Category Archives: education

How the U.S. Disposed of 1.4B Acres

From Homesteading the Plains Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), Kindle pp. 6-7:

Homesteading was one way in which the federal government transferred parts of America’s enormous public domain to private ownership. The U.S. government acquired nearly 1.5 billion acres in the lower forty-eight states between 1781 and 1853, through the Revolutionary War treaty, the Louisiana Purchase, the Mexican War cessions, the settlement of boundary disputes with the British over Canada, and a few other minor acquisitions. From the outset many individuals, whether landless or the mightiest land barons, mining companies, and speculators, eagerly looked on public land as a source of potential riches for themselves. But the government was also interested in moving public land into private hands for a variety of motives that shifted over time. Initially it sought to use land sales to fund the federal budget, but later it distributed land to stimulate canal and railroad growth, to occupy remote regions and thereby forestall threats from foreign powers, to populate the West in order to foster private economic development, and to create a land-owning, small-farmer middle class that would sustain a democratic society.

We can trace in broad terms the disposition of this 1.442 billion-acre public domain. The national government today continues possession of about 26 percent (380 million acres). It transferred approximately 22 percent (328 million acres) to individual states, most of which was sold, and homesteaders claimed about 19 percent (270 million, or possibly as much as 285 million, acres). The balance, roughly 32 percent (between 449 and 464 million acres) was transferred to private owners through sales, grants to railroad corporations, veterans’ bonuses, agricultural college grants, and other distributions, or it was stolen, misappropriated, reserved, or otherwise caused to disappear from the public land rolls. Homesteading accounted for between a quarter and a third of the public land transferred by the federal government to private owners.

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Soviet Campaign for Latin Scripts

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 188-192:

In 1921, twenty-two-year-old Qu Qiubai was dispatched by a Chinese news syndicate from Beijing to the Soviet Union with a mission to report on the post-Bolshevik regime. The journey would become a personal quest as well as a political pilgrimage for this rookie journalist with delicate features and a touch of melancholy. Qu unexpectedly met many compatriots on his way to Moscow, among them Chinese laborers and shopkeepers ensconced in the Far East cities of Irkutsk and Chita.

Qu was sent back to Russia in 1928 with many of his fellow Chinese Marxists to regroup under the tutelage of their Bolshevik brothers. By this time, the language question occupied the forefront of the Soviet Union’s policy toward its own national minorities. The newly unified Soviet Union included swaths of Central Asia that did not speak or read Russian. Among the groups in these regions that already had a written tradition, Arabic had been in use for almost a thousand years. Some of the national minorities in Turkic Central Asia had no script at all. Pacifying and assimilating these groups would require careful strategy from the Soviets. Reducing illiteracy with Latinized scripts became a key part of a general campaign to educate and control the population.

After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Central Asia Turkic republics began testing the Latin alphabet as a medium for their spoken languages. Many Turkic groups saw Arabic script as increasingly insufficient to meet the practical demands of modern life, much in the same way that Chinese reformers had viewed character writing as a disadvantage in the technological age. As a Soviet Tajik poet explained, the Latin alphabet flew at the speed of an airplane, while the Arabic script limped along like a weak donkey in pain. Others saw the conversion to Latin script as a matter of sharing in humanity’s survival, because written records provide continuity from the past into the present.

The Soviet Central Committee supported the Latinization of the Arabic script in pursuit of a multinational language policy. The idea was to give each group its own right to linguistic self-determination within the newly unified Soviet state. Fifty-two languages were targeted for conversion to Roman script and about seventy were eventually Latinized, spanning an area that stretched between Norway and Korea.

