The words we choose matter.

Video intro

Video Lecture, part 1
Video Lecture, part 2

All about sneakerheads!

It makes a difference whether I say, “What do you want to eat tonight?” or “Where would you care to dine this evening?” even though both of those questions supposedly mean the same thing. Language doesn’t just impart meaning, it tells us something about who the speaker (or writer) is, what communities they are a part of.

We’re all members of multiple communities, each with their own specific language rules. For this unit, we’ll look at an excerpt from The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in which Junot Diaz looks at one word from his community (“fuku”) that has so much power it rules his whole country. He wants his readers to know the importance of this word because he thinks it affects them too. Queen Latifah writes about how important it is to her to be called a “queen” and not a “b**ch,” even though so many rappers think it’s fine to talk about women that way. And we’ll also read Perri Klass’ essay about how she had to learn the language of being a doctor in order to fully become part of her profession.

What is a word or phrase unique to your community that people outside the community should know about? Why?

In Essay One, you will write about the language of a community you are a part of. You’ll do this, as Diaz and Latifah and Klass have, by focusing largely on a particular word or phrase or bit of jargon that is at the heart of this community. Tell your readers, mostly outsiders from this community, why this word MATTERS (and in so doing, teach us about the community itself.)

This should be a word that many of your readers are somewhat unfamiliar with– at least the way you use it. So this isn’t a word like “family” or “love,” but an insider word, one that some people can use or others can’t–or a word that means different things when different people use it. This word might be in a different language, or it may be a slang word.

Show us the word in action– tell us a story or two about it. Show it being used!

You might write about the language of your community by outright explaining it to us, or you might just… use the language of your community in writing to show us how it’s done! In other words, you are free to write in any way that feels natural to you and that you think best expresses the importance and meaning of the word you choose. You may write in what you consider the language of your community. You may write in “standard written English,” (SWE) if you like. Either way, even if you write in SWE, you should be able to explain why you’ve chosen the language you have. Why is this language the best tool for the job?

Remember: you need to make a point, not just ramble about the word or phrase you’ve chosen.  Diaz’ point is that the fuku came from the Dominican Republic and to the US, and American readers should pay attention, lest they get cursed with a fuku too! Latifah’s point is that language matters– she’s not a bi**ch, she’s a queen. Klass makes the argument that you can only become part of a profession if you use its language, which means it’s all about power and inclusion.

What will I be graded on?

  • Audience: Aside from me, who would you want to read an article about your community? Are you writing in a way that would reach that audience?
  • Organization/Structure: Now, consider your audience further. What can you do to keep them reading? Nobody on this earth will read an essay that is one three-page long paragraph or just a random list of thoughts about this word. You wouldn’t!  So, strive for an engaging, clear article with a point that readers can follow.
  • Purpose: KEEP thinking about your audience. Is your essay teaching your readers something or helping them see something in a new way? Do your readers know why we are talking about the word or phrase you’ve chosen?  DO YOU HAVE A MAIN POINT or are you just rambling about the word/phrase?
  • Diction (language choice): You can write with whatever diction (style of language) you choose, but it must be the best language for the job– as you see it. It also must be at least partially in English. That is, you may write in Spanglish if you want, but I am not able to read a whole paper in Urdu. (Some Urdu is great, though!) Take note of the way Diaz goes in between Spanish and English, though he is writing for an English-speaking audience.
  • Engagement with “mentor texts”: I’m not asking you to quote from Diaz or Klass your final essay—you are just using them as examples of ways you could go with this type of assignment. I do expect you to read the articles closely as a writer (and I’ll know if you have, thanks to Perusall) and choose at least one technique or style of their writing that you would like to emulate (scenes, setting descriptions, dialogue, etc.).
  • WORD COUNT: At least 1000 words
  • Due Date: June 6 end of day

Here are some questions and ideas to think about before you begin writing. This may give you some ideas to get started, but your essay shouldn’t be just a list of answers to these questions!

  1. What was your first experience of this word/ phrase? What was your first impression of its meaning? Has its meaning changed for you over time?
  2. Why is this word important to you and your community?
  3. Is there a way using this word correctly indicates membership in the community?
  4. Who is allowed to use this word and who is not? Or how does this word change when people from outside the community use the word?
  5. Who do you think needs to know about this word? What do they need to know? Why?
  6. Brainstorm scenes and memories, important events having to do with this word.

Unit 1 – Portrait of a Word schedule

Mon May 30 : Video Lecture to Start Unit 1 –Portrait of a Word. We’ll get started on it even while everybody’s posting Introductions and getting used to OpenLab and the other tech we’re using. The video lecture will talk about what a discourse community is and what you’ll be doing for this unit; I’ll upload the video lecture into the Perusall Library –> video lectures folder. I’ll also add the “What is a Discourse Community?” slide show to the Perusall library as well, although you don’t have to annotate it unless you have a question or comment about it.

Due EOD Tuesday May 31 on Perusall: Do the Assignment labeled “Understanding Discourse Communities.” The first part is the pdf of “What is a Discourse Community” that you do NOT need to annotate unless you have questions for me. The second is the article by Dan Melzer which you DO need to annotate. This is a student-friendly explanation of what one discourse community looks like.

Due EOD Wednesday June 1 on Perusall: Do the Assignment labeled “Discourse Community Examples.” You’ll be reading and annotating two selections: 1) “Fuku” which is from a book by Junot Diaz titled The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and 2) “She’s a LOL in NAD” which is an essay from the New York Times by Perri Klass. They’ll give you some more ideas about what a DC believes and how language and behavior impact a DC. Be sure to scroll down to make sure you read both parts!

  • The “Fuku” selection is an example of what goes on within a Primary Discourse Community because it’s all about beliefs from the DR.
  • The Perri Klass essay talks about what it was like to join the medical community as part of a hospital, an example of a Secondary Discourse Community.

Due EOD Thursday June 2 on OpenLab: Write a post of at least 300 words. In the excerpt from Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz uses a single word to explain both the history and culture of the Dominican Republic. In Perri Klass’ essay article, she paints a portrait, not of a particular word, but of a whole new language she had to learn in order to fit in with her new profession. What are some communities that you are a part of? (hint: we’re all a part of multiple communities — you can take a look at the links about sneakerheads to find how people talk about and within a discourse community that’s all about a shared interest or passion.) What “languages” have you had to learn to engage with these communities—and how did you learn these languages? Are there particular words or phrases that stick out to you as helping you feel like you were part of the in-crowd? Category: My DCs

Due EOD Friday June 3 on Padlet: Use the big + sign on the bottom right to create a new post. Put your name in the Title. Then tell us about the discourse community you want to write about AND add an image/artifact to teach us more about it. Comment on ones you think are interesting (“cool” actually works here for once).

WEEK TWO: 6/4-6/10

Due EOD Monday June 6 Google Drive folder labeled Portrait of a Word: Upload a draft of your Portrait. Add a memo to your reviewer about 1) what you wanted to accomplish with this Portrait, 2) what you think is working well on this draft, and 3) what you’re worried about or think you might need help with.

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