Tag Archives: #equityunbound

iv. grammar matters (?)

Call me crazy, but I love grammar. In every form. Each of the 5 ways Patrick Hartwell describes in his essay “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” Anything structure- and usage-related are so fascinating to me.

I love critiquing it… I love employing its rules (and breaking them)… I love learning it… heck, I even love learning grammar of other languages and seeing how they compare to English…

No matter how many times my friends tell me learning conversational Korean is easier by watching dramas and not by studying the intensive grammar rules of the language, I will still geek out over the latter activity.

Just as I understood both sides of the argument for voice, as presented in Peter Elbow’s “Voices in Writing,” so too do I see the merit of both sides of The Grammar Issue. Honestly, the two topics go hand in hand, don’t they? Or rather… go at each others’ throat. [Totally random, but do y’all think “throat” or “throats” is more appropriate in this sentence? While there are more than one metaphorical throats in the situation, it’s just one throat each… So like… What’s the dealio…]

Anyway. The expressiveness of voice v. the technicalities of grammar. Who’s right? Who’s more important? Is there an appropriate balance?

Regarding that last question, I believe there is. Scholars and professors debate about the need for “formal language” in academic papers–arguably for the purpose of snob-nosed elitism rather than comprehensiveness in writing, but that’s neither here nor there–and with that, the rigidity of formal grammar rules and word usage.

While I agree that a certain amount of clarity in language is necessary in academia, I feel like the stress professors/teachers put on student to adhere to those rules is too much and too severe should the student fail to do so. I’d rather not say “fail” in this instance, but you get what I mean.

So back to that balance. When a person strives to follow every single grammar rule thrown at them, it’s a) daunting because even when you fix a sentence to follow one rule, you’re probably breaking three other obscure ones in the process, b) discouraging that the focus isn’t on the content but the means in which it’s presented, and c) damn boring.

Ya gotta throw a lil spice into your writing once in a while. Honestly, in all my past research papers, I feel like I’ve attempted to change sentences around, bend the rules, throw in some spice and humor.

Whether or not I’ve succeeded is another matter entirely.

But anyway, the attempt is there. Academics can be boring enough as is, so come on y’all. Loosen up a bit. The world is too serious, throw a joke into your dissertation. An “ain’t” into the mix, a “gonna” in that intro, and a “fjdlsjfkld” into that struggle of a conclusion.

That last one is a bit extreme. Save that for Twitter.

So, tl;dr, balance, my friends. Grammar is important for clarity, surely, but–… oh. A thought just hit me. I’m drawn back to my last blog post about multilingualism and writing. Adherence to specific, base grammar rules makes for easier translation, easier understanding for those whose native language may not be the one used in the paper, and easier sharing/spreading of information because of that understanding.

Hoo boy. Talk about flip-flopping an opinion. Let’s move on before I change my mind again.

I’ve mentioned how, in the writing center, our focus isn’t on grammar. It’s on the content, while grammar usually stays by the wayside, chilling while we sort out the Big Issues first.

I try to ignore it while it sits over there, just in my periphery, staring and giving a little wiggly wave every now and again.

I succumb to the temptation to point out a necessary comma sometimes. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

We’re not supposed to teach in the writing center. We’re supposed to nudge the student to use the knowledge they already have. But of course, we end up teaching a little bit sometimes. It just happens.

And honestly, when it does happen, the one thing that I hate about “teaching” grammar is the terminology. Comma splices, appositives, pluralization, possessiveness, verb-tense agreement, parallelism… It can get jargon-y very quickly. So it’s tricky figuring out how much jargon-y explanation is necessary (and if the student is willing to hear it all).

Alright, I’m just gonna point out One More Thing from Hartwell’s paper, because I was Literally just thinking about this recently: the unspoken rule that is the order of adjectives. Under the header of “The Grammar in Our Heads” (p.111), Hartwell takes into account our Grammar 1 knowledge.

