Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I’m not going to lie, just looking at the word ‘grammar’ gives me shivers, superlatives make me feel insecure, and when I think about interrogative pronouns my palms get all sweaty. Wait just a minute, I may have lied; grammar is only half as bad as I make it sound. Being able to understand the history of the English Language, and all its’ endearing quirks, enables you to use it to your greatest advantage (world domination, perhaps?). Our language has been used for centuries as a way to entertain, teach and as a tool in self-discovery. Chances are, you’ll be able to enjoy great works of literature even if you’re unsure of the differences between adjectives, adverbs and verbs. However, if you're like me and dream of changing the world one sentence at a time, you better hit the books.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Michiko Kakutani’s text, “The Word Police” first gave the impression that Maggio’s title did - the idea of being wiser when choosing words. With the use of the word “police” automatically giving the impression of enforcing something, Kakutani gave the notion that she was in favor of Maggio’s bias-free language theory. However, the abstract given before the piece suggested a different type of essay, one that opposed the ideas of Maggio.
Many people find it difficult or annoying to use bias-free language. A short overview of bias-free language can be found in this link. There are four excuses that Maggio dissects in her writing. One excuse that people put forth is the loss of fun their writing will have. Writers are very creative and thoughtful when it comes to their personal writing, and having to stifle this artistic advantage to use the words one pleases is definitely a defeat. Maggio defends the fact that writers take so much time looking for the “perfect” word in their pieces already, that a little extra effort would not hurt. One example of a bias-free term that isn't included in either essay is a flight attendant, opposed to steward and stewardess. Another is the word citizens, which can be used in place of the term mankind. The second excuse for ignoring unbiased language is the fear of losing words. In a world that is evolving every day, along with language, words aren't in short supply. “We are limited only by our imaginations,” according to Maggio. Another reason for not using bias-free words in our language is the frustration of having to watch what one says. Growing up in a society that teaches us manners and conduct, to be able to write what we want without having to think of the repercussions is always a thrill. Maggio counters this with the argument of consistency. Having been able to pick our words wisely with parents, advisers and peers, to be able to look after what we say in our writing shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Lastly, the expectation that filtering what we say will lead to absurdities in our writing. Many cynics and critics of this language lifestyle have given the blasphemous examples that take Maggio’s theory too far. Using words such as “personipulate” and “woperson” is just “a fault in logic,” claims Maggio.
In Maya Angelou’s inauguration poem she presents a wide variety of human beings. Depicting the variance of racial and religious backgrounds, levels of social status and even sexual preference among us, Angelou demonstrates the importance labels have in allowing us to differentiate between each other. Giving examples of racial background such as: Asian, African, Native American, and Greek, the author uses terms we all use in our daily lives. Society finds it perfectly acceptable to use these “biased” terms because they allow us to compartmentalize and separate individuals into recognizable categories; they are not found to be prejudice. These terms were not meant to pass judgment on one another, but to show distinction from one another. Other titles including Rabbi, Priest and Sheik, acknowledge the various relationships one has with their religion and god. If one is not allowed to use these terms Kakutani states “Some messy molar dilemmas,” could ensue; while trying to navigate to the use of politically correct language. Many of these terms symbolize to our author the tolerance we have of others. No longer do we refer to Native Americans as savages, or Asians as gooks. Using her examples of “biased” terms, Angelou illustrates the abundance of diversity and multiculturalism we often fight to protect, and that represents the differences in all of us. This brief cartoon demonstrates that everyone is different, but peace can still achieved.
"Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines" by Rosalie Maggio and "The Word Police" by Michiko Kakutani in Exploring Language are two essays that address the question of politically correct language. In Maggio's essay, she advocates the usage of unbiased, gender-neutral terms, whereas Kakutani argues that the political correctness movement has been taken too far.
