i’ve been going through some of the reblogs and tags on the post and just to be clear, my major point on the “Chinese good at math” post is that it is not just that it is inherently racist, but that it is unscientific and that bad science can and is used as fuel for racism and sloppily references stereotypes used to enforce racism in the form of essentialism and Orientalism in the name of “science”.
i’m not going to directly reblog from or ‘call-out’ the person who added these tags because that’s not actually important, but i want to address them because they totally miss the point
#important #though uh it is true that people think differently based on language so i have mixed feelings abt this call-out post
#i agree the phrasing is racist though
#like languages with future tenses tend to have people who plan more for the future than ones that don’t
#and i don’t think it’s surprising bc your language is going to be developed around cultural values
#so it’s kinda an obvious cause-and-effect thing
this is an incorrect generalisation. i understand that many people think they know certain things about how languages work and how it’s “just obvious”, but just because we all speak a language does not make us born linguists, just as not just anyone understands sociological concepts by default just because we participate in socialisation as humans. the example mentioned here, as if it’s obvious fact, of languages with future tenses and its effect on its speakers scheduling skills has been debunked. (more like it has not even been properly proven, since the claim was not a conclusion of an actual peer-reviewed study.) similar claims about language tenses and time perception have been virally propagated and then debunked, the most prominent example being the Hopi time controversy. (if you don’t consider wiki a credible enough source here, go read the primary sources cited.)
for further reading on criticism of “Whorfian” claims in general by people actually informed in the field of linguistics, please check out the following links:
- Sapir-Whorf must die
- The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: A Critique
- Keith Chen, Whorfian economist (Language Log) — this one specifically criticises the origin of the claim about languages’ future tenses and planning abilities
of course there is room to analyse the relationship between culture and language, and of course languages are connected to cultures and will encode cultural information. some “Whorfian” hypotheses are certainly interesting to think about and can be an interesting starting off point for testable psycholinguistic theories. but going around parroting the opinions of people with no understanding of linguistics (the “Chinese good at math” theory comes from Malcolm Gladwell, a pop social science writer notorious in actual social science communities and is not actually informed in the fields of social science he frequently makes claims about) as linguistic fact is frustrating at best and dangerous at worst.
it’s dangerous because it results in a bunch of armchair anthropologists all coming up with their theories about different people based on their race, culture, etc. and thinking their racist and/or Othering ideas are backed by “science”. Chinese people are not statistically better at math because of some inherent advantage in our language, no more than African-Americans’ statistically underperforming in standardised tests is a result of some inherent deficit of Black people or culture. falling back on pseudoscientific racism like this obscures looking at real sociological phenomena that occur in social systems, such as the effects of rigorous math education, the historical context of the importance of testing and education in Chinese culture, etc. armchair social science like this also fuel for Othering people we aren’t familiar with, which is how exoticising myths such as the "Eskimo words for snow" myth.
*white person voice* so like are you…what like… cultur—like…what ethnic—like…what type of like—what are…where are you from?