We already forgot about Murder Hornets like the dormant problem of WASPs

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Cartoon Bee Looking Angry

Readers, students, scholars, those with access to books in the twenty first century hardly consider the characters present in them to be anything other than white. How can it be so? Some jump to the action of “pandering” as a concern by confusing the term to refer to others getting special treatment, despite the definition implying otherwise, because the straight white person did not make headlines for the day. Others who are outside of this group of people oppose this calling for more diversity when most of the media we consume is still written, acted, you name it by the so glorified white. When we limit who is able to be present in the lines we read and scenes we see on tv every day, as a society, we also silence those born with a voice meant to be shared to better the world around us.

Beauty in manuscripts

Let us head back in time and investigate where exactly books went wrong in having a diverse set of characters and writers. Before COVID-19 and the widespread protests of the US, I started one of the most famous medieval works, “The Romance of the Rose” only to realize its allegories represent its time. A modern read proves difficult when the characters lecture the reader on how religion, relationships, education, and more topics should be in their life. Contemporary times have changed these institutional norms when we consider the context around the publishing and writing of this work and the others created around the same time. I’m talking about how now countries and societies allow an accessible education and there is more than one correct religion; not everyone has to be tied to a religion anymore as well since there is much less of a fear put into that. But what about what the characters looked like as far as their dress, skin color, can all modern readers find a character relatable?

Simply put, the answer is no. However, I would assert that physical descriptions in Romance of the Rose and similar manuscripts of the time were rare. Author’s back then acknowledged the reader through lectures as I said and maintaining arguments about faith, relationships, and other life questions with references to books older than their own from before the 12th century and the Middle Ages. I find it notable how when a physical attribute is mentioned, they uplift the adorned white characters there for allegorical argument.  The translator, Horgan, translates Reason speaking highly of herself when she tells our dreaming protagonist to; “Gaze on this form and see yourself in my bright face. No high-born maiden was ever as free to love as I am” (Horgan 89).   Do not get me wrong, I understand this line hardly implies reason’s skin color, but it is not difficult to find pictures from the adorned manuscript online.

Pavane, “The Dance in the Garden” illumination from the Roman de la rose, Toulouse, early 16th century; in the British Library (Harley MS 4425, fol. 14v) https://www.britannica.com/art/pavane

Why does the appearance described in the text and seen imbedded on the page matter? “These books are highly interactive. Nearly all medieval manuscripts provide ample space in the margins for readers’ notes and comments.” (Khan Academy). Simply put, descriptions in the manuscript of who is speaking are rare, I struggled finding my quote from above. Instead, the author’s concerns lie in their arguments on biblical and natural rules from friendship to marriage justified by Ovid and philosophers in the likes of Plato. Essentially, they discuss topics relevant to groups of power at the time who may pursue these life milestones since they are literate and can read manuscripts on how to do so. Some readers could claim it is easy to simply picture these characters who are role models to the story as good look like them if they just tell themselves such a lie. However, I would like to pinpoint the Khan Academy source and how it does relate to interactivity is important, take for example the higher social standings present in the above picture made clear by the beautifully stitched decorations and detailed outfits. The pictures not only show their superior dress to the reader themselves who more than likely does not look ready for a tea party at the Queen’s while reading in their dorm room. No, instead it also means if you represent any group of non-white people, the arguments laid out in front of you are especially not for you to interact with since you cannot find a pixel in the picture shared by you. Where is my point going with this? As a reader, the lectures Reason, Fair Welcome, and the rest of the cast undermine everyone encountering the text for the first time or maybe even a second when they lack a WASP background. This was a group of people who conquered the land where Guillaume De Lorris, Jean De Meun, and Chaucer wrote without the preceding knowledge they would prior to dominate the playing field of literature for centuries, all the way until today. Here is a link for more context which I found feasible.

Knowing this definition and the pictures from the decorations adorned in the original Rose manuscript, a twenty-first century reader questions if they are even worthy of reading. They do not fit the outfits or even the skin color in some cases of a group seeming to be morally perfect the farther along into the chapters they get. Sure, the point of views we hear in certain chapters contain bias filled with more lines of men’s fear of women cheating on them and intelligence coming from the books you read. However, the Rose text depicts its life advice works on heteronormative white people from the morals of the story and those able to read at the time, hence the struggling white couple on the cover.

