language and the “tradition” dichotomy.

Words are powerful.  If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have so many of them to fit so many nearly-the-same-but-distinctly-different definitions.  If word choice didn’t matter, we wouldn’t strive so hard to land the perfect language for a speech, for mediating a situation, for writing an essay, or for nailing an interview.  Can you deny that the importance of selecting our words in these situations is of utmost important?  I sure can’t.

I think about the importance of word choice in everything I do.  Even if I sit down to this blog to write about a mundane topic or the environment or what have you – I am still constantly aware of generalizations, the words I choose, and how the combination of these things affects the way my message is delivered and subsequently received.

Language is so undeniably important, and yet it is also disrespected to prove petty points.  When I wade through law to pull apart issues of land desecration and environmental rights, language means everything because of the interpretations it may or may not elicit.  When I write about indigenous rights, language also has a powerful impact – from topics regarding traditions, to mascots, and especially to cultural appropriation.  It seems like you can’t write about these topics without taking care for the language you use.  And yet language is often slandered for being overtly “PC”, as a mechanism to walk on eggshells without “offending the weak and fragile”.

That, to me, is pure hypocrisy

Are we selective with our selective word choices?  Do we only use caution to assure personal gain, like in an interview, then act rash to defend things we don’t want taken away from us regardless of what rights we have to protect it?

Those of us who recognize how something can so unfortunately symbolize a damaging remnant of American history can see the power of the”rebel flag” to those affected by its history.  Perhaps these same people can see the dehumanizing elements of Native mascots used by predominantly non-Native society.  Surely we grasp that using certain words, like “retarded” or “redslur” or “n-word” are easily avoidable, unnecessary labels that cause more damage that good from their uses.  Yeah, being politically correct is a pain, but since when was being “PC” derogatory rather than simply respectful.

I see how my Facebook community lights up at acts of courtesy, like holding a door open or paying for the next person’s order.  I see how they spread the word of what they may call “Christian deeds” and post memes about “the old days” and having “no hope for the future”.

Newsflash: The “old days” weren’t very inclusive, and political correctness is one way to overcome this.  So, by bashing political correctness, you’re creating a kind of hypocrisy, aren’t you?

Language certainly has an enormous impact on how we interpret, perceive, and understand something.  And I have see how crucial this is in human rights battles, including those to remove race-based mascots.  It seems like the most vehement arguments for keeping them pertain to “tradition” and “culture”.  But whose traditions and cultures are they, really?

The Merriman-Webster dictionary – or course, I’m going there – defines tradition in two ways.  The first is as an inherited religious or social custom passed down through actions and behaviors.  The second is the oral tradition do passing down beliefs and customs.

The dictionary also defines culture as customs, beliefs, arts, – sure, even sport and athletic forms, that a particular society makes as a way of life, thinking, behaving, or even working.

When I think of arguments to keep the Cleveland baseball mascot “tradition”, of course this seems illogical to me.  How can you call this tradition?  We actually call baseball the American “pastime”.  Well, by definition, a pastime is merely just that: something pleasurable to pass time.  It has been a part of the very young “American” culture for an even younger amount of time.  It has been racially and gender exclusive for an even smaller amount of time.  Just ask Hank Aaron.

An example, however, of tradition and culture in sports would be the Haudenosaunee and lacrosse.  Yet high schools in New York – Haudenosaunee homeland – play this sport with mascots that are racial slurs against the people who have worshipped this adopted sport as their very tradition and culture.  One that actually meets dictionary standard.

Language is powerful, and to me these arguments are so transparent that I mourn the severe lack of fundamental understanding of the situation that the opposition I face evidently has.  I mourn the resistance of political correctness in a country that boasts about freedom and whose citizens long for the “good ole days” of respect while simultaneously dismissing the way modern society embraces one another lovingly.  I especially mourn the emphasis we put on athletics, particularly National teams.  Because, in the true tradition of this land, sports served as a way to discipline each other and stengthwn ourselves both physically and morally.  Today, in mainstream society – it has become a place where language is not used with discretion, where the individual profits, and where the true meaning of “tradition” gets buried in an uphill struggle to not respect the opinion of another’s defense of his/her actual culture and tradition.

occupée.

