CAT 2019 - Slot 2 - Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension - For two years, I tracked down dozens of Chinese in Upper Egypt [who were] selling lingerie

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For two years, I tracked down dozens of . . . Chinese in Upper Egypt [who were] selling lingerie. In a deeply conservative region, where Egyptian families rarely allow women to work or own businesses, the Chinese flourished because of their status as outsiders. They didn’t gossip, and they kept their opinions to themselves. In a New Yorker article entitled “Learning to Speak Lingerie,” I described the Chinese use of Arabic as another non-threatening characteristic. I wrote, “Unlike Mandarin, Arabic is inflected for gender, and Chinese dealers, who learn the language strictly by ear, often pick up speech patterns from female customers. I’ve come to think of it as the lingerie dialect, and there’s something disarming about these Chinese men speaking in the feminine voice.” . . . When I wrote about the Chinese in the New Yorker, most readers seemed to appreciate the unusual perspective. But as I often find with topics that involve the Middle East, some people had trouble getting past the black-and-white quality of a byline. “This piece is so orientalist I don’t know what to do,” Aisha Gani, a reporter who worked at The Guardian, tweeted. Another colleague at the British paper, Iman Amrani, agreed: “I wouldn’t have minded an article on the subject written by an Egyptian woman—probably would have had better insight.” . . . As an MOL (man of language), I also take issue with this kind of essentialism. Empathy and understanding are not inherited traits, and they are not strictly tied to gender and race. An individual who wrestles with a difficult language can learn to be more sympathetic to outsiders and open to different experiences of the world. This learning process—the embarrassments, the frustrations, the gradual sense of understanding and connection—is invariably transformative. In Upper Egypt, the Chinese experience of struggling to learn Arabic and local culture had made them much more thoughtful. In the same way, I was interested in their lives not because of some kind of voyeurism, but because I had also experienced Egypt and Arabic as an outsider. And both the Chinese and the Egyptians welcomed me because I spoke their languages. My identity as a white male was far less important than my ability to communicate. And that easily lobbed word—“Orientalist”—hardly captures the complexity of our interactions. What exactly is the dynamic when a man from Missouri observes a Zhejiang native selling lingerie to an Upper Egyptian woman? . . . If all of us now stand beside the same river, speaking in ways we all understand, who’s looking east and who’s looking west? Which way is Oriental? For all of our current interest in identity politics, there’s no corresponding sense of identity linguistics. You are what you speak—the words that run throughout your mind are at least as fundamental to your selfhood as is your ethnicity or your gender. And sometimes it’s healthy to consider human characteristics that are not inborn, rigid, and outwardly defined. After all, you can always learn another language and change who you are.

Q. 1: Which of the following can be inferred from the author’s claim, “Which way is Oriental?”
1. Orientalism is a discourse of the past, from colonial times, rarely visible today.
2. Learning another language can mitigate cultural hierarchies and barriers.
3. Globalization has mitigated cultural hierarchies and barriers.
4. Goodwill alone mitigates cultural hierarchies and barriers.

The passage is an analytical piece of writing most likely written for a magazine. The author, a white man, has spent two years researching Chinese men sell lingerie in Upper Egypt. He gives reasons for the Chinese men being successful in selling lingerie to Egyptian women in a deeply conservative society – “the Chinese flourished because of their status as outsiders. They didn’t gossip, and they kept their opinions to themselves” and “there’s something disarming about these Chinese men speaking in the feminine voice.”

But when he writes of these experiences his critics accuse him of being an “Orientalist.”

The author, in turn argues that learning a new language is invariably transformative and leads to better empathy and understanding, which is why the Chinese who had to learn Arabic were much more thoughtful. According to the author, empathy and understanding are not inherited traits and neither are they limited to gender or race.

The author goes on to debunk the traditional definition of an orientalist by saying that there is actually no such thing. You are what you speak—the words that run throughout your mind are at least as fundamental to your selfhood as is your ethnicity or your gender. And sometimes it’s healthy to consider human characteristics that are not inborn, rigid, and outwardly defined.

Refer to paragraph 4 – “And that easily lobbed word—“Orientalist”—hardly captures the complexity of our interactions. What exactly is the dynamic when a man from Missouri observes a Zhejiang native selling lingerie to an Upper Egyptian woman?.. If all of us now stand beside the same river, speaking in ways we all understand, who’s looking east and who’s looking west? Which way is Oriental?” Thus, the author is of the opinion that learning the language of a community and having empathy are sufficient in understanding the culture of that particular community. Thus, option 2 is the correct answer.

Option 1 is the traditional meaning of orientalism. It is not the author’s view. Eliminate option 1.

