Tag Archives: culture

Intercontinental Ink: Culture Portrayed through Writing

Many students come in to The Writing Center not confident in the work they’ve produced. It’s not that they’ve written it “wrong,” but that ideas are unclear due to wording or organization. And now that I’m graduating in a week, I’m getting rather sentimental; so please humor me as I reminisce on some of my fondest writing center appointments (it’s relevant, I swear).

When I began learning Arabic and Saudi students would coincidentally schedule appointments with me, I would, without fail, get overly excited. But I wanted to be discrete about how I went about telling these students that I was studying Arabic. I’d grumble an occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Arabic under my breath, hoping the students would catch on. Or I’d leave my laptop open, revealing my Arabic/English keyboard, hoping the students’ eyes would catch my conspicuous cry for approval. But once we’d start the consultation, I’d let it drift to the corner of my mind as I redirected my attention to their writing.

Which, as it turns out, is fascinating.

Arabic is written poetically, deliberately, and to evoke emotion. It’s descriptive and heavily sprinkled with metaphors; Arabic poetry is the most beautiful, passionate prose. Often, this style transfers into Arabic-speaking students’ English writing. This sort of contrastive rhetoric has provided me with some of my most cherished appointments. I am able to see exactly how someone is thinking and how it translates from one language to another.

English is direct and oftentimes dry. Although “fluff” in moderation or having craftily worded sentences can make English writing more interesting, it is still a precise, formulated approach. Non-native English speakers use their inherent understanding of language (which can create some strangely formulated grammatical phrases), but it also generates ideas and comparisons that aren’t readily available to me given my personal understanding of language.

Literacy isn’t just writing. It’s understanding. It’s being able to communicate well. It’s knowing how to accomplish something through some means. Just because you write differently than someone, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It shows the awesome complexity of societal and cultural understanding through language. And regularly witnessing this fascinating phenomenon will be one of my most missed experiences as I finish out my time here at The Writing Center at MSU.

Intercontinental Ink: Latin and the Pope

The pope’s decision to retire has brought on a flurry of buzz and speculation. The announcement of his decision to terminate his seven-year run arrived to the ears of the world this February; however, this was only after it was translated from the language in which he delivered it—Latin.

Latin is dead. Okay, maybe not totally dead. I know that Masses are sometimes conducted in Latin, but that’s still related to the pope. Latin’s cool if you are studying other Romance languages. Science-y people also love Latin, like in naming organisms. Other Homo sapiens that continue to clutch onto Latin: Classical Studies majors. But I’m pretty sure that program is now on moratorium at MSU so that’s kind of awkward.

Why Latin? Pope Benedict was an especially ardent Latin lover and made this dead language live. Although it seems silly to use a language nobody speaks, it’s also refreshing to know that it breathes in some capacity. Given that Latin is seldom used in contexts that aren’t pope-certified, this language has a strong association with Catholic culture.

Language use serves as a monument to culture. Slang, for instance, can represent your generation’s values. My mother would ask me if I was ‘going’ with anyone. Yeah, mom, to the beach with Laura. To my friends, I was ‘going out’ with, well, no one. But Laura was going out with Adam who was going to the beach with us. I mean, YOLO, right?

In addition to generational signifiers, language can also indicate regional values. Northern Californians will tell you their garlic fries are hella dope; but in Southern California, you’ll get hella nasty looks from the locals when using the word ‘hella’. If you go more SoCal, you can encounter a heavy Hispanic population that integrates a significant amount of Spanish into their regular conversation. Speaking Spanish in San Diego, Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown, or Arabic in Dearborn helps to preserve heritage for those who have moved to live in these areas from other cultures.

Culture is perpetuated through language, and although the pope is resigning and his successor may not endorse Latin as strongly as he did, the language still serves as a tribute to Catholicism simply through its existence.

 

Side note: I’d just like to bring up the word ‘papacy’. Pope. Pap. What.