JOHN WHITMAN: Hi. I'm John Whitman from the Department of Linguistics. It's my pleasure to introduce our next speaker, Professor William McClure from Queens College, The City University of New York.
If my calculation is correct, Bill McClure came to Cornell during the first Reagan administration. He was here before I was. Bill was an undergraduate.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
JOHN WHITMAN: OK. Right.
OK. I won't ask you who you voted for, but I have an idea.
Bill was a grad student in linguistics when I came here. But before that, he was a student in math and arts and sciences and he also did Japanese at the time when the Japanese program here at Cornell had been organized by my predecessor, Eleanor Jorden, who initiated-- among other things-- what was formerly known as "FALCON"-- the Full-year Asian Language Concentration-- which was probably the best known language program going on at Cornell at the time that it existed. Bill took part in that.
As a grad student in linguistics, in addition to writing a very distinguished dissertation in formal semantics, he was a very, very active TA in Japanese. In fact, by the time he graduated, he was essentially running the Japanese program. He then went on to a career in the Department of East Asian Studies at University of Durham in England. And after that, his current position at The City University of New York where he became chair of the department of all the languages that aren't European or Spanish. Right?
Built up the Japanese and the Korean and, to a large degree, the Chinese program there, and then became Dean for Humanities and the Arts at Queens College. So you'll be hearing from Bill, from a person with very, very rich experience in language teaching and intercultural communication. Bill.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: Thank you very much. I've actually been back to Cornell quite a bit, but usually, I speak in linguistics where they know who I am. So this is the first time for me to speak to a more general audience. I am very grateful for the invitation, and thank you very, very much.
The other thing I wanted to say is that I started Cornell in 1980. And one of the first classes I had to take was French, which was a disaster, but it was my fault. But my French teacher is here in the room today.
[AUDIENCE LAUGHING AND CLAPPING]
So I am really--
So I'm very happy-- I'm very grateful to her. She really worked very, very hard. It was all my fault.
It was not her. OK. I've been asked to talk about language and sort of why we should study it and that-- to address that kind of question. And then also to address it from the perspective, of course, as a teacher but also as administrator. So I'm going to be talking to you about sort of the way-- I mean, I'm a dean now, so I have to think about deanly things-- whatever that means.
So I will be talking about some of-- I mean, you made a remark about deans earlier pressuring you to do things you don't want to do. Yes. I'm sorry.
OK. No. No.
No. No. It's fine. It's fine.
So that will be the background of what's going on. So to begin with, I always find this kind of strange because I find the study of languages weirdly controversial. Like, it shouldn't be hard, but the question is usually sort of-- what is the value in studying language? And as I said, I've spent a lot of my life convincing faculty chairs, other deans, college presidents, even linguists that studying language matters and that it's something worth doing. So some of what I'm going to talk about will address cultural fluency specifically, but there will be other reasons as well.
OK. So I'm a linguist. OK. When I think about language, I think of it in terms of cognition and then I do think of it in terms of culture as well.
And I would say language is central to the notion of being human. We all learn the language of our environment. We actually don't learn the language of our parents. We learn the language of our peers, and it's central obviously to how we interact with other people.
So there are endless stories about what people do to communicate. You can't speak for whatever reasons, and something will be developed so that you are able to communicate. As a human-- as a function of being human, it's so central to what we are that we always-- that's one of the first things we have to do. And in fact, we do we would define abnormality or disease or problems because the person was not able to communicate. It's that central to our sort of definition of who we are as a species.
So the question about-- so what does this reflect of our humanity? What does it tell us about ourselves? The first thing about language-- and this is what a lot of linguists look at-- is that it is underlying systematic. OK. And linguists ask the question-- what do all languages have in common?
These are the universal of language, and we'll talk about that in a second. But separately, also, what does this say about sort of how we structure knowledge? What does it say about how linguists understand and interact with the world? And of course, how do we interact with each other, but even how do we interact with our environment?
