Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Generation X: The Most Francophobic Generation?

In recent years, especially those surrounding the Iraq war around 2003 or so when they refused to help us in the crusade, Americans have become more anti-France after them being our friends for much of our nation's history. Likewise there has been a slight stigma toward those whose foreign language of choice is French or are interested in French culture, as this blogger mentions.

I have found this francophobia largely comes from a particular generation of Americans, the one now at the middle of its life: Generation X. (Of course this and other points mentioned here are a generalization; no offense to any Xers who are francophiles instead.) Why is that? Well, a lot of things modern France is known for runs counter to the philosophy of an average Xer - such as being too "socialist" and an example of why "New Urbanism" (which many Millennials are embracing) is a much more environmentally friendly way of living as compared to the sprawl typical in America. By the way, except for possibly the "old-old" GIs, Xers are in general probably the least environmentally-friendly generation alive today (especially when it comes to regulations on business) - the last one to embrace the consumerism and car culture typical of Americans in the past saeculum (and actually turned back the progress Boomers made towards a "greener" lifestyle - one that Millennials are reviving).

An outiler to this (ironic considering they're the ones typically blamed for the decline in the interest of the French language in America) are Latinos (which as I've said the first-generation ones in America are most concentrated among Xers). In fact, as some bilingual English-Spanish families such as one from this site have done with their children, when a third language is studied guess which one they're most likely to go for? You guessed it, French (which for those who already know English and Spanish is a relatively easy step, and those three languages together will allow you to get around a significant part of the world).

So which language do I think is French's biggest "enemy" in the language-to-study-war? It's the language of an Asian country that is quickly becoming more like America in the way a lot of pro-suburbia, anti-environmental people like (and if that group wins then life on this planet may cease to exist in a few decades). The country is China, and the language is Mandarin Chinese. I had originally planned to do a blog post on that language, but since that fell by the wayside I'll touch on it here.

Xers are probably the generation that has done the most promotion of the study of Mandarin, citing that there are more speakers of it than any other language in the world, that China is quickly becoming a superpower, and that the language may be the new "global" one in a few decades like English is now. The opposition (which I side with) cites that the importance of Chinese is overemphasized since its complexity compared to most "Western" languages means it's unlikely to attain importance at a global level, and unlike for example English, French, or Spanish which are spoken in multiple countries across multiple continents the only place Chinese is spoken as a "primary" language is in China (apart from "Chinatowns" around the world). (Not that I have anything against Chinese people or their culture, but like many Millennials Chinese political ideals run counter to what we want and that although studying Mandarin is a worthy venture it's not necessarily THE language you should study. Another reason not to go that route is that it takes on average A LOT more study to achieve a comparable fluency in Mandarin than it does with languages more closely related to English, unless you already know another Asian language.)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Generations and Foreign Languages, Part 2: French - (Not) a Dying Language

A few months ago someone wrote about how French is supposedly becoming a "mostly pointless" language, while someone else rebutted his argument with ways that the language is still a useful one to know. There were plenty of comments to each article expressing both sides of the debate - and I agree with those that say that there's still plenty of ways that French can be useful (especially at the global level). There are also plenty of intangible ways that knowledge of French can be beneficial - such as being "the language of love and romance" and an important one in the arts (which are reasons some people enjoy learning it - and it's easier to learn a language that interests you).

Because of the perception of French no longer being "important" and other languages being perceived more so (like the last and next ones I'm covering) its relative popularity (not necessarily absolute, since the number of students learning a foreign language in general has risen over the past few decades, likely tied to the general globalization phenomenon) in the U.S. as a foreign language has dropped in recent times. However I'm predicting that may somewhat reverse once the New Silents become of age to take high school and college foreign language courses for a couple of reasons (once again putting my non-linear generational-based hypotheses on the line):

1. The francophobia from the post-9/11 and War on Terror era when France refused to join us will likely be less present (or virtually not present at all) in this generation that doesn't remember it. (For the same reason I'm predicting they will rebel against many of the "Homeland Security" practices that have since been enacted - which is why "Homelanders" is a term I've decided not to use; but that's a topic for another time. Links are to posts on the Fourthturning.com message board.)

2. In terms of generational archetypes I think that Adaptives/Artists and Idealists/Prophets are more attracted to the things the French language is known for (in the last sentence of the first paragraph) than Reactives/Nomads and Civics/Heroes (the latter two being more drawn to practical/tangible aspects). Since "practicality" is more important during a Crisis era than other turnings, that will also lessen the relevance of that factor for those that won't be finished with school until the new saeculum begins.

The next installment will focus on a language that has quickly grown in popularity in recent years - (Mandarin) Chinese.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Generations and Foreign Languages, Part 1: Spanish - The (Once) Top Language for Americans to Learn

This is the first in a three-part series discussing the past, present, and predicted future popularity of various foreign languages among Americans.

