US post-secondary enrollments in foreign languages and the position of Mandarin

graphs showing the enrollments of Japanese and Mandarin over time, with Italian thrown in by way of comparisonFrom the way the U.S. media talk about the boom in Mandarin classes, it’s easy to get the impression that Mandarin is about to become the most studied language in the United States. So I offer the following overdue reality check.

The data come from the results of a large survey of foreign-language enrollments in U.S. post-secondary schools. The survey was conducted by the Modern Language Association. I started work on this post when the results were released in November 2007; but, well, I got distracted.

This post has lots of tables and figures, so for those who don’t want to scan through everything I offer some basic points up front.

  • Spanish has more enrollments than all other foreign languages put together.
  • By far the biggest enrollment boom since 1990 has not been for Mandarin but for American Sign Language.
  • The boom in enrollments in Arabic also surpasses that for Mandarin.
  • Mandarin is indeed growing in popularity — but in recent years only at the undergraduate level.
  • Japanese continues to be more popular than Mandarin, though by an ever-smaller margin.
  • Mandarin is the seventh most studied foreign language in U.S. post-secondary schools, behind Spanish (which leads Mandarin by a ratio of 16:1), French, German, American Sign Language, Italian, and Japanese.
  • Relatively speaking, enrollments in foreign languages are much lower than they were 30 years ago.

A few summary remarks of my own:

  • I don’t expect the high growth rates for Mandarin to continue for many more years unless the programs are dumbed down (in which case they wouldn’t count for much) or Pinyin gains a much more prominent role in Mandarin pedagogy (and not just at the introductory level). The difficulties of Chinese characters will help keep numbers down, as will the eventual realization that learning Mandarin isn’t an easy ticket to riches (or even a ticket to riches at all).
  • Japanese received a big boost in the 1980s, when the media cranked out story after story about the power of Japan’s rising economy and the need to learn the language. Yet Japanese didn’t become the next big world language. I predict a similar path for Mandarin.
  • A high percentage of those taking Mandarin classes in U.S. high schools are students who are both ethnically Chinese and already familiar with the language. The MLA didn’t provide figures on that for post-secondary students. But I would be surprised if such “heritage” students don’t represent a higher percentage of those in Mandarin language courses than heritage students in most other language classes.

OK, now on to some details.

Look below at the growth for American Sign Language since 1990. If Mandarin had had that sort of growth (4,820 percent!) the pundits would no doubt be telling us that the Chinese had already taken over the planet and were going to rule the entire galaxy within the next decade. (And don’t get me started about the supposed Mandarin in Serenity/Firefly.) But American Sign Language just doesn’t seem to get the same sort of respect, despite the fact that it still has more than 50 percent more enrollments than Mandarin. Arabic, which has also had a much faster growth rate than that of Mandarin, hasn’t received the same level of hype either.

Growth in Enrollments: in declining order of growth from 1990 to 2006

Enrollments 1990 2006 % Growth 2002-06 % Growth 1990-2006
American Sign Language 1,602 78,829 29.7 4820.7
Arabic 3,475 23,974 126.5 589.9
Korean 2,286 7,145 37.1 212.6
Mandarin 19,490 51,582 51.0 164.7
Hebrew 12,995 23,752 4.2 82.8
Portuguese 6,211 10,267 22.4 65.3
Italian 49,699 78,368 22.6 57.7
Spanish 533,944 822,985 10.3 54.1
Japanese 45,717 66,605 27.5 45.7
French 272,472 206,426 2.2 -24.2
German 133,348 94,264 3.5 -29.3
Russian 44,626 24,845 3.9 -44.3
Total 1,125,865 1,489,042 12.7 32.3

Change in enrollments over time: in declining order of total enrollment for 2006

Change between Surveys 1995-98 1998-2002 2002-06
Spanish 8.3% 13.7% 10.3%
French -3.1% 1.5% 2.2%
German -7.5% 2.3% 3.5%
American Sign Language 165.3% 432.2% 29.7%
Italian 12.6% 29.6% 22.6%
Japanese -3.5% 21.1% 27.5%
Mandarin 7.5% 20.0% 51.0%
Russian -3.8% 0.5% 3.9%
Arabic 23.9% 92.3% 126.5%
Hebrew * 20.6% 44.0% 4.2%
Portuguese 6.0% 21.1% 22.4%
Korean 34.0% 16.3% 37.1%
Total 5.0% 16.6% 12.7%

* Modern and Biblical Hebrew combined

Below: Russian may not have the top number of enrollments, but it certainly has some motivated students, given the high numbers of them in advanced courses.