Let us talk about freedom for a minute before moving on to a 20th century work. Romance of the Rose is a product of its time as we have been talking about. I found it interesting in the chapter containing advice from the old woman, she mentions the following predicament: “Moreover, woman are born free; the law has bound them by taking away from them the freedoms Nature had given them.” (Horgan 214). I still think back to a time in my medieval literature class where we read a story where the good Christians paid no remorse for slaughtering Muslims for their skin color and differing beliefs when it came to God. It is still buried somewhere in my memory what the name of the manuscript was, but you do not have to look far in the middle ages. The Canterbury Tales offers ironic descriptions of a diverse cast of characters whose author encourages dislike of the traits making them different than the everyday folk of the century. According to the previous quote, one is born free into the natural world surrounding them, if only we understood this key advice now when we judge others before they can exchange names with us.

We take these manuscripts, knowing they were first published and chosen by the few able to write them in the first place. resulting in masses reading about themselves. That is for those able to read at the time  We were a class of all white students backgrounds unknown who couldn’t imagine a world where those born of another demographic cannot read the same books we were reading. Little did we know this used to very much be the case, feel free to read more here.

Centuries later, the reader presence matters

Moving on now to the twenty-first century, a huge jump but you’ll understand why, I want to talk about the readers of today who now have access to manuscripts, novels, and short stories, pretty much a plethora of reads from more sources than ever thanks to the ever expanding internet. I am talking Wattpad, Reddit, those sorts of places which let us avid readers continue learning every day, whether it involves picking up a book or not, it cannot be denied that literature serves as a tool. Schools have total utilitarian power over this considering almost every class requires a book or two created by an author with a purpose in mind. Yet most readings still come from the outdated perspective see from manuscripts of courtly love, to the esteemed novel of the Nineteenth century. This background is a WASP one engrained in the readings as the institutions of publishers and schools continue to primarily push what a white person relates to and finds their names/faces in with ease. Yes you can say it simply is what was popular, but I maintain it has become a system where difference is hard for others to accept and I’m going to cite the one black reading I had in high school for senior year to describe this first impression discomfort.  

Remembering what you read in high school? Do not worry, this is a rhetorical question as I am sure it was nothing special besides that one with the rich guy who partied a lot, no I do not mean your classmate, but I’m talking Gatsby. The beginning of K-12 practically sets up expectations I’d say around middle school for English class readings and they usually end up being a chore of a reading with good guy, first off usually a guy right, dealing with problems he easily conquers thanks to his privilege which we probably didn’t realize at the time. Let us be clear nobody liked English class or the assigned reading unless you were similar to me, maybe where you were always looking to expand your library and even learn how to write from these canonized authors. Take my senior class, a group of young adults some already 18 tackling the novel “Beloved” by Toni Morrison. It is a work canonized and now asserted as pinnacle in the movement of black literature as it depicts loss of agency and happiness in a time of slavery. Sethe, the central protagonist, loses her daughter whilst escaping slavery only to have her show up in her life again but in a supernatural reincarnation of someone else’s body. There is so much going on that it is a lot to summarize very quickly so I just recommend reading it for yourself to see what you think.

As a group of mostly white standard conservative school district students ready to graduate, we did not fully grasp what was going on. Looking at the novel as sort of a test we had to pass instead of an important piece of art which was selected as our reading for a reason. I also think this was due to the style of writing which appears convoluted at first with the disconnected narration and ghostly elements to the setting and the house the characters live in. You really get used to the white style like the manuscripts I talked about where we see a hero, typically of WASP nature or heritage, and they go along on their quest perfectly fine without the obstacles of others stopping them and taking away what is theirs because of the color of their skin. We, as a class, were presented with a novel breaking all of these norms we were used to thanks to most of the literature published and written until now; and I feel we were not as present in the discomfort of reading something new as we could have been.

I had to look up some beloved quotes because I need to read it again. I am close to finishing my current read and I am against starting multiple books at once. The one which immediately resonated with today, no questions or doubts was this one. “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” (Morrison). The trustworthy community for those quotes that sick with you after the initial read. I forgot the context of this part; however, it sounds accurate to the racial tension post-civil war movement and it still does now. Another detail I remember from the text was the style and voice Morrison carried which we did not agree with as it opposed everything we read in the previous year.

Image with books and a quote stating “She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” Anne Dillard

These were the chapters with little context besides short sentences on the page described as the thoughts one has inside their head but keeps to themselves. Once you get into the last arc of the book especially, it lets go of its readers hand by throwing out a word for word recounting of a conversation or a plot device being set up for the next chapter. Instead, these later chapters present an obscure mixture of being inside someone’s head for the first time where you don’t know where you are or what’s going on, a literary device classified now as stream of consciousness. This leads to asking yourself questions such as who is this name? What did they do? Requiring focus from previous cryptic, melancholy chapters providing clues for this moment.

