In a recent discussion with Hilton Als at the New Yorker festival, Toni Morrison offered a lot of insightful commentary on topics about race, gender, writing, and other issues. I read about it in this Guardian article, and I found one of her observations particularly interesting. Morrison states:
The complexity of the so-called individual that’s been praised for decades in America somehow has narrowed itself to the ‘me’. When I was a young girl we were called citizens – American citizens. We were second-class citizens, but that was the word. In the 50s and 60s they started calling us consumers. So we did – consume. Now they don’t use those words any more – it’s the American taxpayer and those are different attitudes.
Morrison picks up on an interesting variation between words that could largely stand for the same thing: people who have a vested interest in the United States. Read more ›
Every so often someone comes up with the oh-so-original idea that academics should be more engaged with the public and tries to drench the internet in that lovely sentiment. Most recently, it was an article in the Guardian titled, and I’m not making this up, “Academics: leave your ivory towers and pitch your work to the media”. Most of these articles have a similar message: if we stuffy academics would, for just a moment, give up our polysyllabic technical terms and our three hundred page monographs for the snappy, ‘plain English’ style of the popular press, everyone would win. We (the academics) would get the credit and attention we deserve for our work. The public would get more sophisticated, cutting-edge work to read. Media outlets would have quality content to share with the world. Win. Win. Win. Right? Well… sort of. Read more ›
Yesterday, I had the misfortune of reading a blog post presenting an analysis of popular music lyrics using language related metrics. Earlier today, I was cringing as the post and the Complex article about it popped up repeatedly as friends and acquaintances shared these links over social media. Then, I realized I’m a linguist with a blog, and I was suddenly reliving the same fantasies about media integrity, civic duty, and raising the bar of public discourse that I have when I watch The Newsroom. So allow me to tell you why I think this particular analysis is both methodologically sloppy and ideologically gross. Read more ›
The death of Freddie Gray, a young Black man, while in police custody on April 19 sent residents of Baltimore, Maryland into the streets. Many have been actively calling for justice to be carried out, for the police officers responsible to be held accountable, and for wider reforms in the criminal justice system. On Monday, some turned to violence and property destruction, clashing with police, setting fires, and looting.
What are those of us who aren’t in Baltimore seeing and hearing from these events? Read more ›
March Madness has begun. If you’re like me, and you want to think about the language behind it all, and what it says about society, Mental Floss has got you covered. They’ve been kind enough to publish a piece by me on the topic. Read more ›