as they are only part of the requirement.

If these programmes have a common core curriculum, we won't need a benchmark. As it stands, many TEFL majors aren't learning the same thing; exams will help measure everybody against one standard.

even if the government has declared equal legal status of Chinese and English. Discriminations of this sort conduce to English being >treated the utilitarian way.


Beg to differ. English used to be the medium of instruction for many secondary schoolers, so cultural literacy wasn't a big problem. We were exposed to English vocab. in every core subject. After 97, HK lost its linguistic identity, as is epitomized in the ever-changing language education policy.

But the 'study' was halted by the profs, on the grounds that I am but a yr1 student, so that I should leave the topic to my yr 3 (actually yr 4) final paper.


Your prof. is right to keep your project in hiatus. Students should be well-rounded before they become specialized--there's plenty of time for that yet! Again, going back to what I've said about a lopsided education.

Your suggestion relative to the English curriculum is good... but I wonder if it would be possible even in the university, as the topics suggested are each already a large topic.


Many of these courses I've seen in curriculum outside of HK. Eng. teachers don't have to be experts in any of these areas; a basic course in each will suffice (except for writing and lit.--we are making up for lost ground)

This is a fairly typical Eng. teacher curriculum in the states: http://www.tamiu.edu/catalog/current/ba-engl8th-12th.shtml (and this is not even a top program. See how much a HK student is missing, both in English and general education)

I love linguistics not really because I treat language in a parochial scientific way. I am limiting 'language' to the 'essence' (leaving >this undefined) because I am more interested in the common traits shared by ALL human languages.
Linguistics is like 兵法. Too much strategems on paper will turn anybody into a 馬謖.

am therefore applying by non - JUPAS for CU linguistics... to see if I have a chance.


Good luck. You have a great shot given your passion for the subject--but won't non-jupas disqualify you from student aid? (I have no clue)

PS. I've written to the local papers on these subjects, so some of my comments are nothing new.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
ah... it seems nobody is reading. Anyway, this thing has gone really too far - fetched.

No offense, but that it pains and is time - consuming to do the a - level is a rather common opinion among high school students. At any rate, this is a conclusion that information available to me has led me to draw.

As to the jargon thing, if 'etymon' be defined as 'the root of a lexical item', and given one is going to use the word many times... haha, this is going to be a lot of fun: the root of a lexical item (an etymon) is something that students should at any rate have some knowledge about; however, the study into the root of lexical items (etymology) is par excellence a profound subject that is worth as much attention as such other linguistic subjects as phonetics and semantics.

'Why use jargons when simple words will do?'

in the very same manner, I will ask, 'why use a long expression when a shorter and plainer one is available'? (again, the 2 arguments are treated as 'equally important' in George Ornwell's 1946 essay...) An analogy could be observed from maths:

1. (2x + 2y)

2. 2(x + y)

is the latter one not more palatable?

'Last time I checked, linguistics is still in the Faculty of Arts. Never seen it listed among the sciences. '

That's why every year members and professors from that field take pain in explaining the nature of THEIR linguistics. Go to the open days of those institutes where linguistics classes are given. You will find them all stressing on the irrelevance of studying languages (presumably an arts matter) to linguistics defined in their own fashion. Taxonomy is one thing; the nature of what is taught can be another. Economics is, as a tradition, treated as an arts subject (though yes... it is changing). But does it not fall under a branch of science, with a coherent framework of theories and tools for predictions?

'Your prof. is right to keep your project in hiatus. Students should be well-rounded before they become specialized--there's plenty of time for that yet! Again, going back to what I've said about a lopsided education. '

Not really... linguistics in its own right is a subject, English is another. That I skim through linguistics issues does not mean I am leaving other subjects high and dry. A history major fella tells me he is doing some sort of research into the military history of the Chinese warlords, 1911 - 1927. (a field on which few historians even bother to write). I am somehow envious of him not really because of the freedom (I am going to study myself anyway) he is given, but because somebody is serving for him as a good 'reader'.

' Linguistics is like 兵法. Too much strategems on paper will turn anybody into a 馬謖.'

That depends on how you define 'linguistics'. If you mean to be so ambitious as to include language phenomena into 'linguistics', then yes. But if the usual sense of this word is preserved, then I must decline. Linguistics, treated on a par with 'French studies', 'Literary analysis', or 'history', is a STUDY of human linguistic behaviour, but not 'human linguistic behaviour' itself: I do not need to know linguistics in order to speak my mother tongue or English, or French. By the same token, an apple does not need to 'know' Newton's laws so that it will fall from a tree. Linguistics is (currently) a study concerned with the nature of the language faculty. So it is appropriate to speak of L1 acquisition, X' theory, etc.

BUT to study the subject is one thing, to APPLY it is another. This is true of... I am sorry to say, everything. One can well attend a so - called 'leadership training camp' and score high, but fail to manage his subordinates in an orderly manner. One may well recite the X theory and Y theory, but still doesn't know to deal with the lack of initiation (on which X theory is based) among his subordinates. But that does not mean a study into such phenomena as aforementioned is unnecessary or will turn a chap into a pedant. That is a matter of how one understands the relationship between a study and the practical application the knowledge he possesses.
Hi Randy,

I've originally worded a long reply but dumped it in the trash.

Everything you said-and more importantly, your logic and writing style-reconfirms my suspicion: in HK, the art of language is divorced from its study, which is handled just like phy/chem/bio. This thread is even reading like a science paper--with more Math/science analogies than cultural analogies.

We agree on these:1) the utilitarian approach to language studies in HK and 2) the decline of cultural literacy. Yet no language/linguistic major would acknowledge the current approach to language teaching and research to be the by-product of this utilitarian and philistine system. The platonic relationship to languages here sustains itself.

Time-honored approaches to studying are too often mentioned and too little heeded. Apply, apply, apply--can't be said enough. In fact, I'm going to practise what I've preached and apply my knowledge to other threads now. Good night.