Enrollments in Introductory-Level Courses vs. Enrollments in Advanced-Level Courses

Intro Enr. Advanced Enr. Total Enrollment Ratio of Intro Enr. to Advanced Enr.
Russian 17,527 6,569 24,096 2.67:1
Portuguese 7,387 2,422 9,809 3.05:1
German 72,434 18,758 91,192 3.86:1
French 160,736 40,927 201,663 3.93:1
Korean 5,511 1,397 6,908 3.94:1
Greek, Ancient 13,250 3,176 16,426 4.17:1
Mandarin 41,193 9,262 50,455 4.45:1
Spanish 669,432 142,602 812,034 4.69:1
Japanese 55,161 10,585 65,746 5.21:1
Latin 26,787 4,383 31,170 6.11:1
Hebrew, Modern 7,665 1,250 8,915 6.13:1
Arabic 20,571 2,463 23,034 8.35:1
Italian 69,757 7,593 77,350 9.19:1
Hebrew, Biblical 7,854 705 8,559 11.14:1
American Sign Language 72,694 5,249 77,943 13.85:1
Other languages 27,836 3,478 31,314 8.00:1
Total 1,275,795 260,819 1,536,614 4.89:1

One thing I find particularly troubling is that the number of graduate students studying Mandarin has fallen. (Please click on the link in the previous sentence, since the relevant table is too wide to fit on this page.) The much-ballyhooed but also much-deserved increase in students studying Mandarin has all been at the undergraduate level. Given that the grad enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment for Mandarin is about the same as that for French (2.63 percent and 2.73 percent, respectively) it might appear that Mandarin has simply reached a “normal” ratio in this regard. But native speakers of English generally need much more time to master Mandarin than to master French. Simply put, four years, say, of post-secondary study of French provides students with a much greater level of fluency than four years of post-secondary study of Mandarin.

Also, there is a great deal more work that needs to be done in terms of translations from Mandarin. I do not at all mean to belittle the work being done in French — or in any other language. In fact it pains me that the MLA’s list of languages being studied included neither Old French nor Provençal, both of which I have studied and love dearly. I just mean that Mandarin has historically been underrepresented in U.S. universities given the number of speakers it has and its body of texts that have not yet been translated into English. U.S. universities need to be producing many more qualified grad students who can handle this specialized work. And right now, unfortunately, that’s not happening.

Post-Secondary Enrollments in Select Sino-Tibetan Languages and Classical Japanese: 2002, 2006

Two-Year Colleges Undergrad Programs Grad Programs Total
Language 2002 2006 2002 2006 2002 2006 2002 2006
Cantonese 47 96 128 82 5 0 180 178
Literary Sinitic 0 0 56 101 18 12 74 113
Japanese, Classical 0 0 8 23 11 7 19 30
Taiwanese 0 0 34 21 13 0 47 21
Tibetan 0 0 43 56 35 64 78 120
Tibetan, Classical 0 0 8 11 20 33 28 44

The figures in the table above are probably too low. Literary Sinitic (“classical Chinese”) is probably especially underrepresented because often too little differentiation is given between it and modern standard Mandarin. But at least the numbers can provide minimum figures.