So these are the questions that motivate me, and I'm going to tell you a couple of things-- the kinds of puzzles that I personally like. And really, what I'm trying to let you think about is the fact that language is an object of study. And maybe it's interesting to you. Maybe it isn't. It's interesting to me, but it is a language-- it is an object of study in and of itself.
So this is-- I always tell this to my undergraduates and then my graduates. So here's a thing. I would say to you that there is no language where a verb like "bye" has more than three nouns. OK. So in English, you have "John bought Mary a book." And so you have a relationship there between John, Mary, and the book.
OK. And that I would put to you that, in any language that any of you know, there is no verb where there are four nouns that are connected in this way to a verb without prepositions. OK. Clearly, you can do it with propositions. "John bought a book for Mary. John bought a book for Mary on Tuesday."
So we the way we normally add things-- in English, at least-- is we have prepositional kinds of things. So the question is-- how many nouns can be associated with a verb without prepositions? And I would put to you that there is no language on Earth where that number is greater than three.
OK. And what that tells me is that language is actually very Cartesian in some sense. I mean, this is how we conceptualize the world because we conceptualize events as interactions between basically no more than three things.
OK. And we can add other things, but the basic meanings are about one thing doing something, like running, or two things doing something, like I am baking a cake, or three things, that I'm giving you a book or something like that. That actually is a universal human restriction, and that says something about how we're able to conceptualize the world.
And then you see it because it is very Cartesian. You have one object, two objects, three objects. Above three objects, you get chaos. We don't understand anymore, and this is-- so this, to me, is an interesting observation, and it's just an observation that I'm just putting it to you. I ask my students this all the time because I'm still waiting for the verb that proves me wrong, but it hasn't happened yet.
A second kind of thing, the plural. OK. And this is-- of course, in English, the plural is ubiquitous. You have book, books, three books, some books. It's great. It's wonderful.
But then English. OK. But what about every book? Why isn't it plural?
OK. No books is plural. What does that even mean? OK. If I have no books, why is it plural?
OK. I mean, there's nothing. Zero books also plural.
OK. So the question I'm asking you is-- so what does the s mean? If s means plural, what does s mean that it goes on all these expressions.
OK. It gets worse. Half-- 0.5-- pounds. OK. But half a pound.
OK. So arguably, these are the same expression or it refers to the same amount of a pound-- whatever that is-- but one of them has a plural-- is considered a plural expression, and one of them is not.
OK. And then my favorite things. I personally really, really like the language of mathematics. I like the way we talk about math when we talk about it in normal English. So you say 2 plus 2 is 4, it's singular.
OK. Why isn't 2 plus 2 are 4? I mean, it's just another question. So this notion of plurality, which arguably, for us, is very simple. We all know what it is. But if you actually look at how we use it in English, it's not as straightforward as it might seem. And this is the kind of question that a linguist would ask.
OK. And then try to figure out-- so what does this s really mean? How do we define its distribution in English? Because it's not simply plural.
And then it's also universal. So I'm sure-- I can't remember if anybody said this already. I mean, there are lots of languages where plural singular marking is not important-- Japanese, Chinese, Korean. I mean, there's lots and lots of languages where there's no plural.
Now, this is not to say that people who speak these languages can't understand when they have three things as opposed to one thing. It simply means they don't bother to put it into their words. OK. And that's something we'll come to in a second.
You have languages, and then there's other varieties actually, which I don't have slides here. There's languages that actually mark singular, plural, and then what we call "dual." So they have a separate mark for two things, pairs.
OK. And there's actually languages-- a very small number. I had to look this up.
It's called "trial." So there are languages that mark one thing, two things, three things, and everything else. OK. And again, getting back to this one, two, three theme, there is no language that has a special word for groups of four-- at least none that's been identified.
