Against Foreign Language Education.

Obviously, these are not my views, but Bryan Caplan (in a podcast with Robert Wiblin) makes some points that are worth thinking about:

Out of all my ultra moderate reforms that I suggested, the one that I stand behind more strongly than any other is abolishing foreign language requirements in the United States. Because there, we’ve got a bunch of facts, which are: hardly any jobs use foreign languages, it takes a lot of time to get any good. And furthermore, in this book I’m able to go and snap together a bunch of pieces of data to show that virtually zero Americans claim to… even claim to speak a foreign language very well in school.

So I say, look, even if it did have these big payoffs, the system is just a waste of time, and people spend years doing it for nothing. And even here, I just run against a brick wall and people say, well in that case we should just improve the teaching of the foreign language.

Well, how about you do that and then get back to me, but continuing to fund the thing that we have, this is garbage!

And again, Washington state from what I understand, now allows kids to use a computer language in place of foreign language. Like, why not do that? Then it’s like, “No, no we need to do both.” People don’t have an unlimited amount of time, and shouldn’t teenagers be able to have a frigging childhood! Like how much of their childhood do you want to destroy with jumping through these stupid hoops?

Alex Tabarrok, who quotes the exchange, says “As someone who was educated in Canada I can attest to the waste of much foreign language instruction” and adds: “Don’t make the mistake of arguing that knowing a second language has many benefits. The point is that foreign language instruction in schools doesn’t teach a second language.” Sadly, I can’t argue with that as a general point, though there are honorable exceptions (like my grandsons’ Chinese immersion school). So should we just let people pick up languages if and as they need them, and not try to force-feed them in school? (Thanks, Kobi!)

Comments

  1. I don’t think this is really a language question, that is to say, it’s not JUST a language question: once you start pulling at that thread, there’s no reason for general public education of any kind.

    Why did I have to learn any math? I barely use it and my phone can do it for me. Why did I have to run a mile in PE? I haven’t run one in 30 years.

    (I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions… I think we should probably still send kids to schools, but mainly to learn how to learn, to learn various types of good citizenship, and to cooperate with other people, not to memorize facts)

  2. When I first heard the idea of substituting a computer language for a foreign language requirement, I thought it was a joke. It’s disturbing to think that there are people managing school districts who are that ignorant.

  3. Almost all the foreign-language education in the U.S. happens at the high-school level, which is much too late: only about 1% of Americans speak a foreign language they learned in school. What is more, the availability of teachers that are both qualified and credentialed is dropping through the floor. Foreign-language education as we know it is an expensive boondoggle. Kill it.

  4. You’ve got to be kidding. As someone who lives now in a city (Montreal) where most people are fully bilingual or trilingual, and lifelong language learning is respected and appreciated, I regret every day that I didn’t have an equivalent education in the U.S. It creates different people, and an entirely different society.

  5. When I was in middle school, some of my older high school friends who were taking computer programming got credit for it as equivalent to a foreign language. However, around 1993, they changed the programming classes to count as mathematics. What was never quite clear to me was that there was no requirement that one had to take any foreign language classes to graduate, and no special “honors” diplomas that could be earned that way either. I think you just had to take a year of electives drawn from a very broad pool, which included all the possible foreign languages, visual art classes, performance arts, etc.

  6. @AG: I’m a mathematician, and I don’t think you should have to learn math in school (or at least not as much as you were force-fed.) People should have the _opportunity_ to learn math, but in the modern world, and except for a small group of students who are to become engineers and scientists, and maybe with the exception of statistical reasoning which largely isn’t taught at the moment, math (as we wish it were taught, not as it is taught) should be an enrichment like art and music, not a requirement.

    But if one of the major purposes of public education is to make informed citizens of a democracy, foreign language teaching, on the other hand, should be a requirement, and (echoing John Cowan) much earlier than high school.

    Also, if one of the major purposes of public education is to make people who can keep themselves healthy in body and mind, then the PE requirement is not a waste (although how it’s done often is.)

    Unfortunately our society seems to have deluded itself into thinking the purpose of public education should be to make good office drones…

  7. Grade school should concentrate on teaching computer game skills, since most people need these skills very often. Sex ed, most definitively. But ethics and religion as well, because most people need to make ethical and spiritual decisions at the important moments of their lives. Hmm, what else? How to cheat on taxes? Effective dating strategies? Padding resumes without being caught?

  8. People in other countries don’t study “a foreign language.” They learn English. Or more rarely some other lingua franca for their region. But we already know English. In the 19th and early 20th c German was an important language for a physical scientist and as recently as eighty years ago, when my father was a college freshman, it was still useful for a chemist to know some German. But that came to an end pretty abruptly and there’s no reason now for a scientist to study any foreign language in particular.

  9. At a public high school in a small American city (c. 100,000), I learned to sight-read Latin. Relatively few of my classmates did, though. College did a much better job of teaching me Spanish, for which I had some base from middle school. There was classroom immersion and required sound labs. My sister took years of Spanish in high school and college, but arrived in Spain for a semester almost unable to do anything. I visited her late in her semester, and I was wondering why she had bothered. It was really only when she traveled with her Spanish roommates at Christmas break that she became fairly fluent.

    My sense is that typical American language instruction creates something like an immature century plant – one of those plants that reaches a certain size and then shows no further progress for years, till one spring in the right conditions, it suddenly shoots up 30 feet in the air with an incredible bloom. It’s not like nothing was going on in my sister’s head through all those years of repeating Esta Susana en casa. But something else was required to make her blossom.

  10. tangent says:

    I would happily sacrifice all the imitation-academics pushed in preschool and kindergarten to make time for immersion learning of a language. Four year olds don’t need to trace letter outlines and circle things on worksheets for hours a day. All this pushing to try to get them reading and arithmetic a year or two earlier than they might otherwise, I doubt how effective it even is.

    Young children have a huge comparative advantage towards learning language over learning most other things. Do what makes sense!

    (Don’t even get me started about how preschools do teach Spanish, isolated words by non-speakers of the language.)

  11. John Alvey says:

    Surely most of what we learn in school is a waste of time. Do we really need to know when the Civil War was or, indeed, what it was? As Fran Leibovitz said “There is no such thing as algebra in real life” and Mark Twain commented “I never let my schooling get in the way of my learning”. Learning itself, be it history or a foreign language, is good for the brain (and, in the case of foreign languages helps reduce dementia in later life) but most of us will not need it just as most of us do not need algebra or to know about the Battle of Gettysburg.