In truth, Latinization was also a way to divide and conquer. From the Russians’ perspective, Central Asia was about as savage and backward as a place could be—and they found its inhabitants difficult to tell apart. The Azerbaijanis were often referred to as the Tatars, Uzbeks as the Sarts, and Tajiks as the Uzbeks. If the Soviet East were to be brought to heel, the Russians thought, it would have to be purged of its Islamic influence. It was convenient to seize on the Arabic script as an object of backwardness in need of reform. And as long as the Turkic republics had their own separate writing systems—in Latin script, not the Turko-Persian Arabic that a few groups were already accustomed to—it would be harder for them to form a pan-Islamic alliance that could challenge Soviet rule. Only later, in the late 1930s, would language policy shift from Latinization to Cyrillization. Once these groups were sufficiently distant from their mother tongues, Russian control and influence could strengthen.

The Soviets were eager to include the Chinese laborers of the Amur region as a test group in their anti-illiteracy Latinization campaigns, hoping to extend their influence even further into Asia. These were the Chinese laborers whom Qu had met during his first trip to the Soviet Union. Their illiteracy rate was almost 100 percent.

The Soviet campaigns were instructive for the Chinese Communists, at the time young political upstarts. During his time in China serving the CCP, Qu had been immersed in Chinese language debates and consequently had a more informed perspective on language reforms when he returned to the Soviet Union. Yet Qu was not a trained linguist. He solicited the help of the Russian linguists Vsevolod S. Kolokolov and Aleksandr A. Dragunov. He drafted a proposal for the Latin New Script in February 1929 and distributed two hundred copies among Chinese workers. A revised version, with further input from Kolokolov, was published that October and reprinted again the year after with three thousand additional copies in distribution.

The Chinese laborers cheered the effort. Night schools opened to teach them how to recognize simple phrases like “boiled water” or “I sell dumplings,” as well as ideological questions like “To what class do poor people belong?” More than five thousand factory workers and peasants were able to read and write letters to their families by the time they graduated, thanks to the comrades who volunteered their time as instructors and administrators. Between 1931 and 1936, scores of Latin New Script textbooks and several literary works were circulated and taught. The demand was overwhelming. The language reformers could not train teachers or print textbooks fast enough. A weekly newspaper wholly printed in Latin New Script, Yngxu Sin Wenz (Support the New Alphabet), was published in Khabarovsk, with its forty-third issue appearing in late 1934.

Instruction in Latin New Script was touted as a hallmark event in an era of socialist brotherhood and mutual aid. The Soviets saw it as an opportunity to finally address the problem of illiteracy among the community of one hundred thousand Chinese laborers within their territory. As for the Chinese Marxists, they now had a linguistic instrument with which to reach their revolutionary goals: If the Chinese could read easily, they could be radicalized and converted to communism with the new script. For Qu, it was inevitable, even imperative, that Latinization would replace written characters. Unlike National Romanization, which was designed by a small coterie of academically minded intellectuals and based on fancy linguistic theories, he remarked, Latin New Script was a practical phonetic script that served every dialect and every class.

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Simplifying Chinese Characters

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 170-171, 174-175, 177-178:

Mao did not speak a word of Putonghua, the common speech derived from the northern-based Beijing Mandarin. Yet Mao went down in history as, among other things, the political figure who guided the Chinese language through its two greatest transformations in modern history. The first was character simplification, which would reduce the number of strokes in more than 2,200 Chinese characters. The second was the creation of pinyin, a standardized phonetic system using the Roman alphabet and based on the pronunciation of Putonghua (“pinyin” means “to piece together sound”). Mao would lead the country through these dramatic changes, but not by example; he would never get used to writing simplified characters in his lifetime, or even Roman letters. Following Mao, the Communists had fought and won a civil war in the name of the people—workers, peasants, and every member of the exploited underclass. At the founding of the PRC, more than 90 percent of the country was still illiterate and communicated in regional dialects. Romanization would be Mao’s way of delivering his promise to the people, and the people to their linguistic destiny. It would be a new bridge to learning Chinese characters, employed in aggressive anti-illiteracy campaigns. The Committee on Script Reform was appointed to orchestrate the effort.