Enrollments in Introductory Classes: 2-Year Schools vs. 4-Year Schools

Language Ratio of Intro Enr. in 2-Year Schools to Intro Enr. in 4-Year Schools
Greek, Ancient 0.00:1
Hebrew, Biblical 0.01:1
Latin 0.04:1
Hebrew, Modern 0.07:1
Portuguese 0.11:1
Russian 0.15:1
German 0.20:1
Italian 0.23:1
French 0.24:1
Arabic 0.26:1
Mandarin 0.26:1
Korean 0.28:1
Japanese 0.39:1
Spanish 0.49:1
American Sign Language 1.47:1
Other languages 0.24:1

American Sign Language sticks out here as the only language that more people take at the introductory level at junior colleges than at universities. Roughly twice as many people take introductory Spanish in universities as at junior colleges. Introductory Japanese classes are surprisingly popular at the two-year college level, well above the level for introductory Mandarin, though Mandarin is not unpopular itself.

Course Enrollments in Some Asian and Pacific Languages

Language 1998 2002 2006 % Change 2002–06
Hindi/Urdu 1314 2009 2683 33.55
Vietnamese 899 2236 2485 11.14
Tagalog/Filipino 794 1142 1569 37.39
Sanskrit 363 487 607 24.64
Hmong 15 283 402 42.05
Thai 272 330 307 -6.97
Indonesian 223 225 301 33.78
Samoan 207 201 280 39.30
Cantonese 39 180 178 -1.11
Tibetan 80 78 120 53.85
Literary Sinitic 32 74 113 52.70
Pashto 14 103 635.71
Punjabi 32 99 103 4.04
Total 4270 7358 9251 25.73

Although more U.S. postsecondary students are studying languages other than English than ever before, that’s unfortunately not because U.S. students as a whole have finally embraced the study of languages. Rather, there are simply more students now. Relatively speaking, enrollments in foreign languages are much lower than they were 30 years ago.

graph showing that present US postsecondary enrollment in foreign languages is relatively much lower than it was in in the 1960s

If “ancient” foreign languages such as Latin and Ancient Greek were included in the graph, the imbalance between the 1960s and the present in foreign-language enrollments would be even greater.

source: Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, Fall 2006 (PDF), MLA, November 13, 2007

foregoing fours forestalls misfortune: government in action

Eddie Murphy's paranoid character of Kit Ramsey, from the movie 'Bowfinger'
Kit: The letter K appears in this script 1,456 times. That’s perfectly divisible by 3.
Freddy: So what? So what you saying?
Kit: What am I saying? KKK appears in this script 486 times!

–from Bowfinger

Webmaster’s note: I just came across this old post, which for some reason I failed to put online half a year ago, back when it was actually news. So when I refer to the government here, that means the Chen administration, not the current one of Ma Ying-jeou — not that it would probably make any difference on this issue. This is one change the Ma administration doesn’t seem interested in rescinding. And, anyway, with China starting the Olympics ceremony tonight at 8 p.m. — that’s 08/08/08 at 8:00 (or is the time supposed to be 8:08:08?) — a number-related post doesn’t seem out of order.

The deadly number four is in the news again. Eliminating fours from Taiwan license plates wasn’t enough, as millions of people in Taiwan still have the potentially life-threatening burden of one or more fours in their official ID no.

In Mandarin, the word for “four” () sounds similar but not identical to the word for “die/death” (s?). In Taiwanese, too, the words are similar but not identical sounding.

So the government has decided to pander to the superstitious treat the issue with appropriate cultural sensitivity. Removing 4 entirely from Taiwan’s two-letter, eight-digit ID numbers would affect too many IDs, officials decided, so at least one 4 can remain — but never in the final position. (The latter restriction has been in force since 2000.)

Luckily, for those who need to have every last 4 removed from their ID number, help is at hand.

Let’s just hope that whatever massive amount of taxpayers’ money the government will have to spend on this, the figure won’t have an unlucky four in it, because then some people might start to question the wisdom of this project.

sources and further reading:

status of Cantonese: a survey-based study

The latest new release from Sino-Platonic Papers is one that I think will be of particular interest to readers of Pinyin News. It’s an extensive study of not only the attitudes of speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin toward the status of Cantonese but also their beliefs about its future, especially in Hong Kong: Language or Dialect–or Topolect? A Comparison of the Attitudes of Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese towards the Status of Cantonese (650 KB PDF), by Julie M. Groves.