Before reading these articles the titles of each create certain expectations about the content. The title "Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines" clearly communicates the subject matter. The expectation is that an analysis of the impact and effect of words and word choice will follow, and that the argument will center around increasing awareness about biased language. However, the addition of "Some Guidelines" in the title sounds presumptuous, thus creating a defensive mindset in the reader. The phrasing of "Some Guidelines" sounds dogmatic, as if Maggio is telling others what to think before making her argument. The second article's title, "The Word Police," brings to mind people who obsessively correct the grammar of others. For example, imagine a party-goer who constantly interrupts conversations to correct people's speech. This expectation is proven false as the article responds to the political correctness movement.
Both articles address the movement of political correctness in speech and text. However, they take opposite sides of the argument. Maggio advocates strongly for the abolition of biased language. She addresses a variety of categories of language including inclusive versus exclusive constructions, nonsexist terminology, and the people first rule. Examples of inclusive and exclusive phrases are "the people" or "our generation" which include everyone, as opposed to referring to the human race as "man" which excludes women. Nonsexist terminology involves not referring to sex unless it's necessary. According to Maggio, sexist language "promotes and maintains attitudes that stereotype people according to gender while assuming that the male is the norm" (447). Thus, statements should be made with equal terminology, for example saying husband and wife instead of man and wife. Other gender non-specific words abound such as mail carrier instead of mailman and firefighter instead of fireman. These words do not give the impression that women should not and indeed can not pursue these careers. The people first rule is important in the medical field. Persons with disabilities should be put before their medical condition because their condition should not define who they are. Therefore, it is a child with Down's syndrome, not a Down's syndrome child.
Kakutani takes the opposite side of the argument from Maggio. Kakutani references a poem by Maya Angelou that lists several ethnicities, religious groups, and labels applied to various social groups. Kakutani says that such extensive recognition with an eye toward including everyone and offending no one is an "official embrace of multiculturalism and a new politics of inclusion." (453) This is the beginning of the political correctness movement, which Kakutani agrees with in theory, but that she feels advocates like Maggio have pushed to the level of absurdity. Indeed, Kakutani says that using nicer words, such as "underhoused" instead of "homeless"(456), could in fact detract from the severity of the problem. Ultimately, Kakutani feels that the extreme emphasis placed on politically correct language amounts to a smokescreen that obfuscates the real problems of inequality, racism, and sexism and makes them seem solved when in fact they continue to thrive.
Some of the points Kakutani makes are anticipated by Maggio. She outlines four arguments often used by detractors of unbiased language. These arguments include the fear of losing words, that people are tired of paying attention to what they say, it's limiting the use of language, and that it will create absurd terms. Maggio responds to each of these excuses. Firstly, she says that losing offensive words will not impact negatively on society or language because of our vast vocabulary and ability to create new terms. Secondly, Maggio flips the argument of watching what one says into people being tired of being sensitive; she adds that we have been taught from childhood to filter what we say depending on who we are speaking to. Thirdly, Maggio does not view being careful speakers and writers as limiting, but rather as being thoughtful. Lastly, Maggio points out that particular examples of absurdities, such as saying he/she all the time, are used to condemn the entire idea of inclusive language, including terms that would not sound as comical or unwieldy. Maggio further says that using specific, non-cliched words is rewarding and allows for better communication.
Political correctness is a well-intentioned movement. However, like anything, there is the potential for it to be taken too far. As such, being politically correct is often a target for comedians and social commentators.
Prior to reading the essays of Rosalie Maggio and Michiko Kakutani, some immediate things stick out in the titles. In "Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines," the term "guidelines" sticks out with a domineering effect. Guidelines are a set of expectations, or rules, if it is taken far enough. This sounds somewhat unfair in nature, as bias itself is something that must be considered quite subjectively. In a way, almost all language contains bias, so it is difficult to set universal laws for all to follow. In "The Word Police," this same impression is felt. The prospect of the hypothetical enforcement of word usage that comes with policing is very daunting and autocratic, which serves as an impairment to creative expression through text--something that comes off as very stifling to writers.