  12. This is interesting in light of a recent trend to bilingual commercials on both Spanish and English TV stations in the US, with marketers aware that “38 percent of Hispanics ages 18-29 are bilingual, an increase of 73 percent over the past decade.” (Nielson).
    So we’re going to end up with one large monolingual segment of the American population literally unable to understand a lot of what’s going on with a growing segment that can comfortably switch back and forth.
    https://www.ispot.tv/ad/AEn_/xfinity-x1-beautifully-bilingual-spanish

  13. dainichi says:

    > As someone who lives now in a city (Montreal) where most people are fully bilingual or trilingual…

    Isn’t that a language-border effect as much as an educational effect? You could probably argue that for many of those bilinguals, neither English or French is “foreign”. There must also be lots of, say, English-Spanish bilinguals in the US.

    I’ve wondered how much effort the US puts into educating, say, 2nd and 3rd gen immigrants formally in their “heritage languages”. I’m under the impression that it’s not as much as it could be. And that might be more of a worthwhile investment, since there might be more opportunities for exposure in the family or community.

  14. Absolutely disagree. The thing about history, or geography, or in fact most other subjects, is not that they aren’t important or useful, but that you can learn them to a “good citizen” level by yourself if you want. You can educate yourself perfectly well about the history of, say, US involvement in the Middle East by reading books. You can’t go away and learn a foreign language by yourself just by reading books, not unless you are the young Macaulay or something. Now that I’ve reached unclehood, the one bit of advice that all my nephews and nieces are getting is: I wish I had studied more languages at school. I gave up history and geography classes early on and didn’t regret it, because I’ve learnt more since then than I ever did in class, but languages have to be taught and they have to be taught when you’re young.

  15. It may be relevant to know that this is coming from a guy who’s also written a book about how school should be abolished (“The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money”)…

    The funny thing is, despite disagreeing completely with the whole premise that the value of education can be measured economically, I kind of agree with the conclusion. Beyond the basics necessary to survive in a modern society, I think it’s mostly pointless to force children to study anything. Kids want to learn, and they learn a whole lot faster and better when you work with their passions instead of against them. Admittedly there is something to be said for learning how to excel at tasks you don’t have any intrinsic desire to do – but that should never be the main focus. In the specific case of foreign languages, put children in a situation that makes them want to learn it, and they will learn it; if you want the kids to focus in the classrooms, you need to complement them with homestay exchange programs.

  16. @Lameen
    “In the specific case of foreign languages, put children in a situation that makes them want to learn it”
    A former parish priest grew up in Montreal in an English-speaking family. His motivation for learning French as a child was “if you couldn’t speak French, you’d get beat up a lot.”

  17. Well, I feel this arguments would work a lot better for some other subjects. After all, a very little language knowledge goes a long way when talking to someone with another mother tongue. A lot of people are happy that you bothered to learn a greeting and a few sentences, even if you have to switch to English after that. With subjects like math, physics and chemistry, you need to know quite a lot to be able to use your knowledge.

    I also feel that it’s much easier to teach yourself a language if you already have the basics. The hard part is getting started, and that’s the point where a language class gives the most benefit. When you already know some basics, you can study on your own or travel to an area where the language is spoken.

  18. If you want to be able to read Hittite, you will probably pick up a bit of Sumerian and Akkadian due to the quirks of cuneiform, plus some workable Turkish in order to visit the sites, plus one or more of the languages in which scholarly works are written, German yes, but more currently Italian is big, plus you’d need to recognize other languages like Luwian and Hurrian that get used a lot within Hittite texts. Your choices in high school probably come down to German, since Italian is rarely on offer, or Latin/Greek, on the supposition that studying dead languages is a transferable skill.

  19. David Eddyshaw says:

    a bunch of facts, which are: hardly any jobs use foreign languages, it takes a lot of time to get any good.

    Dead giveaway. Assumes as given that the only purpose of school is to train the workers for their jobs. False premise. In spades. Our own benighted government believes this is the only purpose of education in general, including university education. Contemptible.

    It is logically quite possible to derive a true conclusion by valid logic from false premises, of course, but Caplan … doesn’t.

    Everything worth learning takes a lot of time to get any good.

    I am very grateful I was taught Latin, French and German at school, and hanging out here makes me wish I’d stuck with the Russian. I would never have learnt Latin adequately by private study in later life (the morphology needs to be beaten into you before the age of twelve for you ever to be really able to internalise it) and I actually didn’t like French (O blind!) right up until I ended up in the position of actually needing it in West Africa. Moa’s point that it’s much easier to teach yourself a language if you already have the basics is very true, by the way.

  20. January First-of-May says:

    I think you just had to take a year of electives drawn from a very broad pool, which included all the possible foreign languages, visual art classes, performance arts, etc.

    This is probably the best way to do this – at least, as long as you’re going in that direction, anyway.

    People in other countries don’t study “a foreign language.” They learn English.

    Or, occasionally, English and “a foreign language” (usually French, German, or Spanish).

    Or, less commonly those days, English and the local lingua franca (if there is one, it’s not English, and it’s not already the language of education; this was Russian’s position in the former Soviet republics, but I’m not sure whether any such cases still exist today).

  21. Assumes as given that the only purpose of school is to train the workers for their jobs. False premise. In spades.

    Not the only purpose, but it is a major purpose. Should schools not be teaching things that will allow their pupils to prosper in later life? If not, where should they be learning these things?

  22. Lars (the original one) says:

    With things changing at the speed they do now, I doubt there is any job-specific skill that will be useful throughout the lives of current primary school students. And that has been true for decades.

    I learned touch typing in 8th grade, and for some obscure reason that’s still relevant — but the type of jobs that it was training for no longer exist, and the writing is on the wall for keyboards as an input method. Other than that — basic reading comprehension and composition, numeracy, ESL, Latin and awareness of political process are the only things I’ve had any use for.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    More later, just this for now…

    The point is that foreign language instruction in schools doesn’t teach a second language.

    Oh, but it does if it’s done right.

    Four year olds don’t need to trace letter outlines and circle things on worksheets for hours a day.

    Ew. Is that what kindergarten is like in the US!?!

    All this pushing to try to get them reading and arithmetic a year or two earlier than they might otherwise, I doubt how effective it even is.

    Over here it’s normal to arrive in school illiterate at age 6, except generally for one’s own name, and learn reading & writing entirely there. But then, learning to navigate the English spelling system takes longer…

    The thing about history, or geography, or in fact most other subjects, is not that they aren’t important or useful, but that you can learn them to a “good citizen” level by yourself if you want.

