Language: Teaching New Worlds / New Words
Bell Hooks’ “Language: Teaching New Worlds / New Words” is a critical and timely reminder of the power of language. Throughout the chapter, Hooks proposes that vernacular language is something that ought to be celebrated as a challenge to the oppressive and culturally-depriving standard English. In order to justify her claim, Hooks establishes that words have more power of the human mind and will than people typically assume. The pervasiveness of language warrants her concern over which language is perceived as the dominant one, for it has the ability to frighten, or, conversely, comfort. Hence, Hooks proposes that vernacular, specifically Southern black vernacular, with its ties to slave “spirituals,” should be commonplace throughout society. She goes further, however, than simply suggesting that one’s native or familiar language will appeal to cultural sensibilities and therefore allow intimacy, comfort, and so on to bud its head. Instead, Hooks argues that by speaking in the vernacular people have the power to reclaim agency over an oppressive language, fight against any hegemonic ideology, and create a resistance to the very language that suppressed them to begin with. Ultimately, Hooks argues that through vernacular speech people can, quite literally, “liberate themselves in language.”
The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It
Bryan N. Massingale’s “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It” strikes directly at the heart of contemporary American race relations. Using recent episodes of racial violence and discrimination such as Breonna Taylor’s tragic death at the hands of police officers, the healthcare gap between people of color and white Americans, and, perhaps most deceptively important, Christian Cooper’s racist encounter in Central Park, Massingale proves that America is infected by intolerance and indifference to racism. Focusing on the Christian Cooper episode, Massingale lists twenty instinctive racist assumptions implicit in Amy Cooper’s call to the police as a way to reveal and define white privilege, but also to show that subtle racism exists within most, if not all, white Americans. He argues that because most white Americans know these assumptions to be true yet do nothing to correct them, that society is therefore complicit in upholding them. He does not despair, however, and instead proposes six enumerated steps that anyone can follow to rectify this wrong. He argues that white Americans must accept this reality, brew in it, and become uncomfortable with the fact they are themselves complicit in American’s historical racism. He warns, though, that this discomfort should not be mistaken with threats. Instead it should enlighten one enough to acknowledge their own ignorance and motivate them to do something about it. Next, he suggests confronting friends and family members who, while “backstage,” engage in racist ways, for as long as platforms exist for racism to thrive, racism itself will always exist. He continues by calling for the integration of the pro-life movement and the racial justice movement. He contends that being unconditionally pro life requires active anti-racist engagement. Lastly, Massingale tells America to pray. He believes that with God’s grace and light, that the darkness in our souls (which permits racism) will be eliminated. While these simple steps are a starting point where any individual can begin to rectify the racial injustice and intolerance of this country’s history, it is by no means an end in and of itself. Massingale admits policy reform and societal change is necessary for the eradication of racism and discriminatory practices, however, he believes these steps are also worthwhile.
Language: Teaching New Worlds / New Words
In her “Language: Teaching New Worlds / New Words,” Bell Hooks argues that vernacular language is something that ought to be celebrated as a challenge to the oppressive and culturally-depriving standard English. More specifically, Hooks establishes that words have more power of the human mind and will than people typically assume. For example, she writes that the pervasiveness of language, its ability to “intrude, even violate the most private spaces of mind and body,” warrants her concern over which language is perceived as the dominant one. In other words, because language is capable of either frightening, or, conversely, comforting, it is a tool that should not be hegemonic, universally employed, or monopolized. In sum then, Hooks suggests that vernacular, specifically Southern black vernacular, with its ties to slave “spirituals,” should be commonplace throughout society. She goes further, however, than simply suggesting that one’s native or familiar language will appeal to cultural sensibilities and therefore allow intimacy, comfort, and so on to bud its head. Instead, Hooks argues that by speaking in the vernacular people have the power to reclaim agency over an oppressive language, fight against any hegemonic ideology, and create a resistance to the very language that suppressed them to begin with.
