pageok
pageok
pageok
Would Sotomayor be the First Justice Not to Have English as Her Native Language?:

Justice Ginsburg thinks she would be. Given that Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, I assume she means that Sotomayor would be the first Justice whose grew up in a primarily non-English speaking household.

I'm not sure about this biographical detail regarding Sotomayor, but I doubt she'd be the first. Justice Brandeis may be one earlier example. I'm not sure what language was primarily spoken in the Brandeis household, but I would guess German, based on the following information: Brandeis's parents were German-speaking immigrants; Brandeis attended a German-language elementary school, the "German and English Academy;" the school was co-founded by his father, suggesting that his father had great fondness for the German language and culture; and Brandeis spent two of his teenage years studying in Germany.

It's also possible that Arthur Goldberg's parents, immigrants from a shtetl in Ukraine, spoke Yiddish at home. I can't think of any other examples offhand, but that doesn't mean there aren't any.

UPDATE: After I posted this, I remembered that Justice Thomas's first language is Gullah, an Afro-English creole dialect. And a commenter points out that Felix Frankfurter's family didn't arrive in the U.S. from Vienna until Frankfurter was twelve years old.

PeteP (mail):
I BET she's the very first one to admit publicly that she got into colelge ( Princeton ) based on affirmative action, IOW because she's a minority, even though by her own public statement her grades were inferior.

GREAT choice for SCOTUS !!!!

not ....

I guess this is what we've come to in society today - choices even now for SCOUTUS ( and the White House ) made on the basis not of qualifications or track record, but ethnicity.
7.8.2009 9:56pm
anothercommenter:
From Wikipedia's entry on Felix Frankfuter:

Frankfurter was born on November 15, 1882 in Vienna, Austria, third of six children of Leopold and Emma (Winter) Frankfurter.[1] His forebears had been rabbis for generations.[2] In 1894, when he was twelve, his family emigrated to the United States, where he learned English growing up on New York City's Lower East Side.
7.8.2009 9:58pm
Serendipity:
Well, Justice Ginsburg admitted in the interview that she too was a product of affirmative action:


Q: What do you think about Judge Sotomayor’s frank remarks that she is
a product of affirmative action?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: So am I. I was the first tenured woman at Columbia.
That was 1972, every law school was looking for its woman. Why?
Because Stan Pottinger, who was then head of the office for civil
rights of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, was
enforcing the Nixon government contract program. Every university had
a contract, and Stan Pottinger would go around and ask, How are you
doing on your affirmative-action plan? William McGill, who was then
the president of Columbia, was asked by a reporter: How is Columbia
doing with its affirmative action? He said, It’s no mistake that the
two most recent appointments to the law school are a woman and an
African-American man.

Q: And was that you?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I was the woman. I never would have gotten that
invitation from Columbia without the push from the Nixon
administration. I understand that there is a thought that people will
point to the affirmative-action baby and say she couldn’t have made it
if she were judged solely on the merits. But when I got to Columbia I
was well regarded by my colleagues even though they certainly
disagreed with many of the positions that I was taking. They backed me
up: If that’s what I thought, I should be able to speak my mind.
7.8.2009 10:00pm
josh bornstein (mail):
Serendipity,
Please don't post factual information that contradicts conservative talking-points. I'd much prefer to read hysterical ramblings from dimwits.

[trying to channel Sarcasto]
7.8.2009 10:08pm
PeteP (mail):
Asking "How is Columbia doing with its affirmative action?" is like asking the LA Lakers 'How are you doing finding tall people that would like a multi-year contract that pays millions of dollars a year, and that play basketball ?' :-)

The bottom line, though, is plain and clear - 'affirmative action' = 'government mandated racism ( and sexism, in the Ginsberg example )'. It is no different than the Jim Crow law of a generation ago, only the colors have been reversed. If one was wrong, then the other is wrong also.

An intellectual exercise - try to imagine the reaction to these, if they existed, and how long it would take for the lawsuit to be filed against them ?

