Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something Snow-Related

I love snow. It was flurrying the other day, and I cursed Arkansas for being fickle with me, especially on the snow-front. Capricious state. Give me my one snow day!

Anyway, I stumbled across this SnowDays site, which is fun--it lets you make your own snow flake! If you do a search for "Jenn" and "AR" you can see the one that I made. Pretty fun, a total time killer, and I can sort of believe it's snowing.

Sorry for the gap in posting as of late. Hopefully I'll work up some posting motivation soon, especially since I still need to talk about Spain...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who's that Austen Person?

Jane Austen: you either tear through her (fabulous!) novels with reckless abandon, or foster some vague idea of "chick-lit" or novels about "getting married and stuff." Well, I'm obviously of the former camp--since I started reading Austen for class, I voluntarily read through the rest of her canon with delight, finding her prose witty and ironical.

My interest in Austen led me to rent Becoming Jane. Little is known about the exact details of Austen's life, so much of the movie is speculation about why she never married based on what scholars do know.

The film seized on the angle of a unfulfilled romantic relationship as a possible influence on Austen's writings and explored the nature of this relationship.

I loved this movie. It might be over-romanticized, but it offered some interesting speculation about the life of a wonderful writer. The film itself was full of little references to Austen's works, something I found fun. I also enjoyed the scene where Jane met Ann Radcliffe, famous Gothic authoress who was a little boring (in contrast with her wild tales). It also showed the relationship between Austen and Tom LeFroy as an inspiration for her most famous work, Pride and Prejudice.

Anne Hathaway did a decent job portraying Austen, and I had to give her extra points when I learned from the special features that she is an Austen fan (she wrote her senior thesis at Vassar on Austen) and she read the Austen's entire body of works as well as criticism as research for this role. Impressive!

Taken with a grain of salt and viewed as a story based on limited knowledge, Becoming Jane offers a lovely possibility in the story of an author's life.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Arguing for English-Only Legislation

(Even though I don't agree with it--but I'll explain why tomorrow. This is also a partial-answer--tongue-in-cheek though it may be--to a comment from my last post).

Decir “Sí” por solomente Ingles

We are an English-speaking nation. As a nation, it is in our best interest to pass laws and promote legislation that will ensure our cohesiveness as a nation, culture, and society. If our government were to issue English-only legislation, then this would aid our nation-building and draw us closer together as an American society. For those that wish to be American citizens and participate in American democratic processes, speaking English should be a party of those activities.

This would not eliminate the ability of cultural groups to maintain their languages in their own homes and communities; instead, it would help new immigrants to acquire English, which would then open the door to their future success in American society. If the ability to communicate and read government documents to receive aid required one to learn English, then immigrants would have greater incentive to do so. Additionally, if English-only legislation were to be passed on the national level, then Congress would have to give greater funding accordingly to programs that teach English as a Second Language for both public schools and adult education programs. As it stands now, many government documents are in languages other than English, and so immigrants can scrape by without learning the language, thus they are unable to participate in American society and culture to the fullest degree and are unable to realize their fullest potential.

Finally, English-only legislation is equivalent to the practices of other countries world-wide. An American would not expect to immigrate to Spain or France and believe that he or she could function without learning the native language. While monolinguism is rampant in the United States, English-only legislation would not hinder that from changing, but perhaps encourage polylinguism as the necessity to teach immigrants English increases. We can still encourage knowing a diversity of cultures and languages while endorsing English-only legislation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Language and Culture--Unseparable?

In Applied Linguistics (my Monday night class), we talked about "World Englishes" or the versions of English that are spoken in other countries, especially in countries colonized by English-speaking nations, such as India. We encountered the question, "Does language homogeneity lead to cultural homogeneity? Are culture and language intertwined?" The group discussing that question answered no, you can be from a certain culture without speaking that language. Different cultures can exist without different language because even if people say the same thing, they don't mean the same thing*.

My response was to wholeheartedly disagree. You may be an ethnic Indian, but if you don't speak Hindi (or whichever of the Indian languages your family speaks), you are still only marginally from that culture. I'm thinking of the Gogol in The Namesake who would identify himself as American, even though his parents were of the Bengali culture and identified themselves as Bengali.

I brought up the issue of Native Americans who are slowly losing their language as the younger generation doesn't see necessity of learning it when English suffices. Consequently, they are also slowly losing their culture and traditional way of life. Another student countered that "some Native Americans still dressed up and did the dances," but really...is that their culture? I hated to be rude, but I don't think she quite understood all of the aspects of culture loss.

I also brought up modern Italian: when Italy formed itself as a nation instead of a bunch of little nation-states, they taught everyone to speak Dante's Italian as a way to build a cohesive culture and nation. If culture and language are not so inextricably connected, then why did they do this...and why did it work?

Catalunya--Northern Spain, including Barcelona, in Spain is another example. They know Castillian Spanish, but they prefer to speak Catalan because it's the regional language, and the people are very proud of it and their culture. Castillians, by comparison, are also proud of their language and distinct culture--these two regions are in the same country, but they have different identities that relate directly to their languages.

I could argue all day long about this, but I assert that if you cut off a culture from their language, you'll see a fading away of that culture as the dominant language and culture take over. Why do you think the first thing British colonizers did was teach the colonized English and make them go to English schools? Why do you think in certain areas, the native language was forbidden and the language of the colonizer was adopted? Why were slaves separated from those who spoke their same language and shared their cultural identity? Because we know that if we didn't speak English, our culture would not be American, and if we want to do away with other cultures, we insist that they abandon their language.

