Hugh Nicoll's Blog

patterns, poetics, polytexts

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musings on language

August 25th, 2007 · No Comments

Reading Jerome McGann on Clark Coolidge : wandering Copenhagen, journeying to Manchester via Frankfurt…

The twinned experiences of reading and thinking about poetry and poetics within the multilingual flow of heard languages in travel has got me thinking about language, language use, and language learning and teaching in new ways. It also has me wondering about the difficulty of learning and teaching other (“foreign”) languages — and wondering why we seem so insistent as students and teachers about this notion of difficulty. All around me, inside me too, the ubiquity of code-switching in the multilingual flow is primary. Inner life, in own words, English and Japanese. Copenhagen’ dominant background is Danish, bilingual (Danish/English) signage, and code-switching on demand, with English loan words sprinkled through everyone’s speech no matter their origins, mother tongue(s), and multi-lingual competencies. This seems — at least in over-heard casual conversation and public interactions — the same for everyone: Americans to British to Danes to Germans and Swedes, Africans, Thai, Turkish, …. all. In global business and travel this seems merely necessary and normal. We need to communicate with each other for instrumental purposes and so without worrying about the finer points of how to develop our language learning strategies, reading skills, improve our vocabulary learning techniques, etc. we just get on with language life, step by everyday step.

If a finer (more discriminatory) understanding of difficulty in language/language use is to be encountered and embraced, won’t this happen in the domains of the arts and sciences? For example, say, in poetics, philosophy, or computer programming? If there is a point to my meditation it is not to attack the anxieties and concerns of language learners and teachers, but to seek a better understanding of our real responsibilities through a more rigorous analysis of how we handicap ourselves in our educational institutions.

Note: McGann, Jerome. The Point Is To Change It: Poetry and Criticism in the Continuing Present, University of Alabama Press, 2007.

Tags: poetics · teaching

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