Barton – Vernacular Writing on the Web

Barton, David. “Vernacular Writing on the Web.” The Anthropology of Writing :Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds. Eds. David Barton and Uta Papen. London; New York: Continuum, 2010. 109-125. Print.

This chapter, “Vernacular Writing on the Web,” from Anthropology of Writing: Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds examines characteristics of vernacular writing in online spaces, specifically the photo sharing site, Flickr. Vernacular writing, such as graffiti, has typically been identified and analyzed in face-to-face environments; however, due to increased technological development and globalization vernacular writing is also taking place in the form of computer-mediated-communication online.

David Barton provides the following definitions/descriptions for his reader:

Vernacular literacy practices: local, every day literacies, often “voluntary, self-generated and learned informally;” not under the governance of the formal rules and procedures of dominant social institutions and associated literacies. These practices can also overlap and be intertwined with dominant literacies. These practices draw upon and contribute to “local funds of knowledge” and are linked to self-education and local expertise.

Vernacular Writing: “that ‘which is closely associated with culture that is neither elite nor institutional, which is traditional and indigenous to the diverse cultural processes of communities as distinguished from the uniform, inflexible standards of institutions’ ([Camitta,] 1993:228-229)”. Not tied to a particular language.

Vernacular Language: local languages associated with traditional and indigenous cultures and can be seen in contrast to dominant, colonial languages, such as English and French.

Because of the ways in which technologies have changed the ways that people “can be” in the world, including writing, Barton is interested in examining the impact of the social media site Flickr on vernacular writing. In this care, the function of Flickr, primarily visual, is similar to that of graffiti, which allows for a focus on how the writing takes place instead of a sole focus on  the meaning of the text.

Barton had to adapt, or as Spinuzzi might say translate existing methodologies and develop new approaches to analyzing vernacular writing for the internet study. Barton describes the study as multi-method consisting of five “interlinked” sources of data: 1)the initial study of 100 Flickr members’ sites, 2-3) tw0-stage online interviews with 30 Flickr users (starting out general and leading to specific questions re: at least 100 of their photos), 4) sites of Flickr users of other languages, including French Norwegian and Greek, as well as, 5) autoethnographies from Barton and Lee  based on their own Flickr activities. Here we can see Barton’s desire to capture data related to global communication resulted in his focus on multilingual activity on Flickr.

The various sources of data in addition to the abundance of data within the Flickr sites themselves, such as: tags, titles, and photo descriptions provided a great deal of data for analysis. The examination of the specific features of Flickr also contributed to an understanding of how the medium also shapes the writing activity. Users:

  • developed new practices and carrying out older practices in new ways (in part due to the new medium of Flickr)
  • contributed to broader social practices; people relate to the world in new ways, i.e. seeking more”views” of photos

Barton found that vernacular writing on the web also contributes to  new understandings of vernacular writing:

  • Vernacular writing is not always self-sponsored, but can be sponsored by private companies like Yahoo, the owner of Flickr.
  • Vernacular practices online exhibit different values than dominant literacies do
  • Vernacular literacy practices on the web still learned informally and is integrated into everyday activities
  • Vernacular practices are typically valued less by society, but now they are valued more particularly by media professionals.
  • Vernacular practices have typically been seen as limited to the personal sphere, but are now public

These findings led Barton to conclude that not only is writing still central to daily life, but it is growing in importance due to the increase of multimodal activity on the internet.

In this chapter, we are only given the methodological approach, findings, and implications; Peter Smagorinsky might call this methods section superficial in some areas, i.e. data collection and reduction. However, I am not particularly distrustful of this study. Based on the best practices recommended by the authors we’ve read so far, I’m curious to know what you think Barton does well here? In other words, do you think this chapter “works” in explaining how vernacular writing on the web works? Why or why not?

Labov – The Notion of ‘System’ in Creole Studies

Labov, W. “The Notion of ’system’ in Creole Studies.” Pidginization and creolization of languages (1971): 447-72. Print.