While the Nationalists dawdled, the Communists took up the cause of simplification and made it their own. During the War of Resistance against the Japanese, they began to print simplified characters in the local newspapers that were circulated in the areas under their control. The use of these characters fanned out into the rest of the country after 1949. Simplified writing attracted more and more attention as discussions and debates grew. Eventually the Ministry of Education selected around five hundred simplified characters to be reviewed by experts and linguists. The task was handed over to the Committee on Script Reform for further investigation once it was established in 1952.

The committee completed the first draft of the official simplification scheme by late 1954. A list of 798 characters was formally introduced the following January to great enthusiasm. The Ministry of Education delivered three hundred thousand copies of the Preliminary Draft of Han Character Simplifications to various cultural organizations and educational institutions around the country for comment and feedback. More than two hundred thousand individuals weighed in with opinions. The Committee on Script Reform alone received more than five thousand letters. Up to 97 percent of those polled approved of the preliminary simplification scheme.

While there were reservations and objections to the simplified script—largely for cultural and aesthetic reasons—the rate of illiteracy began to decline under the twin implementation of character simplification and pinyin. By 1982, the literacy rate for people over age fifteen nationwide had risen to 65.5 percent, and it reached 96.8 percent in 2018.

Whatever support there was for character simplification among the Nationalists dwindled after 1949. After losing the mainland to the Communists and retreating to Taiwan, the Nationalists appointed themselves the true guardians of traditional culture and have kept the traditional written characters intact to this day. By distancing themselves from character simplification, they left room for the Communists to claim it as a central platform for New China.

The wounds of this contentious past are still fresh and reopen from time to time. The political weaponization of simplified scripts since 1949 on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, which divides mainland China from the proclaimed Republic of China in Taiwan, has only sharpened the differences between the old and new scripts. Proponents and opponents of simplification continue to hurl jabs and insults at one another. The character for “love” (愛 in traditional form and 爱 in simplified form) is a favorite example. The simplified version replaces the component for “heart” 心 with “friend” 友. What is love, the champions of traditional characters ask, with no heart? One online critic argues that “since the simplification of Han characters, one can no longer ‘see’ one’s ‘relatives’ (親 vs. 亲). . . . The ‘factories’ are ‘emptied’ (廠 vs. 厂 ), while ‘flour’ is missing ‘wheat’ (麵 vs. 面). ‘Transportation’ has no ‘cars’ (運 vs. 运). . . . ‘Flying’ is done on one ‘wing’ (飛 vs. 飞).”

Advocates of simplified characters, in turn, have come up with their own character tales to tell. They argue that simplified “love” is more expansive and modern, extending generously to friends and comrades rather than being narrowly guided by the selfish heart. Another case is “masses.” After some strokes were judiciously pruned away, the character is now composed entirely—and rightly—of “people” (眾 vs. 众). “To destroy” no longer has the superfluous radical of “water” (滅 vs. 灭), which served no semantic or phonetic purpose. And as for the character for “insect,” who wouldn’t want to avoid the creepy-crawly pests as much as possible? At least one is better than three (蟲 vs. 虫).

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First Chinese Typewriter Designs

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 64-69:

Zhou’s breakthrough was figuring out how to correlate the physical act of selecting and retrieving a character in a tray with the mechanical motion of preparing a character, etched onto a cylinder, to be inked and printed. The result was a single coordination of mechanical motions, optimally economized and completed by a human operator. In his article for The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Zhou documented the details of his typewriter and the technical challenges he had to overcome. He had known, of course, that he was not the first. There was Sheffield’s machine and an earlier Japanese prototype, both of which he acknowledged as having arrived at similar ideas independent of his endeavor. It was a respectful nod to those who came before him.

