A California professor has been replaced for uttering a Chinese word that sounds—in English—like a racist slur, the LA Times reports.
Greg Patton was teaching an online communications course for University of Southern California students when he discussed the importance of pausing and using “er” and “um” as filler words.
“Like in China the common word is ‘that’ —’that, that, that, that,'” he said in August (see video here). “So in China it might be ‘nèi ge’—‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’ So there’s different words that you’ll hear in different countries, but they’re vocal disfluencies.”
Nèi ge can be pronounced NAH-guh or NAY-guh in Mandarin, and Patton used the latter pronounciation.
Some students said it sounded too much like the N-word.
“There are over 10,000 characters in the Chinese written language and to use this phrase … is hurtful and unacceptable to our USC Marshall community,”
Black master’s candidates wrote in a letter to Marshall School of Business Dean Geoffrey Garrett—who responded by telling MBA students that Patton’s use of the word “understandably … caused great pain.”
Patton was soon on temporary leave from the course, and issued a letter that both apologized and defended his use of nèi ge.
In a twist, roughly 100 USC alumni—most of them Chinese—wrote the school defending Patton’s use of the word and condemning the “spurious charge.” USC Annenberg Media quotes an MBA student of Korean descent who calls the incident “overdramatized” and says he doubts “the professor meant harm.