For years, I didn’t know it was a rule to order adjectives a certain way. I just… did it. “The four young French girls.” That’s exactly the way I ordered the given words in my head. Number, age, nationality. I recall seeing a longer list somewhere on the internet, and maybe I’ll find it before I post this… {I found it.} Or maybe I’ll tweet it out. {Boom, baby.} Or both. Regardless, it was mind blowing.

And it’s so fascinating how any rearrangement of that order just makes it sound… wrong. And how, when analyzed, the order can completely change the concept of the sentence. Fancy subtly nuanced grammar stuff. Wowie. I wonder if there’s a purpose to the order, and how it came about. Pretty sure people didn’t just realize what sounded the least awkward when giving several descriptive words to a thing.

Hm. Food for thought.

Alrighty. That’s it for this week. Looking forward to discussing this article more in class.

G’night/G’afternoon/G’morning!

— C

iii. on multilingualism & writing

On the topic of multilingualism, I envy Europe. As far as I’m aware (which is not particularly, to be frank), Europe-based students/youth are able to speak several languages based solely on proximity to other countries/cultures. (I could be wrong, but hey, feel free to correct me.) Sure, here in the States it’s that proverbial MeLtInG PoT and kids are made to study a second language in school, but the former is honestly strikingly dependent on immediate environment and the latter is not enough.

I say the latter is not enough because I took 5+ years of Spanish in school and don’t remember a thing. At the most I can pick up a few words here and there and quote simple phrases, but I can’t say I’m at all proficient. Shame, that.

On the bright side, I’ve picked up basics of other languages over the past few years. Some Korean, some American Sign Language, a few dwindling words from my high school Japanese knowledge… Heck, I can introduce myself in like 6 languages, but that’s the extent of my linguistic diversity.

Regardless! Enough about me! (For now.)

This week, we were tasked with reading Paul Kei Matsuda’s Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World. For some reason, I’ve always only broached the topic of second language writing/education tentatively over the years. “ESL” was said in hushed voices when I was in elementary school. I didn’t know what it meant back then, but was always fed the idea that the ESL class in my school was the separate class. The lesser class.

Horrible, I know. I’m not proud of that mentality.

And I think it’s just the lingering bits of that mentality being drilled into me as a child that have me always question nowadays what the Correct Terms for ESL classes/students really are. I appreciate that Matsuda goes into detail about “defining” the topic, specifically talks about that mentality and points it out as a widespread issue of thought.

While it’s mildly comforting to not be the only one conscious about the problematic thought, it’s discouraging and unfortunate that it’s a thought at all. If that makes sense.

Matsuda brings up the “constant struggle for nonstigmatizing terms” in regards to ESL/ELL/ESOL/etc. education, and how in years of efforts, it’s possible that “any attempt to find a stigma-resistant alternative is ultimately futile–until people begin to challenge and dispel the very notion that being a nonnative English speaker is somehow a deficit” (“Proud” 15, as qtd. in Teaching Composition in the Multilingual World 38).

[Is that how you indirectly quote? Two plus years of writing center work and I’m still not sure on the formatting.]

Anyway, wow. I hate that this mentality is a thing. I hate this English elitism and odd, monolinguistic superiority. Like… you speak one language (a confusing, nonlinear, bastardized one at that; don’t start with me) and have the gall to look down on someone who’s learning that language ? which could quite possibly be the second, third, fourth one they know?

Golly gee. Incredible.

Oh, and then you make fun of their accent.

Wow. Incredible.

I’m tired.

Like mentally tired, but also physically, too? It’s 1:17 AM.

Anyway. I often tutor ESL students in the writing center where I work. I’ve heard plenty of those student express their frustrations that they are amazing writers in their own languages, but writing just as well in English is a whole other animal.

And it’s not just the language that’s the barrier, or the grammar, but the whole system of writing style. American research writings are straightforward, state a point at the beginning and execute a solid list of reasons to back it up.