Seeking out a quote on google led me to someone’s Quizlet for studying, thanks to them here is one I found. “She played with me and always came to be with me whenever I needed her. She is mine. Beloved. She’s mine”. (Morrison). I can feel the emotions of this chapter without the context from my vague memory of the plot. While yes, this series of chapters leaves out a fully detailed heroic point of view, the thoughts here are brutally honest causing the reader to resonate at least a little bit with the main character’s recurring sense of loss. She is unable to get over it, especially when everything around her from family to place of living reminds her of the failure to keep a child safe in a time of slavery. My point is this stream of consciousness style filling you with more questions than answers, which at that time was different from other novels, causes us to pay attention. The reader becomes truly present with the loss and the struggles the black main character did not choose to deal with but had to because of the color of her skin. I would argue Morrison is using her power as a published black author by breaking down the systems we are used to in a culminated work more worthy of publishing. Our thoughts are jumbled up sometimes in this crazy changing world. Having an audience to share them with helps since you will no longer be alone but reaching those who have been through it to or want to try to understand.

How do we prevent ourselves from being so turned off by these new forms found in black literature for example? One way I think is reading more without letting our bias get to us and what I mean by that is to not focus so much on the name or even a book cover containing a culture unlike our own. There is a psych theory of mere exposure, to put it concisely, the more you involve yourself in groups other than your own, you will feel more comfortable. This is also why websites such as Wattpad are easier to publish on since you create any username you want, cover your books how you would like, the whole deal. At first, this seems like the way to go to get your name out there, but it does make you think about how important a name can be with publishing in the real world. I had a professor once who used to have only her last name used to get her work in academia published, they still in the twenty-first century would sometimes push aside a “woman looking” name. The internet and its free public use platforms like famous old Wattpad, allows for a change to the game of your worth being determined by a silly misconception of the “sounding” of a name or even color of your skin instead of by your words on the page.

Conclusion

If you cannot tell from this blog, my literary theory class, and most of my college career as an undergrad in general changed the way I interact with any piece I am reading. We cannot change our past, but the future is fully capable of being shaped and this is the way I now approach what I read and the things I say. For example I’ve been working on letting go of saying the word “ghetto” for describing flimsy objects or a mechanic in a game because I learned it isn’t a word to use freely given more context from an insightful Instagram post. Another good thing to note here is expanding your reading library will not directly translate to improving your actions, what you say, or what those around you say. Sure, it may lead to improving it eventually but becoming more aware of how we apply what we learn and read is the important part.

The opposite end of what I mentioned is claiming language is becoming too “correct” to the point that freedom of speech has gone away. I  disagree with this and believe realizing words we say have a history and a meaning and more authors deserve the space for their word to be heard when I consider books and literature as works of art which also help us learn. They are an educational tool sometimes to the point of didactic, which pretty much means taught in a condescending way, used in schools and homes everywhere in the United States and other countries I am sure. When I consider this fact that they are such a tool, it is hard to agree with the standard group of mere conservatives who claim their ownership and centrality to a story is being stripped away from them when we have told their story for not one, but over centuries.

Here is a list of resources to educated yourself and donate to black lives matter causes. I am sure there are more and if I missed a good one, feel free to comment

And, finally, here is a works cited as I take no credit for the quotes or images that I used above. They were purely to emphasize my argument and help this blog look prettier.

https://www.123rf.com/photo_72205468_stock-vector-wasp-inscription-with-skull-hand-drawn-white-anglo-saxon-protestant-vector-illustration-eps-8.html

https://www.britannica.com/art/pavane

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beloved-toni-morrison/1001875673

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/g1640/book-lovers-quotes/

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/medieval-world/beginners-guide-to-medieval-europe

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6149.Beloved

Lorris, G. D., Meun, J. D., & Horgan, F. (2008). The Romance of the Rose. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

What a French Major Studies

Hello everyone! It has literally been a year since my first post and I remembered I started this blog as the annual charge went through! I’m making the same promise of posting every week to myself again. As I really have no excuse since a bunch of free time opened up, thanks quarantine. So let’s see what French classes taught me in undergrad!

Parlez-Vous Francais? ; Tell me something in French

If you study a language, or anything in higher education, there’s the old routine of questions friends (but especially family) bring up. They expect you to be an expert in such a small time frame considering the classes are a couple of days a week. Here’s just a couple of examples of these questions.

So what are these questions specifically?

  • “You speak insert language fluently then?”
  • “When are you/have you studied abroad insert country?”
  • “How are you going to use the language?”
  • “What do you like/dislike about it?”