This paper by WIlliam Labov is a response to numerous papers on different aspects of pidgin and creole language studies. Here, Labov described his own process of attempting to use Creole Studies to better understand and situate “Negro” English. He described  “nonstandard Negro English” as more closely related to  “standard English” than Creoles, such as Jamaican, Haitian, or Trinidadian. However, Labov admitted that Black variations of English were still distinctly different than Southern white English variations. This, for Labov, necessitated the re-evaluation of Creole Studies in understanding American Black speech varieties as well as for further developing a fuller understanding of the linguistic notion of “system,” and how to treat system variations.

Labov noted methodological challenges of non-Creole linguists trying to attain accurate examples of Creole talk as data, such as Creole speakers matching the systems of the researcher, or Creole speakers trying to accommodate the researchers and presenting “hypercreolization” – an exaggerated/ stereotyped version of the language (450). Labov noted the benefit of having Creole speaking linguists, such as Beryl Bailey, but remarked that there were no “Negro” dialect speaking linguists in the U.S.

Labov distinguished “systems” from “structures” by stating that while structures deal with elements or categories, systems relate to the relationship between the elements and categories (451). Labov also took up Noam Chomsky’s work (cited by another scholar’s paper) and argued that his linguistic theory is incompatible with sociolinguistics because of the limitations in places on language communities and how language is acquired.

Labov concluded that the “problem” of Creole languages has historic roots, and have likely manifested gradually over long periods of times. In this respect, he compared the linguistic landscape to a geographic landscape that has morphed over time:

In a given region, there are periods when one or the other type of change prevailed, but these earlier movements are not viewed as different in kind from those taking place today. This seems to be a reasonable approach to the historical problems of Creole languages: close studies of variation and change in present day Creole communities will no doubt give us a good indication of what has happened in the past.” (470)

Fanon – The Negro and Language

Fanon, F. “The Negro and Language.” Black skin, white masks (1967): 17-40. Print.

In this chapter, Frantz Fanon used the example of the “Negro” in Antilles as an example of challenges that colonized people face regarding language. Blacks in Antilles, specifically Martinique, were pressured to speak French as opposed to Creole. By speaking French, Fanon explained that Blacks could become more “white;” achieve higher social status and think of themselves as being equal to whites in society as can be seen in his personal example:

“To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is. Rather more than a year ago in Lyon, I remember, in a lecture I had drawn a parallel between Negro and European poetry, and a French acquaintance told me enthusiastically, ‘At bottom you are a white man.” The fact that I had been able to investigate so interesting a problem through the white man’s language gave me honorary citizenship.” (38)

Fanon explicitly extended his example  of the “Negro” in Antilles to represent larger issues of colonized people. He broadly defined colonized people as “every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality” (18). Fanon detailed the process in which the colonized is expected and pressured to conform to the colonizer’s standards, particularly as it relates to language, and the types of alienation that can occur as a result.

Fanon argued that the European had a fixed image of the Black man (same can be said for whites in the U.S. and throughout the world in accordance to his colonial analogy). Language is used to reinforce this image: “to make him talk pidgin is to fasten him to the effigy of him, to snare him, to imprison him, the eternal victim of an essence, of an appearance for which he is not responsible” (35).

Fanon also pointed out the potential for upward mobility in race and social class through the acquisition of the colonial language  or language that bears more social capital, in this case, French. However, even when this mastery is accomplished, Fanon asserted that Blacks are still seen as suspect and outsiders:

“… what I am trying to say is that there is no reason why André Breton should say of [Aimé] Césaire ‘Here is a black man who handles the French language as no white man today can.'” (39)

Marckwardt – American English

Marckwardt, Albert. American English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Print.

In his book American English, Albert Marckwardt attempted to map out a middle-ground approach to understanding the English language in America. Marckwardt situated American English as rooted in British English, but existing as its own variety due to the socio-cultural influences that are distinctly American. In its formative stages, Marckwardt asserted, American English was shaped by the languages of the Indigenous people that were living on the land that later became  the United States as well as the French, Dutch, Spanish, and others. At the same time, the  “frontier spirit” led to more separation and independence from European influences. As a result, Marckwardt described features of American English that are distinctly connected to American culture and would not be understood by foreigners,  such as “compound” (88). Examples of compounds include “baseball,” and “soap operas.”

