Thursday, July 26, 2012

i luv linguistics

This is my first, non-required blog post.

Which might be telling of my slow, but certain, teacherly (and reflective) evolution...

I cannot contain my excitement over Prof. Anne Curzan's lecture yesterday. From a pedagogical standpoint, the lively (and evocative) discussion and upbeat attentiveness testified to the learning potential that exists within a classroom full of students.

And I learned a little something, too.

I'm not so skilled at the actual science of linguistics, but because I love puzzles and patterns, I have always been drawn to the art of our language-making, and text in its verbal (non-written) form. And I've never before made the connection that a verbal text (what we SAY) should absolutely be accepted in various styles, just like we accept it in written form.

Jane Austen, Malcolm Gladwell, Vacca & Vacca, that op-ed writer you can't stand...

All very different writing styles, and all published as acceptable, professionally written, literature.

In comparison, our verbal styles ("home languages") transcribed into written form, suddenly become incorrect and unacceptable. In need of remedy to be brought closer to a standard. I believe my blindness to the concept of subtle subjugation (which in its most effective form is ALWAYS subtle) through "correction of slang English" has resulted partly because my home language so closely resembles Standard English. This is my experience.

And now I'm thinking about things like...

...what does it mean when all news anchors, correspondents (and other media representatives) speak the same "standard" dialect on television? Does the media, that informs the people, really represent the people?

Perhaps there's a reason why it reminds me a bit of the skin-toned bandaids we buy at the store. Uh. That's not my skin tone. And I can think of many people whose skin tone is not that color either.

But in order to avoid being overly critical and soapbox-y, I want to just reiterate the power of a teacher to breathe vitality into any subject, and get their (his? her?) students to talk just as passionately as we did yesterday during Prof. Curzan's lecture.

It was great sharing with y'all ("you all", for those whose heads just started spinning). Keep those questions and ideas coming. The more we think critically, the more souls (socially speaking) we can save.


  1. So glad you wrote about this. I hear this was an amazing presentation!

  2. I agree; I enjoyed it immensely. I have always been a fan of the English language, and a stickler for "whom" vs. "who', "good" vs. "well", and wonder how the pronunciation of "divisive" got changed. I find myself verbally correcting speakers on television, and this "it's my language and I'll do with it what I want" mentality makes me uncomfortable. I still believe that your are judged on your appearance, speech, grooming, etc. If you are what you eat, then you certainly are what you speak. And I believe our language is in decline. I will certainly accept that certain social subgroups are welcome and free (this is America) to speak among themselves as they wish). But in my classroom, in an interview, in a conversation, I will judge you on your ability to express yourself in the English language, and I see nothing wrong with that.

  3. Thanks for the comment, Mike.

    It's definitely true that we all are judged on our "appearance," which includes a linguistic facet as well.

    I think as teachers, the best thing we can do is be explicit when explaining that there are times and places in our society that require us to fluently speak/write standard English in order to achieve success. To accompany this, we can (and should) do all we can to emphasize that each student's home language is valid as well.

    Acknowledging the privileging of standard English is a great way to begin to break down a silent hierarchy.

  4. I really liked her presentation as well. It was pretty clear that it would have stirred some very strong discussions. Like the soda ban issue, those strong passions might suggest some great cross-curricular potential. The applications for grammandos and historians are pretty obvious.

    As a math teacher, I can imagine looking at mathematical models of language change, or just taking some historical side trips to discuss the development of mathematical jargon (Isaac Newton, inventor of calculus, referred to derivatives as "fluxions").

  5. I loved this presentation. I am commenting on this now several weeks after it happened, and I can honestly say that this was probably one of the most memorable days of learning I have had all summer. I think that linguistics are so important in our lives', and something that we all related to deeply. I like your thought in your post about whether or not you think news anchors, etc. are really representing the people people they seem to simply be speaking one accepted common dialect. I guess I had never thought about this, and the more I do it makes me feel strange about what other things I am missing. The linguistic world is dominated by one culturally accepted version, and it makes all other forms seem subordinate or less legitimate. The power of language is not to be underestimated, and I think it is our job as future educators to share our words wisely and accept different ways of speaking openly.

  6. Ann Curzan's presentation was quite eye-opening for me. I am really glad Anne and Rachel allowed us to encroach on their teaching time so we could continue discussing such interesting topics. I loved your connection between the various styles of opinion writing and dialect. I never thought about how different published articles could be, yet still be perceived as scholarly and thus accepted. Why does there not seem to be the same hierarchy as with spoken language? I have always thought of writing as a place where someone could display their own personal voice, let their inner thought shine through in a unique way. But spoken language is the same. Why do we apply hurtful stereotypes to spoken language, but not in the same way with written language? Growing up, I always thought I spoke the same English as newscasters, so all those people in the south and east were the ones who didn't speak "proper English." Then my uncle told me news anchors have their own dialect. I was shocked. If I didn't speak like the people on the news, who did I sound like?

    If you would like to read some more of his thoughts as a linguist, here is an article:
    My uncle is Bill Kretzschmar- he always has fascinating things to say.