This study reports on a comparative survey of three groups of Chinese: 53 Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, 18 Mainland Chinese Cantonese speakers, and 72 Mainland Chinese Putonghua speakers. It was found that the Putonghua speakers held more ‘classic’ views, the majority seeing Cantonese as a dialect. In contrast, only just over half the Hong Kongers and two-fifths the Mainland Cantonese speakers considered it clearly a dialect, while one-third of all respondents favoured a mid-point classification. The differing perspectives held by the groups can be traced to their different political and linguistic situations, which touch issues of identity.

The author notes, “The uncertainties in classification also reflect a problem with terminology. The Chinese word usually translated dialect, fangyan (??), does not accurately match the English word dialect.” Groves recommends the adoption of Victor Mair’s proposed English word for fangyan: topolect.

Although this focuses on the dialect vs. language debate, it covers much more than that. Those being surveyed were also asked questions such as:

  • Where do you think the best Cantonese is spoken?
  • Do you think Putonghua will eventually replace Cantonese as the main, everyday language of Hong Kongers?
  • Do you think it is possible for someone to consider themselves to be a Hong Konger (or Hong Kong Chinese/Chinese Hong Konger) without being able to speak Cantonese?

The results of the study may also prove useful for those interested in the future of other languages of China and Taiwan, such as Taiwanese and Shanghainese.

Here are a couple of the many graphs found in the study.

HK Cant = Hong Kong Cantonese speakers
MCant = mainland Cantonese speakers
MPTH = mainland speakers of Mandarin (“P?t?nghuà“)

graph of responses to the question 'Will Putonghua replace Cantonese as the main language of Hong Kongers?' Most say 'no' -- and this is strongest among mainland Cantonese speakers

graph of responses to the question 'Can a person be a Hong Konger without speaking Cantonese?' Most Hong Kong Cantonese speakers say no; but the answer is closer to a tie for mainland Mandarin speakers

Pioneer Mandarin ‘immersion’ program sinking?

Some eleven years after it began, what is touted as the first U.S. elementary school Mandarin immersion program is reportedly in trouble.

In September 1996, Montgomery County [Maryland] started what it promoted as the first Mandarin Chinese immersion program for elementary students in the country. The program at Potomac Elementary School became a national model, and acclaim and fame followed.

Today, the original class of first-graders are seniors preparing for college. Many continued to study Chinese in middle and high school, but most dropped out in recent years — a handful as late as this fall — citing confusion in the curriculum and difficulties with the instructor. Now, just three of the first 22 students continue to study Chinese at the cluster’s high school….

Critics say there is a lack of resources and appropriate materials, poor coordination among grade levels and inadequate teacher development. There’s even disagreement among educators on what immersion is.

“Immersion can mean many things to different people in the field,” said Elena Izquierdo, vice president of the District-based nonprofit National Association for Bilingual Education and a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “For some, immersion is total immersion, for others it is partial, and some people call one class in foreign language an immersion class.”

It is also important to define the goal of each program; all are not the same, Izquierdo said. Some aim for complete reading, writing and oral proficiency in a foreign language; others might be geared to gaining conversational skills.

At first, the Chinese immersion students at Potomac were “a school within a school,” sticking together from kindergarten through fifth grade. Principal Linda Goldberg changed the format when she arrived in 2002, believing that students learning Chinese needed more interaction with the other students.

Today, 137 students at Potomac, from kindergarten to fifth grade, take math and science in Chinese and other subjects in English, she said.

Judith Klimpl, supervisor of foreign languages for Montgomery public schools, said math and science were chosen because the subjects are taught with many hands-on activities and have concrete vocabulary. There is no intensive grammar or writing instruction in Chinese at this level.

Once students move to Hoover Middle School, lessons in language acquisition intensify, Principal Billie-Jean Bensen said. The students, who used to have two periods in Chinese, now have one, including an “immersion class” in the sixth grade. But, Bensen conceded, the title of the class is probably “not correct.” A single class shouldn’t be labeled immersion, she said.

.

