September 6-September 15
September 6: George Orwell, "Politics
and the English Language"
Orwell suggests that English usage of his time is in a bad way and needs to be improved. He offers several "dos" and "don't" to help improve the language. Yet he also seems to suggest that English usage (whether good or bad) is an essentially political act. Those that choose to write "well" by his standards are making a conscious political statement, as are many who chose to write "poorly." How can English usage be construed as political? How and why do people use "bad" English to achieve certain political or social ends? Why is Orwell particularly harsh on the language of governments and political parties? What will happen to our society if we continue to use bad English? Why is the state of English usage connected tot he state of society, for Orwell? Describe the "politicalness" of English usage, as defined and described by Orwell in his essay.
September 8: Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue"
Tan's piece is entitled "Mother Tongue" which can be defined as ones' native tongue, the language of one's childhood, of one's family, of one's homeland. But it is clear that Tan has more than one meaning for "mother tongue," which makes the simple definition of the term impossible. What is Tan's mother tongue? Is it English? Is it the "broken English "of her mother/ Why did Tan feel ashamed of her mother's English? Why did she feel more comfortable with math and science than English in school? Why does Tan insist that there are more than one "Englishes"? Isn't there only one? Describe Tan's use of the term "mother tongue" and how it complicates a simple understanding of one's "native tongue."
September 13: Richard Rodriguez, "Speaking
a Public Language"
Rodriguez makes a distinction between "public" and "private" language: one (English) is the language of school; the other, (Spanish) is the language of home. How does Rodriguez define the distinction between these? Why is English public and Spanish private? What happens when the public language invades his home, when his family begins to speak it? Why does the achievement of the public seem to require the loss of the private? If Rodriguez is so critical of advocates of bi-lingual education, why is he so downbeat about his own childhood education (learning English) at the end of his essay?
Discuss the distinction between "public" and "private" language and Rodriguez's own experience in learning English in "Speaking a Public Language."
September 15: Leslie Marmon Silko, "Language
and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective"
Silko stresses the importance of storytelling in Pueblo Indian culture: Pueblo literature not only takes the form of storytelling; storytelling is the mode by which people in the community communicate with each other. How does storytelling work exactly in this culture? Any specific examples of how people use storytelling in their everyday communication? How dos the storytelling form structure Silko's language in the essay you are reading? Why does he describe his argument as a "spider's web"? Are there limits to the storytelling approach to language? What happens when you leave the small community in which you grew up? How do the stories continue to live when the community is exposed to outside cultural influences? Discuss the importance of storytelling and the way it structures Pueblo literature and language in Silko's essay.
September 21: Expert Guest Day