First: Language and Gender. Second: Computers and Writing: Third: Mariachi!

1 candleRead Kulick’s “Gay and Lesbian Language”–a review essay, albeit a well-written and engaging one. Kulick also has an argument to make, which I am going to see if I can summarize. The field (variously named) which focuses on the study of the language used by the queer community–and dates back over half a century–has ignored some stuff. There has been an over-emphasis on naming and labeling, over-generalizations about language practices within the queer community, and a focus on the lexical features of language–rather than other linguistic features. Kulick’s big bone of contention about research up until 2000 (when his piece was published) is that scholars have conflated identity and linguistic behaviors. This conflation annoys him in a couple ways: 1) It assumes that if a linguistic feature is used by a gay man, that it is a gay feature (therefore failing to account for diversity in the gay population and the fact that linguistic features can’t be “owned”–everyone, in some sense, has access to all linguistic features); 2) It assumes that “gay and lesbian language is somehow grounded in gay and lesbian identities and instantiated in the speech of people who self-identify as gay and lesbian”   (p. 246). OK, I admit that I can’t quite get my mind around the second concept (hence and quote and not a summary). I think that Kulick means that there is an assumption that linguistic features somehow neatly correlate to “contemporary identity categories” (like gay, women, African American, etc.) (p. 247). Because I am a woman, my speech and writing will follow some linguistic patterns that are tied to my identity as a woman. Or, said another way, I might use the linguistic features appropriated to men, and still be a woman. That’s right, isn’t it? (Tag question.) He goes on to claim that there essentially is no such thing as GLBT language–trying to tie identity to language practices will never give us a complete picture. Instead, he points the way for a new scholarship which will “turn its attention to the ways in which language is bound up with and conveys desire” (pg. 247). I think he is generally calling for a consideration of sexual desire, Kulick also points to rich, general possibilities of considering language that expresses desire for any subject. In addition to the expressive, external ways in which desire is expressed, Kulick is interested in discussions of silences–taking stock of how what is and can be spoken must be considered in light of its unspoken correlate.

I like how Kulick destabilizes/problematizes gay and lesbian “identities.” I think his approach is useful and helpful when thinking about ANY and ALL identity categories in relation to language use. He lists three things that scholarship must to prove in order to make claims that certain language is “gay.”

“First, it must document that gays and lesbians use language in empirically delineable ways. Next, it must establish that those ways of using language are unique to gays and lesbians. Finally, it must, at some point, define gay and lesbian. To whom exactly do these labels apply?” (p. 259).

If you read that and then replace “gays and lesbians” with “women” or “men” or “Chinese Americans” or “chess players,” it’s easy to see that language cannot be absolutely appropriated to any single group. Even if there are patterns of language behaviors, it would be reckless to assume that X linguistic feature denotes Y identity. Language and identity and sexuality, for that matter, are all too fluid to conform to such treatment.

OK, so I think I follow Kulick. Though he is speaking about a specific branch in Language and Gender Studies (is his branch distinct from this field?), I can see wide-applications for his treatment of identity. Then he gets to the desire idea. We’ve read about the “desire” framework before, and I was waiting for the moment when enough hints and allusions would accumulate in my mind and pile into an understanding. But I am not there.  Kulick says its missing from the literature: “What is noticeably left out of this picture, what is nowhere mentioned. . . by the overwhelming majority of the other authors I have read, is everything that arguably makes sexuality sexuality–namely, fantasy, desire, repression, pleasure, fear, and the unconscious” (p. 270). Part of this argument, I gather has to do with the equation of gender with sexuality (which flattens out sexuality into an innocuous and more easily studied phenomenon). In other words, it’s easy to talk about men and women; it’s not as easy(not passé) to talk about men wanting men or women wanting men, etc. I think he is saying that when people set out to study the language habits of the gay and lesbian communities, they are essentially setting out to study the ways in which language use is tied to an individual’s (or groups’) sexuality. He says we have to move away from studying people based on self-identification, because gay and lesbian (sexual) identities are wound up in the unconscious. Kulick sees a problem in conceptualizing gay and lesbian identities as categories like “woman” or “middle class.” Here’s how he justifies the shift in focus: “First, it would compel us to shift the ground of our inquiry, firmly, decisively, and once and for all, from identity categories to culturally grounded semiotic practices” (p. 273). He explains that the “precise types of things they desire and the manner in which desires” are made manifest are culturally coded. Is this a shift, though? If we look at a group of people and say, You all want X and wanting X means you express your desire in Y ways, is that much different than the assumptions about gay individuals speaking in culturally codified ways? Anyhow, “Second, a focus on desire rather than sexuality would move inquiry to engage with theoretical debates about what desire is, how it is structured, and how it is communicated” (p. 273). If there is this shift in focus, does that mean that gay/lesbian identities are reduced to a set of desires and the expression of those desires? Do we assume that sexuality (as in desire) is the only factor which shapes linguistic practices? Or, the expression of desire the only way in which the linguistic habits of gays and lesbians might meaningfully differ from the practices and habits of other sub-cultures? Maybe that’s my question?


* * * * * * * * * Computers and Writing. This week we read “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” from The New London Group. Think it was published in 1996.