A TV channel called 'WET' ( White Entertainment Television )

A Congressional Caucus called 'The White Caucus'. One where, as is the case today in the Black Caucus, your skin color is an entry requirement ( recently a WHITE Representative from a majority BLACK district tried to join the BCC, and was rebuffed BECAUSE of his skin color. )
7.8.2009 10:17pm
Anon2.3:

I BET she's the very first one to admit publicly that she got into colelge ( Princeton ) based on affirmative action, IOW because she's a minority, even though by her own public statement her grades were inferior.

Shocking that a NYC barrio education might not be up to par with upper crust prep schools.

But seeing as she actually improved on her poor foundation, outperformed most of the prep-schoolers, and graduated summa, this it not exactly the best talking point. Please try again.
7.8.2009 10:18pm
Larry Sheldon:

After I posted this, I remembered that Justice Thomas's first language is Gullah, an Afro-English creole dialect. And a commenter points out that Felix Frankfurter's family didn't arrive in the U.S. from Vienna until Frankfurter was twelve years old.


Interesting -- what wasn't interesting until Spanish was the "other" language.
7.8.2009 10:20pm
Serendipity:
Jim Crow = government mandated exclusion
Affirmative Action = government mandated inclusion.

While neither may actually be appropriate, nor wise policy choices, they are surely NOT the same.
7.8.2009 10:23pm
U.Va. Grad:
I BET she's the very first one to admit publicly that she got into colelge ( Princeton ) based on affirmative action, IOW because she's a minority, even though by her own public statement her grades were inferior.

I'm not sure about Holy Cross, but doesn't Thomas freely admit that he got into Yale because of affirmative action?
7.8.2009 10:30pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Let's please can the affirmative action debate, this post is not the place.
7.8.2009 10:30pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
My broad hint wasn't taken, so let me make it more explicit: I have no desire to moderate an affirmative action debate here, and further posts on that issue will be deleted, and if necessary I will close comments.
7.8.2009 10:49pm
Fub:
...I assume she means that Sotomayor would be the first Justice whose grew up in a primarily non-English speaking household.

I'm not sure about this biographical detail regarding Sotomayor, but I doubt she'd be the first. ...
Thomas was raised in his grandfather's primarily Gullah speaking household.

According to this article he stated "it was easier to learn the foreign languages, which were new and distinctive, than it was to learn the standard English."

Gullah is a creole, so not strictly a foreign language. But it is a "non-English" language, moreso than Cajun or Acadian French, Plantation French, and Quebec French are "non-French". Yet those dialects are sometimes unintelligible to native French speakers.

The challenge for a native Gullah speaker from infancy to command standard English like a native English speaker from infancy appears at least comparable to that of a native speaker of an entirely foreign language.
7.8.2009 10:52pm
geokstr (mail):
If Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx, with Spanish as her first language, then that would actually make English her third language.

I have a friend, an actor/acting teacher of some acclaim, who also grew up in the Bronx. He said that he had to take speaking lessons for years because most people who had English as a first language could not understand what he was saying when he was speaking Bronx.

I grew up in Brooklyn myself, and I can attest to the fact that Brooklynese is also a separate language from English.
7.8.2009 10:58pm
Ed Darrell (mail):
I sat behind Orrin Hatch for several years as the Labor Committee worried over affirmative action, a policy Hatch was generally opposed to.

When I got back into the corporate world I was interested to observe in scores of cases that when I advised managers to spread a wide net on applications, then hire the best, that their teams grew steadily more diverse, in gender, race, nationality, languages (we were an international company) -- on every measure.

Diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams. Once the blinders are off on the issues of race and gender, and undergraduate college, and graduate school, it often turns out that the best candidates come from the most diverse backgrounds.

Hiring the best, promoting the best, we tended to stay well away from running afoul of EEOC rules. Odd about that.

Some people think "affirmative action" means lowering the standards. Not so in my experience. I don't think a solid case can be made that the decisions of the Supreme Court deteriorated with the addition of Jews, Catholics, non-Virginians, Stanford grads, immigrants, college graduates, African Americans, women, or Italians. It's unlikely Sotomayor, an outstanding lawyer and judge, will be the first exception to that long history.

The language issue in interesting. Is there any analysis to show that other-than-English language familiarity brings anything different to written opinions?
7.8.2009 11:03pm
Don Meaker (mail):
I am fortunate in that I learned English at home, French in high school, Spanish in college, and German (and some Russian) in my first post college job.

