Friday, May 27, 2016

South Asian dominance continues in spelling bee; ends in a tie

Spelling bee co-champions Nihar Janga, left, and Jairam Hathwar. are friends off the stage as well.

GET READY for another slew of articles about South Asians and their prowess at spelling.

For the second year in a row,when the spelling was over, the Scripps National Spelling Bee named co-champions Thursday (May 26). And once again, the winners are Indian/American youngsters.

Co-champions Jairam Hathwar, 13 and Nihar Janga, 11, are the third consecutive set of co-champions at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held this week in National Harbor, Maryland.

Nihar spelled "gesellschaft" correctly.

Jairam spelled "Feldenkrais" correctly.After the confetti fell, the pair talked about their victory.

"I'm just very proud of myself and the hard work paid off," Nihar said. "I felt nervous all the time."


Jairam, Nihar said, is one of his best spelling friends. He said he is happy to share the championship.

Jairam's brother, 2014 co-champion Sriram Hathwar, was cheering him on from the audience.

"I wasn't expecting this," said. Jairam. "I dreamed about winning this bee and it finally came true. It's just amazing."

Though Jairam was eligible to compete for another year, he said he wanted to treat this year like it was his last because it's hard to get back to this level of competition.

"It's just amazing," he said. "I can't even believe this is real."

The spellers will take home $45,000 each in cash, a trophy and other prizes.


The bee changed the rules this year to avoid what exactly what happened — a marathon championship round. Words given to finalists didn't come from a 25-word list predetermined by spelling officials, Paige Kimble, the bee's executive director, said. Instead, organizers had the option of using an expanded list of words from anywhere in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Kimble called it “raising the standard.” But it didn't work.


As you can see, four of the five finalists were South Asian youngsters.
Last year, when another pair of South Asians, Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam, won the bee, articles were written about why South Asians have been so successful in the spelling bee.

The dominance of South Asians in the spelling bee has given rise to speculation that bounces between the "model minority myth" and some of the racist notions that are not worth mentioning. There is no special gene giving South Asian youngsters an edge, just like there is no gene that East Asians have that make them so proficient in math and science.

It is not that south Asians are smarter than other ethnic groups. The difference, it appears, is persistence and that old axiom, "practice makes perfect." 
RELATED: Hard work and studies win the spelling bee
In the last 15 years, spelling contests have become ensconced in the South Asian/American community with regional contests to prime the kids for the bit Scripps bee. There is even a South Asian Spelling Bee with a $10,000 prize. Contests like these serve as the "minor leagues" prepare the youngsters for the pressure and intensity of the national contest.

“I think that the activity of spelling bees has grown in prestige among certain South Asian-American communities,” said Northwestern University professor Shalini Shankar, who has been studying South Asian dominance of spelling bee culture.

“I would say that it’s not a uniform phenomenon among South Asian/American communities, but among those that do value this activity, they’ve really taken to it and they compete year round in different spelling bee circuits.”

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