OK. So again, I mean, this is-- so the notion of plural seems very simple and very straightforward. But when you look at it within English and then you start looking at it sort of cross-linguistically, you realize it's not-- conceptually, yes, it's very simple. But when you look at how it actually is used and appears in language, it's actually more subtle.
There's a lot more stuff that's going on, and this is the kind of question that linguists look at. And maybe some of you will look at. Whatever.
The other thing about languages like Japanese is, although Japanese doesn't have plural marking, it actually has what we call "group marking." So an expression that;s called "tochi." That's one of them.
But if you say, like, "McClure tochi"-- that's my name with tochi on it-- that can mean the people like my family. OK. All the people who have the same last name that I have.
OK. But it can also mean the people who are standing around me, like my team. OK. It can also mean everyone in the room named McClure.
OK. So it doesn't mean just like McClures, like with a plural. OK. It actually has this group interpretation. It's also limited to people, so you can't say like "chair tochi." That's crazy.
OK. So languages also do these other things where they have different kinds of markers that do different sorts of things. And all of this is, as I said, to me, personally very interesting. And this is just the-- I mean, this is just the beginning of the kinds of puzzles that you have in linguistics. So I mean, as I'm trying to say, linguistics, language is an object of study and these are some of the kind of questions that I personally like.
There is, though, a puzzle about this because linguistics sort of assumes-- we keep saying, oh, language is universal. They're all the same. And we're like they're not the same. That doesn't-- what does that mean?
So we say of language, there are these universals-- lexical categories, all languages have nouns and verbs and stuff like that. They're grammatical structures. We have sentences. We have questions. We have those sorts of things.
Functions, some of these were mentioned earlier. Languages-- they ask questions. They give commands. They make requests. Languages do all these things.
Arguably, conceptually, things are basically all the same also. So although I may-- and this point was made earlier. Although you or I may not have a word for something, it doesn't mean that that is out of our possibility of understanding.
OK. I mean, it may not be something we talk about all the time. But with the time, we can explain it to each other. There is nothing-- we were talking about the Finnish word for "stay calm"-- "stay calm and carry on."
Because you hear what was said earlier all the time, and Japanese is full of words that no one else can understand. And we're very mysterious. And I mean, all the things that you're saying the Finnish people say about themselves.
The Japanese, same thing. Like, oh, no. It's difficult, and you're OK. And you're foreign, so don't worry. There's a lot of that sort of stuff like that.
But anyway, we believe in this set of sort of universals. OK. And then in addition, there are actually physiological limits on language.
OK. So again, here, it's a finite set-- the sounds, the IPA-- the International Phonetic Alphabet-- has, I believe, 104 symbols that represent all of the sounds of all of the languages. And it basically is the set of sounds that humans can make and make with respect to their language, and there are diacritics and things like that.
But it fits on a single sheet of paper, and it's a description of all of the sounds, all of the vowels, all the consonants, all the clicks, all the accents, all the things like that that arguably occur in all known languages. OK. So it's a big set of stuff, but it's relatively finite.
Then you have things like gestures, and we have our bodies. There's only so much we can do. I mean, so there is this idea that there's a sort of universal set of linguistic structures, let's say, and then there is a relatively finite set of sort of the physiological things that we can actually do.
OK. So what's hard about language? What's hard is the fact that the mapping between form and meaning is arbitrary.
OK. So which symbols mean what is a pretty much language-specific thing. OK. And when you learn a new language, you have to learn the mapping.
OK. You don't have to learn new concepts. You may have to learn how to say a couple sounds or things that you're not used to saying. I mean, there are sort of things like that have to be learned, but they're well within your capabilities as a human.
But what is really difficult is the mapping between form and meaning. OK. What do the things mean, and how do they work?
And every language is basically unique in how they do this-- what they choose to grammaticize, what they choose not to grammaticize. And then everyone in this room, we have a common understanding of the words, the sentences-- all the stuff that goes into English. And our communication succeeds because of that common understanding.
