NCCU linguistics professor receives award from MOST
|Graduate Institute of Linguistics Professor Her One-Soon (何萬順) Photo: Her One-Soon|
|Her draws a map of 453 classifier languages on the world. Photo: Her One-Soon|
By Humphry Lee (李奇隆)
The Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) announced on March 24 that Professor Her One-Soon (何萬順) of Graduate Institute of Linguistics in the National Chengchi University received the Outstanding Research Award this year. He received the award from MOST on June 10.
Her was dedicated to the research on classifiers in linguistics and on the abolishment of the English benchmark policy in Taiwan’s universities. He has won this prestigious award twice, with the first granted in 2010.
Her has done extensive research into classifiers in linguistics, discovering that there are 453 classifier languages, including Mandarin, Japanese, Vietnamese, among more than 7,000 other languages in the world.
According to Her, classifiers are different from words describing quantities, or measure words.
For example, Chinese-speaking people use the classifier “zhi (枝)” when describing that there are three single chopsticks.
“Three pairs of chopsticks,” on the other hand, means six single chopsticks. Therefore, the word pair, or “shuan (雙)” in Chinese, is a measure word, not a classifier.
“To distinguish classifiers from measure words, we can understand them in a mathematical sense,” Her said.
In Her’s research, he took a classifier as a multiplicand whose value is equivalent to one, while the value of a measure word is anything but one. As such, neither the word “pair,” which means two, nor the word “group,” whose value is unknown but larger than one, is a classifier, he added.
Having found 453 classifier languages, Her said that he was able to map them with the Geographic Information System, and that he was “irresistibly lured” into doing a project to trace the origin of classifier languages and see how they spread around the world.
Her said that the Tai-Kadai language family is likely to be the place of origin because there is a heavy concentration of classifier languages in this area.
“The project is developed from a very bold, if not wild, idea,” Her said, “because it requires knowledge of human history and migration, which is not often considered in the domain of modern linguistics.”
Her estimated that five to ten more years are needed to verify the origin of classifier languages.
“It is a difficult goal to achieve, but spending time looking into the development of language is worth the effort.”
Her is also concerned about the English benchmark policy for graduation set up by the universities in Taiwan, and also conducted research to examine the legality of such policies.
According to Her’s research,it is a mistake for the Ministry of Education to urge, or even arguably, force, the universities in Taiwan to adopt the benchmark policy, and the universities in turn entrusted external agencies with the task of assessing the student’s English proficiency.
“The benchmark policy should be abolished because it is unlawful and violates the spirit of the university autonomy,” Her said.
Her added that the universities are wrongfully punishing students if they do not first properly teach students to take English tests administered by external agencies.
Using NCCU as an example, he said that students who do not pass the benchmark test can take a remedial course as an alternative.
“But how come the course description of a remedial course is never available to the students?” Her asked. In fact, such a course description does not exist at all.
He pointed out that nobody in the entire world would believe that a student with a certification of passing a remedial course has the same English proficiency as those scoring 600 points on TOEIC, which is one of the acceptable English tests for graduation in NCCU.
“The use of the benchmark policy to gauge a student’s English proficiency shows that the purpose of learning English has been distorted in Taiwan,” Her said.
He suggested that this benchmark policy sends a message to students that their own native languages and cultures are inferior and that English and western cultures are always superior and desirable.
“The soul of a civilization can be best manifested by its language,” Her said. “Language is the greatest technology that humans had ever developed.”
The Outstanding Research Award is annually given to researchers whose studies are innovative and significant as to raise Taiwan’s academic status in the world.
Recipients of the award can each receive NT$300,000 annually for three years as a research grant.