Children at Potomac Elementary who enroll in the Chinese partial immersion program are taught mathematics and science in the Chinese language, but not the language itself. The result, parents say, is a familiarity with the language and enhanced listening skills when they reach middle school and a more formal language program begins….

The transition to middle school, and then from middle school to high school, lies at the heart of the program’s problems.

“There’s definitely issues with transitioning from Potomac Elementary to Hoover and from Hoover to Churchill,” said Sees. “If you look at the dropout rate in the high school itself, it’s abysmal.”

Immersion students take an immersion class in sixth grade and then are filtered into the standard one-period-per-day Chinese language classes with students who were not in an immersion program in seventh grade, said Hoover Principal Billie-Jean Bensen. They then continue in that traditional language course structure in high school. Schick said that the transition process at Hoover has improved in the last two years.

The first three levels of Chinese language instruction in the county’s schools are generally completed in middle school and the first year of high school, said Duffield….

sources and further reading:

The Art of War: a new translation

cover illustration for 'The Art of War', translated by Victor H. MairColumbia University Press recently published what I hope will become recognized as the standard English translation of the Art of War (S?nz? B?ngf? / ????). This is by my friend Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies.

With the permission of the author and publisher, I offer below two excerpts from this work.

But first a bit of information from the publisher’s page for this title.

Victor Mair’s translation is the first to remain true to the original structure and essential style of the text.

Mair’s fidelity to the original, along with his insightful commentary and reliance on archaeologically recovered manuscripts, breaks new ground in solving The Art of War‘s difficult textual and contextual problems. He confronts complex questions concerning the authorship of the work, asserting that Sun Wu, a supposed strategist of the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.E.) to whom the text is traditionally attributed, never existed. Instead, Mair claims that The Art of War coalesced over a period of around seventy-five years, from the middle of the fourth century to the first quarter of the third century B.C.E.

Mair also reveals the way The Art of War reflects historical developments in technological and military strategy in civilizations throughout Eurasia, especially in regards to iron metallurgy. He demonstrates the close link between the philosophy in The Art of War and Taoism and discusses the reception of the text from the classical period to today. Finally, Mair highlights previously unaddressed stylistic and statistical aspects and includes philological annotations that present new ways of approaching the intellectual and social background of the work.

The book also features a foreword by Arthur Waldron that compares and contrasts Sun Zi and Clausewitz (1780-1831).

For those who would rather read the selections below in the original format, they are also available as PDFs:

Please note that at the time of this writing, Amazon’s “search inside” function for this book is screwed up. Instead it uses someone else’s translation. So don’t order what is listed on that site as the paperback edition; because it is the wrong book. (As of February 2008 there is no paperback of Mair’s translation.) But ordering what Amazon lists as the hardback should get you the correct book (ISBN: 978-0-231-13382-1). Or order directly from the publisher should your local bookstores not have this in stock.

OK, now here are the excerpts I promised.

Key Terms

Here are highlighted only several of the more important words and subtle concepts used in the book. Other technical terms and proper nouns are defined in the notes or in the introduction. For a superb handbook of basic Chinese philosophical terms, including many that are featured in the Sun Zi, see Zhang Dainian, Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy, trans. Edmund Ryden.

From The Art of War: Sun Zi’s Military Methods, translated by Victor H. Mair, © 2007 by Columbia University Press. Used by permission of Columbia University Press.

[Webmaster’s note: As Mair notes elsewhere, giving the pronunciations in Pinyin for Modern Standard Mandarin is “purely a convention of modern scholarship and does not reflect at all the pronunciation of Sinitic during the late Warring States period when this text was compiled.”]

bian. Variation, variety, transformation.

bing. The earliest form of the character used to write this word depicts two arms holding up an adze. The basic idea conveyed by this graph subsequently developed from the concrete and limited to the more general and abstract: weapon ? soldier ? troops ? war.

fa. Law, method, model.

bingfa. The combination of the previous two terms, it is usually rendered as “art of war” in English but may more literally be rendered as “soldierly methods,” “military methods,” etc. For further discussion of bingfa, see the introduction, n. 2.

gui. Deceit, deception; something contrary to the norm.

j?. Pivot, moment of change (functions somewhat like a tipping point); the instant just before a new development or shift occurs; the nodal point of a situation in flux. J? also refers to the first, imperceptible beginning of movement in an unstable situation. In organic metaphors, it means “seed, germ.” The sage or superior man can recognize the immanence or incipience of these crucial moments before they become manifest to others. It cannot be stressed too heavily that j? by itself does not mean “opportunity” nor does it mean “crisis,” although it is closer to the latter than to the former because of the extreme instability of a given situation and the unforeseen consequences that may follow.