Not every culture writes like this. I recall from my Writing Center Theory class that (and please correct me if I’m wrong) Asian cultures write in a way that suggests the main point, almost dances around it (for lack of a better term) to not come off as rude.

I’m intrigued by this concept–the stark contrast between writing styles. And from what I’ve heard, it’s not just academic writing–creative writing/storytelling follow a similar pattern. Again, I could be wrong! I’d love to go more into this idea of… like… indirect writing. On the differences between writing styles throughout the world.

Possible thesis, perhaps? Shrug.

Before I go, I’d like to mention the article we annotated in class, Lina Mounzer’s “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria.” I didn’t get a chance to read the entire piece in class, but what I did read was eye-opening. No words can express the strength it must take to translate the women’s stories. Mounzer goes into the nature of translation itself, and how hard it is to take a perfectly crafted sentence, tear it down and strip it of all its contextuality, and build it up again in English in the hopes that it will come across with even an iota of the effect of the original.

Reading Mounzer’s piece and discussing it in class reminded me of something. Might be a bit of a stretch, and I hope it doesn’t make light of the topic, but in the end, I think it’s important to note.

A singer I listen to said on a livestream that he was learning English. That he wanted to of course connect with fans, but also… it was because of music. English music. He wants to be able to hear a song and understand the meaning exactly, completely, in that moment, without having to read a bare bones translation that will, essentially, never fully translate the lyrics’ meaning (without at least some level of contextual explanation, of course). I get that. I get that because I want that, too. I want to be able to hear the music he creates and understand the meaning exactly, completely, in that moment.

Translation is a beautiful thing, but… there are things it can’t do.

Which brings me back around to the need to learn, I guess. That envy of Europe where kids grow up learning several languages at once. Other languages are beautiful, after all.

Why strip a person of something beautiful like that?

Alright. I’m gonna cut it here! Looking forward to our discussion in class.

G’night/G’mornin’ all.

–C

i. the theory part of theory & practice, feat. Grad School

Well, goodness me. First blog post for Writing Theory. This deserves a party. Or it should, but I’m running on fumes from a concert I went to last night (all hail Sir Ed, lads) so we’re gonna settle for a less-than-exuberantly raised fist and a halfhearted huzzah. I hope you understand.

Regardless! I’m hyped! It’s already the third full week of grad school, and it only just feels like I’m settling in. Which is fine. It’s a change. New Laptop, New Phone, New Schedule, New Responsibilities… Doesn’t feel like too big of a change, though, since it’s the Same Campus, Same Professors, Same(ish) Job… So I almost feel an uneasy sense of … ease? It’s like… I’m chill and taking things in stride right now… but I’ve got a feeling that’s gonna come back to bite me at some point.

Yay!

Anyway, for the time being, I’m okay. No word on Christina of Three Weeks From Now, though.

Ominous looming foreboding-ness, aside. Let’s move on to last week’s class.

 

Last Week’s Class

We participated in a Twitter Scavenger Hunt that really functioned as Twitter 101. Served as a cool little ice breaker between us and the rest of the Equity Unbound crew, too.

It was fun–posting mystery pics and guessing others’. (Truth be told I feel a little bad mine was difficult to guess, and also because the lighting kinda threw people off.)

I’m better-versed on Twitter nowadays than I was back in my #NetNarr days, so the learning portion of it wasn’t particularly difficult. What was out of my comfort zone was actually participating in the conversations going on. I’m more of a lurker, I suppose? Sneak in a RT and a Like now and then, but I’m trying to get better at putting myself out there. So! This should help! Right?!

(God help me and my mute internet self.)

Alright, let’s move on to the reading we were assigned last class.

 

The Reading We Were Assigned Last Class

Here’s where the title of this post comes in, because wowie That’s a Lot of Theory. Janice Lauer’s “Rhetoric and Composition” was… daunting to get through. But I did it! Did I understand and comprehend all of it? Nah!

