The young spread change in language, says York prof

Those who study language for a living say creating new words has long been the purview of the young – it helps set them apart from the rest of society and gives them a sense of identity, wrote the Toronto Star April 10, in a story about Mo’ Urban Dictionary, a new guide to street slang.

"The young are the ones who innovate and spread change," says Professor Ian Smith, a linguistics expert in York University’s Faculty of Arts, who teaches the history of English. "It is identity formation, to show they are a distinct group." A "language infusion" occurs during rapid social change, he says, citing industrialization and feminism as examples. Technology also contributes. "I still play records, even if they are really CDs," he says, as an example.

Young people are quick to pick up new words and spin new meaning into old ones, he says, citing the example of "sick," which currently means good. "No one knows when new words will catch fire," says Smith.

Ontario rights commission dismisses complaint, sort of

The Ontario Human Rights Commission announced yesterday it had dismissed a complaint brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress and a graduates/student group from York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, about allegedly Islamophobic articles in Maclean’s magazine because it lacked jurisdiction over printed material, wrote the National Post April 10.

At the same time, however, the commission denounced the newsweekly for publishing articles that were "inconsistent with the spirit" of the Ontario Human Rights Code and doing "serious harm" to Canadian society by "promoting societal intolerance" and disseminating "destructive, xenophobic opinions."

"When the media writes, it should exercise great caution that it’s not promoting stereotypes that will adversely impact on identifiable groups," chief commissioner and Osgoode alumnus Barbara Hall (LLB ’78) said in an interview. "I think one needs to be very careful when one speaks in generalities, that in fact one is speaking factually about all the people in a particular group."

Her statement drew harsh criticism from a progressive Muslim leader who said the commission had sided with Islamist fundamentalists in the debate among Canadian Muslims over the acceptance of traditional Canadian values.

Hall earned her law degree at Osgoode and worked in family law, before becoming a city councillor and Toronto mayor, the Post noted in a separate biographical article.

Alum filmmaker’s exploration of waste ignorance scheduled for Hot Docs

Awash with black garbage bags, oppressive odour and a green bin lined with maggots, Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home chronicles how one family’s garage is transformed into a wasteland of their own making, wrote Insidetoronto online April 9. In Garbage!, his first feature-length documentary, Toronto filmmaker and York alumnus Andrew Nisker (BFA ’93) passionately questions what would happen if the luxury of garbage collection was taken away. The McDonald family, featured in the film, continued to buy, consume and throw away the trash they created, but for three months, every morsel of waste was separated and stockpiled – diapers and all – in the garage of their North York home.

It’s hopefully the inspiration viewers need to amend their lifestyles for the sake of future generations, Nisker said. "From then on their innocence would be shattered," he said. "They wouldn’t be able to deny what they put out." Nisker is a graduate of York University and has a background in comedy script writing as well as having produced award-winning television, games, promotions, multimedia and films. Garbage! was a concept ignited during the strike by City of Toronto garbage collectors in the summer of 2002.

Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home has screenings on Saturday, April 19, at 1pm at The Bloor Cinema, and on Tuesday, April 22, at 9pm at The Al Green Theatre inside the Miles Nadal JCC.

In praise of elitism

Some of us just aren’t made for university, wrote York alumnus Yoni Goldstein (BA ’02, MA ’03) in an opinion piece about postsecondary education policy in the National Post April 10.

Now, a lot of you are ready to pounce on me right about now because you think I just implied that some Canadians are too dumb to handle higher learning, wrote Goldstein. That’s a fair assessment – I do think that some of us are quite simply smarter than others. But I’m also arguing that four years at university might be less than optimally valuable for many of us. That, I think, is the obvious impression you get if you spend any time on the campus of a Canadian university.

Yet most Canadians refuse to accept this possibility because our system of publicly funding universities and colleges has ingrained in us the message that going to college is a right, not a privilege and responsibility. So we go. And why not? It’s cheap (yes, even at $5,000 a year), it’s fun and there are virtually no expectations placed on you – just do what you please, study (or don’t) what you want and we’ll see you in four years. Maybe you’ll have gained a skill, maybe not, but either way at least you’ll have "experienced" university.