I had a meeting with some Swiss engineers. They were discussing some aspects of the project in Swiss German. They were astounded when i corrected them in my (slightly Bavarian accented) German. Then switched to (Canadian accented) French.

Yiddish, I don't do so well.
7.8.2009 11:08pm
neurodoc:
Not very remarkable for a young child to be exposed to a new language and achieve the fluency of a "native speaker" of that second language, perhaps forgetting the first one if no longer used. At what age does it become a remarkable accomplishment to achieve the fluency of a native speaker in a different language? Joseph Conrad's mastery of English in his 20s was an extraordinary accomplishment. (Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh?)
7.8.2009 11:09pm
jccamp (mail):
Several of the early USSC justices were born in ireland or Scotland. In 18th Century ireland and Scotland, the respective versions of Gaelic co-existed with English as the spoken language, usually determined by economic class. I suppose it's possible that one (or more) of these justices could have grown up in a household where Gaelic was spoken, at least as a second language to the servants if such existed.

I don't remember off hand which justices were immigrants from Ireland or Scotland, but I think there were perhaps 2 or 3.
7.8.2009 11:10pm
Danny (mail):
It is possible to grow up multilingual, i.e. with more than one native language. If she is a native speaker of Spanish, this does not automatically mean that she is not also a native speaker of English.
7.8.2009 11:13pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I've always thought it remarkable that Ayn Rand managed to become one of the most influential authors of the 20th century despite not coming to the U.S. from the USSR until age 26. I don't know how much English she knew on arrival, but I don't think it was much.
7.8.2009 11:14pm
JK:
You complain about things going off topic and then you bring up Ayn Rand? Way to goad the beast.
7.8.2009 11:21pm
jccamp (mail):
Actually, given the accepted level of public schooling in the Bronx, I would have suspected that growing up in a Spanish-speaking family in the Bronx would simply mean that you were a functional illiterate in 2 languages, instead of just one.

That was certainly true of a good friend from the South Bronx, who admittedly spoke barely understandable English with a heavy Spanish accent, and barely understandable Spanish with an even worse English/Bronx accent and couldn't read or write in either, until he enlisted in the military and started his education with a GED. He now has a graduate degree and is working on a second.

I don't think he considers the language thing a big deal, since he grew up speaking both. He would be more proud of escaping from the poverty and crime that claimed most of his contemporaries.
7.8.2009 11:28pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
The topic is "English not first language." Ayn Rand (or Joseph Conrad) not mastering English until their late 20s is tangential, but not off topic. Affirmative action is off topic, though I'd accept comments about whether Ginsburg's apparent view that the fact that someone is a non-native speaker adds value to their nomination, or comments regarding the oddity of Ginsburg not realizing, as I did with a few moments reflection, that other Justices were not native English speakers, including one of her current colleagues.
7.8.2009 11:30pm
jccamp (mail):
Reading Ginsburg's comment in the context of her complete answer, it really doesn't make much sense. She tosses it in as an aside, while discussing how she and Sotomayor are unalike, and thus, Sotomayor would be a valuable addition, presumably because people could see a different sort of female on the bench. Or something. But Ginsburg definitely sees the English-as-a-second-language as a positive. Why that would be so, she offers no clue. Maybe to her, it's self-evident.

Which begs the original question, was Ginsburg correct? it would seem...no.
7.8.2009 11:47pm
Davebo (mail):

I've always thought it remarkable that Ayn Rand managed to become one of the most influential authors of the 20th century


Seriously? Are you rating Rand in the top 1,000? And if so, by what parameters?
7.9.2009 12:03am
neurodoc:
DavidBernstein: The topic is "English not first language." Ayn Rand (or Joseph Conrad) not mastering English until their late 20s is tangential, but not off topic.
Alex Kozinski, "tangential" since Bush went with Roberts and Alito rather than him, but not off topic since he didn't start learning English until adolescence? Tangential and/or off topic to speculate whether Kozinski was disadvantaged by ethnic politics, there being already two Jewish Justices, though it seems not to have mattered that there are already five Catholic Justices on the Court?

