Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An interesting observation

A few days back in HON 179 we finished our reading of Desmond Tutu's No future without forgiveness and moved on the David Crystal's The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left. I'm currently reading the first set of students' reflections on this new reading, and I've made an interesting qualitative observation I'd like to try to make more precise when I have a chance to reflect more deeply on it.

The theme of Crystal's book is the English language, generally speaking, with special attention paid to its uses, misuses, and abuses, to the ways in which we shape the language through our use of it, and to the evolution it's undergone as a consequence. The book is wittily written, a style one might expect of a linguist, and is full of clever wordplay.

This theme contrasts sharply with the theme of our last book, an account of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The language Tutu uses to tell that sad story is often (fittingly) dark and somber, rising to elegaic, even hagiographic, when the time comes to speak of the indomitable human spirit. The language is almost never intentionally witty or playful.

So what am I finding in my students' writing? For the first time all semester they seem to feel comfortable trotting out their own toys to engage in some wordplay of their own. These first reflections on Crystal are cram-packed with metaphors, synecdoche and metonymy, and lively ripostes. Their writing is more personal, but by and large more cohesive; it's as though they each have very coherent personal tales to tell, tales that are much more well-formed than their thoughts on the TRC.

I'm enjoying reading these reflections. I'm getting a better sense, in a single reflection, of their individual writing styles than I did from four on Tutu.

Onward, I must read more.

Incidentally, I've only received a single meme as yet, from a student using Joseph Ducreux. I've gotten requests to post some of the students' work here, and I plan to do that, once I get proper permissions.

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