Real talk, it’s not that drastic. I was able to parse a good portion of the thing, relating to more than I thought I would. There were some really interesting bits in there, scattered among the walls of text that sounded a bit like a manual on theorizing quantum physics. I made notes, even! I know I won’t be able to get to everything I found interesting, but. … Yeah, there’s no “but,” just know I’m not gonna wax poetic on everything.

Overall, the text was a comprehensive history of the teaching of writing and writing theory, albeit in more… complex terms.

(Honestly, the term rhetoric always kind of eluded me. I didn’t take the Rhetoric class Writing majors were required to take in undergrad, so I’m still kinda like ?? ?? ? Curse of a Lit major, I guess. But! That will surely change this semester. Pretty sure I have no choice. And like, I have some knowledge of rhetoric considering I’ve helped many a freshman with Rhetorical Analysis papers in the writing center… Hmm.)

ANYWAY. There has been a lot of debate regarding what and how to teach students. From what I gathered, the reigning agreement among the more progressive sort of the academic elite was that teaching should be more individualized and considerate of students’ particular voices–utilizing journals, meditation, analogies, etc. to achieve some sort of self-actualization–something I can definitely get behind (Lauer 117). I’m all for showing personality through writing. It’s my jam.

I suppose the remaining arguments are the “ok how do we do that while keeping up the ability to actually Judge student writing on a standardized basis” ones. To which, I reply with a groan. Particularly @ standardized. It’s understandable how you need a basis to be able to build up, but it got to a point that the basis was all the students gained from the regimented teaching style (114). Professors were caught up teaching kids how to recognize good writing and not how to go about making their own. Like, okay, here’s how you build a boat. Know how to build a boat now? Great! Here’s a degree.

I’m not bitter. I promise. I say as I hide my literature degree behind my back.

(Am I saying that my literature degree doesn’t prepare students for the writing aspects of the senior courses? That the writing classes are optional for them and that I took as many as I was allowed, aka, like 2-3? Is that what I’m saying? Hmm? Am I calling for a union of the majors with just a difference in concentration between the two and a balance between writing and literature aspects of it? Hmm? Mayhaps I am. Also: see p.126–the section regarding part time instructors with no benefits. Hmm.)

Anyways, long story short, I agree that standardized grading is stupid (see p.119) and professors should consider their students, just like how students should consider their audiences when writing. BAM. 

That was going to be a segue but it’s cancelled because I want to talk about something else instead: how a lot of the points made around p.120-128 (and throughout the whole text, honestly) are pretty much ideals of the Writing Center, or allude to things and concepts I’ve learned while working there: Writer ownership, utilization of the writer’s own voice in writing (and how academia seeks to destroy it), writing in the disciplines and the differences therein, ESL and cross-cultural writing (a topic I just might want to focus a thesis on? Maybe?)…

I suppose there was a lot in this text that spoke to me… And I am hoping to focus specifically on several of the issues brought up throughout the semester. On a second look, though, it’s a good introduction to this class. I believe so, at least.

And so, I’ll leave you with one, final, small point, courtesy of p.128, where Lauer brings up scholars’ distaste for picking apart the “superficial” issues of a student’s work. We try to look at the High-Order Concerns (HOCs) over the Low-Order Concerns (LOCs), but I’m a stickler for grammar, so I tend to point out the LOCs like grammar and formatting even if a HOC is organization. In the end, though, I just preach consistency. For example, if you neglect the Oxford Comma, friend, you’d better neglect it all the way through–(Please don’t neglect the Oxford Comma, I beg you). Or, if you format dialogue a certain way, it’d better be the same throughout.

The same can go for a lot of aspects of writing, actually, and even in life, too. (Oops, she’s getting deep.) If you like to do a thing one way–organize, format, eat, sing, draw, write, etc.–as long as you’re not hurting anybody, stick to it. Don’t let academia (read: society) take away your voice, man. You wanna neglect that Oxford Comma, you neglect that Oxford Comma!

(I’m kidding, please don’t neglect the Oxford Comma.)

Alright, I’ve ranted enough this post.

See y’all next week!

— C