The questioning doesn’t frustrate me as much as it just left me as flustered as any college student defending their choice of major. Now if we’re talking job interviews or presentations, then I should be prepared to have a good “why”. Mine isn’t too deep, I just wanted to be able to read more and see where French literature crosses over thematically with English based overtime. Maybe one day my “why” will change once I have a better answer regarding fluency and traveling abroad once I make a trip.

While the first two questions are more difficult, this is also because they are closed questions with a yes or no answer. I prefer the later questions as they allow a freer conversation about what makes a language like French fascinating to me. Whether then if I have made it useful enough for conversation by developing a fluency. They’re also more interesting to answer as I can pull from my knowledge of a specific word that can’t be translated properly, looking at you “grandeur“. The content of my French classes also better prepared me for this type of question as we will now see.

Ouvrez vos livres; Hitting the books

What are French classes actually? It’s not a constant hour of speaking back and forth about food and books. But it also isn’t reading books with pretentious titles and subtle plot points. More of a fine line in between.

French Conversation, you hear the name of this class and think okay maybe we’ll learn how to discuss a bunch of topics. Food, books, the newest Weeknd album, things you’d discuss in your native language. I hated the fact that I was wrong more and more every week for twice a week when the professor had the authority to limit the class to her choice of topic: movies. Instead of learning vocab and role-playing like the introductory coursework, we watched films and had to be prepared before class through our research and writing to discuss them. This left my speaking fluency faltering even in class because there were only so many words to discuss a film especially when we watched two of the same genre. Next, we’ll discuss one other class where my speaking was not one hundred percent.

French literature, the higher level you take as a junior/senior exposed me to some of the most beautiful prose and poetry I’ve ever read. It was mostly reading and writing as this was the only way our professors could accurately test us. We still had oral discussions of the assigned readings but these turned into a competition of words. It’s hard enough presenting your analysis of a book in your native language and doing so in French required stringing together the grammar and right words in your head fast enough. Think of when a scrabble table is filled with all the words you know while you’re running out of useful letters. I found after three or more students made their points that it was hard to come up with a new sentence or idea. I’m prepared now to speak maybe one or two points on a formal book such as Hugo’s poetry, but not in modern terms or slang since the classes were formal.

My skills from the years in the unexpected challenge of lots of reading and relying on word reference “qui me sauve la vie”. I know the right reference sites, to watch shows in the language no subtitles, and even forums to discuss with others. Although I can’t call myself fluent as I was during my finals exams, its fun to dive into French culture and other places to see what I can retain outside the English barrier.

Bon Voyage ; Travel Difficulties

Of course, I desired the experience of studying abroad; the thought of practicing my French while surrounded by works of art and delicious cheese was always at the back of my mind. Finances stopped me once I realized the number of student loans I already racked up from undergrad and still desired to go to grad school after a gap year. Add on top of these things the extra costs of the flights and passport fees, my part-time student job wasn’t going to help me enough.

The new goal is to save money to travel on my own in the future after keeping up with French on my own. It isn’t immersing yourself around the language on a 24-hour basis, however, UNR does its best by having all third and fourth-year classes conducted entirely in French. Students cannot use English at all making it rewarding when you figure out another way to say the sentence you’ve had stuck in your head. No, it isn’t Lyon, but I’m still grateful for the classes I’ve taken that allowed me an experience immersed in the language regardless of dismissing a semester abroad.

Another conundrum in the plan was the required profinecy tests which ensure you’re ready for high-level courses outside the US. This includes oral, reading, and writing with higher score requirements depending on the classes you plan on taking. I considered it was too late for me after three years of French focused on written exams with enough student loans stacked up from housing and my other major. UNR has a renowned study abroad program which I’ve heard numerous great things about from my classmates don’t get me wrong, but the logistics of my situation lead me to decide I’d travel a year after graduating, maybe more delayed now.

Grandeur Dans La Langue; Language’s greatness

Another misconception of language studies is that the student learns how the language is spoken contemporarily and natively. Some probably know this already, but there are several dialects especially in romance languages and any language outside English. Dialectsrefer to variations in a language depending on the degree of formality or region for example along with different forms which include alternative vocab, grammar, etc. Examples in English seldom come up because they are with specific words and vowel pronunciations depending on where you’re from. Soda vs pop and sandwich vs sub, to name a couple.

The French I studied didn’t always transmit directly to the real world/native country. We didn’t learn slang and some words have more formal uses mainly found in older 17th or 18th-century literary works. Professors warn us that not every grammar structure (seriously there’s a lot), is spoken. An easier way is to avoid using formal tenses like the subjunctive employing substitution with another word or phrase whenever possible. This means that while a French major conjugates for every verb tense a ridiculous amount of time, they don’t know how to say the words “guy” and “bitch” translated to “mec” and “putain” informally. Seriously, context changes the meanings of words in all registers depending on who is dancing (danser) or what is being tasted (gouter).

