The British Museum said Asian names are too ‘confusing’ and people are not having it
Is parasaurolophus too difficult a word to understand? Well, for millions of young children, not at all. It means 'crested lizard' and young dinosaur enthusiasts can probably tell you that and a thousand other dinosaur names by heart.
The intellectual ability of young kids is always underestimated. They can remember some crazy names, perhaps more intelligently than adults. Cognitive ability tends to drop off after your early 20s, so your peak level of lingual absorption comes at a young age. That's why it's easy to be raised bilingual, but harder to learn a new language after adolescence. The early brain is a great tool to work with.
The British Museum, however, has caught a lot of heat online for its recent Tweets. When explaining how they decide the accessibility of their exhibits, they had some choice words to say about Asian names in particular:
At first glance, this seems reasonable. These names seem pretty complicated. But remember the dinosaurs? Young kids have no problems with insanely long names. Asian names, furthermore, provide cultural context for Western audiences that otherwise they will never have.
The backlash online started almost immediately:
I don't think the Museum is being racist here, but rather, they're being deliberately ignorant of the abilities and requirements of children. If they don't learn difficult things, then they won't be equipped to live in a difficult world. Learning a foreign language is difficult, and so is learning geography. The names of countries can be extremely difficult to remember. The double-standards just don't make sense.
We have to keep doing better, not make our worldview smaller just to make it easier on ourselves. Asian culture and Asian ideas are worth understanding - and we can't understand them if we can't even name them.
The museum responded to the backlash in another Tweet:
It seems that the museum, if there are multiple names available for a single object or person, will usually prefer non-Asian names, as they tend to be simpler. On the placard, then, they will use the simplest name available - which unintentionally tends to leave a lot of Asian names out of things.
It seems, though, that a reading age of 16 would have no issue with long names. I understand the space issues with long names, but not comprehension.
What do you think? Is the British Museum just a victim of their own poor choice of words when expressing their decisions, or are they wrong for excluding Asian names, and should strive for inclusion even at the risk of making longer placards?
It's always difficult to tell when there's a massive social media backlash. Of course, 140 characters will distort and compress even the best ideas. The British Museum seems to include more information and Asian names in their pamphlets and audio recordings, it's just the placards themselves that are difficult to get proper spacing on.
Either way, it's always a good thing to learn difficult words. Dinosaur names, Asian names, Roman and Latin...we're all the better for our troubles, for understanding the myriad forms of language on the globe and the context that our own words and understandings are embedded in.