    But what if you don’t want?

    Then you’ll repeat that history instead of learning about it the safe way.

    That includes geography: if you don’t know where places are, you won’t know what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of, and then you’ll vote based on false premises (like “Iraq’s WMD can reach us in 45 minutes”).

    In an absolute monarchy or dictature or kleptocracy, it’s enough if the ruler has the necessary knowledge to run a country. In an aristocracy or oligarchy, it’s enough if a small upperclass has that knowledge. In a democracy, over half the total population needs to be clued in at all times.

    I could add some biology and some chemistry and some physics and some statistics… really, the list of things absolutely everyone needs to be taught these days is quite long.

    People in other countries don’t study “a foreign language.” They learn English.

    Or, occasionally, English and “a foreign language”

    That’s actually quite common. On top of English, it’s very widespread in France nowadays to learn German – although, like in the US, they start too late, never get good at it, and are left feeling very insecure. In Austria, the school type that confers the right to study at a university teaches English (almost always starting in earnest in the 5th year of school) and two other foreign languages* (starting in the 7th and 9th years), and that’s just the obligatory part.

    * One of them, though, is often Latin.

  24. SFReader says:

    From purely geographic point of view, learning Slovak ought to be a good idea for residents of Vienna.

    But I suppose no one does…

  25. January First-of-May says:

    With things changing at the speed they do now, I doubt there is any job-specific skill that will be useful throughout the lives of current primary school students. And that has been true for decades.

    Call center work and the like probably would be similar and in somewhat of a demand for a while yet. To an extent also true for the more generic tech support (the talking skills, at least).
    There might yet be call for department store staff as well, and cashiers at places like McDonald’s (“Can I take your order? Do you want fries with that?”) might not quite be replaced with robots over the next few decades either.

    There might also be some use for attention-requiring grunt work, like street sweeping or lawn trimming. Admittedly, there aren’t that many actual jobs in that even now; lawn trimmers just naturally don’t have a lot of work.

    And finally… I’d put it earlier if not for the part where I doubt that more than 2% of the population has enough talent to make use of it… high-end artists, composers, cooks – and, for that matter, more generic handcrafters, of which, now that I think of it, there’d probably be more than 2%.
    The most useful classes might yet be the ones that the Soviet schools called trud (literally “labour”, though there’s no good translation), modern Russian schools basically call “technology” (no, really, I’m not making this up), and whose generic English name is apparently “arts and crafts”.

  26. Bathrobe says:

    I also think poetry should be excised from the English curriculum. It’s pretty nigh useless. That will give extra time to be spent on more useful things.

    I think there is a need for people to be educated in the basics, like biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, etc. I hate manual arts but things like woodworking and metalwork are also useful for later life for most people.

  27. When I first heard the idea of substituting a computer language for a foreign language requirement, I thought it was a joke. It’s disturbing to think that there are people managing school districts who are that ignorant.

    They don’t think “hey, computer languages are basically the same as foreign languages,” they think “computer languages are are a hell of a lot more useful in real life than foreign languages, so let’s teach them to kids instead.” You can argue with the philosophy, but it’s not an ignorant idea.

    You’ve got to be kidding. As someone who lives now in a city (Montreal) where most people are fully bilingual or trilingual, and lifelong language learning is respected and appreciated, I regret every day that I didn’t have an equivalent education in the U.S. It creates different people, and an entirely different society.

    Beth, nobody’s saying people shouldn’t be bilingual, they’re saying American schools do such a terrible job of teaching foreign languages that we shouldn’t allow them to keep wasting the students’ time. If US schools were routinely turning out bilinguals, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. And of course there are a lot of people with both French and English in Montreal; it’s hardly comparable to the average US situation.

    Almost all the foreign-language education in the U.S. happens at the high-school level, which is much too late: only about 1% of Americans speak a foreign language they learned in school.

    Yes, if they’re going to teach them they should start a lot earlier (my grandsons started Mandarin in kindergarten), but they’d also need good, effective teaching, which I’m afraid is a pipe dream in the US as it exists today.

    I will repeat the caveat at the end of my post, since some readers don’t seem to have taken it in: “Don’t make the mistake of arguing that knowing a second language has many benefits. The point is that foreign language instruction in schools doesn’t teach a second language.” This isn’t about the theoretical benefits of foreign languages, it’s about the fact that the alleged teaching of such languages is in the vast majority of American schools an utter waste of time. I’m met people who have taken half a dozen years of a language and were unable to utter a sentence in it. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

    And “You can’t go away and learn a foreign language by yourself just by reading books” simply isn’t true; you can learn to read perfectly well that way, and if you want to be able to converse you just find people to converse with — which is easier than ever in these internetted days.

  28. Lars (the original one) says:

    the next few decades — but unless there’s a basic change in the way society works (I for one will welcome our new overlords) we are looking at about sixty years until retirement for a fourth grader today. Job specific training will be a recurrent occurrence, not done and dealt with even in vocational school, and it should be handled by employers. If you ask me, school is when society has the opportunity to inform pupils with the competence to be whole human beings and should concentrate on that. Woodworking is not irrelevant in that perspective, even in the age of 3d printing.

    (And apart from basic social skills which should be learnt by the age of five, a department store clerk or MacDonalds server only needs to be able to read the buttons on the kosh rejta screen, which will be replaced with a new and incompatible version every 30 months anyway. Fire drill may be the most enduring aspect of job competence).

    Note that I am talking about skills teachable in primary / secondary school. University is different.

  29. If you ask me, school is when society has the opportunity to inform pupils with the competence to be whole human beings and should concentrate on that.

    That is my basic philosophy as well.

  30. It seems the basic question is this: When should we teach something forcibly to someone who doesn’t want to learn it? We can all think of times we wished someone had done this for/to us and times we wished they hadn’t bothered trying. Ajay above at least gives a reason why we should do it for second languages and not for many other things. I think he’s onto something.

  31. David L says:

    I saw a review of this guy’s book in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, and it sounded horribly utilitarian, based on the presumption that the only purpose of school is to train children to be cogs in the economic machine (and that, implicitly, what we call society and culture is nothing but an economic machine, and has no purpose except generating GDP).

    Why not just put children to work in factories or offices at the age of ten, say, and teach them what they need to know? Start with how to work the coffee machine and change the toner cartridge in the printer, and depending on their aptitude they can work their way up.