I love studying language, but it’s a lot of work.  Not just because you have to memorize and practice and repeat word upon word, though.  It’s a lot of work because each language – and each dialect of that language – requires learning the culture, too.  Sometimes it’s things like realizing, in French, it never rains cats and dogs but “Il pleut comme vache (cow) qui pisse”.  Other times, it’s things like realizing why Potawatomi Podawadomie Padwadadadada… or Ojibwe Ojibway Ojibjakwejralsjkdfasd… haha… why they’re spelled a million different ways, and none are incorrect.  Well, native languages were oral so it’s all phonetic.  (In Ojibwe and Potawatomi, for example, there are even two “methods” for written language – a single and a double vowel spelling.)

This past week, as I will be earning (or “winning” – gagne, in French) overtime money on a holiday week, I’m finding myself not only ridiculously overworked but also overlooked.  It’s like everyone forgets they sent me six emails between midnight and 5am with a stack of work to do the next day.  They’ll ask, “Can you do this or are you busy?”

Well, define busy.

It usually comes down to who is “less busy”.

So I was thinking about “busy” – I mean, what is busy?  And I’ve decided, in American English at least, it is a highly cultural word.  Working Americans are always “busy” – sometimes way more than European or Australian counterparts.  Overworked.  Never stopping.  As fast as replying as the Internet connection.

But in French, one would ask me, «Est-ce que vous êtes occupée ?» which literally means Are you occupied?  There is no “busy”, per se.

Cultural context, for sure.  In France, I would say that I’m occupied, surely, but in America, I might say I’m working on something – but that’s not busy enough and so here’s ten more assignments.  Of course, I’m not saying the French don’t respond the same way or take on more work.  It’s undeniable that their work culture is less stressful, as nearly every country in the world compared to America,… I just find the difference in words amusing.

Also, the word for a lawyer is avocat – the same word for avocado, hehehe.  In trouble?  Better get yourself a good avocado and go on into court.

American Molestation of the English Language

I’ve lived in many places – mostly English-speaking – and I’ve witnessed firsthand the obliteration of a language on many levels.  There’s always a variation in how the language is pronounced and it is usually regional, having geographical boundaries influencing the language style.  A lot of times, however, it’s an educational gap or difference that causes profound language distinction between certain groups of people.  For example, my studies of French in France were much different than my studies of French in Montreal, Quebec and almost unparalleled by my studies of French in West Africa.  In France, the rules are rigid and enforced in formal education.  Naturally, languages slip within a household and regions have their own dialects despite the governance in Paris.  In Canada, the language is well-governed as well, but strides have been made to somewhat separate the Canadian language from its mother tongue.  Much of the vocabulary that would ordinarily sound like English words in French have been redefined into different, faux-French words in Canada.  On the other hand, the French language in West Africa is so vastly different from France as a result of the colonization of uneducated, tribal people of various unrelated language backgrounds.  Think of Jamaican English and it’s about the equivalent.  So how does this show in English, too?

First of all, don’t ever make fun of a British accent until you realize just how silly Americans and Canadians sound.  The British gave us English, so, theoretically, their way of speaking is correct.  To them, we sound nasally, or so I’ve heard.  But I feel like our structure in American English has become to relaxed.  I’ve even argued with supposed English teachers at high schools and colleges that they had a rule wrong or a word wrong, etc.  And, okay, it’s not pertinent to have every single subjunctive nailed and to know exactly how to start a proper sentence.  I clearly don’t follow all of those rules – but that’s also part of creative license.  And even when I speak… I didn’t even realize until recently some of the things I say wrong.  I made corrections to many, but some are hard to correct because they’re a part of my regional dialect.  For example, I never realized I say “on accident” and it should be “by accident”, but that’s a regional mistake.  I say “still mill” instead of “steel mill” because I’m from Steel Country.  I say “y’all” and shy away from “yons”, but it’s still incorrect.  Yet I keep hearing the absolute worst forms of English when I pass through remote country or through cities and I begin to wonder what is becoming of the English language in America?  I hear songs with words that aren’t even real, with conjugations that push the envelope in terms of “artistic license”, and I begin to think this form of media is becoming an educational system for the majority of the youth.  Speaking of media, even today I read an article printed by the Plain Dealer and there was a blatant error in the first sentence.  But here are a few things that I’ve learned that can be corrected easily, that are pet peeves, or that maybe you didn’t even realize:

1. My biggest pet peeve: “a lot” is TWO WORDS, folks!  This falls in line with the “there, their, they’re”, “our, are”, “two, to, too”, and similar mistakes.
2. You can say you “dragged” something across the floor.  Having “drug” it is something completely different.
3. You “should have gone” somewhere….NOT “WENT”.
4. Don’t end sentences with “at”, please.  Like, ever.
5. Similar to the third example, “should have done”, NOT “DID”.
6. Oh, and it’s “should HAVE”, not “OF”.
7. Apostrophes in contractions replace the missing letter and don’t go anywhere else.
8. Dollar signs come BEFORE the number.
9. It’s “marshmallow” because it’s derived from a MALLOW plant.  Don’t spell it with an “e”.