Understanding the mechanics of correct grammar is helpful in improving both your reading and writing skills. Aspects such as capital letters, italics, the apostrophe, the hyphen numbers all have specific jobs when it comes to sentence structure. The use of capitals is used to identify names, titles as well as signaling the beginning of a sentence or line in the case of poetry. Capitals often indicate the importance of a subject so we can see why a proper knowledge of their use is good to have. Italics emphasize certain words and phrases within a sentence. Whether it be the title of a work or in a sentence like “ I met the Brad Pitt.” , the use of italics helps us to flag certain words and phrases so we can add an extra accent to their meaning. Possession and conjugation are highlighted with the apostrophe. How we show possession of a noun depends on weather or not the now ends in “s”; adding an addition “s” to a word such as boys creates awkwardness with the word boys’s. The correct placement of an apostrophe when it comes to conjugation not only helps us to avoid confusion but also promotes proper pronunciation. The hyphen acts as the bond between two words that may sound like they belong together in speech but may not appear so in writing. All of these mechanics contribute in their own unique way to proper grammar.
The are other facets of grammar, such as adverbs and adjectives, that help to develop proper sentence structure. The University of Ottawa has posted a helpful page on the correct and incorrect use of adverbs and adjectives that helps to illustrate why this knowledge is important to make our sentences coherent. Things like verbs and nouns are also key in the make up of a grammatically correct sentence. The University of Ottawa has also created a helpful page the gives us insight on how to identify nouns and verbs within a sentence. To better understand how these rules and others came to be, Encyclopedia Britannica has developed a lengthy history on english grammar. This timeline highlights major points in the developments of verb, adjective and noun use through the ages as well as multiple other grammatical aspects.
There are many different ways to convey a thought, help someone understand a concept, or just communicate with someone. Writing is just one of the ways that this is achieved. Writers have many tools that help them express their ideas and thoughts. The English language has numerous tools that help them do this. Without these tools that we use today, we would never evolve from cave dwellers to the sophisticated and eloquent speakers we are today. The English language dates all the way back to 450 AD, where "Old English" was established, soon after began "Modern English". The history of English is vital in understanding just how much we, as a society, have progressed. An example of this progression is in the use of adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are used in almost every piece of writing; therefore, are very important to understand. The English language requires sentences that include subjects and verbs, which are important to identify because they almost always cooperate together. The verb is referring to the subject, and the subject is performing the verb. This link on how to classify subjects and verbs is very helpful, and when you’re confident in your abilities to recognize the two, there is a quiz at the end of the website, see how well you do!
The basic pieces of English are the noun and the verb. The noun is capitalized if it is a proper noun such as Canada, Peter and/or England. The first word at the beginning of a sentence is always capitalized. Verbs are the action of a sentence. They are what the subject is doing. Verbs are words like run, jump and kick. They give movement to a sentence. Subjects and verbs make a sentence complete. Adjective and adverbs describe, respectively, nouns and verbs. Adverbs tend to end in "ly" like the word quickly. Adjectives can be anything from colors to other descriptive words.
Regarding the use of adjectives and adverbs, The University of Victoria's "study zone" web page provides a brief introduction to adjectives and adverbs, as well as a helpful tutorial on how, and when, to use each of them properly.
In order for an adverb to be useful, it must accompany a verb. Verbs are one of the most important parts of a sentence, because they provide it with action, that allows it to be visualized by the reader. Verbs often work closely with the subject of the sentence. The ability to locate subjects and verbs can lead to much more comprehensive understanding of what has been written. GrammarBook.com has a webpage that provides a description of verbs and subjects, and provides examples of each in use.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
I am a new student here at Macewan and my name is Kristen Harris. I’m taking this course because I want to build a good foundation and understanding of our language and the different ways we communicate with each other. I hope to learn proper use of grammar in different types of writing, be able to identify how and why our language works and have a thorough understanding of the mechanics of the English language. I have basic knowledge of grammar and composition that I earned with my high school diploma. Already, within these first three weeks of college I have refreshed everything I was taught before and have retained many new concepts and tools. Once I have completed this class I hope to be able to confidently help other students and colleagues with their own use of words. I want to have the ability to edit different kinds of writing professionally and produce work that reflects all the new skills I will gain in this class.
This external link will take you to the video I am referring to in the next few paragraphs.