  32. Some people like “Headless body in topless bar”. My preferred headline is “Report: Our High Schools May Not Adequately Prepare Dropouts For Unemployment”

  33. I saw a review of this guy’s book in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, and it sounded horribly utilitarian

    Oh, the guy sounds awful. I just thought this particular idea was worth chewing over, even if it comes from a tainted source.

  34. SFReader says:

    If US schools were routinely turning out bilinguals, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

    In Texas, they actually do. Spanish is widely spoken and understood by non-Hispanic Texans.

    I take it, they teach Spanish in school the same way they do it elsewhere in the United States, it’s just that the language is much more useful in Texas, so it sticks.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    One problem with making taking X years of *some* foreign language mandatory for high school graduation, by the way, is that it creates an irresistible demand for course offerings sufficiently unchallenging that they can be passed by kids who are mediocre students to start with and have zero interest in the particular subject. The notion that, if you suddenly proclaim from on high that 100% of kids are now going to be held to standards that were historically expected only from self-motivated students seeking to go to an above-median-quality college, everyone will rise to the occasion and No Child will be Left Behind, is almost criminally naive.

    In the Good Old Days, there were quite a lot of U.S. public high schools where Latin was mandatory (including until circa 1920 at the separate-and-unequal Jim Crow high school for black kids in the area where I grew up several generations later). But of course these were the same Good Old Days where most students dropped out of formal education and started working on farm or in factory before high school, so just being in a generic public high school was already evidence of self-selection (and/or parental pressure, to be fair) for above-average interest in stuff like that.

  36. An excellent point.

  37. In the Good Old Days, there were quite a lot of U.S. public high schools where Latin was mandatory

    And nowadays, there are a quite a lot of Catholic high schools (like mine) where it isn’t even offered.

  38. Over here in Spain we have the same problem. Large numbers of young people will need English to function professionally and socially, but the schools spend several hours a week for many years failing to do this. Even the level they claim for high-school leavers in not an independent-user level, and most get nowhere near it anyway. Half a language is no use. They would have been better off learning how car engines work, or any number of other things.

    I make my living doing what the Ministery of Education can’t do, so I’m not in any rush to see them get it right, and whenever you hear politicians or education administrators talking, it is perfectly clear that, other than making empty promises, they have no intention of solving the problem, nor any idea how to.

    And on the other subject that seems to have come up here, I wonder what people think schools are for, if it isn’t to prepare people in some aspects of adult life. They may waste a lot o ftime and do things very badly, but the basic idea surely is precisely that.

  39. John Roth says:

    The big question is how you motivate someone to actually learn the language you’re trying to teach. I had to take German in high school, and I had absolutely no interest in it – it was simply something I had to do to get a grade that I’d gladly have dropped for another hour in the library (which was excellent, by the way.)

    As I found out later, there was something that would have motivated me (and probably about a third of the class) – a science fiction serial from Germany in German about someone called Perry Rhodan (the English translation.) Of course, even if the teachers had known about it, they couldn’t have used it – it wasn’t “literature,” something of which I wasn’t, and still am not, interested in either.

  40. “Over here in Spain we have the same problem. Large numbers of young people will need English to function professionally and socially, but the schools spend several hours a week for many years failing to do this.”

    I’d blame this more on a culture of dubbing versus subtitling films. Ensure the latter, and you can make up for shortcomings in the quality of state education. I’m regularly told by Romanians age 30 and below that they really learned English from torrenting films and American television, and what was taught in school was pretty irrelevant to their command of the language.

  41. Etienne says:

    All: this scene dates back to 1988, but should serve as a reminder that the issues discussed on this thread are not new…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeF_o1Ss1NQ

    John Roth: Perry Rhodan! Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time (if I may quote another sci-fi classic). I agree with your point, and indeed would amplify it: It isn’t just foreign languages which could be better taught by means of science-fiction! I learned more physics as a teenager through reading hard sci-fi than through my physics classes, and I suspect that I and my fellow vict –err, I mean, of course, students– could have learned a great deal more had the physics class taken some hard science-fiction novel(s) as a foundation.

    Everyone: I am very surprised nobody here has mentioned something which everyone would benefit from in school: a grounding in basic logic (some good detective novel(s) could serve as a fine foundation for a course or two on the topic). Having taught at several very dissimilar Universities across North America I have lost track of the number of essays and presentations I have seen which were were so riddled with non sequiturs and various types of self-contradictory and circular reasoning (plus some ad hominem attacks, which admittedly occasionally broke the monotony) as to be utterly worthless. This is true of student as well as of faculty papers/presentations, by the way.

    Or, as a contract instructor put it to me, describing the difference between the methodological + logical flaws found in their students’ papers and their colleagues’: “The students haven’t learned to hide behind jargon-heavy prose and impenetrable buzzwords yet”.

  42. It’s certainly true that undubbed televsion has played an important role in developing the very good language skills of Scandinavians, Germans and the Dutch (I’ve done some research on the subject, though I didn’t think to look at Romania) but it only works, and it works very effectively, in the context of high motivation, which existed and exists in those countries, but it much more limited in Spain.
    Nowadays, those who do have the motivation come to me to learn, and they watch films and series in original version, which only a few years ago was not possible. Most children won’t do that, though.
    Another thing is that dubbing is done very well in Spain. The voice actors are often better than the originals (Hollywood being more interested in how they look than whether they can speak properly) and to expect everyone else to put up with reading subtitles just so the kids can train their ear is a bit much. As I say, those who want to do it, now can.

  43. As an anglophone, I have no problem with reading subtitles. The only problem was when I was briefly living in the Netherlands, when I had to force myself to attend to the dialogue in English rather than trying to read the Dutch subtitles!

  44. Of course kids learn a lot of very valuable skills in school, such as how to siddown and shuddup, how to do things according to arbitrary rules, how to knuckle under to bullies (and for some, how to bully), how to take examinations, how to bullshit, and how to apply yourself to things you don’t give a damn about because if you don’t, you won’t have food, shelter, or medicine (at least in the U.S.)

    As for Texans learning Spanish in school, they probably do, but more on the playground than in the classroom (like Dearieme learning Scots).

