Friday, December 19, 2008

Textbook - Section 3


This is continuing in the textbook chapter. If you are actually reading this, please leave a comment (just one person is enough) so I can know whether to keep posting these.

This section is about people practicing heritage languages over the Internet. I'd particularly like to know if anyone thinks parts of this section could be offensive, since I touch on issues of cultural labeling, including such lovely issues as the FOB vs Banana war.

From Linguistic Change to Linguistic Preservation

While many are concerned with the potential for computers to alter language, computers are also used every day to preserve languages, both for an individual speaker and for communities. The Internet in particular provides opportunities for heritage language speakers or emigrants to connect to a language community that could be inaccessible otherwise. While the amount of use of the Internet with a heritage language will vary enormously from community to community, groups of people all around the world constantly use the Internet to connect to people they would not be able to speak with otherwise, and they do this across language boundaries. This chance to connect can be vital for some heritage speakers who would otherwise have difficulty developing their abilities in the heritage language.

Jin Sook Lee at the University of California – Santa Barbara recently profiled the experiences of two sisters, born in Korea but moved to the U.S. as children, as they used the Korean online social networking site Cyworld ( to maintain knowledge of Korean language and stay in touch with contemporary Korean culture. Due to the circumstances of each sister, there was a substantial difference in Korean language ability between the two. The older sister, Jendy, was far more comfortable speaking Korean and seeking out monolingual speakers of Korean as friends online, while the younger sister, Lizzy, largely only spoke Korean to her parents and otherwise used English. Lizzy’s Korean abilities appeared to be deteriorating over time as friends she saw during visits to Korea would tell her that her Korean had gotten worse since the last visit.

For both Jendy and Lizzy, the greatest benefit of participating in the online Cyworld was constant access to other Korean speakers. The older sister Jendy was able to increase the number of people she regularly spoke Korean with from 5-6 in California to 40, including some who only spoke Korean. Lizzy was far more uncertain about her language skills and almost entirely kept her social network confined to people she already knew in life, but even this conservative approach increased her circle of Korean-speaking friends from 2-3 to 15-20.

Several other features of Cyworld and the Internet generally also helped in Korean practice. Both sisters were frequently asked about Korean pop stars by other friends. Stories and gossip on this topic were readily available on Cyworld, providing the sort of content that could have been hard to get without the web-connection. Both sisters reported more freedom to make mistakes in language online without being overly embarrassed about it. The additional barrier of a social networking site itself seemed to decrease worry about mistakes, and the ability to lie about errors, making false claims of typos for instance, helped as well.

In the end, both Jendy and Lizzy reported increased vocabulary, syntactic knowledge, and cultural participation as a result of participating in Cyworld. As seems to always be the case, there were social drawbacks to being on Cyworld as well. Both Jendy and Lizzy were sometimes labeled as FOBs (for Fresh Off the Boat) by Korean-American peers in California for “Cy-ing”. Lizzy in particular seemed to be having trouble navigating the social pressures. On the one hand, she was a FOB for being in Cyworld. At the same time, she expressed a worry that without the Internet, she wouldn't know any Korean and would be labeled a twinkie (a snack cake which is yellow on the outside, white on the inside, expressing the notion that the person’s Asian physical appearance covered a non-Asian inside).

While much language maintenance occurs on a personal level, such as the story of Lizzy and Jendy, organizations frequently also get involved to teach or document a language via computer. Frequently, the use of computers is tangential to the language teaching. For instance, the Nausm Salish Language Revitalization Institute maintains a school for children to learn the Salish language as spoken on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. They maintain a web site,, to advertise the mission of the school, raise funds, and provide information about their programs. But the language teaching occurs at the school itself.

A far more extensive use of computers to maintain a language is represented by the efforts of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Members of the Choctaw Nation live in many different towns, sometimes in numbers far too small to pay for a dedicated Choctaw language teacher in every community. This is compounded by the small number of teachers capable of teaching Choctaw. Therefore, the government of the Choctaw Nation created an online Choctaw School offering classes over the computer. This allows a staff of under-10 to offer programs in 40 high schools, including three levels of the Choctaw Language completely online.

My Trusty Speech-o-Matic!


Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow, paca. I'd need a brain first to read this and since I just got a massage - no brain to speak of. I'll come back tomorrow and try again.

fairyhedgehog said...

I've been following with great interest.

I found this one heavier going than the other two (I don't know why) and I'm not sure what a heritage language is.

I hope you go on posting these excerpts because I enjoy reading them.

katze said...

I read it, and I often read other posts about language (even though I don't always understand them). It's something that interests me, so I always give it a try. :-)

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm glad I came back and read this again. It's fascinating (even though a twinkie is something completely different in the gay world). The internet has had a far reaching impact on culture and with virtual communities. I have friends all over the world from different communities.

Love the Choctaw teaching example.

pacatrue said...

Hey, this is all good stuff. So I'll keep posting these until the chapter's done (draft 0 is done; I'm just posting it in chunks). It sounds like I need to go back to this one and take out some academic verbage to make it easier to follow. After 4.5 years, one increasingly forgets that things like linguistic preservation and syntactic development aren't completely obvious things.

Sammy Jankis said...

Uhm, yeah, I would think you could communicate the concept of FOB and twinkie/banana using a descriptive rather than a stereotype. Wouldn't it be just as easy to say a recent arrival in the U.S. or a person who has embraced American culture and the English language to the detriment of their ancestry? But said in a more succint way. I don't know, I could see taking offense at seeing something like this in an assigned textbook that I'm required to purchase, as opposed to seeing it written in a blog. Just my 2 cents.

pacatrue said...

Good feedback, Sammy. I will wait for the editor's (and other readers?!) feedback and make my call. One thing that has to be clear is that these were the terms that Jendy and Lizzy used themselves, not me. If it sounds like I myself as author am going off about FOBs, that's completely inappropriate. The terms Fob and twinkie are how the two students being studied described the social issues and the original study author (Lee) repeated it, and I'm now repeating her. If it indeed sounds like I'm the one introducing the terms, please let me know. Gotta change that.

Sammy Jankis said...

Well, I did get the impression that you were introducing the terms. Perhaps something to the effect of Jenny and Lizzy reported being referred to as FOBs instead of were referred to as . . . I don't know. It is hard to delineate your words versus the study/report, especially when you're getting to third and fourth hand accounts of the experience. I'd be interested to see how the editor's interpret it.

pacatrue said...

I think I'll just either quote them directly or cut it. There used to be more there, but I deleted for word count purposes. Should be easy to solve.

Bryce said...

This is very intriguing material. Please keep posting!

Did you know Choctaw now has a Wikibrowser? Be sure to check it out: Choctaw wiki browser