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The importance of language for integration

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 4 Jul 2022, 16:23

My son is studying in Germany and we went to visit him last week.  We met in Dusseldorf and went to a museum about the state he is living in and there was an interesting section on immigration into the state.  Language was often an important issue and this is one of the captions.

Caption about the importance of language in the case of an immigramt to Germany from Russia.

It is interesting that she believed that "language is a key to life in Germany".  They are described as learning German from dictionaries, which no teacher training course on language teaching would recommend.  However, this seems to show how important having investment in wanting to learn a language is (Norton 2010).  These people have a real investment in the imagined community they want to join.


Norton B (2010) "Identity, Literacy, and English-LanguageTeaching" TESL CANADA JOURNAL/REVUE TESL DU CANADA1VOL. 28, NO 1, WINTER 2010


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Use of sources

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 24 Jun 2022, 09:33

I have been marking a lot of work recently - about 70 EMAs and a large number of final TMAs.  Something that strikes me is issues around use of sources and referencing.

One issue is that many students overquote and some even seem to think that there is only a need to reference if they quote.  This seems a quite ineffective way of referring to knowledge of the course.  The references are often too wordy for the point they need to make.  Sometimes they do not make sense out of context - e.g. writing "now" or even "yesterday" when the student's work is about the situation a few years later. 

Another issue is that many students put a full stop before a reference when the reference finished the sentence.  Sometimes students even put a full stop before and after a reference.  This seems to suggest that they consider the reference as being apart from the rest of the sentence rather than an integral part of the text. 

These perhaps suggest that there need to be new ways of presenting how sources are used in academic contexts.

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Time wasted on inappropriate training modules

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 23 May 2022, 10:37

Occasionally, staff need to do online training on issues like safety and the "one size fits all" means that time is wasted on irrelevant content.  For example, I had to do a course on health and safety for people who work remotely.  This included several minutes spent on safe behaviour when driving.  I do not drive and do not intend doing so.  Perhaps there could have been a yes/no question about whether the person taking the course drives and if they answer "no", they would not have faced the questions.

There were also some fairly irrelevant questions about carrying heavy loads at work.  I do not carry anything heavier than a book for work but I suppose that content could be useful for other times in my life.

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Linguistic creativity in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine

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I had read about the term pашизм (literally transliterated as "rashism") being used as a way to refer to the ideology that justifies the invasion of Ukraine and I had assumed that it was mixture of Russian (just represented by the "r") and fascism (represented by the rest of the word).

In this article  https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html Snyder argues that it is more complex than this and that the "ra" links to the way that Russia is pronounced in Russian (it is written as Россия but pronounced more like /ræsiːjə/.  He also suggests that the pашизм links it more closely to the English pronunciation of Russia/Russian.  As a result, he thinks the transliteration should be "ruscism".  I am not sure that I am completely convinced by this but it is an interesting hypothesis.

There is also much interesting discussion of the role of bilingualism in the Ukraine and presumably this means that there is great potential for cross linguistic puns and creative language.

As someone who knows Russian quite well and has just started learning Ukrainian, I am struck by how much of the lexis is diffferent and Snyder gives examples of this but I am finding I get most sentences correct when doing Duolingo as the grammar seems so similar.


Snyder T (2022) "The War in Ukraine has unleashed a new word" The New York Times Magazine April 22nd 2022 Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/22/magazine/ruscism-ukraine-russia-war.html (Accessed 27/04/2022)

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Zelenskiy and adapting messages to audiences

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 28 Mar 2022, 15:22

One of my students kindly sent me a link to this BBC article about the way Zelenskiy adapts what he talks about to his audiences:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-60855280.amp

It seems to me that this adaptation flatters the different audiences as well as helping him achieve his aims of trying to garner support.  For example, references to the Battle of Britain perhaps reminds British listeners of the time Britain stood up against tyranny.  It also makes it seem earth shatteringly important because someone so far away refers to it.  The same could be said of the mentions of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" for a French audience.  They may be flattered by the reference.