OK. But every language creates this differently. And so when you learn a second or a third language, you have to learn this new relationship between form and meaning. And that is what is difficult. The relationship, as I said, is essentially arbitrary.
Although, again, closer languages-- languages, let's say, in related families-- will share characteristics. And what this means basically is that, when you're learning a language that's sort of close to your language, is, when you guess, your guess is more likely to be correct. OK. Because it's closer. I hear this. I don't know what that means, but it kind of sounds like this.
OK. Maybe it means that. And in languages that are related to each other, maybe it will. OK. In languages that are unrelated, it probably won't. And so the guessing doesn't work.
There are, by the way, some small things-- there are interesting things actually where the arbitrariness seems to go away. And in English, there's a whole study of things called "phones themes," which are sort of sound combinations that mean things. So if you look at words like "globe" and "globular" and "gloom" and whatever, this g-l-o in English has a particular sort of association, which, if you actually look at all the words in English that start with g-l-o, they actually have related meanings.
There's a different set-- and I only know this because I wrote a paper on it a long time ago-- about g-l-- like glean. Gleam and glee and glib and-- so the g-l-i kinds of combinations, those also have to do with-- like, there's glitter, and there's a lot of sort of lightness and sharpness and reflection. It's quite interesting actually, and there are a lot of these-- in English, at least.
And as I said, they're called "phones themes," so there is a kind of meaning that's associated with sort of a phonetic-- a sound cluster. OK. It's not as strong as a word, but it's clearly not arbitrary.
So there is-- and actually, the best example is the n sound in "negation," which is found in almost-- in a huge preponderance of languages. The main exception I know is actually modern Greek where the "n" is "yes." But if you look at language after language, you get this like "n" thing. It comes across as negation.
And so there are some regularities that actually occur, but they're relatively minor. There's no there's no sound associated with red in all the languages. I mean, that kind of thing it just doesn't exist. So basically, it's arbitrary.
OK. So what we refer to as less commonly taught languages-- goodness. OK. I'm supposed to stop in half an hour so-- because I have to go faster. I won't go faster, though.
These languages are-- any language that's less common taught is not one of these languages.
OK. By some definitions, any language that is not the first four is a less commonly taught language. But by other definitions, the whole list sort of counts.
But the point of these is that-- what's hard about less commonly taught languages is that the meaning, the format-- the form meaning is very, very different. OK. Mapped-- and there's a lot of variation, and so the mapping is very hard. It means that guessing is not so easy.
OK. And it means-- and then, of course, there are culture differences as well. So there's other sorts of things that actually cause the guessing to be bad. You don't even know-- if you don't understand sort of what you're talking about because you don't understand the situation, then, when you guess, it's totally screwed up because, I mean-- because you don't even know what you're talking about, so how can you even guess what the words sort of mean and stuff like that?
I'll give you some examples of this. So in Japanese, they distinguish topic and subject. The topic is the thing you're talking about. The subject is the subject of the verb.
Those often seem to be the same thing, but they're different. So in Japanese, it actually comes down to wa versus ga. Wa is for topics. Ga is for subjects.
The topic can be today. OK. So kyoo wa benkyoo-suru. I am going to study today.
So here, today is marked as the topic. It's clearly not the subject. The topic is what you're talking about.
OK. In Japanese, when you have a sentence like "What does John study"-- so John will be marked with wa. And what I want you to see is that the most natural answer to that question is "He studies French."
OK. And the he would be marked with what? OK. They don't say "he" in Japanese, but that's neither here nor there. The he would be marked with wa, and I want you to see that the answer to the question "What does John study"-- if I say "John studies French" is a little less natural because it's a little weird to repeat "John" twice.
OK. So the best answer really is with a pronoun. It's an unstressed pronoun. That's sort of how we do things. And in Japanese, that unstressed pronoun gets marked with wa.
OK. And contrast this with "Who studies French?" Here, the who is marked with ga as the subject. And the answer is "John does."
