Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Wonderings/Wanderings: Words and Language

--Occasionally, in my role as an administrator, I read a rough draft here and there.  Occasionally, I'm helping a colleague with a project.  But more often, I'm helping a student.

--I find it rewarding in the midst of administrator tasks, to work one on one with a student.  Sometimes they're students who want someone to take a last look at their portfolio, a last proofreading.  Sometimes, it's a first year student.  Thus, I read a wide variety of writing.

--When I was working with a student, the student said, "Because of my autism, it takes me awhile to get the words right." 

--I said, "I'll let you in on a secret:  even people without autism usually don't get the words perfect right away."

--Not for the first time, I thought of the fact that so many of us believe that writing should be easy; after all, we use words every day, right?

--And we do a poor job of talking about writing as having a variety of purposes and a variety of audiences.  The paper that you're writing for your teacher is different than the e-mail that you'll send the teacher and it's all different, probably, from the texting that you and your friends do.

--I'm beginning to think of texting as another language, not just another form of writing.  More and more I get an e-mail written in texting language, and I have to write back to say, "I have no idea what this is supposed to mean."

--Maybe it's not texting as a different language but voice recognition software that approaches English as a Second Language.

--I think of the discussions about the meaning of words that I've had in recent weeks.  We've talked about the meaning of the word "support"--as in "Do you support this student's appeal?"  We've talked about the word "possible"--as in "Is it possible for the student to pass this class?"

--Sure, if we believe that past behavior is a predictor of future behavior, we'd interpret that question differently than someone who wants to believe in the possibility of human change.  The question is really a math question, in the case of the particular form where we find the question.  Mathematically, can the student possibly pass the class at this point?

--We think of mathematics as a clean language, a black and white language, a language which leaves no wiggle room.  But I wonder if we think that way because we aren't trained in Math. 

--Maybe a Ph.D. in Math would shake his/her head over my belief that math is a more precise language.

--Suddenly I find myself longing for more time to dive into the issue of language.  I'd like to spend the morning reading books about chaos theory.

--Instead, I'll head to the office and herd the e-mails and the forms and the numbers.

--Once men herded cattle (and yes, I'm using gendered language on purpose).  Now men and women herd words.

--But will our words change a continent?  How I long to believe! 

--But as I sort through old e-mails (so many in one day!), I find myself full of doubt.

--And worse, the words that might change a continent are left to moulder in unsent packets of submissions.


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