  45. @Etienne: The PBS program Square One TV ended each episode with a “Mathnet” segment, parodying the old cop show Dragnet. (Over the seasons, “Mathnet” came to occupy more and more of the show’s running time.). The crimes-solving and other police work done by the “Mathnet” tended to involve a lot of arithmetic and geometry. However, near the end of the first season, in “The Case of the Maltese Pigeon,” as the main characters were about to confront the villain, they stop to discuss the fact that the case had used a lot less of the usual math than they were used to. One of the detectives points out that they have used an awful lot of logical reasoning, which is also part of mathematics. (That particular week-long “Maltese Pigeon” storyline did feature a much more sophisticated criminal enterprise than usual. In fact, to really appreciate how the con was supposed to work, you had to watch it twice.)

  46. Bathrobe says:

    hard science-fiction novel(s)…some good detective novel(s)

    What are the girls supposed to read?

  47. @Hickory : thanks for complimenting on Germans’ language skills. But in Germany, foreign films are usually dubbed, except for some rare cases ( e.g. some showings of art house films.)

  48. Stu Clayton says:

    That’s why all the characters in German-dubbed films seem to be educated middle-class non-entities. I remember my astonishment the first time I heard a Miami Vice episode in English, on AFN in a Wiesbaden hotel. Big-city wrong-side-of-the-tracks white English and AAVE.

  49. Perry Rhodan, Miami Vice – this is what, memory lane today? 🙂

  50. What are the girls supposed to read?

    Speculative fiction and detective stories, to be sure.

  51. When I was learning French in school we read books about soucoupes volantes and villes souterraines. A bit more interesting than the usual “Dring! Dring! C’est le téléphone qui sonne.” stuff that we usually got.

    When I went on trips to France or Quebec a lot of my French came back despite being unused for decades. Beth says that Montreal is bilingual, but most of the rest of Quebec is definitely not. So it demonstrates the value of having stuff pounded into your head at an early age. (I started about age 9.)

    There are a number of fields of work in the US where speaking Spanish is absolutely essential–construction work and running a restaurant, for example. I was in a Lebanese restaurant a couple of weeks ago and the Lebanese lady who ran the place was talking to the kitchen staff in Spanish. So she’s at least trilingual.

  52. Whatever schooling Betsy deVos and Donald Trump got: don’t do that. With all their privileges, how did they turn out so profoundly ignorant on … every topic?

    Whatever schooling Barack Obama got: do do that.

  53. David Eddyshaw says:

    Speculative fiction

    My daughter gets seriously annoyed at the idea that she might be deprived of talking squids in outer space.

  54. What are the girls supposed to read?

    I know more female than male fans of detective fiction.

  55. ə de vivre says:

    With all their privileges, how did they turn out so profoundly ignorant on … every topic?

    I think you’ve answered your own question…

  56. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I’m strongly in favor of foreign language learning, but there are three factors that make it difficult in the US:

    1. General lack of native speakers to practice with.
    2. Classroom instruction is generally a poor way to teach foreign languages.
    3. Classroom instruction in the US is generally poorly done by non-native speakers.

    When I lived in Sweden recently, I discovered that, aside from English instruction, their foreign language instruction has much the same problems as in the US.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Montréal, Texas

    Comments on bilingualism in Montréal and Texas seem to credit school programs for this situation. Although such programs may play a role, surely the main factor is the fact that the minority languages in both places (French and Spanish respectively) are spoken by large numbers of people and therefore heard in everyday situations by the majority, whose members acquire at least some passive knowledge even if they are not making efforts to making it more active. Where the language to be acquired is only encountered in school, therefore under artificial circumstances, few students are able to make the leap from this restricted, artificial environment to that of the living language used as a normal means of social communication.

    I think I related the following some years ago: a man I know, growing up in a small anglophone town in Western Canada, had been doing very well in high school except in French, where his grades were abysmal. Learning conjugations and similar formal details did not make any sense to him: did people actually say such things? He was told by his French teacher “you must be one of those people who cannot learn another language”. Fast forward a few years and after graduation he and his best friend decided to take a trip to Mexico, where they ended up on the national hockey team! Lo and behold, he picked up Spanish very fast, slang and all, and ended up spending more than ten years in Latin America, where people often said to him “I know you must be from Latin America but I can’t place your accent”.

  58. I assume that just knowing that a language can be useful will help. The main foreign languages that are taught in Germany are English, French, and Latin. English is the world’s lingua franca and has become a requirement for many well-paying jobs. It is also the language of pop music, and using song lyrics could be another good way to keep the kids interested, if teachers wouldn’t tend to think that kids were still interested in the bands they liked in their own youth. So you normally have a sufficiently interested core of pupils to keep an English language class going on a satisfying level.
    French is spoken in neighbouring countries and still has some cultural cachet. Latin used to be needed as a prerequisite for certain studies at university, but that has been very much reduced, and my impression is that it’s much less widely studied now. Other languages tend to be optional offers, taken up by pupils who have at least some interest.

  59. Trond Engen says:

    Stephen C. Carlson: When I lived in Sweden recently, I discovered that, aside from English instruction, their foreign language instruction has much the same problems as in the US.

    Same in Norway. The instruction in the second foreign language doesn’t generally produce fluent speakers — or even competent readers. The exception, to a degree, is Spanish, which is fairly new on the curriculum, and that’s not because Spanish is better taught but because many are spending weeks in Spanish-speaking environments every year. In the case of German, I think the situation was better in my days in school, and, again, that has nothing to do with the quality of teaching. Continuing down Hans’ Memory Lane, we used to watch Derrick with subtitles. But not anymore. After the monopoly of the public service channel broke down we don’t have the patience for non-English foreign series.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Derrick:

    Some years ago my parents (in France) used to watch Inspecteur Derrick dubbed in French on the Franco-German program (or chain) Arte. At one time they went to visit friends in Germany and they all watched the show in German. My parents were astonished at the change in the personality of the main character when they heard the German actor speaking in his own voice and language.

  61. Trond Engen says:

    On that note, I just learned that Elmar Wepper, the brother of Fritz Wepper, who plays Derrick’s assistant Harry Klein in the series, is Mel Gibson’s German voice.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    From purely geographic point of view, learning Slovak ought to be a good idea for residents of Vienna.

    But I suppose no one does…

    Indeed. Nobody learns Hungarian or Czech either, or even Turkish. The Iron Curtain is still in people’s heads, there’s much less contact across the borders than there could be, and what there is is usually handled in English.

    about someone called Perry Rhodan (the English translation.)

    Also in the German original. The name is meant to be English because superhero comics were an American thing.

    That’s why all the characters in German-dubbed films seem to be educated middle-class non-entities.