In Steven Pinker’s lecture he touches on many topics surrounding how language came to be and the way we use it everyday. One issue he mentions early in his speech is the fact that language is unstoppable from changing. Once a dictionary is printed it becomes out of date because new words, slang and jargon are created continuously. He opens up a new way to think of sentences as containers that pass a message along to a receiver.
I don’t believe dictionaries are dead or will ever become dead. Even if they are out-of-date the moment they are printed, they become a reference of how our language was at a time in history. Through dictionaries we can follow the development of our words and our culture. I do believe we should maintain a Standard English that we use for all forms of formal writing. Using txt spk (text speak), slang, jargon and other abbreviations should be confined to informal writing. There are constantly new ways to abbreviate or refer to a word (slang), so not everyone will be up to date on this changing jargon at the same time. This creates a need for Standard English. It is a form that everyone is taught and we can all understand.
Steven Pinker refers to language as a “window into human nature”. I agree with him because an effective way to dissect a culture is to learn how it uses its language as a way of communicating with each other. The different ways we perceive language and the variety of outcomes, once it is communicated, gives us a understanding of how one human relates to another. We choose to use different types of language at different times. If I wanted to quickly reply to a friend through text to end the conversation I would write “k, ttyl :)”. On the other hand, if I were replying to an email from my teacher I would use Standard English such as, “Everything sounds great! Thank-you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely, Kristen Harris.” The various ways we can choose to respond also shows that as humans we like choices. It is in our nature to change things and explore different ways of doing things, which includes communicating with each other in different forms.
This internal link goes to the poster some classmates made in our first class about verbs! http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_UZTWB4uNx2E/Sq7i8vas9JI/AAAAAAAAAVk/81KuTN_zqnw/s1600-h/verb.jpg
Pinker also states “the verb is the chassis of the sentence”. He means it is the framework for which all other parts are constructed. He is alluding to the fact that without a verb, a sentence has no point. I agree with this analogy because the verb is what modifies the noun or gives the noun purpose. Without a verb no action would take place and nothing would have happened, so the sentence would have no point of existence. The subject refers to the action of the verb which in-turn gives the sentence purpose.
In the film about Steven Pinker he addresses the issues with the dictionary and how infants and adults learn the English language through the computer, and the problems with verbs. The French dictate the correct usage of words, and at the same time are attempting to create their own dictionary. Also, Pinker mentions that children and adults are taught the English language through the computer which causes many misinterpretations of what correct grammar is in our society. This is just one example of what Pinker is referring to in his lecture.
I believe that dictionaries are not dead because the English language changes so quickly. On the contrary, I believe that we should keep producing new dictionaries, and allow the dictionary to grow along with our language. Dictionaries should be able to evolve along with mankind. Decades from now, when our own children are looking in the dictionary, the new words that are contributed now will be able to convey how we've evolved in language. However, I strongly believe we should not give into "txt spk" which I believe to be is just laziness. Abbreviations such as, "lol" or "ttyl" should be kept on computers and text messaging, and stay seperate of our dictionaries.
Pinker mentions the, "Window Onto Human Nature" in his film, which explains how languages emerge from human minds interacting with one another. I believe this to be true because the best way and sometimes the only way to interact with our peers is through speech. In order to convey our thoughts and our feelings, we need to accept the English language and how to use it correctly. This is accomplished by learning the correct use of grammar, such as verbs and metaphors, which are mentioned in Pinker's speech.
"The verb is the chassis of the sentence," conveys the meaning that the framework of a sentence is based around the verb. I agree with this statement because a sentence is not complete, or even considered a sentence without a verb and its object. Pinker makes it clear that the most common mistake in the English language is which verb goes in which construction; intransitive verb or transitive verbs. The poster for verbs that Andrew, Jennifer, and Brent made does a great job of defining what a verb is in case you forget!