OK. And there, the John is marked with the ga. And I want you to contrast "John does" with "He does." "He does" doesn't even make any sense in this context. If I say "Who studies French," and I just say "He does" and I don't point or something, then that doesn't make any sense. And what you see in particular is that the unstressed pronoun doesn't go with ga.
OK. And the larger point is that Japanese distinguishes topics and subjects with wa and ga. English distinguishes topic and subjects with-- where does the pronoun go? Where does the full noun have to be? OK. Where does the stress go?
OK. Because here, "Who studies French?" "John does." That's where the stress goes.
OK. So it's this weird combination or it's sort of a strange combination for speakers of English of stress and pronoun distribution. So it's something which we do in English, but we are completely unaware of it.
OK. And so when you teach Japanese, you have to know this. You can't actually say it because this is not going to make any sense to anybody, but my point is that there's almost always a mapping between things. There's some way of expressing things in another language, and the job of a linguist is to figure those things out, to try to help figure those things out so that it becomes possible to explain in terms that make sense to students, to teachers-- whoever like that-- that this is sort of how things work.
Another example we've talked about, politeness. Japanese doesn't put gender and number on its verbs, but it does distinguish politeness. These two forms, they both mean "to eat." The taberu one, the short one is like the tu form in French, and the tabemasu one is like the vu form in French, basically. They mean the same thing.
And that's all lovely except these are what we would call "neutral," which is sort of a loaded term and basically neutral. Japanese then has o-tabe-ninaru and o-tabe-ninarimasu. The ninaru is, again, like the tu form. The ninarimasu form is, again, the polite one. These are used only when you are talking about people whom you respect. OK. So you encode this directly into the grammar of the words that you choose.
OK. And then here, o-tabe-suru, o-tabe-simasu, again, there's a distinction. Tu verses vu. Left/right. But this is used to lower yourself.
OK. And in any situation, if you want to show respect, you can raise the other person or you can lower yourself. You can do both. There's all sorts of things one can do. So Japanese is not concerned about plural and gender, but it's very concerned about the real or perceived social relationship between the speaker and the person they're talking to or the person they're talking about. And this is encoded directly into the grammar.
So this is-- again, do we do this in English? People say, oh, no. We speak-- all you direct people. We speak the same to everybody.
OK. That always kills me. OK. Because what I tell my students is-- and, again, how do you explain this to students? What I tell my students is-- do you speak the same way to your friends as you do when you're speaking to the father of the woman you're about to marry?
OK. And it's very easy to put students into situations where they know they feel uncomfortable and where they know that they speak much more carefully. I tell them, in Japanese, when you feel that level of discomfort, that's when you start using the polite language.
OK. The translation of polite language into English is like its emotional state, and we do change our language. We speak more politely. We speak more slowly. We use bigger words.
There's all sorts of things that we actually do. But in Japanese, when you have that sense, you start using these special forms of these verbs. And that's how-- but you have to explain that kind of thing, so it sort of works. It's fun.
So these are two kinds of things, and the point here only is that I want you to see that, again, anything which we do in English they do in other languages. OK. And the reverse, I would argue, is also true. Or it can be done.
And when you teach a language and when you think about a language, you have to identify those things and explain them in terms that can make sense to students. So I can't say to students "be polite." That doesn't make any sense. But I can say to students, OK. You're about to go into the job interview of your life.
OK. You're nervous. OK. When you feel that way, you speak this way in Japanese.
That's what happens. OK. And if you feel that way and you don't speak that way, you will be understood, but you will make a very bad impression.
OK. So again, that's not a judgment sort of thing, but it is a-- there are choices to be made, and there are consequences to these choices. So we want people to see those kinds of things.
OK. When am I supposed to stop? I started a little late.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
WILLIAM MCCLURE: OK. OK. OK. OK. OK. OK.
I won't go that much more. I mean, the rest is-- a lot of this is then-- I mean, this is-- but, I mean, this is really the main point of things.