The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It
In his “The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It,” Bryan N. Massingale argues that white Americans have a responsibility to accept the ugly truth of racism in America as well as their culpability in it. More specifically, Massingale challenges white Americans to be actively anti-racist, acknowledge their white priviledge, and begin the process of eradicating racism from society. For example, he writes that Christian Cooper’s racist encounter in Central Park presupposes twenty racial assumptions which prove that America is infected by intolerance and indifference to racism. In other words, the acceptance of these twenty assumptions which dehumanize Christian and presume superiority of Amy prove that Amy and any receptive white reader is riddled with subtle racism on account of their white privilege. In sum then, he proposes six enumerated steps that anyone can follow to rectify this wrong, from understanding and accepting this reality, to engaging in anti-racism, to praying. While these simple steps are a starting point where any individual can begin to rectify the racial injustice and intolerance of this country’s history, it is by no means an end in and of itself. Massingale admits policy reform and societal change is necessary for the eradication of racism and discriminatory practices, however, he believes these steps are also worthwhile.
In her “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar,” Anne Curzan argues that strict adherence to Standard English’s prescriptive grammar is antithetical to the critical pedagogy that teachers espouse. More specifically, she believes that teachers ought to familiarize themselves with language fundamentals so as to moderate insightful and genuine conversation about prescriptive grammar usage. While she is not proposing abandoning Standard English as the academic or journalistic standard, Curzan believes that educating students in the origin of stylistic and grammatical practices will empower them to make effective writing decisions. Furthermore, she contends that prescriptive grammar usage is largely preferential and subject to teacher’s idiosyncrasies or immediate knowledge of the rules. Therefore, she argues that a zero-tolerance policy towards non-Standard English writing is foolish, if not unfair. For example, the sentence adverb hopefully, as in “Hopefully, he says yes,” is considered by many grammarians as incorrect…despite the fact that comparable adverbs such as mercifully are widely accepted. Such inconsistencies, Curzan argues, begs the question “Says Who?” and necessitates classroom investigation of the origin of certain prescriptive grammar usages. Additionally, Curzan explores the differences between descriptive grammar and prescriptive grammar. She latches onto contractions as an example of how language need not be Standard English to be coherent or acceptable in discourse. Such language variations, in her eyes, should not necessarily be disqualified or excluded from appropriate Standard English practices. For instance ain’t is just as ridiculous as aren’t, yet the former is deemed illogical, dumb, and wrong, whereas the latter is permissible. She claims that when teachers make these arbitrary distinctions, it not only hinders critical pedagogy and destroys the evolutionary process of a living language, but also mistakenly characterizes other language variations as “nonstandard, illogical, sloppy, wrong.” Ultimately, in calling for a pedagogical change in the way we learn and engage writing, Curzan is challenging the current repressive pedagogy of English departments which worship arbitrary and, at times, ahistorical standards of grammar usage.
In chapter 1 of his Winning Arguments, Stanley Dr. Fish argues that argument, as an inevitable feature of the human condition, is ubiquitous, inescapable, and interminable. More specifically, Fish contends that so long as argument is the art of persuasion and humans remain incapable of distinguishing Truth from opinion, it will always be a double-edged sword that can either arm malicious manipulators or virtuous actors. Fish’s dismal conclusion is that humanity will never know with certainty which role any particular arguer plays. For example, in Twelve Angry Men, Fish explains that the true triumph of the story is not the “not guilty” verdict, but rather the eloquence of the argumentation for that verdict over other alternative storylines. According to Fish, such argumentative eloquence is why rhetoric is widely perceived as a dangerous weapon. The inconclusiveness of the Truth necessitates room for doubt, and those capable of wielding rhetoric (Merchants of Doubt) can exploit those untrained in the art of persuasion. This leads Fish to explore alternative methods of debate, such as the exclusion of metaphor, mathematical plainness, and stringent literalism, proposed by rationalists. Fish ultimately rejects these requirements as utopian and idealistic, for as long as there is spoken language there will always be “interpretive manipulation.” Other alternatives Fish presents and ultimately rejects are placing our “trust” in experts, and liberal rationalism. The former is, once again, too idealistic and the latter is susceptible to the alternative storyline problem. In summary, Fish concludes that argumentation is always going to be, to some extent or another, susceptible to malicious intents, and that the only way to combat rhetorically perverse arguments in pursuit of the truth is to fight fire with fire.
