Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Zhejiang University

This week, I accepted a job teaching English at in the School of International Studies at Zhejiang University. ZJU is widely acknowledged as one of the best universities in China (most surveys, however subjective they may be, put it at #3, after Beijing and Qinghua Universities -- which, incidentally, are also known as Peking and Tsinghua U, using the old Wade-Giles romanization system).

Next fall, I'll be starting a new job there. The SIS includes 12 different research institutes, including literature, translation studies, German, Russian, Japanese, foreign language teaching, and discourse studies. I've been following the development of the Institute of Discourse and Cultural Studies for the last year or so, and it looks like they're doing some really cool stuff there. In fact, they are introducing a new international PhD program called "Communication and Contemporary China" next semester, and I am flirting with the idea of applying in the future. (There are a lot of variables, not the least of which is the fact that full-time teaching and full-time student-ing aren't exactly compatible.)

There are several attractive things about this program: first, it's a 3 years and research-based. In terms of time (to say nothing of money), that's appealing. Second, it would, I hope, give me a chance to work on my Chinese language more than I do now. The working language of the program is English, but there are language courses involved. Third, it might just be the perfect place for me to do the kind of research I've been mulling over, which is something about Chinese indie rock (for example: the use of English in Chinese indie rock, the construction of Chinese indie rock in "Western" media, "indie" discourse, etc.).

It's really too early to tell if this PhD program is right for me, but being at ZJU will, I hope, be a stimulating environment and give me a chance to explore whether this kind of thing is what I want to do in the future.

PS: On our recent trip to Hangzhou (where ZJU is), we went to the newly remodeled Foriegn Language Bookstore, where I found the mother lode of cheap applied linguistics books. Seriously. The entire TeacherSource series for about $4 apiece; the entire Cambridge Applied Linguistics series for about $3 apiece; the entire Oxford Introductions to Language Study series for about $1 apiece. In the US, the former two series are around $25-$35, the latter $15, but here they are reprinted by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and given China-friendly prices. I bought about 8 books, and I'll be back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Pronoun Battle for China's Soul

Every day, I preside over a bitter linguistic struggle for the hearts and minds of China's youth. My students are torn, absolutely torn, about whether to use "we" or "I" when they write from a first-person perspective, and their pronoun usage twists and turns all over the place as this struggle plays itself out.

A classic example was from a response to one of my questions about Fan Shen's article "The Classroom and the Wider Culture," in which the author mentions that, at least when he was a college student in China (late 1980s), the use of the word "I" was considered bad, or at least unnecessarily self-centered.

I got several responses like this (I'm paraphrasing):

Of course "I" is not a bad word in China. Our country is developing, and we should show our unique ideas and our individuality.

You see what I'm getting at. A number of these linguistically conflicted constructions show up in my students' writing, like As an English major, we need to study hard. Or we should relax ourself.

I tell them I don't care if they want to write with a we-voice or an I-voice, as long as they're consistent and grammatically correct. But consistency is hard to come by in life, these days.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


I've really been neglecting not only this blog, but the things that are supposed to be feeding it: reading academically, reflecting on my own teaching, and figuring out the PhD-or-Not question. As such, I have very little to say, except to lay out some tentative plans, like:

a. Tentative plan to interview Suresh Canagarajah for the Other Journal's education issue.

b. Yesterday, I read "Mixers lyricing in Hinglish " by Y. Kachru, which was an inspiration in terms of studying pop music from a World Englishes perspective. (Also heard a Chinese pop song, which after a quick Googling seems to be "你的甜蜜," on the radio, which included a repetition of the English phrase "Sorry doesn't mean anything.")

c. Today I bought volume three in the Collected Works of MAK Halliday, (Language and Linguistics) which I was surprised to find at my local Xinhua Bookstore! They actually have a pretty good selection of scholarly stuff in English.

d. I want to put together a proposal for this conference, something on American rock critics' perceptions of Lonely China Day (and/or other bands as relevant). I'd also really love to get a job at the university hosting the conference.

More soon, with any luck...