There are other things I wanted to say. Within linguistics, there's the issue of translation. Of course, the translated experience is a fine experience, but it's different from sort of the direct experience.
I was very-- when we think about-- and then I would ask the question of-- what are we translating? And in linguistics, we have what we call an "idiolect," which is the actual language which each individual in this room speaks. Then we have dialect, which is sort of a set of people, and then we have a language.
Do you know the joke about a dialect and a language? The difference between a dialect and a language is that a language has an army, basically. I mean, that's the joke. So the thing is that the-- because dialects are spoken by large groups of people, but they don't sort of have the official political status of a language. And this is often in the context of Chinese, where the different dialects are actually-- they can't be understood, but they're all in the same government, so to speak.
And then when I think about-- I think about translation, and I think about sort of communication. And this is actually related to what was just being talked about in the previous thing, is that-- I mean, because the other thing about translation is-- how do we know-- what are we translating between, and then how do we know we're actually speaking the same language or not? Like, how do you-- at the level of the idiolect, we're all speaking a different language.
OK. But at the same time, we all say we're all speaking English. So sort of what does that even mean? OK. Because I can't-- I don't want to say to you you all speak English because you're all here.
And when I think about that, I think that we think that we speak a common language because there is a sufficient level of meaning that is exchanged. OK. At a sufficiently high enough rate.
OK. And there's something about this which is actually cognitively universal. This is directly related to the thing we did in the previous session, is that what happened there is everyone-- you got slowed down. You couldn't speak at the rate you wanted to, and so what I'm saying to you is that-- so why did it feel slow? OK. It felt slow because there was some rate, which I would argue is common to all human beings, that, when we speak, there's a level of information exchange which happens at some bits of information per second or something like that.
OK. And when you speak a foreign language or when you're learning a second language, it's harder. You convey less information.
OK. Or arguably, you actually convey more information-- too much information. So one way to look at a foreign accent is actually to say that there's actually too much sound that's extraneous.
It's not needed for me to understand what you're saying, but you're giving it all to me. And so I have to sort of filter it all out. So it can go both ways.
When you speak a second language, you may not know what's appropriate to say. So you just say everything. And hopefully, some of it sticks, and that's also bad because you sort of-- you've gone and-- but that the larger point is, though, it's also related to this direct versus indirect.
OK. I mean, even between groups of people who are speakers of the same language, there is a sense that it's too slow. You're not giving us what we need to hear versus you're giving us too much and you're not letting-- whatever. I mean, it's the exact same thing. So it's a translation, but translation isn't between different languages. It's actually between two people.
OK. And then it generates up. Then you have groups of people and whatever like that, but it's the same problem over and over and over again.
And my point only is to make people aware of this because it does cause all the problems that we just talked about. I mean, this is what I'd argue was the sense that-- there's this mismatch between the information we expect to hear and what we're actually hearing. And then we react to it, and that can be good or bad or sort of things like that can happen.
OK. So as I said, speak too slowly, these are things that go wrong. Where the rate of information gets screwed up.
OK. So just quickly-- and I wanted to say one more thing because, again, I was asked-- is this worth it? Is the original better than the translation? Of course it is.
Translated experience are very passive. I think about-- I've spent a month in Mongolia last year or two years ago, and I don't understand anything in Mongolia. And I realize that it's a very passive experience in that you only learn what people tell you.
OK. Or you only learn the answers to the questions you ask. You can't interact with the world directly because you don't understand, and so you just have to sit there and listen. Arguably, it's much more authentic to talk to people, and it's really transformative.
I had an experience in Mongolia where I was at a dinner where I wouldn't understand anything. I was just sitting around, eating, and not really understanding. And then it turned out that one of my colleagues could speak Japanese. OK. And then I was able to talk to this person the way I am talking to you about Mongolia, and this is the first and only time that has ever happened to me in my life.
OK. And it was completely transformative. Everything else I knew I knew because I'd read it in books or I had some English speaker who would speech to me.