Marckwardt acknowledged regional variations, and cited Kurath, but he did not consider all variations equal. He described the “language of the uncultivated” ass distinguished by inflectional characteristics (146). He too, like Krapp (1924) viewed “substandard” American English as a mere holdover of outdated forms of standard English (147). While Marckwardt is clear that this “standard” American English is more socially desirable, he also admitted that it was illusive even for the “well-educated”:

“Unquestionably the easy transition from one social class to another in the United States has resulted in a very hazy line of demarcation between what is acceptable and what is considered illiterate. According to the most rigorous schoolbook standard, some of the language employed in American legislative councils and in business life would not pass muster. The awareness of this, combined with an unrealistic treatment of language in our schools, has resulted at times in a defiance of these questionable standards.” (150)

Many of these questions and the accompanying defiance still persist today.

Marckwardt concluded that despite the different variations of the English language spoken within the U.S. and abroad, it is still highly unified and a single language (170). At the same time, Marckwardt argued that American English had outgrown the use for restrictive grammar standards and taboos which reflect an overall “negative approach to language” (184). For Marckwardt, the positive future and development of the English language were dependent upon adopting a “faith in intuition” regarding language and “giving attention to the broader aspects of structure and evolving tendencies of the language” (184).

Gaugan – From Literature to Language: Personal Writing in Critical Pedagogy

Gaugan, John. “From Literature to Language: Personal Writing and Critical Pedagogy.” English Education. 31.4 (1999): 310-326. Print.

In this article, John Gaugan explores what it means to engage in liberating pedagogy in the writing classroom. Through various examples from his English courses Gaugan shows how he navigates the fine line between helping students critically question what they “know” and the world without imposing his own agenda of democratic values. His questions are similar to those of Elisabeth Ellsworth (1989). Part of his solution is grounded in on-going dialogue; not telling students what to think, but continuously encouraging them to rethink (315).

Gaugan labels his teaching “social epistemic” or “cultural studies” and admits that this model can fall into the traditional, nondemocratic banking model. However, Gaugan states that while he selects the themes and texts of his course, his course remains more student-centered than teacher-centered:

Despite these admissions,  I  don’t  think my teaching is traditional.  My classes  are more student- than teacher-centered, more  language-  than literature-focused, more  process-  than product-oriented. I question  or suggest  rather  than insist or prescribe. I ask  students  to  consider  their privileged position. I  try to make  them  think  –  but not exactly  as  I do.  I share my point of view but welcome  theirs. I  encourage reader  response. I don’t own a teacher’s manual. (325)

hooks – Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

hooks, bell. Teaching to Trangress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routlege, 1994. Print.

bell hooks’ Teaching to Trasngress speaks to educators and students in the U.S. academy about what it is to embrace education as the practice of freedom. She describes her collection of essays as an “intervention” to counter the devaluing of teaching and the disinterest in teaching and learning. hooks shares teaching practices that she asserts are critical and encourage the interrogation of biases in curricula that “reinscribe systems of domination (such as racism and sexism) while simultaneously providing new ways to teach diverse groups of students” (10). hooks pedagogical approach also appreciates the need for passion and pleasure in the classroom which necessitates the consideration of not only students and teachers’ minds, but their bodies and spirits as well.

hooks shares knowledge based on her lived experience as both a student in a predominantly Black school as well as the work of Paulo Freire on critical pedagogy. This knowledge in addition to her classroom experience provides the basis for what she considers a “testimony” for the power of liberatory education.

The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy… Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can create new visions, I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions — a movement against and beyond boundaries.It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom (12).

Essays of particular interest:

  • “Engaged Pedagogy”
  • “Embracing Change: Teaching in a Multicultural World”
  • “Paulo Friere”
  • “Theory as a Liberatory Practice”
  • “Holding My Sister’s Hand”
  • “Language”