I am also interested by the way he presents himself.  He looks too busy to care about his appearance although he is probably quite mindful - he looks just "scruffy enough" (an interesting contract with Boris Johnson whose scruffiness is more over the top and seems contrived - there does not seem any purpose to Johnson's uncombed hair, for example).  He appears approachable and has been seen taking selfies with ordinary Ukrainians so probably seems "one of us" despite having the elevated role.  This contrasts with Vladimir Putin who is pictured at one end of a long table.

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More on Ukrainian, Russian and the invasion of Ukraine

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I greatly admired Ilya Kaminsky's long poem "Deaf Republic" and so I was interested in his views of language and writing about the situation in Ukraine at https://lithub.com/ilya-kaminsky-on-ukrainian-russian-and-the-language-of-war/

He refers to Russian speakers now choosing to use Ukrainian as a reaction to Putin's threats and of course what later turned out to be actions.  There is a sad account from a poet of how:

"I have never felt discriminated against because I spoke the Russian language. Those are myths. In all the cities of Western Ukraine I have visited, I spoke with everyone in Russian—in stores, in trains, in cafes. I have found new friends."

So, the language itself is not the problem and it was often a way of bringing people together.  This also undermines Putin's argument that he is protecting Russian speakers from discrimination (but, of course, this is just one account).

An even more interesting and tragic point is made about a Ukrainian poet:

"Just as Russian-language poet Khersonsky refuses to speak his language when Russia occupies Ukraine, Yakimchuk, a Ukrainian-language poet, refuses to speak an unfragmented language as the country is fragmented in front of her eyes. As she changes the words, breaking them down and counterpointing the sounds from within the words, the sounds testify to a knowledge they do not possess. No longer lexical yet still legible to us, the wrecked word confronts the reader mutely, both within and beyond language."

It seems that the way to express the broken world is to use language that is as broken as the world it represents.

Kaminsky then reflects on the issue of himself writing in English and presumably this reflects another angle and other ways of representing a perspective on the events.


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Language and the invasion of Ukraine

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 28 Feb 2022, 11:41

There has been much talk that the capital of Ukraine should be written in the style used in Ukrainian Kyiv rather than the Russian Kiev - see, for example 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/25/how-to-pronounce-and-spell-kyiv-kiev-ukraine-and-why-it-matters?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

I can see the argument for this but it also has to be considered that many Ukrainians are Russian speakers and many of these are also proudly Ukrainian.  I wonder whether insisting on the new spelling/pronunciation might have the unintended consequence of alienating some from their Ukrainian identities.

It is always difficult to compare language situations but Swansea are not called Abertawe in the Football League.  The supporters who speak English are no less Welsh than those who speak Welsh.  Using Russian for Kiev/Kyiv does not immediately seem to reduce support for the multilingual country of Ukraine.
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Discussion on accents

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 Feb 2022, 10:51

I was listening to this podcast while walking to play football today.  

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-bunker/id1496246490?i=1000551234508

It is an interesting and informative discussion about accents and how they relate to perceptions of people.  It mainly focuses on English but some references are made to other languages.

There are some key points that are relevant for students of L101, in particular.

1 Accents are not neutral.

2 There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about any sound or any accent.  However, they do have social implications.

3 RP is a rare accent.

4 There are accents for most (perhaps all?) languages.  They are not unique to English.

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Gender neutral pronoun in Norwegian

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I was interested by this story 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/02/new-gender-neutral-pronoun-norwegian-dictionaries-hen-official-language?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

It would be useful to have this kind of pronoun in English, especially for academic writing where there is often the dilemma of choosing “he or she” or using “they” in sentences like “a teacher decides how they/she or he plans lessons”.
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I am addicted .....

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 27 Apr 2022, 19:34

.... to duolingo.