I’m a professional writing student, so PROW-100 is a required course for me. I’m glad to be taking it, because I hope it will help me to gain a good foundation in grammar and composition. These skills will be an asset for me in other classes I will take as I continue with my studies, as well as to improve my writing outside of school, and in my career. My current knowledge of composition and grammar is limited mainly to what I’ve learned in high school and by experimenting with writing on my own, as well as what I have learned in the short time that I’ve been attending Macewan, and by observing other writers’ work. In her comment on describing pictures using adjectives, Shawna said that paying attention to word choice bred a greater understanding of language itself. I agree with this, and would like to continue to explore and understand language. This class will hopefully allow me to do so.
In class we watched a video in which Steven Pinker talked about language and thought. In it, he brought up the issue of dictionaries becoming obsolete. He argued, with the example of the French Academy’s dictionary of official French, that many dictionaries become outdated before they are even completed. While I understand this to be true in many cases, I do not think that dictionaries will ever be ‘dead’. They are useful tools in reading and writing, used daily by many students and researchers. Enough of language remains constant throughout long periods of time that dictionaries are for the most part able to retain their usefulness.
I feel that ‘standard’ English is and always will be very important. Text speak, slang and jargon all have their places, but in many situations are simply not acceptable. Standard English is widely understood, while much of slang, jargon and text changes rapidly and is only understood by select groups. I personally find that text speak comes across as immature and lazy and prefer not to use it. However I recognize that it is a fast and convenient way for many to communicate. It should continue to be used in private communication, but should not become a commonplace in writing and media. Over time, slang may become part of everyday language, but we should proceed with caution in allowing it to do so.
Pinker says that “The verb is the chassis of the sentence”, and I think that he is right. The verb is what gives a sentence life. Without it, the sentence cannot exist. It is what moves a sentence forward and tells us what we need to know about the verb’s object or subject. While other parts of a sentence are just as, or in some cases, more important, the verb is always the basic framework or skeleton of the sentence.
Language is without a doubt a window onto human nature. From what people choose to say or write, as well as when, where and why they do, we can glean unlimited insight. With the right interpretation of language, almost every aspect of human nature can be looked at. Communication through language is the basis for a large portion of everyday human interaction, and is in many ways what shapes human nature in the first place.
A great read, highly suggested, no where near as boring as it sounds.
The verb serving as the chassis of the sentence is an interesting thought. While the noun can be considered just as important to sentence structure, Pinker does a good job of showing that much of the rest of the sentence is built around servicing and clarifying what context the verb is to be used in. While the noun may be the engine, and your adjectives and adverbs may be your heated seats and cup-holders, it's the verb that gives order to all of these things being used together.
How people use language can be a very transparent view into their personality. Using language to communicate, ultimately the way in which we speak is how we reveal our intentions. There are some that use it at its most basic function, often with uncomplicated words or structure to get their point across in its most simple form. Others will create flowery descriptions and use words outside of the colloquial norm should they feel that common words do not do justice to their intended meanings. Some people wish to be clear, others want to create a fog of conversation, some want to create an impression of who they are through language, others could care less. Many examples of this can be seen in the class blog about the poster project that was completed the week before:
Some are more terse than others, some use slang that identifies them with a certain demographic or age group. We use language to communicate more than points, but also social standings, personal tastes and more.
Whether or not txt speak will ever become 'acceptable' is open to debate, but I feel that as far as fads go, this is yet another style of communication that will go out of fashion with the progress of technology. People's knowledge of morse code had passed away once the technology, really the only technology that used morse code, became cumbersome and out of date. Should something happen to the structure of cell phones to make typing in full less time consuming, text speak will more than likely pass on as well.
Who am I and why am I here? My name is Cassidy Munro. I am taking this course as part of the Professional Writing program like most of my classmates. The reason I'm in this particular program is because, after high school, I was unsure of what I was doing, and where I was going. I knew I wanted to go to post secondary, I had an urge to learn, but I just didn’t know what classes I would take. The description of this particular course just seemed to strike a chord within me that resonated and, so, here I am! In this class I’m hoping to hone my writing skills, specifically with grammar and punctuation. It’s almost unfair that after spelling class is done in grade 6, students are just thrown into English courses without any refresher. Much of the basics of grammar I haven't touched in at least six years. What I do know about language, grammar, and punctuation is all very instinctual now, without much knowledge backing it up. For me, a major goal in this class will be to gain that background knowledge I need to understand the language I'm using and to use it effectively.