I realized, at this moment, why the official language debate in the US mattered. If we declare an official language (of English?), then we officially sanction that the wonderful blend of cultures and traditions that thrive in certain areas are not valid. They don't speak English/American, they don't prescribe to American culture. And how sad that would be if all cultures became alike.


*If you're a good deconstructionist, this is probably true. However, I tend to believe that the influences of Mother Culture are strong enough that we think enough alike, even if we don't have the same exact experience of a word or sentence. We just like to think that we're so different and individual from each other that our thought processes and experiences are completely unique. If this were true, then we'd be unable to form human connections, since relationships are usually founded on shared interests, experiences of the world, and ideas.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Disasters Close to Home

I want to echo Tim's sentiments about the tornadoes that ripped through Arkansas. I got a call this morning from one of my best friends telling me that her sister and her sister's husband had lost their home to one of the tornadoes. Luckily they weren't home...but their home was destroyed and their pets possibly lost to the storm. I'm pretty close to the family, so it really struck me how many people (and without discrimination) can be struck by a natural disaster.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ill-Limbo

I've been in a state of not-quite-sick for the past week and a half, which is better than actually being sick. I would like to be totally healthy, however, so I can go run and do fun stuff like that. Instead, I've been taking it easy and relaxing and hanging out at my apartment.

Right now, I'm planning my apartment party (woo!), which should be lots of fun. I figure that it's almost too late to take time out of my semester for something fun...but I've been wanting to throw a party for a while now, and a new apartment is an awesome excuse.

We're working on Guilliver's Travels in 18th-century literature. I read this in high school (or junior high?), and I don't remember it being so entertaining. It has insane amounts of political allusions, so the only way I can catch them is by reading the notes. But then the notes often define something stupid, so that annoys me because it's a waste of my time. I am enjoying it and looking forward to discussing it on Thursday.

My other class is also going well. It has a weird dynamic because there are undergraduates, graduates, English majors, and anthropology majors all mixed in. I'm supposed to be designing a project to work on for it that involves my thesis, so that should be interesting...

Well, I'm about to go home and will myself to be better with some yoga and relaxation. May you all stay out of the realms of the ill...

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Times of Illness

I've spent much of the last week doing everything in my power to not get sick. I thought I'd gotten past it, but then this morning, I wake up with a sore throat. And since I have to turn in my admission ticket, and it's only the third meeting of our class, I feel as though I have to drag myself to class, feeling poorly or not. We'll see about tomorrow.

We were prompted this week to write about a tense or embarrassing situation involving language. I decided to talk about how my mom and I can never argue.

Never Argue With Your Mother

An embarrassing or tense situation involving language: the last time I had a discussion/argument with my mother. Since much of my college education was discussion-oriented, I learned to debate and think using language, playing off of others’ comments on a topic. My mother, however, views any conversation involving a difference of opinion as an “argument”, which, in her world, is something awful.

Since my parents and I differ politically and religiously, differences of opinion are inevitable. I will try to explain my viewpoints to my mother, and suddenly we’re arguing about Iraq or how I disagree with certain political stances. For me, this isn’t a problem—it’s just a discussion, right? For my mother, it strikes to the very soul of who she is—disagreeing with her becomes a reflection on her as a parent. She manipulates language to make it fit into this perception. What begins as me wanting to share my beliefs and opinions (and have them respected) ends with me trying to tell my mom that she’s not a bad mother.

I have since learned not to discuss politics or religion with my mom. She just gets too upset, and doesn’t allow my intended meaning to shine through, even if I attempt to explain it. Our ideas of how language interactions should work are too different for us to ever have a meaningful discussion like I have with my fellow students and professors.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Snow, Melted Snow, and Handmade Things

When I looked out my window yesterday, this is what I saw:















Today, almost exactly 24 hours laster, here's what the I see:


I'm so sad--this is a pitiful way for snow to behave. I love snow so much, and for it to finally snow and stick, it didn't stay long enough for me to do any of things I like to do with snow, like go on night snow-walks, play in the snow, throw snowballs, get out of work, look at bird tracks, etc.

Arkansas Winter-1, Jenn-0.

Something entertaining: Last night, I made 6 placemats because I was feeling creative, and I wanted some to use on the table. I had been thinking about it for weeks, so finally I did, and here are the results:

Aren't they adorable? I made them with some fabric I bought with the intention of making a crazy dress. I then realized, however, that it was a little too thin for a whole dress. I'll probably make some manner of lined skirt out of it, however. Or maybe a cute little halter-top...

Anyway, placemats. These are backed with denim, so they are sturdy, and if I want plain blue, I can just flip them over. I love doing the top stitching too; I think it adds a really nice detail.

I have the dining room table by my window, since I figure that it's nice to look out the window. Also, it provides a better room layout. It's usually just Lance and me eating at it, so we really only need access to two places. If I need an extra seat or two, we can just pull the table away from the window.

I made four red placemats, but I decided to make a couple with this neat vintage-style fabric. So I had two made out of this. They were fast, fun, and really easy to make--it was fun sewing six of them in one night!

I think my next step is to make some napkins to match the red placemats...