Conversation between texts:
What benefit does society reap in maintaining a standard currency of language? Of course, with a universally accepted standard of communication it becomes infinitely easier to convey one’s thoughts. Interpretative variation is replaced with clarity and certainty. Well, maybe not. In Anna Curzan’s “Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar” and Dr. Fish’s Winning Arguments, this question is tentatively entertained. On this matter, both authors seemingly start with the same premise. Curzan concedes that Standard English’s ability to “facilitate communication across dialects” is useful for the expression of ideas, specifically in the case of professional and published works. Likewise, Fish agrees with the rational linguistic perspective that argues restricted vocabularies, mathematical communication, and avoidance of metaphors, if possible, would succeed in forestalling both “linguistic and general disaster.” With critical historical analysis and interrogation of this premise, both authors begin to disagree. For Curzan, the seemingly arbitrary and preferential enforcement of the standard form of written language poses societal consequences that stymies language variations, disadvantages students who speak these variations at home, and weakens any argument for the objective correctness of Standard English. Fish finds fault with his premise by introducing interpretive variation, in which no matter how contractual, literal, and mathematical one’s communication skills are, there is always room for doubt. Fish’s proposition is critical to understanding Curzan’s argument. If there is no method of achieving objective, correct, or direct communication, then Curzan’s challenge of Standard English as the fiat currency of written language is amply justified. If prescriptive usage is “personal preferences… [and] opinions,” or as Fish would say, an argument, then who is to say with unquestionable certitude which standard currency of language is the best? To which Fish provides a dreary answer: we can’t, it is a “utopian hope.” Ironically, according to Fish, in order for the truth to prevail, proponents must weaponize rhetoric. If a skill drenched in subjectivity and manipulation is the only thing standing in the way of losing objectivity, Curzan’s argument for more understanding of linguistic variation and inclusion of non-Standard English forms is seemingly validated? For instance, is the inclusion of “hisself” and “hopefully” as a sentence adverb a step in the True direction of what constitutes proper linguistic currency? Both authors appear unable or unwilling to answer this question. If Fish is trustworthy, it is probably the former. There is one final case that deserves further investigation. Fish’s caution against interpretive variation not only warrants challenging the legitimacy of Standard English, but also the potential supremacy of other language variations. Curzan may be entirely off base in vouching for the inclusion or, at the very least, further understanding of these variations. Fish and Curzan, however, both agree that it is impossible to know. Therefore it is Curzan’s responsibility to support the inherently subjective opinion that she, by virtue or vice, sees fit. Ultimately, the relationship between Fish’s interpretive variation and Curzan’s championing of linguistic variation is clear.
Anne Curzan – “Teaching the Politics of Standard English”
In her work “Teaching the Politics of Standard English,” Anne Curzan explains that the future generation of linguistic educators must learn the political and social ramifications of Standard English and not simply engage language in the theoretical. More specifically, she urges linguist instructors to challenge students to think critically about “standard and nonstandard variations” of English, question their and society’s preconceived misperceptions of language variations, and participate in a campaign to correct these misconceptions. For example, Curzan writes that her pedagogical goal is to have students “understand how larger social understandings of language and variations have promoted misconceptions about dialect.” She wants students to engage with language, its history, and its impact on identity and power dynamics, on a more solid ground than just the theoretical. In her own words, it is “undesirable to discuss Standard English with students as a purely theoretical issue, without talking about the politics of dialect variation.” Only through comprehending the politics of Standard English, Curzan believes, will students question why we arbitrarily elevate Standard English above other variations and what the social ramifications of such a decision entails. This is not enough, however. Curzan admits that preconceived and fundamental belief systems are difficult to shake. The propagation of misinformation about Standard English as the justly preeminent language of higher society and education is considered such a fundamental belief. Curzan hopes that when linguistics is “pushed beyond the theoretical to the point where students must confront prior understandings…[they’ll] begin noticing….the language policy decisions around them…[and] respond in ways they may not have before.” In other words, while Curzan acknowledges that a pedagogical shift is not necessarily strong enough to dismantle the entrenched perspective of Standard English a majority of people have, she is hopeful that through enough consistent engagement and an open mind, students can begin fighting the injustices of language oppression as they appear.