Just as he was preparing to publish his article, though, an unexpected challenger nearly derailed Zhou’s debut. Qi Xuan was a fellow Chinese student studying engineering at New York University. Unbeknownst to Zhou, Qi had been on a parallel track. Relying on a different set of principles for building his own Chinese typewriting machine, he figured out how to do what Zhou, Sheffield, and others thought was impossible: arrange the characters by parts.

In place of Zhou’s character grid, the keyboard of Qi’s machine had only three keys—a back spacer, a forward spacer, and one that selected the character. But Qi’s machine also relied on cylinders of type (two cylinders instead of Zhou’s four). The upper cylinder, with characters inscribed on paper, served as a guide. The lower cylinder, with corresponding characters engraved on a copper surface, made the actual impression. An operator would use a hand wheel to rotate the machine’s upper cylinder until the correct row appeared in a viewfinder on the front of the machine. Then three keys would be used to select the correct character from the row and lock the cylinders in position, aligning the corresponding character cast on the lower cylinder and stamping it on the page.

Though they looked very different, the underlying design and mechanisms of Zhou’s and Qi’s machines were very similar. And Qi’s handled 4,200 actual Chinese characters, just 200 more than Zhou’s core lexicon. Qi’s machine, however, was different in one very important respect: he had broken with the prevailing commitment to reproduce whole, complete characters. Of his 4,200 individual Chinese characters, 1,720 were in the form of character components, radicals, and their possible variant positions in a square space, which allowed his machine to generate, in theory, more versions out of the same parts. In three steps, using these keys, the operator could purportedly produce 50,000 combinations.

Operating his machine, Qi explained, was closer to spelling an English word than producing a Chinese character. If you treat radicals like groups of letters, you can play with different combinations the way you would in a word game. Let’s say you have three English words—“exist,” “expect,” and “submit.” You can generate more words by mixing and matching their parts to form new words like “sum,” “suspect,” “subsist,” “bit,” “mist,” “its,” and “sex.” Unlike modern English words, which have equal spacing for each letter and line up in a neat row, components and radicals can move around from character to character. In print they can occupy different quadrants of the square space that each character fills, which means their position, and consequently their size, can change. For example, the character for “fire,” 火, fills an entire square space when standing alone, but it becomes thinner when it is a radical put on the left of the character “braise,” shao 燒. In turn, it changes form altogether—into four flames—when placed at the bottom of the character for “hot,” re 熱. Qi accounted for possible variant positions like these by giving them separate engravings on the cylinders. Consequently, there are at least three options for “fire” to be combined with other components and thereby form a greater number of characters.

Qi challenged the idea that characters had to be individual, stand-alone units. He thought of them as more modular, like alphabet-based words, things that could be recycled to compose different characters. And once he started tinkering, some of the Kangxi radicals did not sit well with him. He took more liberties and slipped in a few radicals he had devised that he thought worked better. A bigger shift than Zhou’s was creeping in. Others would also start to ask whether exclusively using radicals for character classification still made sense.

For different reasons, Sheffield and Zhou both concluded that characters were the way they were for good reasons and preserving them was of the utmost importance. Qi’s scheme “looked well on the face of it,” Zhou cautioned, “but they forgot, that the same ‘radical’ in different characters differ [sic] not only in size but also in shape, and, furthermore, they occupy different positions in a character.” He named one example, the square-shaped radical meaning “mouth” 口, which shows up in the characters for “ancient” 古 and “cry” 哭 but in each its size and location are quite different. Consequently, one cannot use the same square for “mouth” in both cases, as they were designed to fit into different configurations. If the different sizes of 口 were forced together, they would create absurd-looking characters with overlapping strokes in all the wrong places.

Zhou’s design eventually won out.

Japanese modernizers had a much easier time adapting katakana for use in typewriters, semaphore, and telegraphy.