    Even Schwarzenegger doesn’t dub himself.

    What are the girls supposed to read?

    Seriously? My sample is small, but I know easily as many female as male fans of science fiction of any hardness. And what hat said of detective novels.

  63. Even Schwarzenegger doesn’t dub himself.

    Rumor has it he can’t speak Hochdeutsch very well, if at all. Having the Terminator speak Styrian dialect would be very distracting, if not downright hilarious.

    I assume Christoph Waltz could dub his own English dialogue back to German, but doesn’t either as far as I know.

  64. SFReader says:

    I once watched Schwarzenneger dubbed in Japanese.

    Sounded very authentic for some reason. Especially when Conan the Barbarian got angry.

  65. The Slovaks I meet on business normally speak good English and often also German, because there’s a lot of German outsourcing going on in Slovakia. So I assume there’s not much of a need to learn Slovak if you just go to the country for business trips or short-term trips.
    Re Perry Rhodan: the name is English because he is an American astronaut when he meets the aliens stranded on the moon who set his adventures in motion. In the 1950s, after the lost war, the idea of Germans being the first on the moon would simply have been ridiculous. In any case, the series had a relatively diverse cast already from the start, including Asians and Africans.

  66. I’m for everyone having the opportunity to explore a foreign language in public schools. What I’m against is having a so called national Fl association/group prescribing methods that on paper (meaning using only the part of research that is favorable to them and dismissing the other part of the research that debunks their claims) sounds amazing but for which they have no concrete evidence, especially evidence gathered in the public school setting, that the said approach/method will help at least 75% of the Fl student population become fluent or at least fluent in a FL.
    I have taught Fl for many years and have used a prescribed approach referred to as 90/10. What I have experienced through my years of teaching is that this method works only with the 3 or 4% of the fl student population. And when you begin to analyze the educational/learning history of that 4%, you’ll be bound to reach this conclusion:
    The 4% is more less composed of students that have been gifted with a language brain, or a math brain or a science brain. This is the same percentage of language students who go on to levels 4,5 and AP in high school ( I bet that if you ask most local high school principals how manyAp Languages classes they actually have they will tell you 1 or 2 Of obout 15 students each. This is the same 4% that goes on to college aspiring to do something in the foreign language field. And I can Confidently say that is the same percentage from which only 1 or 2 individuals end up in a classroom as a Fl teacher. That’s why we have shortages of Fl teachers in schools around our nation.
    In conclusion, again, I strongly advocate for every person being given the opportunity to explore a foreign languag in schools. But I also am for scrutinizing groups like the one mention above by asking them to keep and provide the public with actual, concrete evidence that the Fl teaching approaches they prescribe
    will create at least a 75% of fluent speakers of the language studied in public schools, and not just the 4% that seems to be the status quo in the majority of the public schools in the US. When we , the public, is not appropriately informed on the success or a failure of a publicly prescribed teaching method , the little money we have to improve our public schools programs goes to waste. I might be wrong!

  67. David Marjanović says:

    Rumor has it he can’t speak Hochdeutsch very well, if at all.

    Probably quite exaggerated. He once appeared in an ad on Austrian TV, where he said at the end (seemingly unrelated to the rest, like ceterum censeo): Und nehmt ja keine Drogen. Die machen euch hin! “And don’t you ever take any drugs. They’ll destroy you!” in perfectly enunciated Austrian Standard German, except for the rather English [ɪ] which may have been deliberate because it underscored the martial voice and hand gesture.

    When an Austrian reporter just holds a microphone under his nose for 2 seconds, however, he doesn’t bother.

    Schwarzenneger

    Uh, “from the black corner”, not “black-negro”.

    Especially when Conan the Barbarian got angry.

    I’d watch that.

    an American astronaut

    I sit corrected. I drew too much of an analogy to all the writing in the much, much more recent Star Trek & Star Wars parody (T)Raumschiff Surprise being in English.

  68. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Rhodan” is a vanishingly rare surname in the US – tied for 124,249th-most-common as of the 2010 census, with only 133 bearers nationwide. That’s almost 50% rarer than “Marjanovic” (tied for 74608th with 259 bearers).* It seems to be a minor spelling variant of the much more common (in a relative sense – still not that common in an absolute sense) “Rhoden,” tied for 5617th with 6187 bearers. In an SF context, “Rhodan” sounds less like an American-astronaut name and more like a spelling variant of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodan. And indeed “Rodan” is itself a modestly-more-common surname in the US (194 bearers, tied for 94,311th). I would think a German author could have easily come up with a more plausibly American-sounding name for a US astronaut if that had been the goal.

    *”Marjanovic” is not only more common statistically, it’s a more cromulent-looking American name because it plausibly looks like a surname of an ethnic origin which might have turned up in the US via plausible immigration patterns enough generations back for the descendants to be fully assimilated. One of those old-timey war movies where one GI in the melting-pot foxhole has a Jewish-sounding name and others have Irish or Italian sounding names etc could stick in a Corporal Marjanovic w/o undercutting the Americanness of the situation. By contrast “Rhodan” doesn’t look on its face like an obviously “ethnic” name of determinate ethnicity.

  69. I’m astonished it’s a real name — I always assumed it was invented for alien effect.

  70. J.W. Brewer says:

    To be fair, the last actual man to actually walk on the actual moon — the late Gene Cernan, who was Slovak-American on his father’s side — had a surname even rarer (at least by the 2010 census) than Rhodan. Although maybe there’s a more common spelling among Slovak-Americans of the ancestral name, and “Cernan” was a less-common Americanization. (The guy who climbed back into the lander just before him was Harrison Schmitt, whose surname is an Americanized spelling-variant of the old-country “Schmidt,” which is about four times as common in the US.)

  71. David Marjanović says:

    I’m astonished it’s a real name — I always assumed it was invented for alien effect.

    We Will Have Strange Names in the Future – trope brutally averted by the likes of James T. Kirk.

    (…though perhaps reintroduced by the fact that T. is Tiberius. Vaguely Classical names are of course common in sci-fi.)

    Schmitt, whose surname is an Americanized spelling-variant

    Not necessarily; the tt version occurs in Germany as well. Both dt and tt are attempts to spell out the final fortition of the word that has ended up as Schmied in the standard language, and both come from far enough north that the vowel lengthening in monosyllabic words*, which started in Switzerland, didn’t take.** The common ancestral version, Schmid, is common in Austria, where the lengthening did take, but 1) the cognate of ie has remained a diphthong in the dialects (and the southern standard language of the 16th-17th century) and was therefore unsuitable as an indicator of vowel length, and 2) vowel length therefore became so close to predictable that it is no longer distinctive in almost any dialects. Syllable-final fortition is absent in Upper German (…today anyway) and the Standard accents used in that area.