I started practising Russian and Chinese last year on duolingo last year.  These are both languages I have studied before (in the 1980s) and I lived in China from 1986 to 1988 and Russia from 1989.  Duoloingo provides a good chance to practise for free and I think I do benefit to some extent although the practise is very decontextualised.

For any readers unfamiliar with Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com/), the basic version is free.  A large number of languages are available but there are several gaps (eg Bulgarian).  There are a large (but finite) number of short "lessons" in each language taught - they are more like tests than lessons, though, in most cases.  The user starts with five "hearts" that are needed to access the lessons.  Each time they make a mistake, they lose a heart and when all are lost, they either have to do a practice lesson or wait for a period of up to four hours.  There are also "gems" that are needed to access some content and they are added as rewards for some achievements.

Users are put into groups who are encouraged to compete.  Users get messages that they might be relegated or that someone has overtaken them.  It is interesting how seriously I take not being relegated although it does not affect my learning at all (I get no change in what is available for me).  My wife and brother who also use the app are also anxious not to get relegated.

There are also frustrations.  Sometimes I write a translation that seems reasonable but the app rejects it.  It is possible to report this with a menu item "My answer should have been accepted" and sometimes I get emails saying my suggestion has been accepted but I still lose "hearts" which means that I cannot continue for a period of time. 

Another problem is sometimes the app crashes and I lose hearts and/or gems through no fault of my own.

I have more or less finished the Chinese course.  I have done the basic lessons and only have some lessons to get "legendary status" (legendary for who? 😀) left to do.  I have done some of these but I have to preserve my gems to access these.  It is interesting that there is some fairly key vocabulary not taught.  Despite several lessons on food, the words "soy sauce", "vinegar" "leek" and garlic" (fundamental ingredients) have not been mentioned.  There is a very difficult lesson on "net slang" that features "otaka" (the app seems to think this is an English word - it seems to mean a person who plays computer games all day).

I am well through the Russian course and I recently started Norweigan as a new language - I decided on this because I am interested in the writer Knausgaard but I imagine it will be a long time before I can read him in the original.

Does any of this give me insights for my own work as a teacher?  I think the ability to do short periods of learning is useful for students and is something I should emphasise to students of language.  My choices of language show that outside factors such as interest in cultures are important.  I do feel frustrated by the lack of context.  Sometimes the sentences taught raise questions it would be interesting to discuss (eg one question taught was "Which presents should not be given to Chinese people".  I know partial answers (eg I have been told clocks are unsuitable for retirement) but it would be interesting to have more.

The example of Duolingo is discussed in L161 so it is useful to have experience of it as a "consumer".




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Language and football - use of different varieties of English

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I sometimes play walking football with two groups in Bristol and each of these groups has a WhatsApp group.  One of the group has a strong representations of people who came to Bristol from Jamaica or who are of Jamaican heritage.  They mostly speak and write Standard British English (often with a Bristol accent) but there is some use of Jamaican English when two or more people of that heritage or origin are speaking in small groups, presumably as a way of asserting solidarity and a shared identity.

Until yesterday, all messages on WhatsApp had been in Standard British English but fury about the Lewis Hamilton result in F1 led to several messages in Jamaican English.  There was a feeling that he had been cheated because of his race and perhaps this was why Jamaican English seemed the most appropriate variety to express a group feeling.

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Reflections on first marking of the academic year

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I have just finished marking first assignments for LB170 and L161.  As I have two groups for both courses at the moment (I am covering for one L161 course), it has been a busy time.  As usual, there is a great variety but it seems some students have underestimated the amount of work they needed to do and wrote answers that they could have written without studying the courses.  I hope that my feedback will encourage them to make use of what they are studying in their future assignments (and presumably this is a major reason why they have assignments so early in the course.