This is a BIG article. Big in the sense of the theoretical issues it tackles (it tried to define the purpose of education in the first sentence); Big in the sense of the amount of territory it covers (from juxtaposing the contemporary world of work to the home world to education to providing a proposal, framework, and an entirely new lexicon for a total pedagogical overhaul). Big, also, in what it assumes and takes-for-granted (as when it compares the new inter-connectedness of the marketplace and schooling and revels in the new! way in which both institutions borrow the rhetoric and practices of the other). Or when it assumes that “the proliferation of communications channels and media supports and extends cultural and subcultural diversity” (p. huh–no page numbers. . . 1?).

My goodness. Where to begin.


  • NLG: “If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, it could be said that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life.”
  • Molly: Should we assume that each of the goals (participation in three spheres) is equal? For most of our America’s history, schools did not, I don’t think, work too terribly hard to prepare earners. The first two goals–of stabilizing the republic and preparing citizens–were far more central to education’s “mission.” Should we look critically on calls to train students as workers? Are schools equipped for this type of training?
  • NLG: “A strong sense of citizenship seems to be giving way to local fragmentation, and communities are breaking into ever more diverse and subculturally defined groupings.”
  • I observe: Is fragmentation an unquestionable good? If, in schools, we turn our focus–as you suggest– to the “question of differences,” will any sort of national identity be impossible? Will political apathy reign? Will groups cease to work together and live in isolated communities of diversity?
  • NLG: That’s absurd!
  • Molly: You’re right. But do you see what I am saying?


  • NLG: “Once divergent, expert, disciplinary knowledge such as teaching and management are now becoming closer and closer. This means that, as educators, we have a greater responsibility to consider the implications of what we doing relation to a productive working life.”
  • Molly: Whoa–whoa–whoa. “Once divergent”? Name one time in the twentieth or twenty-first century that rhetoric of the workplace and education has been DISCONNECTED. This isn’t a new move. Listen to Ellwood Cubberly (circa 1916 ): “Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.”
  • NLG: Ok, fine. But that isn’t our main point. “In responding to the radical changes in working life that are currently under way, we need to treat a careful path that provides students with the opportunity to develop skills for access to new form of work through learning the  new language of work. . . “
  • Molly: Like getting them to think of themselves as “raw material”?
  • NLW: “It is not our job to produce docile, compliant workers.”
  • Molly: But it is your central goal to produce workers. Not citizens, not people, not learners, not humans. WORKERS.


  • NLG: “Local diversity and global connectedness mean not only that there can be no standard: they also mean that the most important skill students need to learn is to negotiate regional, ethnic, or class-based dialects. . . Indeed, this is the only hope for averting the catastrophic conflicts about identities and spaces that now seem ever ready to flare up.”
  • Molly: What does this mean? It’s pretty alarmist for being confusing.
  • NLG: We think negotiating differences “is a life-or-death matter.”
  • Molly: OK. . . And your plan isn’t to teach a common language, but to teach everyone differently depending on their local context and hope that they find a way to communicate with members of other sub-cultures on the terrible-streets-of-impending-unrest? Don’t misunderstand, I think children SHOULD be able to learn about their home dialects in school. But I think that schools also serve as places where a diverse group of people meet and learn to communicate–not just with their neighbors, but with society at large.
  • NLG: “Instead of core culture and national standard, the realm of the civic is a space for the negotiation of a different sort of social order; an order where difference are actively recognized; where these differences are negotiated in such a way that they complement each other.”
  • Molly: This is the Glee model of the world. I guess I am OK with that. . .
  • NLG:  “We live in an environment where subcultural differences–differences of identity and affiliation — are becoming more and more significant.”
  • Molly: Why more and more? P.S. This idea that “differences” are the new standard is also not new. See Reese, America’s Public Schools, pg. 152–classrooms in the  mid-twentieth century were conceived as “democracies of differences.” (Though you call it ‘civic pluralism’–and that’s a change.)


  • NLG: “One of the paradoxes of the less regulated, multi-channel media systems is that the concept of collective audience and common culture, instead promoting the opposite: an increasing range of accessible sub-cultural options and the growing divergence of specialist and subcultural discourses.”
  • Molly: Is it possible that the wide proliferation of media (and the relatively small number of media conglomerates that control the messages of the same) actually promotes sameness not diversity? Eroding place differences (as in differences in the cultures of a city-dweller vs. a farmer). You kind of address this later, I guess.
  • NLG: Anyhow, “this spells the definitive end of ‘the public’–that homogenous imagined community of modern democratic nation states.”
  • Molly: For the reasons I listed above, I think this statement is over-stating the effect of multi-channel media systems. (Are you really claiming that ‘the end of the public’ is due to cable?)


  • Molly: After you finished with your discussion of society, I was pretty much with you. The concept of “Design” is good, I think. The past is not past. Nothing is “original” in the sense of emerging out of the ether. All very sensible. Do you need a whole new vocabulary to buy into this model? You made me really excited to read Fairclough.
  • NLG: Indeed, the second half of our article is  insightful.

three-amigosFinally, Mariachi. We saw Mariachi Vargas perform tonight at Hill. It was sweet. (This picture is obviously NOT of Mariachi Vargas–and is, in fact, of Americans, and is problematic in a lot of ways, but I chose it because it seemed to invoke Mariachi and the number three.) Anyhow, the whole show was great–beautiful voices, instruments I’ve never heard before, lots of enthusiasm from the crowd–many of whom knew EVERY WORD TO EVERY SONG. But my favorite part? All the performers wear the big hats, but I suspect they are too heavy or too hot to wear all night, SO each of their microphone stands comes equipped with a hat-hook. How clever.

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