Month: September 2015
People tend to get really upset if you mispronounce their names and are quick to set you straight (“No, it’s Carolyn, not Caroline.”)—even if you both know your acquaintance is to be very brief as one of you, say, writes out a receipt.
Well, we are just as persnickety about place names. A curse on you if you stumble over the name of someone’s hometown or home State. Never mind what Americans do to the names of some foreign locations. Anger in France is not a homonym or synonym for rage. It is “An’jay.” The Germans call one of their largest cities Munchen, not Munich. And in London Leicester Square is Lester Square, not Ly’cester.
Even on our own turf we are likely to run into issues. Perhaps those politicos seeking national office should have one of their aides deal with language when they are campaigning out in the boonies. Local pronunciations can be somewhat mystifying—but woe betide the pol who screws it up.
People in Illinois don’t pronounce that s on the end. Best you leave it off, too.
Folks in the “show me” State don’t say “Missouree” (sounding like misery). They call it “Missouruh.”
Out west you’d better flatten that first a in Nevada like the a in the word had. God help you if you say “Nevahdah”—even though that is the pronunciation most often used when discussing the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Oregon is NOT Ora gonne’ as in “gone and left us.” It is Ore’gun. Also in Oregon, that beautiful, fertile valley and its river is the Wil lam ette (middle syllable sounding like lamb), not the Will a mette (though, admittedly, that is a prettier way of saying it). Likewise Washington State’s apple producing Yakima Valley is the Yak i mah, not the Yakeema as at least one not-so-knowledgeable network reporter put it recently.
God knows how or why we have Kansas which seems easy enough, but Arkansas is Arkansaw. How’d that happen?
Are those eastern mountains the Appalaychans or the Appalatchans? Or something else?
Don’t you just love language and dialects?
In 1991 the mother of two of my students twisted my arm to talk me into sponsoring a student exchange with a secondary school in Ivanovo, Russia, a former textile center about 300 kilometers NE of Moscow that had fallen on hard times. (Think Detroit in recent years.)
My Russian counterpart was Marina Belova who, among other duties, taught English. I suggested that if the Russian students were interested in a foreign exchange, they might also be interested in the Model United Nations program in a year or so. They were interested—NOW! (This was occurring only a couple of years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ordinary Russians were hungry for outside contacts.)
The problem was that THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations) assigns countries to participating schools a year in advance. There was no way this Russian school could have a delegation NOW. But these kids were so eager to become involved, it broke my heart to see them turned way. There had to be a way . . .
Turned out there was.
There were at that time over fifteen American high schools in Germany; most of them were involved in THIMUN. My school, Ramstein American High School, already had two full delegations of 14 students each, but I knew that some other schools did not have the full complement.
However, there was another problem: money. The registration fee for THIMUN was $135 per student. Our American students did fund-raisers all year for these fees plus hotel accommodations and train fares. Remember: the Russian students came from very ordinary families in an area suffering economically. They could get to The Hague and stay with families of Russian Embassy personnel, but that was it.
I called MUN directors at other American schools. My first question was could you add a Russian student to your delegation? Oh, yes. Sure. And could your club pay the registration fee? Yes, they could do that. In the end, one school added two Russians and another took three! Those teachers and their students saw this as a great people-to-people opportunity. And it was! Just a few years after Ronald Reagan’s famous line— “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”—American teenagers were tearing down walls of a different sort.
The Ivanovo school had its own delegation the following year. After that, they promoted Model United Nations in other schools in their area and held their own conferences. Today MUN is a thriving concern in Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as Ivanovo. And several Russian schools send their own delegations to THIMUN.
Sadly, when I returned to the States, I was unable to interest any local high school principals in this truly remarkable educational program. (See my previous blog.)
But, boy! does it ever work in Russia!
For nearly a decade I sponsored the Model United Nations at Ramstein American High School on Ramstein Air Base in Germany. MUN was an important element in the educational program at most of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) in Germany.
MUN is quite simply one of the best educational programs—EVER! (However, in the interest of fairness, I must admit that the Model Senate programs in many schools is similar.)
The title MUN is self-explanatory. Students represent countries and organizations of the United Nations in a mock conference. In order to do so, they must research everything about their assigned country or organization: geography, culture, politics, relations with neighbors and the world at large—everything and anything that will help them truly identify with “their” country.
Even as they are gathering information on the assigned country, they are also researching issues and determining how officials of “their” country would regard such and such an issue. Having to put themselves in others’ shoes for a time is often eye-opening. (Yes, I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but it works.) I doubt many former MUN students view the world with the kind of absolutist view we see so often in public discourse these days. Imagine the perspective gained by American teenagers thinking like Ukrainians or Russians regarding the Crimea!
The U.N. itself publishes materials on hot topics for each year’s studies, but it is up to the students to go beyond those sources—and beyond Wikipedia. Enterprising students often write letters to officials of the countries they represent or visit embassies and consulates if they can.
Students must then write resolutions and position papers and be prepared to argue effectively in a formal debate the position of, say, China on air pollution or Iran on nuclear proliferation. And they do so most enthusiastically. Role-playing allows them to understand another’s position, even if they themselves could never endorse it.
I think you probably already see the educational value of this program. It improves research techniques, writing skills, and leadership skills—all of which carry over to other academic areas.
THIMUN is the acronym of The Hague International Model United Nations which meets for a week-long conference every January in The Hague, The Netherlands. About 3,000 students, aged 15-21, from schools all over Europe and beyond, meet to resolve international problems. The operative language is English as most of the delegates are from American international schools, but those schools often have students from their local populations as well. (Today’s king of The Netherlands was once a THIMUN delegate.) The tone truly is international.
The thrill of getting a resolution passed is not unlike the thrill of winning a tennis match or a cross-country race.
More next time . . .
While I fully understand and endorse the modernists’ wish to be gender neutral in writing about general topics, I sometimes find their efforts to be politically correct so annoying that I lose interest in the points they are trying to make.
For example: A writer’s primary goal is to communicate clearly. He or she strives to present his or her information precisely in order to be sure his or her reader will “get” exactly what he or she is offering him or her. OK. I made up this ludicrous exaggeration, but I think you get the picture.
I recently read an otherwise quite useful book—on writing, yet!—in which the author attempted to solve the problem by using s/he. I found that slash thing even more irritating than having those pronouns spelled out—and somewhat pretentious at that. In discussing the possibility of writer’s being interviewed on television or radio as part of a book promotion, she (the author was, indeed, female) wrote this gem:
Don’t expect the host to make you look good. S/he wants to look good. It’s his bread and butter.
The word host is clearly masculine, and the writer acknowledges that fact in “his bread and butter.” So what the devil is the point of that distracting S/he in the second sentence? Other than wanting to impress her reader with her own grasp of what is and is not PC?
Teachers of English grapple with this issue all the time. A possible solution may be to use second person (you), but formal discourse is rarely presented in second person. Or, one may use the distancing one, only to find the problem cropping up later: Is that one a he or a she, a him or a her? I used to advise my students to use the third person plural forms (they, them, their) as a possible solution—but to guard against illogical problems in agreement (e.g., “a writer wishes to entertain and inform their reader”).
English is such a versatile language that there is almost always another way to phrase an idea.