This is nonsense; taxpayers should not be forced to pay for marginal specimens to have a four-year vacation from reality. Those who truly benefit from university – the ones who use what they learn to become businessmen, teachers or continue studies into law and medical school or academia – are being held back by a system that is designed to accommodate lower-calibre students.

Mixed reactions to Ottawa’s new drug safety proposals

Federal government proposals to change the way drug safety is monitored in Canada have drawn a mixed response, wrote CBC News online April 9. While some experts say the new rules will improve the government’s ability to protect the public, critics say it has the potential to expose Canadians to more risk.

Dr. Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, says he’s concerned that the bill would give the federal health minister the ability to fast-track drug approvals. "Eighty-five-year-old women that are already on five drugs, maybe they’ll be fine, but they might also have serious side-effects," he told CBC News.

Mass e-vites can prompt gatecrashing

It’s the group mentality that often triggers teenage aggression, says Professor Jennifer Connolly, director of York’s LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, in a story about the dangers of using online invitations for parties in the Hamilton Spectator April 10.

The professor in York’s Faculty of Health, says teens fighting at a party will play off each other, pushing for dominance and jockeying for social position. Throw in alcohol and it turns sour, fast. "Kids can end up doing things in a group that they never would do on their own," Connolly said. "The power of the group is really compelling."

Miller says he’ll speak out while in China

Mayor David Miller leads a controversial trade mission to China Sunday, calling the trip important to the city’s economic future, wrote The Toronto Sun April 10. Despite calls from Tibetan activists to cancel the one-week trip amid China’s violent crackdown on protests, Miller insisted yesterday he will use the visit as an opportunity to speak out "where appropriate" on human rights and conditions in Tibet. Professor Emeritus Bernie Frolic, director of the Asia Business Management Program at the York Centre for Asian Research, will also give lectures on human rights at Chinese universities during the trip, Miller said.

GO to double commuters’ enjoyment

Commuters taking GO Transit to York University from the western GTA suburbs may soon enjoy a more comfortable and scenic ride, wrote the North York Mirror April 9. GO Transit unveiled plans to operate a dozen low-floor, accessible double-decker buses between the Oakville GO station and York’s Keele campus. The buses will travel along Hwys. 403 and 407, with stops at the Square One GO Bus Terminal and the Bramalea GO station.

The new buses will help ease congestion along the route and reduce the number of buses on the roads. Each double-decker bus has seating for 78 passengers, as opposed to the 57 seats on conventional GO buses. Bill Jenkins, GO Transit director of customer service, said the new buses would help GO keep up with the increasing use of their bus rapid transit services. "There’s a tremendous demand for our services, with a need for more buses, trains and parking," he said. "There was particularly a huge demand for our York University services along (Hwy.) 407, and we wanted to match the service to the demand." The buses are expected to be in operation along the 403/407-York University route by the end of April.

Downsview Park plan revisited

The current plan for Downsview Park has been around so long – since 1999 – that it has become obsolete, wrote the Toronto Star April 10. North York community council this week endorsed revising the document over the next 12 months in light of the planned subway extension that will skirt the park and include a new station on the grounds.

Tentatively slated to be completed by 2015, the extension of the Spadina line from Downsview to York University and beyond is expected to attract development revenues that will help pay for park construction costs of $100 million to $110 million.

Couple named citizens of year

A North Buxton, Ont., couple has been named citizens of the year by the Blenheim and District Chamber of Commerce, wrote the Chatham Daily News April 10. Shannon and Bryan Prince will be formally recognized at the chamber’s annual awards dinner April 24 at Deer Run Golf Course.

Shannon is curator of the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum and a local member of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. She and her husband Bryan have lectured extensively in many parts of Canada and the US on black history. She is involved in joint Underground Railroad projects with York University, the Underground Railroad Freedom Centre in Cincinnati and with Millersville University and several historical organizations in Pennsylvania.

On air

  • Alan Middleton, professor of marketing in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about public-private partnerships, on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” April 8.