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Finding Chinese Character Sounds

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 25-26:

As part of a serious education, any learned Chinese down to Wang’s time [c. 1900] would have had to master the reverse-cut method for learning how to pronounce characters. Reverse-cut first appeared in the third century and remained in use until the early twentieth. Each Chinese character has a one-syllable sound associated with it, and all syllables have two parts: an “initial” (the consonant sound that begins a syllable) and a “final” (the rest of the syllable sound). For a guide, a novice would turn to a rhyme book, which functioned like a dictionary of pronunciation. In it, the sound of each listed character was “spelled out” by cutting together two more commonly used and familiar characters. One character’s initial sound was added to another’s final sound to indicate the pronunciation of the character in question. To pronounce the character for “east” 東 (dong), for instance, you would look up 東 in a rhyme book and it would tell you that the pronunciation is the initial of “virtue” 德 ([d]ek) combined with the final of “red” 紅 (h[ong]).

This technique used the phonetic parts of two known characters to sound out an unknown third character in the same way that (5 – 3) × (1 + 1) conveys the number 4. That’s a complicated way to arrive at 4 if all you want is the number.

The old reverse-cut phonetic system solved many problems—like accommodating the translation of the exotic sounds of Sanskrit when Mahayana Buddhism’s scriptures were introduced into China in the late seventh century—but now it had itself become the problem. It required years of rote memorization to learn and was no longer accurate—speech habits had drifted and evolved over time. “Virtue,” for example, is no longer pronounced as “dek” but as “de” in modern-day Chinese. Pronunciation also differed wildly between dialects.

The Chinese spelling system was woefully outdated. At the same time, the Western alphabet was viewed with suspicion in a climate of hostility to foreigners. A middle path had to be found. People like Wang [Zhao] realized there needed to be a system that acted like an alphabet for Chinese without simply using Roman letters.

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Chinese Orthographic Revolutionaries

From Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu (Riverhead Books, 2022), Kindle pp. 24-25:

While working on his alphabet, Wang [Zhao] never strayed from the beliefs he had shared with the emperor back in 1898: China was losing its power because language was failing its people. Their low literacy and divided dialects impeded China’s ability to govern, negotiate with foreign powers, and keep pace with the outside world. China’s success as a nation and an international power hinged on the single issue of an accessible spoken and written language.

There had been others who shared Wang’s analysis of the problem, although they offered different answers to it. Lu Zhuangzhang, a Chinese Christian from Amoy (now Xiamen), developed the first phonetic system for a Chinese language by a Chinese. His 1892 Simple Script used fifty-five symbols, some of which were adapted from Roman letters to Chinese sound rules, to represent the southern dialect spoken in Amoy. Lu nearly went bankrupt in the process. Lu’s children would bemoan how he squandered the family’s livelihood financing his linguistic experiments.

Among those who followed in Lu’s footsteps was Cai Xiyong, an attaché to a Chinese diplomatic delegation to the United States. He developed his Quick Script for the major southern topolect group of Min, using a rapid writing system—a kind of shorthand—created by David Philip Lindsley. Shorthand, pioneered by Isaac Pitman for the English language in 1837, was a transcription system that used specially simplified notations to record phonemes, words, and phrases in real time.

The real innovator, many later thought, was Shen Xue, a brilliant medical student from Shanghai whose reputedly ingenious scheme, according to eyewitnesses, was originally written in English but has survived only as a preface printed by a Chinese journal. Shen devoted his life to propagating and offering free lessons on his Universal System at a local teahouse. He died a pauper at the tender age of twenty-eight.

Wang stood out from the rest in one important way: while he believed in giving people the power of literacy and the ability to connect with speakers of other dialects, he ultimately wanted to hold them to a single standard—Beijing Mandarin. He saw the critical importance of a unified language, and he was the first to propose Beijing Mandarin as the nation’s standard tongue. It would become the basis of the modern Mandarin, or Putonghua, that the Chinese speak today. For Wang, increasing literacy was only possible if one simultaneously created linguistic unity. To unite China’s hundreds of tongues with a single phonetic scheme would be like deconstructing China’s own Tower of Babel. Before Wang could tackle this problem, however, he had to contend with the native sound system that had been in place for centuries: a way of learning and teaching characters based on sounds called the reverse-cut method.