French ER verbs
https://lingvist.com/course/learn-french-online/resources/er-verbs-french/

One more takeaway from the variations in slang, pronunciation, and other structures in foreign languages is the importance of listening and being open. Sure you may not understand the language someone is speaking, but I found this applies to English as well. We may disregard others when their word choice or descriptions sound unlike how we would say it. Naturally, we learn to speak the same way as those around us growing up meaning our families and hometowns. This doesn’t mean someone’s ungrammatical account of the quarantine, for example, is wrong as much as you may not understand what they’re saying.

Fin; Final thoughts

I’ve loved my French classes despite not studying abroad or speaking the same way they do in Paris. The small class sizes, the energy the professors bring to every class until finals week, and the beautiful language of course. Although I can’t say I’m a fluent speaker, I know that I made the right choice when I changed my minor to a major.

Thank you for reading if you made it to the this far! Next week, I’ll be switching back to my experience as an English major. I’m thinking of covering “how English majors read” not in the literal sense of course. So be on the lookout for that.

What Linguistic Majors Really Study

I’m asked often what I study as a linguistics major and usually this comes in the form of a question such as the following: You study a bunch of different languages then right? How many do you know? The answer is complicated, technically my classes expose me to many languages, however, I cannot say I know or can translate languages besides English. If you read on from here, the question should be answered, or at least linguistics may make a bit more sense to you than before.

Definition

A big misconception from linguistics is the notion that an undergrad learns how to translate/speak many languages. It’s not surprising considering the tendency for television and film to depict a linguist as an expert translator. Languages also shows up frequently in media as modern authors create their own languages unique to their universe such as Dothraki and Elvish. Linguistics in reality means the scientific study of a language. This includes its own topics like Syntax: how sentences are strung together in a language. Also, Phonology: the study of sounds along with their patterns in a language. So, I can say that I’ve encountered many languages as a linguistic major. But, I cannot speak or write them for you.

There is a great scene in a movie not talked about enough, in my opinion, titled Arrival. This scene explains a linguist’s job well in the sense that a language that is foreign to us still has the same general rules socially and grammatically regardless of the translation. 

Literature Coursework As Well

I also took some upper division literature to fulfill elective requirements towards my linguistic degree.  Literature majors earned my respect once I found out how  tough it is crafting new arguments for some of the most read texts, even though my courses were limited in number. The coursework was an adjustment for me at first since it involves weekly reading and writing as opposed to linguistics which focuses on exams and participation. My linguistic background wasn’t worthless once I took Chaucer where the required text was Middle English/Chaucer’s English version of The Canteburry Tales. Thanks to my linguistic background I picked up on the language’s structures quickly which made translations easier for me compared to my fellow classmates.

I even did some research to see if a linguistic background applies to literature and found yet another subtopic for linguistics devoted to this very issue. Click here to read more. Anyways, I’m saying not all linguistic majors only know linguistics; we also know how to identify a literary device or two, just ask!geoffrey-chaucers-masterpiece-10-728

Wrong major in retrospective (Looking at you, Phonology)

I changed my major to linguistics my Sophomore year because the variety of languages across time space still fascinates me today. However, phonology and sociolinguistics did not resonate with me (sound pun intended). These courses seemed interesting in the first couple of weeks, but quickly become an insufferable repetition of sound puzzles and failed studies. A more adequate description for both fields boils down to this; Phonology consisted of data set after data set with a hidden sound pattern in each one. Basically, we deal with puzzles using languages that you’ve never seen which have little incentive besides studying.

Sociolinguistics looks at language and how social factors affect it. I took language and gender as my sociolinguistics requirement where we learned through numerous studies that women and men do not speak as differently as hypothesized almost all of the time. This made the readings very dry and the research papers difficult to write given the lack of actually findings in the field. ipa

Conclusion

Therefore, I didn’t choose to be an English major because I like science which I didn’t really know linguistics was until the final classes described above. Studying literary works for a better understanding and then an analysis is much more pleasing to me. My time in the enjoyable linguistic requirements flew by until it was too late, but at least I took some French literature. To be continued in another post!

Authors note

IF you’ve read this far, thank you so much for reading! I hope this post provides you with a little bit of insight into what I and many others study when we say we are linguistic majors. It can definitely be confusing when its rarely mentioned or even majored in. Look out for my next weekly post which will more than likely be similar regarding what French majors study, yes I’m a double major with a minor as well (waiting for December when I’m finally done). Thanks again.