The pedagogy of this course, one that emphasizes individual engagement. inquiry, and exploration, requires a certain level of active participation and management of assignments that I am continually familiarizing myself with. Initially, after learning about the various types of assignments I was expected to complete throughout the semester, I thought I would have a fairly strong grasp of how to manage my time and efficiently and adequately complete my work. I realize now how inaccurate my assumption was. I underestimated the rigor of this course’s pedagogy and overestimated the amount of time I would have to engage with the work. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the readings and related class discussions thus far, I find that the speed and stream of assignments (perhaps just the quantity of them) pertaining to them is becoming a bit overwhelming.
Maybe, just maybe, I am not embracing the pedagogy of this course correctly. I try to convince myself that I can put off some of the work and complete it past its assigned/stated deadline. From what Ii have gathered from my peers and the professor, this may very well be acceptable, so long as it is eventually completed. Nonetheless, as a student I have never felt comfortable delaying work. Compound that with the seemingly purposeful lack of structure for each assignment and you have me losing my mind. All of this is not to say that I am not engaging with the material or the course. I think, if anything, it would serve me well to stop incessantly fretting over these looming and apparently never ending volleys of R/W/D’s. In fact, I think the quality of my work would improve if I prioritized the work which I find most intriguing instead of cramming it all in the allotted and limited time I have before it’s deadline.
I have all these ideas that sound pretty and nice on paper. However, when I try to implement these thoughts in practice, I find I struggle on account of what I respectively regard as the disorganization of the class. No doubt, being online tremendously contributes to the disorganization of the class. For example, we use multiple platforms and mediums for communication. Some are encouraged, others aren’t. Some I am familiar with, others I am learning to navigate. I find, however, that having to manage these modes of communication incredibly complicates getting my work done. I lose focus trying to figure out how to submit things, I have trouble finding annotations and readings on occasion, and I (just because of who I am) get extremely anxious. While I understand and appreciate that some element or variety of disorganization is, for lack of a better term, promoted by the pedagogy of the course, I can’t help but feel that the logistical disorganization makes engaging with the work less fun and more difficult.
As I am currently writing this, I am “behind” on my Commonplace Book entries, the finalization of my WordPress website, and the group assignments. (It’s funny that I can almost predict Professor Hoskins’ protest to the use of the word finalized. It seems he dislikes absolutism. I agree, though, and do not mean it in the way that it is perfect or not evolving/changing as my taste and perspective changes… I simply mean I have to create pages and posts, which like all the other aforementioned new platforms of communication, I have to learn to use/do.) I put behind in quotation marks because I genuinely do not know if I am in fact behind, despite what Canvas says. On the matter of the Commonplace entries I also have little clue how to do them. It seems that may be the point, to start off terribly wrong and work my way to completing them correctly, but even on that point I am unsure. Plus, from the little conversation I have had with my fellow students I know I am not the only one officially behind on assignments, let alone having feelings of confusion and anxiety. Therefore, I would say my level of engagement in this course, for both good and bad reason, is relatively high. It is perhaps the way I engage the material that is the real problem for me.
Quickly skimming through this self-assessment I realize I could be coming off as ranting. I truly hope that is not the case. As I indicated before, I am a proponent of this pedagogy and am extremely excited to experiment with it. I just think these are some important and common issues that a few words of affirmation and reassurance from Professor Hoskins can resolve. Afterall, even though I am a proponent of this pedagogy, I still am new to it.
Fish, Stanley. “Legal Arguments.” Winning Arguments: Winning Arguments: What Works and Doesn’t Work in Politics, the Bedroom, the Courtroom, and the Classroom, Harper, 2017, https://georgetown.instructure.com/courses/118167/files/folder/Fish%2C%20Stanley?preview=4984670.
