I am excited for break. I just sat for five minutes trying to come up with something to say about something other than work and readings. This is what I’ve come up with so far.
Language and Gender: Nichols and Gal. I really enjoyed these articles. I really enjoyed how short they were, how little quantitative analysis they included, and their narrow foci (though you won’t read this, Chris, I just got your goat in my head). Quick recap. Nichols’s wrote: “Black Women in the Rural South: Conservative and Innovative”–she opens the article by criticizing previous studies for “serious methodological problems.” 1) In previous studies when sex differences have been considered, occupation was sometimes tracked and occupation was assigned with very little accuracy to women subjects. 2) Previous scholars haven’t treated sex as a ‘serious’ variable–allowing wide variations in age / participant numbers which are likely (says Nichols) to skew data. 3) She believes that studies needs to do a better job considering the context of speakers being studied. Specifically, she believes it’s important to note the community norms for language use. She says Labov is the exception, here, and that he has taken ‘care to establish from his data the norms for a social group.’
I find it interesting that she aligns herself with Labov on the last point–that of language norms in the community, where, in reality, I think she takes a much more subjective–maybe even an ethnographic approach to her study. She lives and works within the community. She participates in the conversations in which she measures language features. I don’t think that Labov is interested in the ‘whys’ of language change; he isn’t so much interested in individual motivations. Whereas Nichols has a very small sample (unscientific, un-generalizable) and she goes to great pains to look at why certain people might have adopted certain language features–she considers levels of education, experiences her subjects have had outside of their home communities, and she considers the motivations of families and of women which might result in women attending colleges at a higher rate than men. I would say that Nichols is interested in context in a way that Labov just isn’t. So then, is Nichols more like Eckert? Eckert, I think, would be more interested in the underlying motivations of male and female speakers in the examples of ‘sex difference’ that Nichols looks at. Eckert wants to ask how do these choices arise BOTH out of a larger structure (with the question of dominance / power) and out of individual motivations / social categories. Nichols’s scope isn’t as big as Eckerts–Eckerts looks to say something about the experience of women and of men, in a general way. That seems right . . .?
Then there’s Gal’s “Peasant Men Can’t Get Wives: Language Change and Sex Roles in a Bilingual Community.” This article is sweet. She makes the claim that language change is a choice (in this particular instance) that is causing social change. Whoa! First, I really like that she describes language ‘choices’–she credits the men and women of the Austrian town with a ton of agency in their own language use. She suggests that men and women use language strategically and with purpose. I suppose she can do this, because switching language (even switching dialects) is a ‘change from above’ as linguists say. So, people are aware its happening, and can opt to participate or resist. I wonder if it’s possible to make the leap and say that changes from above are the only types of language variation that can effect social change. . . Someone we read not too long ago would agree with that, I think. I think that Gal and Eckert line up pretty well. Though Gal does kind of fit people into slots in order to predict their behavior. She also looks at linguistic change diachronically. But no–I think she is more on team-Eckert. She wants to know the underlying ‘why.’ One of the most interesting claims that she makes is the idea that ‘[c]hanges in language choices occur situation by situation’ (9). It’s like there is a tipping point in the community. Once you’ve started to use both Hungarian and German in a particular type of conversation, it is more and more likely that you will transition to full-German. Why do I find this interesting? I guess it’s entirely logical. One other thing I found interesting is that woman actually seems less socially constrained in terms of language use in this study. Regardless of whom they were talking to, women were more likely to make language choices that served their own interests (economically, socially)–driving change. Men were more conservative, but maybe not because they were socially constrained, maybe because they had less to lose and less to gain through the change. She also said this of predicting individual choices: “the habitual role-relationship between participants in the interaction proved to be the most important factor. Other aspects of the situation such as locale, purpose or occasion were largely irrelevant” (5). So relationships make the context–language contexts are people-contexts. Is that right?
Tomorrow I’ve got to make a video blog post about some of our readings. My favorite was the piece by Holton. What I liked was that it re-purposed/re-appropriated the Power Point form and all its mechanisms for charting and graphing. New tools for telling old stories. I think that this is my favorite digital innovation (but I guess it might not be an innovation in all senses–what I mean is that it uses new technologies, and not that no one has ever re-purposed or tools to tell a conventional story). I am trying to think if I can describe why I liked it so much–by the end, I was actually really emotionally effected. It’s not that I cried, but it’s not that I didn’t think of crying, either. He charted a complete emotional and personal collapse–and then, when he found the solution, it was so simple. A shoe insert. And I believe in that shoe insert and I kind of want my own–like how I wanted a wand after reading Harry Potter. Shoe inserts are transformative! I am a believer! How did he do it? Why did this form work so well, I wonder? It was linear. I like that a lot. It didn’t ask me to do anything but watch and enjoy (which is something I am always happily ready to do). And I think that was the right choice–it is his story to tell, after all. It would be uncomfortable to be given some sort of agency in a story that was so personal. And it would’ve disrupted my engagement if he had required that I click, click, click all the way through. The piece works with metaphor–he replaces the description of failure with an image of failure. I think that’s metaphor. Emotions, turmoil, becomes somehow trackable, graphable. Then there is the whole mold metaphor–there’s something rotten in his shoes, in his basement, in his relationships. And metonymy? That’s when one thing is made to stand in for something else. Barbie for first wife? Or is that a metaphor? Dammit Sorapure. Why can’t I keep it straight? I think this sort of project would be fun to do. It makes the charts and graphs lively–because they are his life. But what am I going to say on my video blog about it…Plus I don’t even think I am supposed to talk about that one.