Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hanging with the Wrong Crowd of Words- an Inquiry

In my 1101 course we are embarking upon a journey of inquiry blogging - among other things  I started last summer with the UNCCWP SI group of 2012 with an inquiry around the rhetoric of help, where I got particularly caught up in Pickles the Cat - a character from a children's book.

I'm planning to keep that project moving and actually do an enthnography around the literacy and rhetoric of help along side my students.

But today' post, is a meandering one - inquiring a little more deeply into this idea of literacy and always it seems lately, connecting it back up to the rhetoric of help that has been pinging around in my head since class yesterday.

One of our readings for class last week was "Words Become Us,"  Convocation speech given by Ann Imbrie.  It's a say story of sorts in that one of the characters commits suicide and Imbrie goes on to ponder how the love affair with words, particularly borrowed words as teen agers led them to such different outcomes, she as a successful college professor and he as a victim of suicide.

One of my students picked out the line "it's possible that Gordon simply fell in with a bad crowd of words, that he borrowed the wrong words, that Milton's  words, say rather than Mick Jagger's might have redeemed him."

This idea of a bad crowd of words collided with the term "broken English" that can out of our dual conversation about Amy Tan's mother and another student in our class who has always made phone calls for her mother.

And it all made me think of the real, concrete power of words - and who gets to decide which words have power?  Is my English "broken" when I say "chester drawers" for bureau" or when one of my students who speaks multiple languages finds it easier to write in his first language to get thoughts out and then translate to English so that I can read it?   Right now, a big motivation for me is written on a white board in my home office "Dead discussion. You will not win cuz I will not loose." - It's a lyric from "Can't be Touched" - a song that I have to turn down when my children walk through the room and that I most likely wouldn't be blasting in my office in Cameron.  But it fills me with power when I need it.   Is allowing ourselves to "hang out" with these languages and words "falling in with a bad crowd of language?"    Is the code switching we all do, the lyrics and the movie lines, and quotes from books not in the cannon - the deviation from "proper" (whatever that is) English, hanging with the "wrong" crowd.

And so is the rhetoric of help bound up in this idea of "raising children up" to hang out with the "right" crowd of words" marking their home languages as "wrong" and broken?


  1. woah, Cindy! This is such incredibly intriguing thinking... so much stuff you brought me through in this one post. Particularly I am interested in what you are getting at towards the end here with how "helping children" to grow up "right." I think this is so very connected to what I have been thinking about with the mothering-teaching tandem work of so many women. Also this is perfect timing since I am going to reread these two pieces over the weekend for class Tuesday. Thinking you might see some posting here from some more 1101ers :) Might just be our responding into the day on Tuesday!

  2. Writing and speaking is questioned by everyone, based on background, taken in different aspects, and can change upon who surrounds you.
    -Swervin MRGN

  3. Broken English is different to just about everybody. Everybody has a different sense of what's right and what's wrong when one is speaking. Depending on where you grew up you may have a different view of what is broken or proper English.
    -Tanner, Olivia, De Shaun, Chris

  4. Broken english should not be considered wrong but another way of communicating between friends and family. Although it is associated with the lower class it doesn't mean that you are apart of it. In "Beyong the Barrier" the author helps the reader understand that language isn't something to be ashamed of but really a way that people can feel comfortable being who they are.
    -Kendric, Stefanie, Kristen, Caity

  5. We agree with what you are saying.This blog basically explains how everyone views proper language a different way. Some people decide how they speak around certain people. For example, someone might have to really think before they speak around their parents. Although when they are texting or just talking to their friends, they might say whatever they want, because it is easier.
    -Kelsey, Nikki, Michael, Bryan

  6. When using the phrase "a bad crowd of language," this metaphor creates the personification that words have more power then what people usually see. This phrase gives the power of words a floor to stand on - to show what really goes on once a certain slang passes towards a habit.
    - Sarah W, Jovan, Taylor, Nicole

  7. Depending on who you are or where you live, the "bad crowd of language" or what's "proper english" to you may be different than what it is to someone else. We don't necessarily think that there is any "wrong" way of talking, but rather different ways among different people. For instance, an accent in one's language from the north may differ from someone's from the south - but that doesn't make either way of talking "wrong."
    -Farrah, Sarah, Nick, Matt

  8. We think that this blog highlighted some key points and ideas such as whether it seems right to mark a person's home language as "wrong" or "broken". Does an individuals home life (language) really limit or define the individuals path in life? We think that the blogger did a good job of drawing attention to societies stereotypes.
    -Dillon, Nora, Casey

  9. After reading the post, our group discussed what was written and decided that we agree with what Cindy says. We all use a different type of English when speaking to parents, friends, and teachers. We realized that it is possible to get caught up in the wrong crowd by what kind of music you listen to, books you read and TV you watch. We also recognized that we all have different accents and although they are different, none of them should be considered "broken."

  10. Our group that it was interesting in "Words Become Us" that she blamed the suiceide on the loss of love for words. None of us thought that somebody would do that just because they lost a passion for words. Maybe the guy should have pursued his passion for words harder, so that one day he could earn a living cultivating his passion for words. He pretty much isolated himself from his old friend which is really sad because maybe if he would have reached out to her she could have helped him through his hard times.
    Michelle, Jordan, and Fitz

  11. We don't believe that the way children are raised makes their english wrong. We do believe that a child's english can be broken if he or she is not involved with others who uses good english. Wrong english and broken english differs from our point of view. Someone who grows up with peers who speak good english has an advantage in the concept of good english. We have had our share of bad english back in our childhood too.

    -Randy, Tyler, Patrick

  12. My group and I were also interested in the term "broken english". Many times, although its not always fair, people judge you by the way you speak. Some people may seem intelligent or unintelligent depending on the words they use, and they way they actually speak. Just because someone is from another country and doesn't speak OUR language well, doesn't mean they are unintelligent. Thats like putting me in spain and having someone try to have a conversation with me. I know some spanish vocabulary, and how to conjugate verbs, but not that well. Spaniards may say I speak "broken spanish". I'm not unintelligent just because I can't speak spanish... I am just use to english. People need to think before they judge someone on something so ridiculous. I know plenty of english speaking Americans who aren't good at english. Whats their excuse?


  13. Language is influenced by peoples surroundings. The way you were raised and what you grew up around deffinatly reflects on people. "Broken Language" is a conflict we face everyday because of this. Also, we have language barriers from people that are from other countries. All of these reasons effect language today.

    - Josie, Anna, Brian, Gui

  14. Wow - you all really have me thinking hard - eyebrows are wrinkled up and everything! You have me thinking about a recent traveling experience to Germany with my children. My husband and I speak NO German, and if you say that, most Germans will switch to English, which I happen to think is awfully nice of them. My husband and I were worried about even trying because we were pretty sure we would butcher (break) the language and accent. Our children (8 and 11) we all in. They started greeting all servers in German, trying to order in German and using German please and thank you's. It was AMAZING the way people's demeanor changed as the kids mades these attempts. And what you all are saying here has me thinking - are we the only country that gets all hosed up in someone "breaking" the language? We, the country were we expect everyone to learn our language instead of going to the effort to teach our children other languages?