(I was going to mention Tom Stoppard as someone who most impressively overcame being a non-native speaker of English, but see that he learned English at a much younger age than I had realized.)

One can let this "first justice not to have English as (their) native language" go as a bit of historical trivia, but I think it more interesting, and far more consequential, to ask if it matters whether the person is a native speaker of English or acquired English not as their first language. Thoughts? Is it the cultural sensitivity or empathy thing?

Personally, I like it as a story that someone has achieved more from lesser beginnings, but not sure that is of much bearing on their qualifications. Ceteris paribus, I do think it better for the country that there be diversity on the Court.
7.9.2009 12:05am
Vermando (mail) (www):
This type of post is why I keep coming back to this site - very cool information about all three individuals. Many thanks for a great post.
7.9.2009 12:31am
geokstr (mail):

Davebo:

I've always thought it remarkable that Ayn Rand managed to become one of the most influential authors of the 20th century

Seriously? Are you rating Rand in the top 1,000? And if so, by what parameters?

From Wikipedia, hardly a right-wing or libertarian source:

According to a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was second to the Bible as the book that made most difference in American readers' lives.[50] Modern Library's 1998 three-month online poll of the 100 best novels of the 20th century[51][52] found Atlas rated #1 although it was not included on the list chosen by the Modern Library panel of authors and scholars.

Rand's impact on contemporary libertarian thought has been considerable...

The Fountainhead eventually became a worldwide success...As of April 2003, it had sold over six million copies, and continued to sell about 100,000 copies per year.

Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold (as of 2007), and 800,000 more being sold each year...
7.9.2009 12:53am
geokstr (mail):
(Pushed "Post" instead of "Preview" on my last comment)

There is much more there. Read it for yourself.

That seems like a reasonable enough basis to rate her in the top 1,000, non? I suppose it doesn't rank up there in most influential authors whose books had spawned an ideology that resulted it the deaths of 100 million people. Or moved several dozen people to tears like the collected works of Maya Angelou.
7.9.2009 1:00am
Patent Lawyer:
Davebo-

Influential, not necessarily good. Given the sheer number of Americans whose views have been influenced at least in part by or in opposition to Rand's work, and the political effect of her moral, non-religious defense of capitalism, I'd say it's inarguable that she's one of the most influential English language writers of the 20th century. Definitely in the top 1000, probably the top 100-200 (and if we limit ourselves to fiction writers/novelists, definitely the top 100).
7.9.2009 1:00am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I don't suppose that a conference has ever been conducted in a language other than English, or that a lawyer has argued before the Supreme Court in a language other than English? (No jokes about lawyer-talk not being English please...)
7.9.2009 1:40am
bbbeard (mail):
David, I suspect you are being deliberately obtuse.

In the modern liberal mindset, "Germans" are "white", therefore in the "oppressor" class, and thus it is unexceptional to grow up in a German-speaking household. Hispanics are officially in the "oppressed" class, and therefore qualify as exceptional.

This is the same mindset that led one NBC commentator to bemoan the lack of "diversity" in the 1994 Olympic Winter Games at Lillehammer, Norway. This, despite the presence of over 1700 athletes from 67 countries. But you see, they were all white, at least in the eyes of NBC, so the idea that Norwegians and Swiss might be different enough to be competitive did not enter into their calculation. In the same way, Justice Ginsburg likely thinks of Brandeis and Frankfurter as simply white male Americans and worthy of no special "credit" for diversity. Facts, such as you tender, are worthy of elision when diversity is at stake.

Ed Darnell:

<i>Hiring the best, promoting the best, we tended to stay well away from running afoul of EEOC rules. Odd about that.</i>

I don't disbelieve you, but I wonder if you could clarify who you worked for, and whether they tended to get 'pick of the litter'? There is a scenario in which larger, more wealthy firms can afford to higher "the best", while unwittingly thinning out the ranks of qualified minority and women candidates. In this hypothetical, smaller, less resourceful firms can only fill their 'quotas' by sacrificing quality for gender or skin color. I'm not stipulating that's the case, I'm only pointing out that your anecdotal experience does not provide evidence for or against this hypothesis.