Those are some of the more blatant errors, but there are certainly many more.  Less obvious ones that irk me are things like “I wish I WERE” being replaced by “WAS”.  I guess, out of my pet peeves, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 represent the best how little people understand about their own language and how easily they go by sounds to regurgitate sentences.  Think about it: If you were a foreigner and you saw the sentence “I should of went and drug him home cuz he drank alot.”… would you even know what that says?  Probably not.  I don’t think everyone needs to be an English major, but I think paying better attention to details will help preserve the integrity of American English and keep communication and education at more favorable levels across the board.

The Future: Where Are We Headed?

population_growth

As an environmental engineer, I can’t help but think about the future and what is becoming of our planet.  I study charts and statistics about how the world is environmentally spinning out of control and analyze the correlations of this erraticism to the evolutions of technology over the last several centuries.  I have concluded that the sharing of information has become both the most and least progressive movements of the human age.  How is that so?  And where does that take us now?

I doubt many people can argue that the ability to communicate ever more efficiently has accelerated the progression of man.  From our days in caves when language first developed, to spreading word of warfare or the discovery of new land, we have constantly been moving and changing our actions according to word of mouth.  Both verbal and physical language alter how we perceive others and situations and are the primary ways in which we communicate both intentionally and unintentionally.  First we developed oral language, then we developed messengers and means to communicate outside of our direct linguistic groups.  This turned into a written language with mail carriers.  With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, we were suddenly sending information via Pony Express, telegraph, radio, telephone, Internet… but where are we heading now?

Communication with such ease is both a blessing and a curse.  Although we can share important information to help accelerate a situation (how loved ones are doing, what someone has discovered in a laboratory, that a tornado is coming), this communication also affects us negatively in two ways.   Firstly, think of our history of bad choices, such as slavery.  We communicated the idea that slavery is a good choice, then we chose to select certain peoples as victims and exploit certain regions which were communicated to one another over the years and distances.  The second way that communication has negatively impacted society is that, although curing disease and preventing disasters are desirable to a person, they are not necessarily beneficial to humanity as a whole.  No one wants to hear it, but overpopulation is a rapidly growing concern and communicating ideas and warnings that prevent nature from taking its course instead facilitates the spread of problems and population booms that would otherwise not exist.

As a dorky engineer, I like to model the growth of human technology, population, and communication as a conglomerate graph: y = ex. What does that mean?  Well, x simply notes the rate at which any of those categories exponentially grows.  It doesn’t take a very impressive number to accelerate y at a nauseating speed up the graph.  In fact, a horizontal asymptote can be readily achieved without moving very far down the x-axis.  In other words, infinity is achieved with ease.  But what does infinity mean in the real world?  What will happen when we reach this point of infinity?  When technology has multiplied with the spread of knowledge and grown so rapidly that it has now reached that asymptote line at the brink of infinity?

Mathematically speaking, we can’t even verbalize the concept of infinity.  Honestly, though, I argue that infinity is exactly what will happen.  We describe infinity with as much difficulty as we define “zero”, although “zero” is a concept we can visualize.  Infinity and the numbers approaching it are truly exponentially more difficult to visualize as they grow, which makes sense.  But it’s not enough for me.  Why can’t we visualize infinity?  Why can’t we predict where we are going?  Why can’t we see an end and a solution that are agreeable to this exponential growth?

Enter: Kayla’s slightly superstitious or perhaps extraterrestrial opinions.

I am wholeheartedly convinced that the human mind only has a certain capacity to imagine, invent, and comprehend.  Much like we cannot imagine a dimension beyond the third (unless we consider the addition of time an addition of dimension), I don’t believe our minds are suited to comprehend beyond a certain limit.  I believe the acceleration of an exponential graph – when the derivative becomes too steep – is the exact moment that we stop comprehending.  We’d like to say it’s “mind overload” or that our minds will “explode” trying to comprehend so much.  And although that might be a figurative explanation, isn’t it a bit naïve to blame our lack of comprehension on something that we can’t prove?  Isn’t that the same as assuming religion as the explanation for all things for which we have no better theory?  Like when the first peoples explained lighting as the power of a repulsed god?  Saying that suffrage was “meant to be” and is “his choice” because we need something to believe in?

