Signs for the new semester

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Sep 092013

Welcome back to campus, FYWPers. Here are two useful reminders to get your semester going. First, why a writer should always evaluate their sources:

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”.

So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket.

“When they’re proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh,” said journalist Dylan Iorwerth.

BBC News – E-mail error ends up on road sign.

And second, why it’s crucial to know your audience:Bilingual Welsh sign stumps Scots

A sign on a Aberdeenshire building site left local people mystified because it was written in Welsh as well as English.

Building company David McLean, whose HQ is on Deeside, north Wales, put up the notice apologising for inconvenience during the work in the Bridge of Don.

But local MSP Brian Adam said that if bilingual, it should at least have been in the local dialect of Doric.

The firm apologised and said a new sign would be put up as soon as possible.

via BBC NEWS | UK | Wales | Bilingual Welsh sign stumps Scots.

Lawyer files brief in comic form

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Dec 292012

A lawyer who opposes the Justice Department’s proposed antitrust settlement with three publishers of e-books has filed an amicus brief (PDF) in the form of a comic strip.

Bob Kohn tells Bloomberg and the New York Times Media Decoder blog that he opted for the unusual format after U.S. District Judge Denise Cote of Manhattan limited his brief to five pages. “I thought of the idea of using pictures which, as we know, paint a thousand words,” Kohn told Media Decoder.

@ ABA Journal

Exporting Raymond

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Mar 042012

I can’t say I’m a fan of Everybody Loves Raymond, but this documentary about remaking the show for Russian television kept me up until 2:00am. It’s fascinating, and includes a number of scenes we might use in talking to our students about audience, translation, cultural difference, and all sorts of rhetorical issues.

Aug 032011

I’m teaching a class of ESL students at Northeastern this summer.  Of the 12 students, one is Turkish, one is South Korean, and the other 10 are Chinese, which is why this column in the Chronicle of HIgher Ed. caught my eye, particularly this passage:

Yet the real language problem is a more subtle one, and one that’s not really a language problem at all. It’s a thinking problem. Because to read and write and analyze English like a native speaker, Chinese students first have to start thinking like a native speaker. This is difficult when they’ve long been trained to think in Chinese.

This sounds a little patronizing on the surface, but the author — herself a native Chinese speaker — goes on to offer a compelling explanation:

In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, the Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf writes that brain scans of native English and Chinese speakers show that each group relies on different mental processes to read. English is phonological, so English readers can sound out words when they read; written Chinese is not, so hundreds of mutually unintelligible Chinese dialects can use the same written script. English speakers access audio-sensory parts of their brain to “hear” a text, while Chinese speakers use visual-sensory parts to “see” a text, she explains. To teach a Chinese person to read well in English thus entails a significant rewiring of the brain, and while science says this is possible, there’s nothing quick or easy or fun about it.

This jibed with what I had just heard on the NPR program “Fresh Air” on “Brain Bugs,” in which the author claims that regions of the brain that are next to each other do “bleed” into each other a little bit.  This would seem to suggest that  Chinese readers “see” Chinese text while English readers “hear” English text — at least in terms of which areas of the brain they’re activating.

I find this fascinating, but I’m not sure how I can or should use it to adjust my teaching in this class — short of taking up Mandarin.

Taking some approaches

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Jul 272011

It’s the end of an era. The entertainment which has stretched across books, movies, and countless marketing tie-ins, which has captivated children and adults for well over a decade and which has, for better or worse, managed to become the defining myth for an entire generation, is winding to its close. I speak, of course, of the Hermione Granger series, by Joanne Rowling. ~ “In Praise of Hermione Granger”

Of all the ideas we introduce in WR101, “Taking An Approach” is perhaps the hardest to pin down, so perhaps the one where examples make the biggest difference. The quote above, from an article reframing the Harry Potter series with Hermione at the center, seems like it could be helpful because not only does it take a firm approach, but it’s also a text students are often intimately familiar with (unlike the Buffy/Twilight mashup I also use, but which requires an ever-longer explanation). And here’s a second example suggesting other possible angles.

Also, while we’re on the subject of taking an approach, this piece from Roger Ebert caught my eye recently. It’s about a “translation” of The Great Gatsby intended to make it more accessible to young readers, but inherent in that translation is an argument about what “accessible” means, about who young readers are, and about the relationship between style and content in fiction. So the translation embodies its argument while telling the story (whether that’s Fitzgerald’s story or not), and for me that’s what taking an approach is all about.

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