If you're an American Xer or Millennial, chances are during your schooling you were told that among the choices for a foreign language to learn that Spanish was your best bet with the predicted rise of the Hispanic population. Sure enough, we're now to the point that you now see many bilingual items in English and Spanish, bilingual service workers have been in greater demand, and in some regions Hispanics are now the largest minority group. But does that mean that the Spanish language will continue to be in even greater demand in the coming years and decades? Not necessarily, for several reasons.

The first is that, in part thanks to us moving into a Fourth Turning with the economic collapse circa 2008, the number of new and existing illegal aliens (read: mainly Hispanics) declined at the time of the collapse and has remained fairly steady since. This of course means the linear predictions made a decade or two ago that we would continue to have more and more new illegals settle in our country have, for the most part, not come true (since the peak around 2007 or so). Fourth Turnings in America's past have represented a leveling-off or decline in immigration, and it appears that this time around will be no different.

Now you may be thinking about the existing Hispanics living here and their higher-than-average birthrate contributing to the future demand of more hispanophones. Although the parents may not be fluent in English (which is where that language demand mainly comes from), their children who go through the American school system do get exposed to English (and in fact typically make that their primary language). Therefore we have a cohort most concentrated among Xers where most of the demand for bilinguals is found; since this group has largely been fixed and will grow older over the coming turnings we can see there will probably be minimal new demand for Spanish-speakers among non-Hispanic Americans (of course in certain services, like health care that will increasingly cater to those aging Latinos, there may still be a rise in demand). Although the number of people of Hispanic descent may continue to (and will probably) rise, the number of people that speak Spanish but not English probably won't.

Finally since learning Spanish has been so encouraged over the past generation or two we are becoming more saturated with suitable bilinguals - meaning that the supply/demand equilibrium has become more balanced. In fact, since the children of the immigrants I mentioned in the above paragraph will naturally know both languages, that may further tilt the balance towards there being an excess of available hispanophones available.

I'm not saying that Spanish would ever be a poor choice to learn as a foreign language for Americans; after all it's still, and most likely will remain, the most spoken language in the Western Hemisphere. My point is that for various (and often overlooked by linear thinkers) reasons the hype that it is *the* language you *should* learn has largely gone out the window with the Third Turning. If you live or plan to live in the "Latino Belt" roughly consisting of the Southwestern States and Florida (or other locality where Spanish is used virtually as much or more than English), or plan on being in an occupation where you'll frequently be interacting with the (aging) non-anglophone Hispanics, it may still be true that your best bet is to learn Spanish; otherwise if another language interests you more or has the potential to be more useful for you I say go with it instead.

In the next installment I'll be discussing Spanish's biggest "competitor" in foreign language choice - the sister Romance Language of French.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What's In a Name: The Obamacare "Mandate" and "Penalty"

No, this isn't on my usual subject of baby names. Rather, it's about the so-called mandate and penalty in the PPACA (aka Obamacare). The authors of the law knew that part of making the law work was to get more healthy people (who "voluntarily" chose not to have health insurance) to pay into the system (especially since banning denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions means you could always get coverage later). Some early drafts of health-care reform law proposals did have an actual mandate with criminal penalties for noncompliance. That proved to be politically risky (and as I'll explain would probably make the difference in the Supreme Court outcome), so they inserted a "mandate" with a "penalty" that is nothing more than an additional amount owed to the IRS on your income tax (and on top of that the IRS cannot use many of its tactics like liens or garnishments to collect the amount; about all they can do is withhold a tax refund or possibly try to sue you). Since that basically amounts to an additional income tax (and would've been unequivocally constitutional if instead they raised everyone's taxes by the penalty amount with a credit of the same sum if you have health insurance), that's what saved it in the Supreme Court (remember that in the decision they said that Congress does not have the power to require people to buy insurance, rather they can only tax you). If the mandate did come with criminal penalties for not complying, that would've most likely been ruled unconstitutional. For those who are upset that this means that Congress has new powers, it's no different than all the many other tax deductions and credits for doing certain actions (like carrying a home mortgage or having children); the only difference is it's written in a way to be "negative reinforcement" for not doing such an action rather than "positive reinforcement" for doing so (which ultimately makes no difference in the amount you pay; you pay the same greater amount for not having health insurance than if you do). It was made into a "penalty" rather than a "credit" simply because it would likely lure more people into buying health insurance by making it sound "wrong" not to purchase it, but on a de facto basis both ways would have the same monetary costs (the opposite of for example laws that on a de jure basis are neutral on the face but in reality burden and discriminate against certain groups more than others).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BabyCenter's Name Statistics

Generally I take name popularity lists compiled by non-government sources (e.g. babynames.com) based on what their members like and/or choose for their children with a grain of salt. However, there is one that I have noticed appears to indicate some clues to upcoming trends: The BabyCenter list, based on what their members have named their babies. Except for the very low-ranking names, they have enough members to level out the "noise" that occurs when the data sample is small. In addition, their graphs tend to more or less follow the trends in the population at large; since their data is up-to-the-present (unlike the SSA whose data does not come out until May of the year following the one in question) the BabyCenter stats often give a clue as to where names will be heading over the next year or two. In addition, comparing a name's rank between the BC and SSA lists gives a clue on the cultural groups most using the respective name: In-style names tend to rank higher on the BC list, while names more commonly used in immigrant families tend to rank lower.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Gender Factor in Name Individuality

In my last blog post I discussed both the short- and long-term factors in how the name pool has diversified and far fewer babies are being given one of the standard classics. There is also the gender factor, and most of you probably know how it has gone for much of recent history: Boys are more likely to be given a "common" name than girls, and the names themselves at the top of the list change at a slower pace on the blue side as compared to the pinks. However, as recently as the decades immediately preceding the advent of the coverage of the SSA list, that factor was almost nonexistent.