Thus I define the asymptote of our growth and y as x approaches said asymptote to be the point at which our currently evolved brains have reached overcapacity.  In other words, progression stops at this point.  We are not equipped to compute, comprehend, and invent beyond this predefined limitation of our intelligence.  There is a way, however, to get around this barricade: that is to evolve.  But how can we evolve when we have converted from nomadic, warring lives to lives of comfort, luxury, and tight-knit societies?  How can we expect to evolve under such security blankets when we nurture the suffering, coddle the inept, and put bandages on every slight provocation?  We can’t.  And no one wants to hear those words, but the truth is we try too hard to play Mother Nature – or god if you so choose.  We cannot expect to progress as a race until we have overcome our crutches, namely our unprecedented compassion for helping, protecting, and saving all that would not otherwise survive.

So, in conclusion, the future, communication, and where we are headed all sums into the following: Communication has accelerated us exponentially in all good and bad aspects of our history as humans.  This acceleration will halt when we have reached the limit of our intelligence.  Our intelligence will not improve or progress because we have decided to protect and preserve all the flaws and populations “not meant to be” in our society.  But, all in all, we do not control the universe and Mother Nature will prevail.  Natural selection has been the law strongest against the test of time.  I do not see our intelligence progressing any further before we either kill each other or we screw up the environment enough for nature to kill us.  So I don’t think this entry has been particularly enlightening or relieving, but maybe it’s something to ponder on?  Or maybe it’s just something to which we ascent and proceed to accept our fate.  Maybe there is no way out.  Then, again, maybe that’s what nature intended?  C’est la vie.

France-Enamored Americans: Love or Lust?

I have finally arrived in France after a long time traveling across Asia and Eastern/Central Europe. The last bits of my trip brought me through Venice and some other extremely touristy cities in Europe. As I sat back in some cafes, I observed the behavior of many tourists. The ones who stand out the most are always the photogenic Asians, the loud Brits, and ignorant Americans.

This isn’t my first time in France, but I am again dumbfounded by the cults of young women who flood the south of France, Paris, and fashion capitols across Europe, dying to “experience the culture” and indulge…but in what? In clothes, food, and boys. I’m not saying that my student group in IES is full of people like this; in fact, I’ve been quite impressed by the mix of people genuinely exploring the area for diligent work and culture experience. No, I’m referring to past experiences and current observations outside of my group.

Did you know there are H&M stores all across Europe? That many European youth in fact strive to be American-dressed, American-fed, and American-serenaded? Yes, while young women and other adults across America are dying to “experience France”, the youth over here are having quite the opposite desire. But what is the draw to France? Why do so many young women I know at home take French lessons, study journalism and fashion, read silly magazines, and eat at fancy restaurants so they can show off how to pronounce the names of foreign foods? It’s NOT a LOVE of FRANCE. They don’t care about the culture, about the politics, about the dirty facts about poverty and immigration and daily life in the not-so-fancy corners of the country. Not at all.

These are today’s youth who LUST over the IDEA of France, the images you see in those glossy magazines, the zombie-like models totting clothes that look absolutely ridiculous but that we are TOLD looks “fashionable” (ha!), the wine and the cheese… They want to lay in the sun and bask in what THEY view to be life in France. They turn their noses up at the most pungent of the cheeses and instead settle for things within their comfort zones. They avoid foie gras or pieds de cochons, or anything mildly ambitious that goes outside of their comfort zone.

These people, my friends, are the future generations and the people who spoil the image of American tourists for the rest of us. This ignorance plagues me and the vanity makes me nauseous as I sit at a cafe and juxtapose life here to my days passed at Luna Cafe at school. I dress to fit in, to respect, to not stand out. I don’t dress to make a scene, to become the new “It Girl”, or whatever it is these silly girls lust over these days. I have had quite enough of friends who come here for the boys, for shopping, for not speaking the language, and for picking through McDonald’s and other American treats. For shouting and being obnoxious and getting attention. For staring at themselves in the mirrors and taking photos of themselves to plaster online so everyone can tell them how adorable and “French” they are.

Please, indulge in the Love of France and not the Lust.