One of the moral hazards of affirmative action is that it leaves us all wondering whether someone like Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor could have succeeded on their own merits. In Obama's case, he has refused to release his college transcripts, deepening the speculation that he was in fact an Ivy underachiever. His poor grasp of history and economics further undermines the case for affirmative action.

BBB
7.9.2009 2:22am
dr:

I'd accept comments about ... the oddity of Ginsburg not realizing, as I did with a few moments reflection, that other Justices were not native English speakers, including one of her current colleagues.


You might also acknowledge that the few moments of reflection you took were a few moments longer than she took during what was a conversation, not the delivery of a speech or the writing of an essay or even a blog post. So, you know -- it's the kind of thing where, if you were sitting opposite her and said "What about Brandeis?" her response would probably be "ah yeah, you're probably right."

And maybe worth noting that you characterize her conversational statement as "Justice Ginsburg thinks she would be..." when in fact she used the word "might," not "would." Not a small difference there. But I suspect you know that.
7.9.2009 3:06am
josh bornstein (mail):
Bill Poser

I don't suppose that a conference has ever been conducted in a language other than English, or that a lawyer has argued before the Supreme Court in a language other than English? (No jokes about lawyer-talk not being English please...)


Bill, if you accept that American Sign Language is a separate language from English (it is an issue of some debate, so I acknowledge that it's far from a settled question), then there certainly have been conferences partly in non-English. I tried to do some research on whether or not a deaf attorney (using ASL) has argued in front of SCOTUS, but could not find anything yea or nay. Maybe EV or one of the other former clerks that blogs/posts here knows the answer.
7.9.2009 3:14am
LTR:
This is a discussion right up my alley. Since my family left former Yugoslavia for States in 1992, I was forced to learn English when I was about 16. I knew very little English from watching movies and it took me and my parents about six months to a year to master it. I still hate English spelling, as anyone who grew up speaking and writing Serbo-Croatian should. We have a really simple rule called "write as you speak, read as it is written" in our old language. Though I have to say that my accent is much softer than Kozinski's!

I don't think that someone's success in literature is more impressive if he's not writing in his nominally second language. When you spend enough time in your second homeland, it's not even clear what's your first language and what's your second one. If you are a brilliant author like Joseph Conrad, you would write great in any language you learned and used.
7.9.2009 3:49am
monboddo (mail):
Two separate points:

1) Sotomayor was valedictorian of her HS class -- now, perhaps she was not as well educated as someone who was first at Bronx Science, but clearly she wasn't a laggard in HS, either;
2) Speaking of great authors who didn't write in their first language, don't forget Nabokov.
7.9.2009 6:33am
Silent Cal (mail) (www):
I'm pretty sure Brandeis's people had been in the states for multiple generations, so they probably spoke English at home.
7.9.2009 7:51am
Silent Cal (mail) (www):
Strike my last comment -- I confused him with Cardozo.
7.9.2009 7:54am
CvMe:
I doubt that an "oral argument" in the Supreme Court was ever conducted in ASL. Setting aside whether some reasonable accomodation would be appropriate, given the rapid pace of questions and the limited amount of time, a deaf lawyer would be doing his or her client a great disservice by not passing the argument on to someone more equipped to handle it.

I wonder whether an ASL argument has ever been attempted in the courts of appeals?
7.9.2009 8:39am
BZ:
Well, I've posted before on numerous cases involving English as the official language, which would likely be the cases in which these feelings might be revealed. And I've posted on McNeil vs. Aquilos, a series of cases Sonia Sotomayor decided on the District Court bench involving an English-speaking African-American nurse who alleged discrimination by her Tagalog-speaking colleagues (and in which Sotomayor said her many years on the Board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund didn't matter because she left the Board when she went on the bench). See, e.g., 1995 WL 406086, S.D.N.Y.,1995. ("I also reject McNeil's claim that my past affiliation with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund (hereinafter the “Fund”) creates a ground for disqualification. I resigned from the Board of Directors of the Fund before I took the bench in October 1992. The Ninth Circuit case McNeil relies upon was argued November 3, 1992 and decided July 16, 1993. That an officer of an organization with which I was previously affiliated made a statement, two years after I resigned from the Board of Directors, criticizing a decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit after I became a judge in no way suggests a reasonable ground for my recusal from this matter"), id., at *2. I also pointed out in an earlier post that Sotomayor's position was disingenuous at best, since while she was on the PRLDEF Board, the organization went to the Supreme Court on this and similar issues, so her statement that she was off the Board when the actual decision was handed down and the organization's management was doing things she didn't agree with, rings hollow.