Regarding Steven Pinker's talk on language and thought, he addresses the subtleties of the English language. It is true that much of our language is subtle nuances that can seem obscure and confusing to a new learner. Pinker points out that many of these nuances are vital parts of communication. Without the indirect meanings to our words, much of what is being communicated can be lost. However, how we communicate is changing. Slang and txt speak are becoming more prominent, and this touches on another of Pinker's points. Are dictionaries dead?
Language changes quickly. In my lifetime I can remember countless terms that have come and gone, and I can think of dozens more that were before my time. This quick phase in and out of popular terms makes me believe that txt speak, slang, jargon and other abbreviations should not become a part of "standard" English. By the time every form of jargon was integrated into our language, it will have changed. Now, especially, with internet speeding along the transition of slang how can we ever keep track of what's "cool" and what's not? Websites like Urban Dictionary keep an online record of slang, but it's an open forum for additions: since 1999 it's had 4,250,575 entries. That number right there tells me the dictionary is fine without the addition of all those mostly obsolete terms.
Pinker's idea that language is a "window onto human nature" is one that rings true with me. As humans have evolved, so has our language, for it is our main method of communication. As far as I know, in this day and age there is no culture that hasn't developed a spoken language. It is through language that human beings share their thoughts, emotions and relationships. Socialising is a major part of being human and communication is the primary method of socialising. For example, when we commented on the posters we created in the first class, we all communicated with each other. The way the language was used conveyed emotions and thoughts, specifically with Kayla Gaffney's comment, who could clearly communicate to us her opinion on the Noun poster.
In the same way that communication is important, so is the format of communication. Pinker says "the verb is the chassis of the sentence". I completely agree with this statement. When humans communicate, something has to happen within that communication. If nothing happens, what exactly is the point? You start with an action, a verb, and add on to it. Without a verb, or a framework there is nothing to start with and your sentance, you communication, will collapse.
In all, Pinker had quite a few interesting and important points. He obviously knows what he's talking about, though at times I had a hard time understanding him. With careful consideration, I think I managed to get the main points, all of which are very beneficial to my understanding of language. It's only a matter of picking up on the communication!
This sort of upraising taught me to appreciate many things, none being art. I grew up begging my parents to enroll me in any art program available. I was in choir, in drawing classes, in piano and violin lessons and in photography. Art has grown into a powerful force in my life. This force is combined with other things I did learn on the ranch. Things like hard work, determination, innovation and a strong will. I believe this environment was perfect for creating a developing writer. I've learned to express myself in other forms of art, like drawing and music, now I'm interested in exploring writing. This explains why I've chosen to enroll in PROW 100. What I do know about grammar and composition is pretty basic. This class should bring my writing skills to a much higher level. This is my goal.
Steven Pinker brings up some interesting points in his talk regarding language. Some I agree with and others I do not. I think his passion for the English language is inspiring. It makes me want to continue learning more about it. One of Pinker's points was that verbs can be used in many different parts of speech. This really makes you think while you're reading or taking apart a sentence you have written. It reminds me that parts of speech aids in making writing creative.
Since the "standard" English language is always changing, I do think a lot of dictionaries are loosing their effectiveness. Does this mean they are dead? I don't think so. The writers of dictionaries should keep updating and molding the words to fit the appropriate meanings. If this doesn't happen, the dictionaries will become obsolete and useless.
Language is the way we communicate with each other. I'm not sure we should explore a deeper meanings than that though. The way we communicate will continually change as generations pass on. What Pinker said about language being a "window onto human nature", does have some truth. Different types of language (even in the English language) represent that culture of people. People who live in New York speak differently from people who live in London. They have different cultures, yet speak the same language. This, to me, is an example of how language can be that winder into how human nature works.
This was Pinker's point that I did not agree with, I don't think that "the verb is the chassis of the sentence". There are many parts of speech that are necessary in creating a sentence. One being the noun. All parts of speech work together to create a great piece of art.