. Count, calculate; plan; intention. Another word in the Sun Zi sometimes rendered as “plan” is mou (as in the title of chap. 3), though it tends more in the direction of “scheme” or “counsel.” Depending upon the context, and mou may also convey the idea of “strategy” or “stratagem.”

l?. A traditional measure of length equivalent to 300 paces (hence “tricent” in English). It is easy to think of how long a tricent is (about a third of a mile) by recalling that the English word “mile” is derived from Latin milia, millia (“a thousand [paces]”). For those who are not familiar with miles, a tricent is equal to approximately half a kilometer.

. Advantage, benefit; profit, interest (the basic meaning is “sharp,” which is why the character used to write it has a “knife” radical).

mou. See .

. Unformed, energetic substrate of matter; material energy; the primal “stuff ” of the universe; configural energy. In the Sun Zi, it usually refers to the vital force, energy, or morale of the men in the army. For more information on and its metaphysical implications, see Mair (1990:137–38) and Zhang (2002:45–63).

. See zheng.

quan. Power, expedient (assessment)—exerted by the commander in the field. The literal meaning of the morpheme is “horizontal balance,” hence “weigh, judge, (exert) power / authority.” Quan is often associated with bian or (qq.v.).

shi. Configuration, circumstances, efficacy, inertia, power / force (of circumstances), authority, (strategic / positional) advantage. The subject of chap. 5, but also discussed elsewhere in the text, this is one of the key concepts of the Sun Zi. It is also one of the most ineffable.

tianxia. All under heaven, i.e., the empire (writ large).

wen. Civil, culture (contrasts with wu). The evolution of the primary meanings of the graph used to write this word, in simplest terms, is as follows: tattoo ? pattern ? culture / civilization / writing. The earliest meaning of wen as “tattoo” still survives in the expression wen shen (“tattoo the body”). By the time of the Warring States period, however, when the Sun Zi was written, tattooing had become a form of punishment, and different words were used to refer to it, wen itself having transmuted into one of the most exalted terms in the language. See chapter 9, n. 12 and the biography of Sun Bin in the introduction.

wu. Martial, military (contrasts with wen). The character used to write this word shows a shafted weapon and a foot, i.e., a man going off to fight in a war.

xing. Form, shape, disposition. One of the most important tactical concepts in the Sun Zi, it occurs with particularly high frequency in chapter 6, where it means mainly the arrangement of forces, and in chapter 10, where it signifies different types of terrain. There is another word, meaning “punishment,” that is pronounced exactly alike (xing) and is written with a very similar character that one might well expect to find in a work of strategy such as the Sun Zi, but it does not occur even once. The xing meaning “form, shape, disposition” occurs a total of thirty-one times in the Sun Zi. In stark contrast, the xing meaning “punishment” occurs a total of twenty-four times in the Wei Liao Zi, a work which has very little to say about the xing meaning “form, shape, disposition.” Thus the Sun Zi and the Wei Liao Zi, which probably coalesced at approximately the same time (the second half of the fourth century and the early third century, though with the Wei Liao Zi being slightly later) may be said to be in mutual complementarity with regard to the advocacy of these two key concepts of strategy. Clearly the Sun Zi is concerned with tactics but not punishment, and vice versa for the Wei Liao Zi. Similar analyses could be carried out for other principal concepts in all of the extant military treatises from the Warring States and Han periods.

zhan. Battle; specific military actions and engagements, in contrast to bing (q.v.), which is more general and abstract.