But more on topic, I will point out that one case which might be thought of as being more specific to the "native language" vs. "native English" debate is the 9th Circuit's en banc decision in Yniguez v. Arizonans for Official English, 69 F.3d 920 (9th Cir. 1995), reversed and vacated, sub nom, Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43 (1997). In the en banc portion, the majority position one might characterize as "pro-native language" was written by monolingual Judge Reinhardt, and the "pro-English" position by MALDEF Man of the Year Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez, with further dissent by Judge Kozinski. That was the case in which Reinhardt went at Kozinski very personally in a "special concurrence" with his own majority opinion. (Disclosure: I was counsel throughout these cases.)

So you can't tell language-related views based on family history or surname. Ideology often offers a slightly better guide, but not much.

As to some pretty interesting stuff on Sotomayor's race views more generally than language, see yesterday's Washington Times lead opinion:
Sotomayor Plays the Race Card.
7.9.2009 9:00am
Derrick (mail):
One of the moral hazards of affirmative action is that it leaves us all wondering whether someone like Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor could have succeeded on their own merits.


I know that DB is attempting to put a kibbosh on wading into AA, but I think that the highlighted comment deserves a slight reply. Because conveniently, this questioning of their success is also a moral hazard of racism. The efforts, intelligence and succes of African Americans, in particular, have been questioned since they were allowed freedom in this country (Jim Crow, Segregation, Mass discrimination in hiring practices). Acting as though, Affirmative Action is the sole or even predominant reason for the questioning of the merits of at least Obama and Sonya's success at this point in their objectively successful careers is just a willful illusion.
7.9.2009 9:03am
A.C.:
Sotomayor went to Catholic high school (Cardinal Spellman), so the comments about public schools in the Bronx aren't really applicable.

As for ASL, it's definitely a separate language. However, I don't think there are very many deaf-from-birth lawyers who use ASL in court. There are more late-deafened people working as lawyers, and the technology of choice seems to be computer-assisted realtime transcription (CART). I believe it works the same way as court reporting with a stenotype machine and may be done simultaneously. Anyone out there have any experience with this?

(It's a little off topic, but interesting.)
7.9.2009 9:23am
neurodoc:
<b>BZ</b>, you've piqued my curiosity with your post. Care to elaborate a bit more, especially on the Reinhardt/Kozinski think, or direct us to those other posts that do?
7.9.2009 10:13am
raoul (mail):
DB: can you email back my post on affirmative action that you deleted? The one that stated that having only students from prep schools attending Ivy League is not a from of meritocracy? I find it odd that you would delete posts that go against the grain of your beliefs, but that speaks more about you than anything else.
7.9.2009 10:15am
Anon321:
Not to take things even further afield, but someone mentioned Nabokov, which in this context reminded me that he claimed that, by age 14 or 15, he had "read or re-read all Tolstoy in Russian, all Shakespeare in English, and all Flaubert in French."
7.9.2009 10:23am
Mikey:
If Frankfurter came from Vienna, why wasn't he a Wiener?

I guess he was, though, a Wiener named Frankfurter.

As far as the meat product, here in the U.S. we tend to use Wiener and Frankfurter interchangeably, but they are really not the same thing at all.
7.9.2009 10:35am
rosetta's stones:
Several of the early USSC justices were born in ireland or Scotland. In 18th Century ireland and Scotland, the respective versions of Gaelic co-existed with English as the spoken language, usually determined by economic class. I suppose it's possible that one (or more) of these justices could have grown up in a household where Gaelic was spoken, at least as a second language to the servants if such existed.

