Friday, November 14, 2003

[Foreign?] Language Requirement


via Volokh Conspiracy from the San Diego State University student newspaper:

San Diego State is . . . dropping the word "foreign" from the general catalog's "Foreign Language Requirement."


According to Dean of Division of Undergraduate Studies Geoffrey Chase, the University Senate decided to delete the word "foreign" from the title last Tuesday. Chase said the extraneous word carries negative connotations and should, therefore, be omitted in the next publication of the general catalog.


Members of the Undergraduate Council, who drafted a rationale, in support of this initiative wrote: "The term 'foreign' has been used to designate something alien and is as ethnocentric and inappropriate as using 'oriental' to designate a person of Asian descent." Moreover, members pointed out many universities that have already changed the wording of the requirement such as Stanford University, University of Michigan, University of Chicago and University of Texas.


Chase said he knew of some Cal State Universities that have already made the transition. CSU San Marcos did so in 1999. Prior to this, Chase said other alternatives for the existing title included "Non-English Language" and "Second Language," but were both rejected by the council since English is not always a primary language in the household. . . .


Communication sophomore Tamara Murray said the movement from "Foreign Language Requirement" to "Language Requirement" doesn't bother her.


"It makes sense," Murray said. "By assuming English is the only non-foreign language, the term could seem discriminatory. It's something I don't usually think about as a native speaker."


After being dumb-founded for a second, I see the logic of the change. Nor am I particularly bothered by the decision. However, I am not sure what the problem was with "Non-English Language". The logic of, "rejected by the council since English is not always a primary language in the household." does not seem to hold since this phrasing does not imply that the requirement if for a foreign or second language, simply one other than English. Moreover, many students who do speak another language at home often take the proficiency exams and fullfill the requirement without having to take any classes. (You fulfill the requirement, but do not get the credits, and so still have to take something else, like another language or a different subject altogether)

After reading the article I am also amazed at how inarticulate a professor can be.

Classics and humanities professor Nicholas Genovese, who also opposes this motion, said a 'Language Requirement' does not suffice.


"The original purpose of our 'foreign' language requirement (is) to introduce liberal arts and sciences majors to foreign cultures, traditions and nations through other languages and literatures," Genovese said. "A 'language requirement' does not ensure this."


Why not? Presumably the requirement still has not changed. A person must demonstrate some kind of achievement in a language other than English in order to fulfil the requirement, and so how is the removal of the word "foreign" bothering professor Genovese? Of course, the students are not always much better.

Biology senior Ken Colburn said he doesn't think the word "foreign" is necessary, but also believes the issue is a little irrelevant.
"I think it shows how our society has become more and more politically correct to the point where we're afraid to offend anyone," he said.


Should not a society care enough about its member to take care not to offend whenever possible. Let's presume that someone was offended by the term "foreign language" and the change is esteemed by Mr. Colburn to be irrelevant, wold not the net result be a plus for the society? Presumably a large number of UC San Diego students are fluent or conversant in Spanish, perhaps it does make sense to stop treating their primary or first language as a foreign one.

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