zheng. Used in combination with to signify contrasting types of warfare; variously translated as “direct / indirect,” “regular / irregular,” “conventional / unconventional,” “orthodox / unorthodox,” “ordinary / extraordinary,” and so forth. Of these two terms, the more difficult to grasp is , which may be thought of as signifying “odd, strange, singular, unique, craft(y)” or whatever is not zheng (“straight, upright, correct, right, orthodox, normative,” etc). In purely military applications, may be thought of as “special operations” or “unconventional warfare,” whereas zheng are main force deployments and maneuvers. The counterposing of and zheng was not restricted merely to military operations but was applied to politics and morality as well:

Rule the state with uprightness,
Deploy your troops with craft
Gain all under heaven with noninterference.
(Tao te Ching / Dao de jing, 57)

When there is no uprightness,
correct reverts to crafty,
good reverts to gruesome.
(Tao te Ching / Dao de jing, 58)

Nine1 Varieties2

This chapter addresses the question of responding deftly to contingencies and advises awareness of both the advantages and the disadvantages of any action that might be contemplated. The principle of preparedness is proposed as the surest way to avoid disaster.

Master Sun said,
The method of waging war is ordinarily that the general receives a mandate from the ruler, then assembles the army and brings together the masses. He does not encamp on unfavorable terrain; he joins with allies at terrain having a crossroads; he does not linger on forsaken terrain; he devises plans to extricate his forces from surrounded terrain; if he finds himself on desperate terrain he does battle.

There are paths that he does not take; there are armies that he does not strike; there are cities that he does not attack; there are terrains that he does not contest; there are ruler’s orders that he does not accept.3

Therefore,
the general who is versed in the advantages4 of the nine varieties of terrain5 knows how to wage war; the general who is not versed in the advantages of the nine varieties, although he may know the types of terrain, cannot gain the advantages of the terrain. If one prosecutes war without knowing the techniques of the nine varieties, although one may know the five advantages,6 one will not be able to gain the use of one’s men.

For this reason,
in his considerations, he who is wise must pay attention both to advantage and to disadvantage. By paying attention to advantage, his affairs will proceed with assurance; by paying attention to disadvantage, his troubles will be resolved.

For this reason,
that which causes the feudal lords to submit is disadvantage; that which causes the feudal lords to serve is encumbrance; that which causes the feudal lords to give allegiance is advantage.

Therefore,
the method of waging war is not to rely upon the enemy’s not coming, but to rely upon my waiting in readiness for him; it is not to rely upon the enemy’s not attacking, but to rely upon making myself invulnerable to attack.

Therefore,
there are five fatal flaws in a general: recklessness, for he may be killed by the enemy; timidity, for he may be captured by the enemy; irascibility, for he may be provoked by the enemy; incorruptibility, for he may be insulted by the enemy; solicitousness, for he may be made anxious by the enemy. In all of these respects, if a general overdoes them, it will be disastrous for waging war.

The overthrow of an enemy and the killing of a general are the inevitable consequences of these five fatal flaws. They cannot be left unexamined.7