I doubt any US born judges spoke gaelic, but I can about guarantee that many in Canada's crop did, and some likely still do. My parents were born in Nova Scotia, and everybody spoke gaelic as a first language, and only learned english when they went to primary school. There are remnants of the language still about, and the language is still taught.
7.9.2009 10:54am
Ed Darrell (mail):
. . . or comments regarding the oddity of Ginsburg not realizing, as I did with a few moments reflection, that other Justices were not native English speakers, including one of her current colleagues.


We don't know that she didn't think about it ten minutes later, all we have is the reporter's account of the first statement.

As part of the Dallas Heart Study, I took a memory test yesterday. One of the questions was to list as many words beginning with a certain letter as I could in one minute, orally. I was surprised by the question and then by the selection of the letter.

With the pressure off two minutes later I thought of three times as many words. With two more minutes' reflection I thought of a strategy to exhaust my deeper memory of the words -- which probably would have quadrupled my output on the exercise.

Ginsburg is right, I think, in assuming that familiarity with another language might lead to different thought, perhaps quicker thought on some occasions, and she's most likely correct in thinking that one's speaking another language than English as a native may lead to other insights. I'll forgive her the momentary history lapse, because she got the deeper issues right.

At this point in U.S. history, it's astounding that we haven't had much greater diversity in first languages on the Court, and that we as a nation have so little ability to converse in other tongues. The last native speaker of the Delaware/Lenni Lenape language died in Oklahoma within the past decade. We're losing languages more quickly in this nation than we are gaining fluency in any of them. That's too bad. Cherokee and Navajo tongues saved our bacon in two world wars. You'd think we'd want to hang on to that kind of heritage, perhaps by celebrating those who can converse in more than one tongue.
7.9.2009 10:58am
AJK:

she's most likely correct in thinking that one's speaking another language than English as a native may lead to other insights.


That seems astonishingly untrue to me, but I only know 3 languages so maybe I'm not capable of having the necessary insight.
7.9.2009 11:40am
David Hardy (mail) (www):
"Interesting -- what wasn't interesting until Spanish was the "other" language."

I thought the point was that she started out speaking Bronx.

[Amusing local event: local political cartoonist -- whose skills are exceeded by cartoonists for most high school papers -- just had a cartoon where a character is giving advice on how to drive. One of the word balloons is "Don't be a _____," the last word being in Spanish. I guess the cartoonist isn't up on Spanish profanity, and apparently thought the word was the equivalent of "jackass." It's actually EXTREMELY insulting and obscene, to the point where profanity-limited germanic tongues have no equivalent.]
7.9.2009 12:14pm
DeezRightWingNutz:

Diverse teams perform better than non-diverse teams. Once the blinders are off on the issues of race and gender, and undergraduate college, and graduate school, it often turns out that the best candidates come from the most diverse backgrounds.


I hear a lot of people say this, but I never really hear any support (not that I was expecting links to studies in a blog comment). But I never hear it challenged. It's easy to come up with an example of when it may be a good idea to have diverse teams (say, a group of marketers reviewing a proposed ad campaign that will target a diverse group of people). However, can't there be times when diversity is a hindrance? Maybe when speed, a unified vision, and cohesion are paramount?

Also, maybe it's assumed, but accross what dimensions do you really want diversity? Do you want employees with a diverse work ethic? How about with diverse attitudes towards punctuality and meeting deadlines?

Finally, the most troubling part of the diversity of backgrounds = diversity of ideas (or whatever) is that it ASSUMES that blacks will think one way about something, women another way, etc. Well, isn't that the same thing as the racists who refuse to hire blacks or the sexists who won't hire women say?
7.9.2009 12:45pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
DB: can you email back my post on affirmative action that you deleted? The one that stated that having only students from prep schools attending Ivy League is not a from of meritocracy? I find it odd that you would delete posts that go against the grain of your beliefs, but that speaks more about you than anything else.
I deleted it AFTER I posted asking everyone to stop debating affirmative action on this thread, and you posted anyway. And I deleted several posts for that reason, and these had a range of views on the subject. And I'm afraid it's gone for good.
7.9.2009 1:31pm
ys:

Not very remarkable for a young child to be exposed to a new language and achieve the fluency of a "native speaker" of that second language, perhaps forgetting the first one if no longer used. At what age does it become a remarkable accomplishment to achieve the fluency of a native speaker in a different language? Joseph Conrad's mastery of English in his 20s was an extraordinary accomplishment. (Alex Kozinski and Eugene Volokh?)