    * …ending in at most a short consonant. Long consonants and clusters blocked the development.
    ** Conversely, the vowel lengthening in stressed open syllables started in the north and has never reached Switzerland.

  72. (…though perhaps reintroduced by the fact that T. is Tiberius. Vaguely Classical names are of course common in sci-fi.)

    I was amused to find a Ливерий (Liberius) in Doctor Zhivago. (Full name Ливерий Аверкиевич Микулицын, leader of a group of Red partisans.)

  73. David Marjanović says:

    A good name for a partisan!

  74. Etienne says:

    Bathrobe: Echoing several others here, I have never noticed any kind of gender bias when it comes to (serious!) science-fiction or detective/mystery novels. I once taught an “advanced” French course where a science-fiction novel was to be read by all, and if anything the female students seemed to take to it more than their male fellow students did. A more interesting bias involved the Christian symbolism found throughout the novel: the only two students who picked up on this were from a Southern African country and a Northern Canadian reservation.

  75. @ J. W. Brewer: I don’t think the name was meant to be “typical” American; I assume the inventors of the series just liked the sound of it. There is a (much later) story from the Perry Rhodan universe in which a guy tries to prove his family is related to Perry Rhodan, where they expound a bit on Rhodan’s ancestry; perhaps I find it somewhere.

  76. J.W. Brewer says:

    OTOH while I’m not sure exactly when the fictional Perry Rh. was supposedly born, Perry was a common-enough-not-to-sound-weird name for American boys throughout the period in which anyone of a plausible age to be landing on the moon in 1971 would have been born — it didn’t start its slide down into obscurity until sometime in the ’60’s, with 1970 being the first year of the 20th century in which it was not one of the most 250 most common names given to US-born baby boys. (By 2007 it had dropped out of the top 1000.)

  77. I found the story. It actually doesn’t say anything useful about Rhodan’s ancestry, but it mentions June 8th, 1936 as his birthday.

  78. Rhodan, especially with the rh, seems like an appealingly “Greco-futuristic” name to me, though not particularly English or American.

  79. 20,000 years down the timeline, the naming tradition used by the rulers of the Galaxy is anglophone-weird, with names like Salvor Hardin, Hober Mallow, Jorane Sutt, Ebling Mis, Harla Branno, and of course Hari Seldon. Preem Palver and Stor Gendibal are of the same origins, though politically opposed. There are other traditions, however: Yugo Amaryl belongs to an oppressed subculture and Golan Trevize and Munn Li Compor descend from them, whereas Arkady Darell (and her parents Toran and Bayta) and Janov Pelorat are both ordinary middle-class folks. From further away culturally we have Sotayn Quintesetz and Blissenobiarella.

  80. David Eddyshaw says:

    *SPOILERS* (but seriously, what have you been doing all this time that you’ve not read the Foundation series. For shame!)

    I’ve always supposed (at least since the reveal at the very end of Second Foundation) that “Preem Palver” is basically the man’s title, adapted as a pseudonym to mislead young Arkady. Obviously Romance, 20,000 years hence. …

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    Ebling Mis is surely a highly evolved German.

  82. Bathrobe says:

    I read the Foundation series and can’t remember a thing about them.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: Rhodan, especially with the rh, seems like an appealingly “Greco-futuristic” name to me, though not particularly English or American.

    Apart from Greek, initial rh occurs in Welsh names, like Rhys.

  84. basically the man’s title

    That’s plausible, except that a later First Speaker, Quintor Shandess, repeatedly refers to Preem Palver by name. We also find out that the Student’s name is Kol Benjoam, and after Palver’s death or retirement he becomes the next First Speaker but one.

    I note that Sayshell, the city and planet and political organization, are called “Seychelle” in the French translation of Foundation’s Edge. This is suggestive but not conclusive.

  85. SFReader says:

    I assumed Rhodan was alternate spelling of Ruadhán

    Etymology
    From Old Irish Rúadán, from Primitive Irish ᚏᚑᚇᚐᚌᚅᚔ (rodagni, genitive); synchronically ruadh (“red, auburn”) +‎ -án.

    *A male given name, sometimes Anglicized as Rowan.
    **(Irish mythology) A character from Irish mythology, son of Bríd.

  86. “rh” also pops up more or less randomly in place and family names: Rhode Island, the river Rhône, the Rhoden half-cantons in Switzerland; Rhoden is also attested as a family name in Austria and Germany.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    Hans: the river Rhône, the Rhoden half-cantons in Switzerland

    The current name of le Rhône is from Latinized Greek Rhodanus, later Rhosne (the river flows North to South, ending at the Mediterranean where the Greeks set up a colony in pre-Roman times). Are the Swiss Rhoden cantons in the same area? And family names often come from place names, when people have moved and become known by their place of origin.

    As for Rhode Island and Cecil Rhodes (hence the former Rhodesia), perhaps the name or names originated in Wales rather than England.

  88. The Rhoden half-cantons are in Appenzell, in North-Eastern Switzerland, basically at the opposite end, in the German speaking part. I assume they’re just another case of the countless place names containing roden “to clear (woodland)”.
    According to Wikipedia, it looks like Rhode Island is either named after Greek Rhodes or the name comes from Dutch rood “red”.
    I now checked on the German Wikipedia page on Perry Rhodan. It only looks into publication history and doesn’t go into in-universe facts. But I learnt to my astonishment that PR started to be published only in 1960. I had always assumed that it was published already in the 50s, because that’s when my relatives who got me into PR were in their teens. Anyway, the WP page links to the Perrypedia (of course there is one), where it states that Rhodan descends from Bavarian immigrants; as far as I can see, no etymology is given.
    Good god, I hadn’t looked at things Rhodan for 30 years. Time to get back to the stuff I am supposed to do!

  89. It’s all a mystery, or rather several different mysteries.

    Rhode Island has the clearest etymology: it was formerly Rode Island < EModDu roode eylant ‘red island’. Technically, Rhode Island is the name only of the island, and the state is “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Unofficially, however, the island is called Aquidneck Island, a name of Narragansett origin whose meaning is not known.