NOTES

  1. There is vast controversy among Chinese commentators over the significance of “nine” in the title. Some say that it only means “a large number of,” while others contend that it literally means “nine.” In either case, there have been many proposals put forward for which particular group of nine (or many) items is intended. After careful study, the reader is invited to suggest his or her own set of nine (or many) variations. A good place to begin might be to look at chapter 11, “Nine Types of Terrain,” with which the present chapter
    shares considerable overlap and resonance.
    Wang Xi: “I claim that ‘nine’ is simply a very large number. The method of waging war requires infinite variations.”
    Zhang Yu: “‘Variation’ is the method of not being constrained by constancy. This implies that, when one is confronting an evolving situation [i.e., something that is happening], one should follow what is appropriate and act accordingly. Whenever one is struggling with someone else for advantage, it is necessary to know the nine varieties of terrain. Therefore, this chapter comes after ‘The Struggle of Armies.'”
  2. The term bian may be more literally rendered as “transformations.” However, no single translation of bian is suitable for this chapter, since the term is applied to widely different phenomena, including “alternatives” and “contingencies,” aside from “varieties” and “transformations.”
  3. The Yinque Shan bamboo strip manuscripts (pp. 98-99) include a commentary on these five exclusionary (“that he does not”) clauses. The commentary emphasizes and explains the specific conditions under which a general may choose not to carry out certain (viz., the first four) courses of action that he would normally be expected to take. The fifth exclusionary clause subsumes the preceding four clauses: “When the ruler’s orders contravene these four contingencies, they are not to be carried out.”
  4. And disadvantages, of course.
  5. This word is missing in the Song-period Wu jing qi shu (Seven military classics) and Taiping yulan (Imperial survey of the Great Peace [reign period]) editions of the text.
  6. This probably refers to the advantages deriving from the exclusionary clauses iterated above and discussed in n. 3.
  7. Since it appears so frequently at the conclusion of a passage, the injunction “they cannot be left unexamined” would appear to be a formulaic expression in the rhetoric of the period.

Other works by Mair published by Columbia University Press include The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature, and The Columbia History of Chinese Literature.

Chinese New Year’s resolutions: a suggestion

Happy year of the rat, everyone!

Several years ago I made some resolutions for Chinese New Year that others might find useful, if you haven’t adopted similar ones already.

  1. If I’m referring to Mandarin I will use the word “Mandarin,” not “Chinese.”
  2. If I’m referring to a language, I’ll call it a language, not a dialect.

Pretty basic. But these greatly help clarity. And they have the benefit of being correct.

The reason you’ll sometimes find the phrase “Mandarin Chinese” rather than just “Mandarin” on my site is I want to help people find this through search engines. But for the most part the inclusion of the word “Chinese” is easily accomplished through tags or mention of “Chinese characters.”

I’d like to note that even many of those who really should know better have things backwards. They might note that “Chinese” is not a language but a family of languages — and even then one that should be known as Sinitic rather than “Chinese.” And they tend to spend a line or so explaining that what many people refer to as Chinese “dialects” are really languages. This is all well and good. But then they go on to use “Chinese” and “dialects” over and over.

The messages they’re sending out:

Chinese Chinese Chinese Mandarin Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese Chinese.

and

Dialect dialect language dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect dialect.

So what people hear is “Chinese” and “dialect” — both of which are usually wrong.

I have made some resolutions of my own for this year: the first being to answer e-mail messages much quicker than my present average of three or more months behind when I should. Although I’m terrible at writing, I am indeed grateful for all of the messages I receive.

Xinnian kuaile!

Sexism in Mandarin: a study

This week’s free rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is Covert Sexism in Mandarin Chinese (1.9 MB PDF), by David Moser (of Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard fame).

Here’s part of the introduction:

Like other cultures, China has a long history of sexist social conventions, and the Chinese language is pervaded with evidence of these. Research in this area has usually sought to identify and catalog aspects of Chinese that embody these sexist cultural traditions, such as sexist idioms, demeaning words for wife, derogatory terms of address for women, or the large number of characters containing the female radical (?) with negative connotations. Such elements tend to be rather easily identifiable and have been some of the earliest aspects to be targeted for linguistic reform. (The Chinese Communist Party, for example, in their attempts to elevate the status of women and eradicate vestiges of feudalism, has from time to time officially discouraged use of pejorative terms of address for women and wives.) Notable contributions have already been made in such research, but there are certain kinds of sexism in the Chinese language that are more subtly embedded in the grammar in such a way that they often escape conscious attention. This article attempts to shed light on some of these phenomena, since it is often in these hidden patterns of linguistic usage that sexist assumptions and notions are most powerfully present.

This is issue no. 74 of Sino-Platonic Papers. It was first published in January 1997.

more Dungan

Since earlier this month when I wrote a post on Dungan-language radio, I’ve discovered that Olli Salmi has some great Dungan material on his website, including a paper he wrote and a couple of stories in Dungan, including one he has translated into English.

And for lagniappe he offers “An Unofficial Practical Orthography for the Kiowa Language.”