In his chapter Legal Arguments, Stanley Fish explains that because legal arguments are restricted to the self-imposed formalities of the courtroom, pertinent information to particular cases are avoided, self-perpetuating and hypocritical adjudications of the law subsist, and, ultimately, a “fictitious” narrative unrelated to the overarching truth of the case becomes the framework of discourse. More specifically, and rather surprisingly, Fish claims that is it only because of this fictional narrative that courts are able to remain impartial and fulfill their constitutional duty. For example, even though accounting for a defendant’s criminal history and psychological or sociological profile is relevant to sentencing, the court forbids such tactics, mainly because to be “impartial is to treat all equally, whether they are or not.” In other words, this fictional narrative allows courts to unbiasedly access the possibility of whether or not the general person would have committed a particular crime at a particular time, despite whether personal or background information is relevant to that particular case. Fish then introduces the “adversary system” in which both sides arguing a case present all pertinent information – their competing narratives of the truth – and an adjudicator (judge or jury) decides which story is more practical. Fish acknowledges that this system rewards “verbal gladiators” and thus makes truth susceptible to distortion or manipulation. It is this vulnerability which makes Fish champion, or at least agree with, the impartial, bounded-argument space courtroom. The current system is not without its flaws however, as is demonstrated by the omittance of relevant information. Fish identifies the hypocritical and superficial tendencies of the courtroom when deciding constitutional rights in cases of free speech. For example, Fish presents countless cases in which the “deconstructing of [the] speech/action distinction” is obvious, yet, the legal world’s “fiction” is that a distinction between the two exists. In other words, the fictional narrative of the courtroom enables hypocritical and self-preferential interpretation of the law. Lastly, Fish focuses on contractional law to highlight that despite the prevailing belief that the written word is the final word (parol evidence rule and plain reading rule), the court has repeatedly acknowledged and permitted contractual interpretation and the intent of parties to dictate their ruling. Ultimately, Fish is demonstrating through a courtroom setting that words have infinite interpretive variability, and can be, in many cases, defective or malleable.
While legal formalities and etiquette may seem like the most mathematical, impartial, and reductive methods for argumentation, it is just as susceptible to the interpretive variability of other forms of argument and is not conducive to discovering the whole truth of a situation.
Naylor, Gloria. “The Meanings of a Word.” Canvas, 1986, https://georgetown.instructure.com/courses/118167/files?preview=4984682.
While the written word is revered for its ability to convey, as artfully and transcendentally as it can, the subtleties and complexities of life, the spoken word is superior for its ability to capture the contexts and inflections of any particular scenario.
Fish, Stanley. “Plagiarism is Not a Big Moral Deal (Links to an external site.)”
Curzan, Anne. “What Makes a Word Real? (Links to an external site.)“
While professionals of insular academic communities claim that plagiarism is morally reprehensible, Dr. Fish contends that plagiarism is a breach of a “disciplinary decorum,” created and upheld to maintain the mistaken ideal of originality and single authorship.
While many linguists and laypeople alike only consider the words included in dictionaries as “real,” Curzan argues that slang and other creative words, in so far as two conversing parties can agree on meaning, are just as “real,” and perhaps even more fitting.
Fish Article Reading Analysis:
In his article “Plagiarism is Not a Big Moral Deal,” Dr. Fish argues that academic professionals wrongfully treat plagiarism as a philosophical issue in hopes of upholding originality and single authorship, foundational ideals to their professions, and instead, are just enforcing artificial, professional etiquette. More specifically, Dr. Fish claims that despite numerous assaults on the concept of originality, punishing plagiarism is still valid insofar that it is adjudicated within the place it is actively “practiced.” For example, he writes that while plagiarism is not an offense to the universe, it is still punishable because “if you’re in our house, you’ve got to play by our rules.” In other words, offenders of this decorum are justly held accountable because, while they are not committing crimes, they are breaking the conventions of the communities that they willingly join. In sum, then, while Dr. Fish does not believe in the theoretical concept of originality or single authorship and therefore does not believe plagiarism is a moral wrong, he does recognize and concede that the practice of punishing plagiarism is widespread among select communities and therefore warranted in the scope of maintaining those communities.
Rorty, Richard. “Universalist Grandeur and Analytic Philosophy.”