    Rode was changed to Rhode under the influence of the Greek island Rhodes, or Ροδος in Greek, whose etymology is also unknown. Historically it was assumed to be from rhodon ‘rose’, but this is now thought to be folk etymology, and the Phoenician word erod ‘snake’ is considered a more likely source.

    Cecil Rhodes’s surname is also spelled Rhoades, Rhoads, Roads, Roades, and Rodes, and is from OE rod, ‘clearing in the woods’. This is also thought to be the origin of the two parts of the old canton Appenzell, A. Innerrhoden ‘inner clearings’ and A. Ausserrhoden ‘outer clearings’, the clearings in question containing the villages of Appenzell. The terms are literal: the inner clearings were those closer to the town of Appenzell, the outer clearings those further away. The division came about because the Ausserrhoden accepted the Reformation whereas the Innerrhoden did not.

    As for the Rhone, its name is Gaulish in origin, Rodonos or Rotonos from PIE *ret- ‘run, roll’. In German its name is normally die Rhone, borrowing the French name but with feminine gender; only in canton Wallis/Valais is it still called der Rotten (or Rottu in Walliser German) from Latin but put through the High German Shift.

  90. David Marjanović says:

    Whatever schooling Betsy deVos and Donald Trump got: don’t do that. With all their privileges, how did they turn out so profoundly ignorant on … every topic?

    I don’t think Trump belongs in this category. You see, President Very S. Genius is the smartest person in any room. He doesn’t make errors, even if your lying eyes tell you otherwise; he has never in his life consciously learned anything from anyone other than himself, and he lacks the attention span necessary for that anyway. The only way to influence him is the old trick of convincing him something was his idea all along.

    The Secretary against Education is in a situation that looks opposite, but is actually very similar. She isn’t the smartest person in any room – God is. So why bother trying to learn from fallible mortals? The only way to influence her is the old trick of convincing her that God wants it.

    Normally, people with both conditions would soon be brutally cut down to size by “the normative power of the factual”. But both Trump and deVos grew up so rich they never needed to worry about that.

    What education can do is to teach everyone else enough so they don’t fall for the likes of Trump and deVos.

  91. Zeleny Drak says:

    I would not give much importance to anything coming from Bryan Caplan. Might be a personal bias, but I don’t think he ever said anything remotely insightful or interesting. He is the type of fanatical libertarian that worked only in teaching, so not exactly the most “free market” environment or the type of job usually praised by libertarians. His views are mostly that education is useless in general, especially of things that are not used directly on the job, something quite funny to hear from somebody teaching economics.
    It’s however true that most of the language teaching going on across the world is not really effective. Most of the countries in Europe require two languages by the end of high school but in practice only one (English) has any staying power. This is mostly due to exposure and perceived need. However this need is not the “need for future job”, so beloved by libertarians and utilitarians, but the need to understand the latest music or video games or so on. This is the main disadvantage for native English speakers as they already have most of the coolest things available in their language.
    For others, things like dubbing movies or size of the language play a bigger part then the education received in schools, although starting earlier is always better. I’ve studied in school French for much longer than I did English, but I learned much more English from watching cartoons and movies.

  92. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Thank you for the information on Rh- names. It looks like the h was added in order to give them the “cachet” of a possible Greek origin.

    As for the Rhone, its name is Gaulish in origin, Rodonos or Rotonos from PIE *ret- ‘run, roll’. I am glad to learn that this river running through formerly Celtic-speaking Switzerland and France had a Celtic rather than Greek name.

    But what about le Rhin, der Rhein?

  93. Hat: I was amused to find a Ливерий (Liberius) in Doctor Zhivago. (Full name Ливерий Аверкиевич Микулицын, leader of a group of Red partisans.)

    There is, however, a pattern here. Abercius of Hieropolis and Liberius of Ravenna were among the earliest known (2nd-century) Christian bishops. I bet other men in the Mikulitsin family were called Афинодор, Пров and the like.

  94. I think the Rhine owes its aitch to the fact that Gaulish Rēnos (< *Reinos) was first adapted by Greek geographers as Ῥῆνος and then Latinised as if it had been a Greek name. The same goes for Ῥοδανός. Caesar has rh in both. The vowel of Germanic *Rīnaz reflects Proto-Celtic *ei, but the modern spelling shows Graeco-Latin influence. The root is the same as in Lat. rīvus and (probably) Slavic *rěka.

  95. Rodger C says:

    Rhoden is also attested as a family name in Austria and Germany.

    When teaching in a different part of Kentucky I had students named Rhoden and (from a different branch) Roaden.

    Then there’s Marlowe’s Faustus, who was born “in Germany, within a town called Rhode” (Rohde, says the footnote).

  96. I have an ancestor (American of English descent, born 1791) named Rhodam Calvert, and Google reveals various other men with that first name, mostly in genealogies, but generally seems to think it’s a typo or variant of Rodham.

  97. What a pity the Old English contrast between hr and r is no longer expressed orthographically. We could have (etymologically justified) words like rhaven, rhook, rhaw and rhather, and names like Rhobert and Rhoger.

  98. While some Rodhams, Roddhams, Rhodams, Roddoms, Rodams and Rudhams also bear rod-names, there are other sources. Roddan in Norfolk English is said to mean ‘raised river bed section’, though what THAT means is not very clear to me. Some Rodhams may have originally been Grodhams ‘people from the poor village’, or conceivably migrants from Rödhamn ‘red haven’, one of the Swedish-speaking but Finland-controlled Åland Islands.

    In researching this, I turned up the fact that AmE grody /groʊdi/ (made famous by Frank Zappa) and originally BrE grotty /grɒti/, both ‘nasty, disgusting’ have the same etymology: a clipped form of grotesque plus the ordinary adjectival suffix -y. (The latter may have been influenced by Scottish Gaelic grod ‘putrid’.) For me, grotty is fully etymologically nativized as [grɑɾi]; I don’t use grody.

  99. speedwell says:

    I had always assumed that Preem Palver was a slightly altered form of Prem Palva. This might have been influenced by my longish residence in Houston, where there happens to be an immense number immigrants from India. I always assumed Hari was Harry, and Salvor Salvador, and Stor Alastor (or even one of the countless variations on Alexander), and so forth… and I met Asimov one time but neglected to ask him about it (in my defense I was sixteen).

  100. names like Rhobert and Rhoger

    Both of them Welsh names, though obviously of Norman origin. The most famous Rhoger appears to be Rhoger Zamora, though how he comes to have that name I don’t know (Zamora is a city and province in Spain).

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