Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:03 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 19:03 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Culture and economy

11 April 2012 09:24

Tim Soutphommasane writes:

I just noticed your blog entry of 5 April touching on my opinion column in The Age from 26 March on the Asian century. The 'Interpreter' blog doesn't permit comments so I am resorting to email.

I appreciate your comments, even if in disagreement, but wish to offer the following response in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

1. On the question of making a monetary fetish out of Asia, you say I offer no evidence for that claim. I actually allude to some of the evidence in the following sentence included in my article: 'Thus, even when pointed criticisms are made of our failure to develop Asian literacy, critics frequently lapse into arguments about maximising the ''returns'' from our ''investment'' in Asia.' This is a reference, in fact, to something Tim Lindsay argued in your very blog on 4 November 2011. As you would appreciate, footnotes don't really work for a newspaper op-ed.

I would also point to the language used in the terms of reference for the Asian Century white paper (namely, the implied priority of economic issues) as a good example of how the economics of Asia trump the cultural aspects. I don't frame the question of Asia strictly in terms of economics and/or security, as you appear to do. My point was precisely that we don't seem to think enough about the cultural, or that the cultural elements don't seem to feature prominently within our discussions of Asia. If you are interested in precisely what I mean by this, I refer to you a paper I gave last year at the Griffith Asia Institute, notes for which I attach in this email.

2. On cultural literacy, you say 'there are many reasons why Asian literacy is doing badly in Australia, but to say that it's because education authorities place too much emphasis on the economic benefits of learning an Asian language is novel. Perhaps a more likely reason students aren't taking up an Asian language is that the perceived career benefits are largely illusory...'

I actually don't say that educational authorities place too much emphasis on the economic benefits of learning an Asian language. My point wasn't about education authorities (I make no mention of them in my op-ed) but about how the public discourse regards the value of learning Asian languages.

Your point about the 'perceived career benefits' of learning an Asian language would, if anything, serve to underscore my argument. After all, the question I am raising is whether more Australians would be inclined to take up Asian languages if they saw the learning of languages as about more than just 'career benefits' (read: the economic benefit of learning a language).