2 b or not 2 b…

I watched a video this weekend. It was not a comedy or action film, and there was certainly no romance. At the risk of sounding intensely geeky, I will admit that I watched a 30-minute video of linguist David Crystal discussing text abbreviations. I’ve had the link bookmarked in my “Things to read” folder for several months now. I don’t even remember what initially brought my attention to it, but it’s been staring at me daily for far too long, and whatever it was that made me reluctant to watch it was finally put aside as I sat down with pen and paper, ready to watch and take notes.

As much as I tried to go into this with an open mind, my skepticism was already in place before I even started watching. The subtitle of the video is “Professor David Crystal, one of the world’s leading linguistic experts, challenges the myth that new communication technologies are destroying language.” Right away, the bias is revealed. Using the word “myth” immediately implies that any thought that the ideas to be discussed are pure fiction; that there is no truth to these claims of linguistic torture. I feel that it’s a bit premature and arrogant to be so unconcerned at this point, especially since that peace of mind runs counter to the frustrating experiences that my colleagues and I have with students taking our composition courses.

Still, I watched, maintaining as much objectivity as possible, and tried to think rationally about the points Crystal made in his brief talk. He explores four “myths” about texting abbreviations that have taken hold in society since texting became so ubiquitous. In order, he discusses the following concerns: Continue reading

Words We Cannot Say…Except When We Can

On 23 July 2009, Henry Louis Gates was arrested on his own porch in Cambridge, MA for disorderly conduct. A neighbor thought he had been breaking in, the police were called, and then, though Dr.Gates’ identity and residence status had been confirmed, he was arrested. Judging from all reports and comments by people who would understand far better than me, the incident was an unfortunate case of wounded pride on both sides. I come to that conclusion, of course, having no personal knowledge of not only the events but the potential lingering racial issues that may or may not have led up to the arrest.

(My favorite part of the story, of course, is the “Beer Summit” that President Obama held on 30 July which brought the professor and the officer together. “Okay guys, just cool it and we’ll hash it out over a couple of beers.” The only thing that would have made it more iconically male would have been if they’d met in a townie bar somewhere. I will try not to be disappointed that the President preferred to drink Bud Light.)

Imagine my surprise when I came out from under my rock to realize that I had just taught an essay written by Dr.Gates entitled “What’s in a Name.”  Although perfectly aware of the Cambridge incident, I had somehow failed to link the name from the news story to the name of the author of the essay in my writing textbook. In this essay, he describes an incident from his childhood about seeing a white man respectfully use the derogatory term “George” to address the author’s father at a drug store fountain shop.
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