In his “Universalist Grandeur and Analytic Philosophy,” Richard Rorty claims that the battles between analytic and nonanalytic philosophies within the discipline, as well as the disagreements between analytic philosophers themselves, are not simply alternative explanations, but rather, on account of their zero-sum nature, existential fights over which modern philosophy is to be taken seriously on the traditional questions posed by Plato and Neitzsche – What makes humans special? Specifically on the difference between analytic and “continental” philosophies, Rorty divides the discipline between Russell and his admirers who believe that “logical form” and the “theory of descriptions” is essential to answering Plato’s question because language is the “medium in which human beings represent reality to themselves,” and a Hegel-Neitzsche-Heidegger mix which argues that the “universalist grandeur” which idolizes mathematics and physics should be replaced with a narrative that considers “past” and “present” as the medium which human beings redefine themselves through “self-creation.” In other words, this battle of the analytics and non-analytics is a fight between science as the pathway to the “final circle” of Kant’s imaginative-Truth concept, and endless redecription or imaginative human capability. On the fight between analytic philosophers, Rorty presents the sides as Wittgenstenian’s who believe in the “social practice” theory in which mind and language are cultural phenomena that are unrelated to the neurological structures of the body, and proponents of “cognitivie science” who believe that the fusion of neurology and psychology is the answer to uncovering the Truth of the mind and language. In sum, Rorty provides his own opinions on the Platonian question of what makes us special and the Neitzsche answer of self-creation and redefinition. Rorty believes we are finite creatures who have the capacity to endlessly redefine ourselves, but will never quite understand ourselves. In this regard, he is much more an admirer of Neitzsche and the non-analytic philosophers than he is of the Russell’s and Frege’s of the discipline.
Lewis Thomas, “On Matters of Doubt”
In his “On Matter of Doubt,” Lewis Thomas argues that the “two cultures” controversy between the sciences and the humanities is a contrived distinction that fails to consider the common ambiguity, mysteriousness, and, ultimately, the motivating “bewilderment” of our human condition which pervades both disciplines. More specifically, Thomas contends that aside from sharing similarities in this “middle ground,” both cultures continuously, and increasingly, reach across the divide to borrow terminologies or theories that attempt to explain the equally troublesome and obscure nature of humanity. For example, physicists are starting to use “poetically allusive words” such as ‘strangeness color, and flavor,’ to describe aspects of matter. In other words, as both disciplines continue to explore the endless complexities and questions that limit and define humanity, they will share in the same struggle; finding more questions when they seek answers, and seeing less truth where they seek certainty. It is an insightful and important observation Thomas makes, that these publicly diametric fields of study and thought are, in practice, fundamentally exercises set on the same goal, limited by the same constraints, and successful to similar degrees. In the words of Thomas, it is “bewilderment,” humanity’s tendency to marvel at the possibilities of our creation, which drives both disciplines, and it is the same objective, discovering and defining our humanity, which both cultures aim towards achieving. In sum, Thomas urges his audience to forget about the differences between the “two cultures”, and instead focus on the middle ground where shared principles, motivations, and objectives will be the framework for learning about the truly profound and essential mysterious of human existence.
- “Instead of presenting the human body as a mountainous structure of coherent information capable of explaining everything about everything if we could only master all the details, we should be acknowledging that it is, in real life, still a very modest mound of puzzlements that do not fit together at all.”
Osterholm, Michael, and Chris Dall. Planes, Trains, or Automobiles?(Links to an external site.) Osterholm Update: COVID-19, episode 26. Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Accessed 5 Oct. 2020. In his interview with Chris Dall on the Osterholm Update: COVID-19, Michael Osterholm explains that these coming weeks are a critical time-period for the world to address pandemic fatigue, anger, and social behaviors so as to prepare for the upcoming surge in positive Covid-19 cases which is expected to result from increased travel and traditions during the holiday season, and the return of college students from university campuses. More specifically, Osterholm believes there will be no short term solution, including a vaccine, to the current state of the world, and that unless national and local governments responsible prepare for an uptick of positive cases, then there will be even worse economic and personal suffering in the coming months and year. In Osterholm’s words, it will take “50-70% infected population” for adequate herd immunity, but currently the USA falls far short of these numbers, and has already suffered immense economic and personal losses. In other words, the only way to sufficiently slow the spread and impact of this virus is to reach herd immunity, but achieving this herd immunity is not only long term, but based on OSterholm’s projections about vaccine uptake, also very costly. In sum, Osterholm believes that Covid-19 is going to be around for some time, and that even if vaccinations were available, production and distribution problems, negative public sentiment, and the impossibility of timely global coverage would each nullify the benefits of any vaccine. Therefore, countries and states must prepare for the long haul, keep social distancing and safety standards in place, ease the society’s “mental health,” and ultimately, keep their case-positive numbers low.