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Use of video in online tutorials

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When we first started using online tutorials (Elluminate), advice was to avoid the use of webcams because the quality was not good enough.  However, I recently saw an OU document recommending the use of webcams by the tutor and I have been switching it on recently.  Student response seems to be quite favourable with comments like "It is good to put a face to the name and voice", which slightly surprised me as most of the time I focus on the whiteboard, slides and chat.  However, if it makes a difference to how students feel about the experience, I am very happy to have my webcam on.

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Descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 1 Oct 2021, 11:51

The course L101 covers the issue of descriptivist and prescriptivist views of language and this is reflected in the Guardian article about a school discouraging the "use of slang" (the scare quotes reflect my view that some of the examples are creative uses of language rather than slang) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/sep/30/oh-my-days-linguists-lament-slang-ban-in-london-school

In particular, the expression "he cut his eyes at me" seems very expressive and eloquent and this seems to contradict the school's advice that following conventions will lead to eloquence.  These kinds of expressions seem to be the kinds that are valued in literature where linguistic deviance is an important way of "making the world strange" (остранение)  - for a brief summary of this see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamiliarization and follow links to Russian formalists for more detail.

This is not to say I would always encourage these kinds of creative expressions (and perhaps it mainly seems creative to me because I had not come across it before).  If clarity is required and the audience is older and would not know the expression, it should probably be avoided but this is different from saying it is not eloquent,

Ermm is a normal part of spoken language (see for example, Hultgren 2015: 126).  In fact, people are often more intelligible if their speech contains some redundancy (and fillers like this are examples of redundancy).  It would not normally be used in written texts but an awareness of the differences between spoken and written language is very useful in educational contexts.


Hultgren AK (2015) Exploring English Grammar Book 1: Grammar, context and meaning Milton Keynes: Open University

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A language awareness quiz

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This is an intriguing quiz on Open Learn.

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/could-you-be-super-linguist

I got all parts correct apart from one although a few were guesses.

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Multimodality in the news

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 22 Sep 2021, 10:04

Many of the English language courses I tutor discuss multimodality and issues of multimodal design are in the news today.

The story at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/sep/22/british-rail-logo-designer-appalled-by-green-makeover-mess discusses the way that the British logo has been redesigned to have more of an emphasis on green issues.  It is interesting that the original designer thinks there are too many colours as it seems that really there are shades of green but I can only see part of the design.

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Translation difficulties

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 13 Sep 2021, 11:57

Alice Roberts posted an interesting problem posed to a translator of one of her books.

https://twitter.com/thealiceroberts/status/1425444246321041414?s=21

https://twitter.com/thealiceroberts/status/1425444247776514052?s=21

I suspect a translator would need to be of a certain age as well as having a good knowledge of British culture to recognise the Smash advertisement.

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Some interesting multimodal political posters and grafitti

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 16 Sep 2021, 23:08

The course L101 has a Block on language and society and this obviously involves some discussion of language and politics and political protests.  I have recently seen some quite interesting posters and pieces of grafitti in Bristol that reflect the political and social situation.

The first one is subverting some of the advice about recommended behaviour to avoid contracting Covid.  This means it is making an intertextual link to texts most people who pass it will have seen and slogans like "face, space, hands."

A poster about racism

The second multimodal text is a piece of grafitti that also makes use of an assumed knowledge that Mussolini was known as "Il Duce".  This has been changed to "Il Dunce" with the use of "dunce" suggesting that Johnson is even less intelligent than Mussolini.

A pictureof Boris Johnson's face with the caption "Il Dunce"

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Choice of languages to be taught in schools

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 11 Aug 2021, 16:52

There has recently been some discussion of increasing the numbers of schools that teach Latin - see https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/aug/08/requiescat-in-pace-no-need-to-resurrect-latin-in-schools for a response to this.  This seems to be an ill thought out response to the crisis in language teaching in this country.

I studied Latin at school for a couple of years although I never got to a high standard.  I can see the value of learning Latin for its intrinsic interest as a language and for the access to history.  However, of the languages I have studied (French, Russian and Chinese), it is the only one I have not made an effort to maintain (I am currently practising the latter two on Duolingo and read some texts and watch films in French.

