A US college investigation into a single of its professors has ignited a debate about the use of a seemingly innocuous Chinese word.
Professor Greg Patton at the College of Southern California (USC) was telling college students in a communications lecture last month about filler, or pause text, this sort of as ‘err’, ‘umm’ or ‘you know’ in English.
Footage of his lecture, which has now long gone viral, shows Prof Patton stating: “In China, the popular pause term is ‘that, that, that’. So in China, it may possibly be na-ge, na-ge, na-ge.”
Enunciated, na-ge seems like the N-word, which led many of the professor’s college students to complain to the college. Responding to the criticism, the dean of the university, Geoffrey Garrett, advised college students that Prof Patton would no longer be training the training course.
“It is simply unacceptable for the school to use terms in course that can marginalize, harm and hurt the psychological security of our students,” he reported.
The college suggests that Prof Patton “volunteered to phase away” from his job amid the investigation into issues made versus him.
News of the spat arrived at China, where lots of posted on social media indicating they imagined his punishment discriminated in opposition to speakers of the Chinese language.
Dropped in translation
In Chinese the term “na-ge” (那个) is a frequent filler phrase that men and women use when they’re hesitating or trying to locate the appropriate term. It practically interprets to the word “that”.
But there have been quite a few documented incidents of the phrase staying made use of innocuously and leading to misunderstandings, and even violence.
In July 2016, a battle broke out on the subway in the city of Southern Guangzhou, soon after a black man read a Chinese guy saying na-ge and mistook it for the N-phrase.
Footage went viral on the internet displaying the black gentleman slapping the Chinese commuter and shouting “you dare check out that yet again” and “hardly ever say that once more”
Far more just lately, in April this yr, Taiwanese information website UDN described that two adult males practically came to blows on the island exterior a cafe in excess of the similar misunderstanding.
Even Chinese basketball star Yao Ming has spoken of how the word brought him “some problems” when taking part in in the US for the National Basketball Affiliation (NBA).
‘A common mistake’
CC Chen, a university student at the USC, defended Prof Patton, arguing that it was “plainly an tutorial lecture on conversation” and the professor was “describing a common mistake generally designed in interaction”.
“For him to be censored simply just because a Chinese word sounds like an English pejorative phrase is a mistake and is not appropriate, in particular provided the academic placing,” she stated. “It also dismisses the truth that Chinese is a actual language and has its own pronunciations that have no relation to English.”
A lot more than eleven,000 folks have now signed a Modify.org petition contacting for Prof Patton to be re-instated. And in China there are discussions getting spot in excess of no matter if the college acted way too abruptly.
On the popular Sina Weibo microblog, much more than 1,000 posts have applied the hashtag #USProfessorSuspendedForUsingNaGe, with lots of viewing the go as a suppression of Chinese speech.
A single put up referred to as the incident a “modern model of the literary inquisition” – referring to the persecution of intellectuals all through China’s imperial period.
What began as an accusation in opposition to the professor of using discriminatory language has morphed, in China, into accusations of discrimination against the Chinese language.
“Is it now forbidden to converse Chinese in the United States?” questioned one Sina Weibo person.
‘It’s about politics’
In modern months, lots of in China have expressed solidarity with the Black Life Issue movement in the US. President Trump has been accused of stoking racist sentiment toward China around the Covid-19 pandemic by referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus”, “Wuhan virus”, and even “Kung Flu”.
His language has been often cited by Chinese media as an example of xenophobic attitudes towards the Chinese men and women.
Some Chinese posters on Sina Weibo argued that USC, in suspending Prof Patton, had chosen “political correctness” above legitimate modify. Some others elevated a take note of optimism that the tale would raise awareness of discrepancies fairly than marginalise them.
Lots of had been of the check out that shared discrimination in recent months meant that Asian and black communities ought to function to fully grasp each individual other somewhat than struggle in opposition to 1 an additional.
“There really should be regard for variations,” wrote a person Weibo consumer.
Back in the US, USC employees and pupils reacted to the final decision to suspend Prof Patton.
“There is no language excellent to the other,” Chengyan Wu, Co-President of USC Chinese Pupil and Scholar Affiliation, advised the university’s university student news organisation.
“Restating the legal rights of one minority group really should not be at the expense of violating the other,” he claimed. “We have the correct to use our have language.”
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