A typical cutoff age is around 12. That incidentally is the age of Kozinski on arrival, while Volokh was seven. As pointed out by another poster, Nabokov grew up in a privileged environment with an opportunity to speak both English and French from the early age. His language, even through the 50s, remained that of the early 20th century Oxbridge (which allows me to entertain myself by writing parodies of his language). Another recent boy-wonder was the Russian-born Andreï Makine who garnered top prizes, including Prix Goncourt, for his French language novel. On reading his novel I realized that he grew up with French-speaking relatives. That pretty much leaves Conrad unrivalled (I don't know Ayn Rand's language history, but given her family background would not be surprised if she got a good grounding in foreign languages before the Soviets put a kibosh on bourgeois excesses).
7.9.2009 2:08pm
ShelbyC:

DB: can you email back my post on affirmative action that you deleted? The one that stated that having only students from prep schools attending Ivy League is not a from of meritocracy? I find it odd that you would delete posts that go against the grain of your beliefs, but that speaks more about you than anything else.


Is this a post on how not to ask for a favor?
7.9.2009 4:33pm
New Pseudonym:

she's most likely correct in thinking that one's speaking another language than English as a native may lead to other insights.


That seems astonishingly untrue to me, but I only know 3 languages so maybe I'm not capable of having the necessary insight.


I have some fluency in five (and sometimes am suprised by how much I can read in Portuguese and Italian in addition) and I find that each language has provided insights.

Unfortunately, however, most of the insights have been trivial. The rest have been of little importance.
7.9.2009 9:51pm
Randy R. (mail):
New P: "Unfortunately, however, most of the insights have been trivial. The rest have been of little importance."

When I studied French, I learned from my french teachers that the french pride themselves on the precision that the french language allows, and sometimes even demands. Because

The difference between "trivial" and "of little importance" may or may not be trivial, but you imply a distinction that then you fail to use. Or, one could assume that your meaning of trivial is less than of little importance, but it is unclear in any case.

Perhaps, New P, the insight that language can be used with precision is an insight that escaped you, and is one that, if you should find it, you may find of great import. Or perhaps you just never learned french.
7.9.2009 11:12pm
bbbeard (mail):
Ed Darrell:


Ginsburg is right, I think, in assuming that familiarity with another language might lead to different thought, perhaps quicker thought on some occasions, and she's most likely correct in thinking that one's speaking another language than English as a native may lead to other insights.


I feel like I'm still learning English, but I know bits of other languages, including Japanese (my first language, now mostly forgotten), French (five years in high school), German (a college course and a PhD thesis advisor), and Italian (I taught a summer course in Firenze). English is the only language I'm really comfortable with. However, I am skeptical that familiarity with other languages facilitates any novel insights. Tibetan might be an exception; I have heard they have words for states of the psyche that Westerners cannot fathom.

I do believe, though, that people who are educated in advanced mathematics conceive of things differently from people who are "merely literate". Calculus, for example, provides numerous paradigms for rates of change and summations over sets. Statistics provides for an understanding of randomness that the merely literate cannot conceive. So many of the issues of the modern world hinge on judgments of correlation and causation, of sensitivities and influences, that it troubles me greatly that so few lawyers and judges have mathematical training.

BBB
7.10.2009 3:19am
Kedar Bhatia (mail) (www):
Supreme Court Rule 31. Translations
Whenever any record to be transmitted to this Court containsmaterial written in a foreign language without a translationmade under the authority of the lower court, or admitted to be correct, the clerk of the court transmitting therecord shall advise the Clerk of this Court immediately sothat this Court may order that a translation be supplied and,if necessary, printed as part of the joint appendix.

Maybe they've received foreign language briefs in the past?
7.10.2009 4:53pm
New Pseudonym:
Randy, sorry that you can't understand the difference. And your comment illustrates the point quite nicely.
7.10.2009 6:57pm

Post as: [Register] [Log In]

Account:
Password:
Remember info?

If you have a comment about spelling, typos, or format errors, please e-mail the poster directly rather than posting a comment.

Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.