Option 3 has not been mentioned in the passage at all. The impact of globalization in mitigating cultural barriers has not been discussed with reference to “orientalism.” Eliminate option 3.

According to the author, the key to understanding cultures are empathy and understanding and learning the language of that particular culture. If goodwill can be said to mean “empathy” then it is one of the reasons but not the only reason in being able to overcome cultural barriers. Language is equally important. Thus, option 4 is also eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 2.

Q. 2: According to the passage, which of the following is not responsible for language’s ability to change us?
1. The ups and downs involved in the course of learning a language.
2. The twists and turns in the evolution of language over time.
3. Language’s intrinsic connection to our notions of self and identity.
4. Language’s ability to mediate the impact of identity markers one is born with. 

Refer to paragraph 3, “An individual who wrestles with a difficult language can learn to be more sympathetic to outsiders and open to different experiences of the world. This learning process—the embarrassments, the frustrations, the gradual sense of understanding and connection—is invariably transformative.” Thus, option 1 is one of the reasons for language’s ability to change us and is not the correct answer.

“Evolution of language over time” has not been mentioned or discussed in the passage at all. Thus, option 2 is the correct answer. Refer to paragraph 3, “My identity as a white male was far less important than my ability to communicate.” Thus, the author was welcomed by Egyptians and the Chinese not because he was a white male but because he could speak their languages. Thus, option 3 is one of the reasons for language to change us and can also be eliminated.

According to the author, “You are what you speak—the words that run throughout your mind are at least as fundamental to your selfhood as is your ethnicity or your gender. And sometimes it’s healthy to consider human characteristics that are not inborn, rigid, and outwardly defined. After all, you can always learn another language and change who you are.” From this extract we can infer that learning a new language will mediate and alter the identity we were born with. Thus, option 4 is also one of the reasons for language to change us and can also be eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 2.

 
 

Q. 3: A French ethnographer decides to study the culture of a Nigerian tribe. Which of the following is most likely to be the view of the author of the passage?
1. The author would encourage the ethnographer, but ask him/her to first learn the language of the Nigerian tribe s/he wishes to study.
2. The author would discourage the ethnographer from conducting the study as Nigerian ethnographers can better understand the tribe.
3. The author would encourage the ethnographer and recommend him/her to hire a good translator for the purpose of holding interviews.
4. The author would encourage the ethnographer but ask him/her to be mindful of his/her racial and gender identity in the process. 

Refer to paragraph 5, second sentence where the author says, “You are what you speak—the words that run throughout your mind are at least as fundamental to your selfhood as is your ethnicity or your gender.” Therefore, the author is firmly of the belief that learning the language of a certain people and having empathy and understanding are sufficient to be able to study the culture of a certain community. Thus, option 1 is the correct answer.

Option 2 is incorrect and better suited to the author’s critics who argued that ethnicity and race are essential to understand the culture of a certain community.

Option 3 is also incorrect. The author firmly believes in “identity linguistics”, which is, learning the language of a certain community in order to be able to understand the culture of that community. According to the author, empathy and understanding are not inborn traits and not limited to one particular race or gender. Having empathy and learning the local language are sufficient to be able to understand the culture of a particular community. Therefore, option 4 is also incorrect.

Hence, the correct answer is option 1.

Q. 4:The author’s critics would argue that:
1. Language is insufficient to bridge cultural barriers.
2. Empathy can overcome identity politics.
3. Linguistic politics can be erased.
4. Orientalism cannot be practiced by Egyptians.

Refer to paragraph 2, where the author’s critics have criticized him for writing about Chinese men selling lingerie in Egypt. According to the critics this was nothing but orientalism and an Egyptian woman would have had a better understanding of this subject. Moreover, the critics are dismissive of the author’s knowledge of both mandarin and Arabic. Thus, according to them language is insufficient to bridge cultural barriers. This assumption by the critics points to option 1 as being the correct answer.

Option 2 is correct but is not the critics’ views. Their views are diametrically opposite – that empathy is not sufficient to bridge cultural barriers. Thus, option 2 is eliminated.

The term “linguistic politics” has not been mentioned in the passage. Eliminate option 3.

Option 4 can also be eliminated as the author has debunked the very concept of orientalism. Refer to paragraph 4 – “And that easily lobbed word—“Orientalist”—hardly captures the complexity of our interactions. What exactly is the dynamic when a man from Missouri observes a Zhejiang native selling lingerie to an Upper Egyptian woman?.. If all of us now stand beside the same river, speaking in ways we all understand, who’s looking east and who’s looking west? Which way is Oriental?” Thus, option 4 is also eliminated.

Hence, the correct answer is option 1.

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