Whatever like that, but this is the only time I was able to hear from an actual Mongolian in a language not English about things. And so this is a valuable experience, and I think that, the people in this room, you all believe this is a valuable experience. But it is something that should be brought up again.
The last thing, of course-- and this has come up because there is an observer effect. So if you're in Japan and you're foreign, it's always weird because you're foreign. So you always just have to be aware that that's going on.
OK. I'm not going to talk about measuring because this-- and then I'm talking about linguistics, but it goes anywhere-- any field of human interaction. And then a couple things just about language and the curriculum. Of course, in foreign languages, in linguistics, in literature, media, rhetoric, it's there. It's actually very hard to put language into other parts of the curriculum, and this is the kind of discussion administrations always have is like, well, how can we expand language learning?
OK. Well, let's offer anthropology classes in Chinese. I'm like, OK. Sure. Let's offer anthropology classes in Chinese and see what happens.
Typically, it's a disaster. I mean, there's no match there. It doesn't work at all.
At Queens, in my experience, the best thing I ever did was I taught a class on intercultural pragmatics. And at Queens, I had 40 students and I had two monolingual speakers of English. And I had 15 different native languages represented.
OK. So Queens is-- this was an extraordinary experience. OK. Because it's very unusual. We're lucky at Queens because half of our students were born abroad, so we have a lot of people who speak a lot of languages. But it's very unusual to create that kind of situation, and it's very hard-- and I've talked to people here about what's going on at Cornell. It's very difficult here because you can't-- it's very difficult.
In Queens, we can teach in Chinese, in Spanish. We have enough speakers and enough teachers where we can actually use those languages to teach lots of things. Not just Spanish language and Chinese grammar, but we have a lot of speakers who speak Korean, but we don't have enough teachers who can teach subjects so that-- you can't develop-- so it's very difficult to really bring language into a curriculum because, as a rule, the students and teachers don't share the language sufficiently. So it won't work, so it's actually very hard to keep it out of just where it is.
Can we measure the value of all this? Sure. You earn more money. That's what they say. You get better-- I don't know if I believe that.
How do we know if our curriculum is international? This question kill-- I have to say this question really upsets me or like-- it just bothers me. These are all commercial companies.
OK. You mentioned the IDI earlier. OK. The IDI claims that they can know when you have intercultural competence. And if you pay them, I think, $125, they're happy to tell you if you do or not.
Personally, I feel as if these kinds of things are basically just personality tests and I don't know that there's actually-- there's certainly no studies that say there's actually a correlation between this and this. This is a discussion in which you-- at Cornell, you have to decide yourselves. What does it mean to be international? How are you going to decide that you've met whatever goal you set for yourself or whatever it happens to be?
I mean, this is a decision which everybody has to make. And every time-- I'm part of many discussions. We're going to internationalize. We're going to do this, and it'll mean this. And whatever that is often very strange.
So I put these things out here because they exist, but I'm not telling what the answer is because I really don't know. And I sort of don't really believe in it either. I mean, I'm pretty skeptical of it.
So back a little bit to just language instruction. The two things I wanted to say-- one, the-- one thing actually-- it mainly has to with general education. This is the other thing which, I think, is interesting about language. Particularly in an experiential language classroom, language is really a performance.
OK. So it's acting. You get up and you do your thing and you succeed or you fail.
OK. It's just like learning to play the piano. OK. In that it builds discipline. It builds-- it takes a long time to get good at it.
OK. And it takes discipline. And in the end, it's you and you're by yourself and you're communicating or you're at a recital and it's going to work or it's not going to work.
OK. But you're in a relatively safe space. You're at a university, and people are not going to execute you if it doesn't-- it's not going to be the world if it doesn't work. But, to me, this is something that really is central to the idea that we're always talking about in general education. Because we're always trying to talk about giving students sort of genuine, authentic, transformative experiences.