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Losing Your First Language: Cantonese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 164-165:

Nellie remembers that she really didn’t want to come here from Hong Kong when she was 6 years old, and she remembers saying “I don’t want to go there; I don’t know how to speak the language” (October 6th, 1995, p. 1). At first, she was really quiet in class, and she’d spend time on her own during recess, and eat lunch alone, because she was too afraid to talk to anybody, but she remembers also feeling confident during math class because her math skills were so far advanced. After her first year (Grade 2), which she spent in an ESL class with six other students from different grades and different first languages, she began to feel more confident in English, but she sometimes slipped in Cantonese words when she got excited, and then she became fluent, and then she began using English at home. Her parents even commented to her that “it’s good that you learned English, but when you’re home, we’d like you to speak Cantonese” (October 6th, 1995, p. 2). But, there was no one in her school or her neighborhood who spoke Cantonese, and she was able to speak to her siblings and her parents in English without being punished, and so that is what she did. From that time forward, she remembers being quiet whenever she was immersed in a Cantonese-language environment.

The pampered baby in her family, Nellie found that language loss did not really affect her relationships with her father or sister, but it did make her relationships with her mother and her brother more distant. As her brother was never able to become comfortable in English, he chose not to respect her language abilities, refusing even to slow his speaking pace, or adjust his vocabulary, in Cantonese. Nellie speaks of him with coldness. Her mother now admits that she really disliked Nellie when Nellie was growing up because her mother was unable to understand her.

As a teenager and young adult, Nellie had a long-term relationship with a Caucasian boyfriend. Her parents, particularly her mother, were extremely upset by the relationship, even moving to Toronto in the hope that she would forget about him. Their plan backfired; Nellie instead refused to leave Vancouver, and moved out on her own. Over time, and with the evolution of her relationship, she decided to move to Toronto, but, by the time she announced her decision to her parents, they had already made arrangements to move back to Vancouver. Nellie was also frustrated by Chinese cultural standards. Whereas she was an above-­average student who didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, who never got into trouble, who didn’t date until she was 16, and who took on responsibility in school, she didn’t meet the criteria for a “good” Chinese girl. Only over time, when Nellie was in her mid-20s, and with Canadianization did her parents come to appreciate her in Canadian terms.

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Losing Your First Language: Korean

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 162-163:

Born in Korea, Hana Kim came with her parents on a temporary overseas assignment to Canada when she was 4 years old. Because they were planning to return to Korea in 3 years, her parents did not expect the children to speak Korean, but instead let them “do what came naturally” (June 20th, 1995, p. 1), going to English playschool, watching TV, and speaking English at home. At the end of 3 years when her parents had decided to immigrate, Hana Kim was still able to speak Korean, but she began losing it when she was in Grade 2. By the time she was 11 years old and they returned to Korea for a visit, she was almost unable to communicate. She returned again when she was 17 years old, and was able to understand some basic things, but was unable to say what she wanted to say. Oddly enough, Hana Kim returned to Korea once again when she was in her late 20s, and, at that time, many of her relatives commented that her Korean had improved. She mused that,

“I think as I’ve gotten older—I think maybe I’m concentrating more, and I understand how the language works more, because you’re more mature, and I think that’s allowing me to speak it a bit better.” (June 20th, 1995, p. 2)

Yet, accustomed to being a very articulate speaker (Hana Kim works as a television broadcaster and anchorwoman), she felt frustrated by her inability to communicate her ideas and comments. She was also frustrated that people in Korea would “see that you’ve got a Korean face” and then “they kind of expect you to be able to speak Korean too. If you’re White it doesn’t matter; they don’t have those expectations, you know” (June 30th, 1995, p. 7).