In the late 19th century, we start to see the naming practices by gender diverge: The pace in fashion changes pick up and fewer girls being given the standard classics, with a lesser effect on the boy's side. We probably owe this to the wave of feminism that brought them the vote and other similar rights, with many seeing the old names as being stodgy to the old way of feminine thinking. With the exception of a period around the Depression when there was a brief distaste for some of the boy's classics, this pattern of a pronounced greater individualism with girl's names continued throughout the 20th century (we also see far fewer female "juniors" compared to before while the practice continued with males during this period). This diversion peaked around the period of the 1950s-70s, when you sometimes saw almost twice as many boys being given the top names as girls (this may also why you're more likely to have a "generation gap" with your parents over what to name a boy than a girl, while in the past the opposite was more likely).

The next wave of feminism in the '70s had somewhat of the opposite effect (reducing the magnitude but not reversing the pattern of the "gender gap") resulting in a regression of the long-term "name deflation" with an increase in the number of girls bestowed a top name (hence why so many feel Jennifer and Jessica are "burned out" while Lisa from just a decade or two before did not have the same effect). This is probably due to parents realizing that like with their son's names their daughter's names would likely need to withstand the test of how it would be perceived on a resume. The Great Name Deflation which began in the '90s had its effect first with girls, partially reversing the aforementioned effect for a brief period (that's when we saw the "gender crossover" with names picking up steam and more "modern" names at the top of the girl's list).

However, over the past 10-15 years we have really begun to see a pickup in the diversification of what we name our sons. Although there is still some sexism, the acceptance towards more unusual and/or unisex names for boys has softened. We are also seeing the pace in fashion changes picking up with boys, with many of the old standard classics falling and more trendy names reaching the top of the charts (in fact there are now more "non-traditional" names on the boy's Top 10 than the girls!). Another reversal of the conventional wisdom is that the top names now often rack in as much if not more usage on the girl's side (e.g. in 2011 and 2012 there were more girls named Sophia than boys named Jacob, and the same thing for the two years before that substituting Isabella for Sophia); for most of the past century it was the other way around (e.g. you probably grew up knowing more Michaels than Jennifers, although for a brief period early in the baby-boom years Linda topped Robert in usage). Is this a sign of true gender equality in the near future?

How Individualism in Naming Has Increased Over Time

Anyone who has taken a good look at the SSA's name popularity list knows how in recent years the share of babies given one of the top-ranking names has decreased quite a bit. What is not obvious from those stats, but becomes apparent to anyone studying name trends over longer periods of time, is that drop is an extension to the long-term trend since medieval times (when over half of the population of each gender got one of a few names). In fact, as recently as the mid-19th century, the most popular name for each gender (typically John and Mary) was given to more than 10% of babies. Since then, a variety of new name practices became more common (using surnames as first names, virtue names, nature names, alternate spellings, etc.) resulted in the "core classics" gradually becoming less and less used as a whole (while some name enthusiasts may not like those trends, such practices do result in fewer "burned out" names).

In the SSA-list era, this long-term trend has largely continued, although there was a slight regression during part of the first half of the 20th century. Even so, we went from 6-8% of babies in the 1880s given the top name (with the runners-up not far behind) to just over 5% during the early baby-boom era (when the top names shifted to Robert and Linda, which more frequent changes to the names themselves at the top of the list is the subject of a future blog post). By the 1970s we were down to 3-4% when Michael and Jennifer ruled the roost. However, that drop pales into comparison to what started happening around 1990 or so (I don't know if they had any influence or if it is just coincidence, but that was right after Beyond Jennifer and Jason, the first name book written by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, came out). Over the last 20 years or so the number of babies given a top name has dropped dramatically, to the point that the current top names (Jacob and Sophia) are given to barely more than 1% of babies (that's less than a third from the generation before, about a fifth from the generation before that, and less than a tenth from 150-200 years ago). That's why in the name community, we often say that unusual names are less likely to cause teasing and/or social outcasting than when you or your parents were growing up; on the other hand, those who like one of the top-ranking names but worry about popularity can rest knowing that those names are less common than what the similar-ranking names were when you were a kid. In the most recent SSA lists, it looks like this massive drop has begun to level off though (making circa 1990-2010 the "name deflation" era).

In my next blog post I'll be talking about how this name individuality vs. conformity has varied by gender.