There seems to be an argument that most learners will have less investment (Norton 2000) in learning Latin than modern languages.  There might, for example, be an incentive for schoolchildren to learn languages like Polish or Urdu.  These would be languages that would seem relevant in many communities where pupils might hear the languages or see shops with words written in those languages.

These languages would be at least as intellectually challenging as Latin (e.g. Polish has cases) but would have the advantage of seeming relevant to the modern world.

Norton, B. (2000) Identity And Language Learning: Gender, Ethnicity And Educational Change, London, Pearson Education.

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Nabokov on spoken language

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 6 Oct 2021, 22:41

Many courses that I teach and have taught discuss the differences between spoken and written language and I was interested to read the following description by the narrator in a novel by Nabokov that I was rereading recently:

“I am a bad speaker, and the oration which I seem to render word by word did not flow with the lissom glide it has on paper.  Indeed it is not really possible to set down my incoherent speech, that tumble and jumble of words, the forlornness of subordinate clauses that have lost their masters and strayed away, and all the superfluous gibberish …..”

This short extract seems to refer to the difficulty of transcribing speech, the frequency of false starts and redundancy, which is commonly mentioned in the literature on spoken discourse.

Nabokov, V (1965) Despair Harmondsworth:Penguin

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New blog post

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This is part of an essay written by a student I taught on an online course for a Chinese university.  It is interesting that she says she and her partner dare not speak, which is a major constraint in a speaking course.  This perhaps reinforces my view that it should have focused on writing skills and teachers who could teach face to face should have taught speaking.

It is interesting that she overstated my age by at least ten years.  I suppose 60 year olds look ancient for 18 year olds.

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Successful Adobe Connect tutorials - the student contribution is key

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I had a couple of Adobe Connect tutorials that seemed to work well last week.  This was because students asked questions and these replaced the tutorial slides and plans I had made.  Of course, I always have content prepared and if students stay quiet, I tend to go through the plan but this can seem mechanical and unrelated to what they really need - some students are strangers to me (from different groups, have been to tutorials with other tutors before) so I do not know the "gap" between where they are and where the course would ideally like to be.  Students asking questions based on their own concerns enable me to really address the needs but it demands something of students and some are willing to ask questions, make comments etc.

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A history of Spanish

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This is quite an interesting video on the history of Spanish.  I suppose it has something in common with Horrible Histories in style.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAGak27LddQ

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Why I write these posts

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 26 May 2021, 19:27

A student asked me some interesting questions about my purpose in writing the blog and my intended audience.  I suppose I had not even made these explicit to myself.

I think the postings are an opportunity to reflect on issues that seem interesting and relevant to me at the time of writing.  I also imagine that my main audience is myself although I do make the postings public so I hope some other people read and perhaps feel interested enough to comment.

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An interesting incident in a recent online tutorial

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Last Saturday, I was teaching an online class and one student who had been very engaged was speaking.  She came to an end and I started to respond and she had nor turned her microphone off.  A few seconds later, I heard quite loud talk in the background and gradually it got so loud I was finding it hard to get my message across.  I then said "X, please turn your microphone off" as politely as I could (and I really understand how easy it is to forget to turn the microphone on or off). 

One of her peers initially seemed to write in a blunt way - "X, turn your microphone off" but then softened this with "We can hear your family, darling".  Perhaps she had realised that she was verging on rudeness but then mitigated this by an affectively sensitive explanation. 

I suspect that tone is very important in these kinds of tutorials and it is easy to emphasise speed through very direct interactions but this additional comment was perhaps important in maintaining a good atmosphere - of course, I do not know exactly what the responses are and whether the later comment was helpful or even needed.  It is, however, clear that this was only a comment that could have been made by peers and probably only woman to woman (possibly, but unlikely, woman to man?)

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