Grammaire ou complot LGBT ? Un professeur licencié pour #homophonie

Grammaire ou complot LGBT ? Un professeur licencié pour #homophonie

Dans une école de langue en Utah, un professeur d’anglais qui avait écrit un article de blog sur les « homophones » a été congédié parce que le mot faisait bien trop penser à l’«homosexualité», évidemment.

>> Education Blogger Allegedly Fired For Writing About Homophones

«Les élèves qui apprennent l’anglais pourraient voir écrit « homo » et penser que l’on parle de sexualité gay», a expliqué le directeur de l’école au journal local Salt Lake Tribune.

Selon le professeur Tim Torkildson, le directeur aurait également déclaré, furieux:

«Maintenant, notre école va être associée à l’homosexualité!»

Dans la presse, le directeur nie avoir renvoyé Tim Torkildson, qui était chargé de tenir le blog de l’école, pour cette raison spécifique, même s’il trouve que le post sur l’homophonie pouvait prêter à confusion.

Pour Tim Torkildson, évoquer l’homophonie –lorsque deux mots ont le même son mais pas le même sens, comme compte et conte– est utile lors de l’apprentissage de l’anglais. Pour son directeur, il s’agit d’une provocation.

Capture-d’écran-2014-08-04-à-13.01.40Rappelons que ce centre de langues se situe à Provo, une des villes américaines avec le pourcentage d’électeurs républicains le plus élevé. C’est aussi à Provo que l’on trouve l’université Brigham Young, un établissement mormon dont le code d’honneur interdit l’alcool et les rapports sexuels avant le mariage.

Une des conséquences positives de ce fait divers aura été d’informer les Américains sur le sens du mot homophonie.

Selon un lexicographe du dictionnaire Merriam-Webster, la recherche en ligne d’«homophonie» a connu un véritable pic de popularité depuis cet incident.

Une enquête plus approfondie révèle cependant que le directeur de l’école n’avait peut-être pas tout à fait tort de se méfier.

Le mot homophonie a en effet un passé trouble… Wikipédia nous apprend que de 1980 à 1987, «Homophonies» était le nom d’un magazine français gay et lesbien. Shocking.


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>> A homophone, in case you do not know, is a word that has a different meaning for each different spelling, but always sounds the same; such as “be”, “bee”, and “Bea”. There are hundreds of these in the English language, and it is one of the first subjects tackled when teaching ESL. It is a subject that has been taught and discussed with absolutely no controversy for well over a hundred years.

Until now . . .

This week I was fired for writing a blog about homophones for an educational website.

“I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you” said Clarke Woodger, my boss and the owner of Nomen Global Language Center. “This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”

I said nothing, stunned into silence.

“I had to look up the word” he continued, “because I didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. We don’t teach this kind of advanced stuff to our students, and it’s extremely inappropriate. Can you have your desk cleaned out by eleven this morning? I’ll have your check ready.”

I nodded, mute.

“Good. You’ve done a good job on most things, but you’re just not reliable enough. I never have any idea what you’re going to do next. I can’t run my business that way. You’d probably make a great college professor, but since you don’t have a degree you’ll never get that kind of work. I would advise you to try something clerical, where you’ll be closely supervised and have immediate goals at all times. That’s the only kind of job you’ll ever succeed at. I’ll be happy to give you a good reference. Good-bye, and good luck.”

He rose, shook my hand, and left the conference room where we had been sitting.

I was out the door, at the bus stop, by 11:05.

After depositing my check at the bank I walked home along the Provo River Path. It was warm, but isolated thunderheads kept the sun in check. The river is low and smells of sewers. Trout are frantically leaping up the spillway by the Columbia Lane Bridge. Dozens of swallows have built their nests under the bridge; they describe wide, frantic circles and give high peeps when they land at their mud-daubed nests. It was pleasant to stop there – now that I have all the time in the world again.

Further along the path is a wild cherry tree growing up from the bank of the river. Underneath the cherry tree is a green wire bench installed by the Parks and Recreation Department. I sat down to rest there. The cherries are dead ripe and falling onto the pathway, where they are mashed by pedestrians and bicyclists. Wasps stay busy feeding on the sweet pulp. A homeless man, shouldering a towering backpack, his white beard stained brown with tobacco juice, came striding by, stepping right into the pulp and riling the wasps. One of them stung him. He turned to me, holding up a tree branch he was using as a walking stick, and cried “You bit me!”

I did not try to defend myself. Somehow, it seemed just about right – done in by a crazy old bum with a tree branch. But he lowered it slowly and turned back to his odyssey, mumbling obscenities. I continued to sit there another ten minutes, then slowly got up and went back to my room underneath the basement steps of a friend’s house, where I am writing this. I promised him I would be out of his house by the end of August. Maybe I should have followed the bum; he seemed to know where he was going.

When one door closes, it’s usually right on your fingers.

>> Homophones, as any English grammarian can tell you, are words that sound the same but have different meanings and often different spellings — such as be and bee, through and threw, which and witch, their and there.

This concept is taught early on to foreign students learning English because it can be confusing to someone whose native language does not have that feature.

But when the social-media specialist for a private Provo-based English language learning center wrote a blog explaining homophones, he was let go for creating the perception that the school promoted a gay agenda.

Tim Torkildson says after he wrote the blog on the website of his employer, Nomen Global Language Center, his boss and Nomen owner Clarke Woodger, called him into his office and told him he was fired.

As Torkildson tells it, Woodger said he could not trust him and that the blog about homophones was the last straw.

« Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality, » Woodger complained, according to Torkildson, who posted the exchange on his Facebook page.

Torkildson says he was careful to write a straightforward explanation of homophones. He knew the « homo » part of the word could be politically charged, but he thought the explanation of that quirky part of the English language would be educational.

Nomen has removed that blog from its website, but a similar explanation of homophones was posted there in 2011 with apparently no controversy.

Woodger says his reaction to Torkildson’s blog has nothing to do with homosexuality but that Torkildson had caused him concern because he would « go off on tangents » in his blogs that would be confusing and sometimes could be considered offensive.

Nomen is Utah’s largest private English as a Second Language school and caters mostly to foreign students seeking admission to U.S. colleges and universities. Woodger says his school has taught 6,500 students from 58 countries during the past 15 years. Most of them, he says, are at basic levels of English and are not ready for the more complicated concepts such as homophones.

et Claire Levenson