Even were she to still speak Korean, Hana Kim would likely have become a broadcaster. As a child in Korea, she used to mimic the broadcasters on the radio from the time she began to talk. On the other hand, she also feels that growing up speaking English to parents who couldn’t speak the language also contributed to her choice of profession because she had to learn to speak slowly, deliberately, and carefully, and to constantly evaluate the difficulty of her vocabulary. She therefore didn’t have to change her speech habits in order to train as a news reporter.

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Losing Your First Language: Vietnamese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 159-160:

Kuong immigrated to Canada from Vietnam when he was 3 or 4 years old, and first lived near Windsor, Ontario because his family’s sponsor lived in a small town there. He attended school there for Grades 1, 2, and 3, and, because he was instructed in both French and English, believed the two languages were just different dialects until he moved out to British Columbia in Grade 4. He remembers absolutely nothing of his primary school classrooms, although he can remember the walk to school, and the fear that he felt when he heard little children screaming in the principal’s office. He thought maybe he didn’t remember the classrooms because he never understood anything during his primary schooling; his first recollections of instruction are from Grade 4 when he was finally able to understand some of the things the teacher said.

Kuong has an older sibling attending college who is fluent in both Vietnamese and English, and whom he envies, and an older sibling attending a School for the Deaf who signs and lip-reads only in English. His younger brother is in jail; apparently there was some confusion about his date of birth when the family immigrated, so the Canadian authorities believe his 16-year-old brother to be an adult, and have imprisoned him accordingly.

Kuong’s parents don’t speak very much English. Because Kuong got mixed up with drugs and crime when he was still in elementary school, he has been in and out of group homes. Because he has therefore been predominantly in English-speaking environments, he doesn’t speak Vietnamese, yet he also knows that he has serious difficulties in reading, writing, and expressing himself in English. Kuong feels that he will never be gainfully employed in Canada. He doesn’t have the grammatical skill necessary for white-collar work, and he doesn’t have the physical strength (because of heroin addiction) for blue-collar work.

His parents have offered to buy him a fishing boat if he finishes Grade 10 (he was 18 years old at the time of the interviews in 1995), but he doesn’t speak enough Vietnamese to communicate with other fishermen. He thinks he’ll probably only live another 10 years because of his lifestyle and because of how he earns a living; however, he reasons that, if he limited himself to legal employment, he wouldn’t even be able to survive for 10 years.

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Losing Your First Language: Portuguese

From Face[t]s of First Language Loss, by Sandra G. Kouritzin (Routledge, 1999), pp. 164-165:

After immigrating to Toronto from Portugal at the age of 1 or 2, Michael didn’t learn to speak English until he began Grade 1. When he started school, it became obvious to his teacher that Michael couldn’t speak English very well, and so she encouraged his parents to speak to him in that language at home. They tried, but by the time Michael was in Grade 3 and able to function well in school, they reverted to Portuguese in the home. The pattern was well-established however, and Michael continued to reply to them in English.

Apart from his language difficulties, Michael doesn’t recall much of his early years of school except that he was in trouble a lot. He “spent a lot of time in the corner” (November 17th, 1995, p. 1), which he attributes to “language issues,” and to the fact that he didn’t get a lot of support at school. Later, his language issues were multiplied when, during puberty, he simultaneously returned to Portugal for a visit, and also began having speech difficulty when his voice started changing. According to his speech therapist, he began using his false vocal chords; he began feeling very self-conscious using the English language. When he visited Portugal during the summer vacation, he began to feel more comfortable around the Portuguese language, and, at the same time, he stopped using his false vocal chords. It is a chicken-and-egg question whether he feels more comfortable with the sounds and rhythm of Portuguese than with English because his language difficulty was solved in Portugal, or if his language difficulty was solved in Portugal because he felt more comfortable with the language. Either way, it is a moot point; he can no longer speak the language, even having difficulty in retrieving single words.

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