OK. Going out and talking to someone and getting information on your own is a transformative experience at a high enough level. OK. In the same way that playing a piano recital by yourself at a high enough level is a transformative experience. It took a long time to get there. When you do it, it's completely on you.
As I said, you succeed or you fail, but this is what life is once you get out of university. I mean, this-- and so I talk to people about the language, if it's taught as performance, really builds that part of a student's character. It really gives them that kind of experience, which you often don't get. It's often very passive, and so that takes it away.
OK. And then just quickly, back to language as an object of study. Less commonly taught languages in Cornell.
Cornell is the place where you can found-- you can study anything, they say. At Cornell, they teach 50-plus languages. I looked this up, and Cornell is apparently below Harvard and Penn but actually above the rest of the Ivy League in terms of the number of languages that are taught. They should not throw that away.
There's also, more recently, areas of study. There's the thing called the "Endangered Language Alliance." This was actually founded by a Cornell grad who teaches at Queens College now, as it turns out, but they're studying these 30 languages that you've never heard of. These languages are all spoken by at least one person in New York City.
OK. Because they're associated with communities all over the world, but what the Endangered Language Alliance does is record, document, get as much information as possible about languages which are basically going extinct. OK. And it's using New York as its base. I mean, that's how we work.
And this is something Cornell could be doing. You have the Native American languages right around here. You have Appalachian.
I mean, there's all kinds of work in this area which is interesting. It's anthropological. It's interesting to do, and it's something-- I mean, all these things are things that one can study language for. And it's certainly something that Cornell should be doing if it's going to take itself seriously-- I mean, and it does take itself seriously, but as this kind of an institution.
And so just back to the title. I just wanted you to see that, when I think about language, it's a weird thing because it's extremely personal. OK. When you speak, it's you, but it's completely part of a larger community because language makes no sense if we're not talking to each other.
OK. I can make up a language. If you know The Game of Thrones, they actually made up a language that they put subtitles for, but it's not a real language. The only people who understand it are the people talking to each other on the TV, and they're not understanding each other because it's just subtitles.
OK. So that's not a language because it doesn't communicate. It has all the structure. It sounds like a language. It looks like a language, but it actually doesn't communicate information because nobody speaks it.
And normally, language does. OK. And that's why I say that it's ours because it does matter, but "our" is not-- our culture, your culture. It's two individuals, and then it's groups of people. It's all these different combinations of people, but it's because it's the same problems to be solved all the time is how I would think about it.
So that's it. Thank you very much. Sorry for going over.
SPEAKER 1: We'll take one question for Bill, and then we're going to take a break.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: Or you can talk to me during the break.
SPEAKER 2: Well, it may be a moment to say that Cornell has brought-- taken languages into the other fields with the support through the Language Education Council the Vice Provost for International Affairs. I don't see her here for the moment. Who has supported then the position of a coordinator who's sitting right here.
We have courses where students speak and use other languages as they discuss topics from courses all over the university. And Lisa has organized 12 courses of this time in nine different languages across the colleges here at Cornell. So it's something that, I think, illustrates the new flexibility in language-- offering languages here on campus due to the recent support and interest for this kind of thing.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: I just know that it's very difficult to do. That's all.
SPEAKER 2: We've done it.
SPEAKER 1: Well, the demand was there.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: Right.
SPEAKER 1: In was a matter of taking all these different puzzle pieces and putting them together.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: Right.
SPEAKER 1: And each course to integrate about four or five different units. But the demand was there. The students love it. The faculty love it. They feel really empowered by it.
All right. Thank you, Bill. Thank you.
WILLIAM MCCLURE: All right Thank you.
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William McClure, dean of faculty for the Division of Arts and Humanities at Queens College, spoke at Cornell's third Internationalization Symposium, "The Globally Engaged Campus: Defining and Redefining Where We Are," May 18, 2016. The symposium explored Cornell’s opportunities for meaningful international experiences on the Ithaca campus.