Once upon a time there was literature: the Caribbean case

When talking about British literature, even non-specialists cannot help but think of William Shakespeare’s genius, Virginia Woolf’s wit, Agatha Christie’s secrets or even C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe. But how does one kind of literature achieve popularity? For the past century, new kinds of literature have been trying to break through but circumstances have made it more or less difficult for them to flourish. Caribbean literature is a perfect example of how hard it is to fit into the literary world.
Paradoxically, it all started with the Second World War. At that time, the Caribbean Islands were still British colonies and their main purpose was to serve the British Crown. Needless to say that creativity was not really encouraged on these islands. So when they became independent, there were not many writers. And if there were any, there was almost nobody to read their work. As it was nearly impossible to make a living out of their writing, a few writers began to venture to London from the 1950s onward.
Many of them gathered there in order to improve their skills. But one of the most memorable collaborations happened on air in a BBC studio. Indeed, a weekly radio show produced by the Irishman Henry Swanzy called Caribbean Voices (1943–1958) highlighted West Indian writers who would read and discuss literary works. Swanzy wanted this show “to provide an outlet for writers who would otherwise be mute”. (Swanzy, 24) Many authors like Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Samuel Selvon, VS Naipaul, George Lamming, Derek Walcott or Una Marson contributed to the program and “publishing contracts with prestigious London firms often followed shortly thereafter.” (Kalliney, 90) Its format turned out to be quite useful and was part of its success. On the one hand, the “exoticism” of this literature was brought about by its topics and also the authors’ will to “legitimize West Indian oralities” (Simpson, 85) by keeping traces of creole in their texts and reading them out loud. And on the other hand, the audience was not only comprised of British people, it was broadcast in the West Indies as well. As a result, English Caribbean authors became known at home too.
In a nutshell, the need for exoticism after the terrible Second World War and the use of a myriad of media played an important part in the sustainability of English Caribbean literature. It also shows that a literary genre has to find a way to enlarge its readership in order to survive it. For West Indian writers of the 1950s, the BBC’s Caribbean Voices was a useful springboard that gave British and West Indian people the opportunity to discover and appreciate English Caribbean literature. Nowadays, their names and books ring a bell for many of us since they regularly win awards—like Derek Walcott who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. This literature can now flourish and that is mainly thanks to the radio show Caribbean Voices, a minstrel of modern times.

 

Bibliography:
Dawes, Kwame. “Apologia for Caribbean Publishing.” Speech. Keynote for the 20th Anniversary Award Celebration of the UWI Press. 2013.
Newton, Darrell. “Calling the West Indies: the BBC World Service and Caribbean Voices” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 28.4 (2008): 489–497. Web.
Kalliney, Peter. “Metropolitan Modernism and Its West Indian Interlocutors: 1950s London and the Emergence of Postcolonial Literature” PMLA, 122.1 (2007): 89–104. Web.
Swanzy, H. “Caribbean voices-Prolegomena to a West Indian culture.” Caribbean Quarterly 1.1 (1949) : 21-8.
Simpson, Hyacinth M. “The BBC’s Caribbean Voices and the Making of an Oral Aesthetic in the West Indian Short Story” Journal of the Short Story in English, 57 (2011). Web.

Research, or keeping up the desire to read

Going into research implies a strong inclination towards acquiring knowledge and highly developed curiosity. Being a researcher takes time and effort, yet not everyone is willing to spend that much energy acquiring knowledge, sharing discoveries, as well as doing a lot of reading.

We are constantly being told that new generations read less and less, that they spend their time otherwise, and that even if their curiosity has no limit, the written word is dying out confronted with the new media. If the world stops reading, the world will run out of researchers, or so one might think.

As I read Comme un Roman, a book by Daniel Pennac published in 1992, I realised that this book, which is as old as I am, voiced the same concerns about people reading less and less, preferring TV while books are being kicked to the curb. And yet, the author explains that the desire to read is linked to the desire for knowledge, and that this desire has not disappeared, it has only been displaced. He reasons that a young person, once nourished by fairy tales and clamoring for bedtime stories, does not reject reading as a teenager because of television, but because of how he or she was brought up. When reading is presented as a lonely chore to the child and other forms of entertainment as a reward, books are turned into objects instead of stories made of magical words teaching wondrous things, thus a change is wrought and young people are made to rebel against books.

As research students, we are asked to read constantly and profusely. Not only novels but research papers, articles, essays, anything that can help with our work, so that for most of us, what was once a pleasure becomes a chore. Being forced to read, with little time to do so and demanding assignments, it seems that our love of reading withers away in the exact same way. However, it appears that the phenomenon can be reversed, that people can be made to love reading and learning again, if their perception of it is changed. Because actually it is our conception that is false: young people, nowadays, read and write more than previous generations. Technology has made people use the written word without even realizing it. When only a handful of people use to write letters, everyone now texts. When only a small portion of the world had access to books and literature, an ever-expanding portion of the world has access to the internet, and all those people read, and consequently learn. The ways and means have changed, but the curiosity is still out there and so is the will to learn and share.

As students, and future researchers, we are aware of these changes. We know we read more, and we know the mandatory reading we face is not always easy to get through, and sometimes we would rather do something else. However, we fight our own misconceptions every day, and we keep on reading, because in spite of it all, we do still love it. And if as a researcher you feel your reading habits could use a boost, do read Comme un Roman

That-which-should-not-be-named: the aborted research thesis

Between fear and fascination of animals: the case of the animal in Victorian literature

“You cannot have it both ways, you need to choose one and leave the other.” We are confronted with dilemmas on a daily basis. For instance, should we obey our sense of reason or our instincts? In other words, trust our “animal” side. What if animals could behave like humans and the other way around? Could we be both and not be compelled to choose? The topic that I would have liked to tackle for my Master’s dissertation deals with this quandary. I had to leave behind the wayside subversive messages in children’s literature.

Are humans and animals intrinsically different from each other? If a single undeniable distinction were to be made, it could be that humans speak and animals do not. In literature, however, some authors have given animals human voices. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, all the animals speak, the Cheshire cat for example. The fascination for speaking animals results from a fear of the evasive: as animals do not speak, there is no way for us to know their thoughts. Strategies are put into place to rationalise fear. For example, The Little White Bird, a novel written by J.M. Barrie in 1902, as a prequel to Peter Pan (1904), tells the story of Peter Pan’s birth, originally as a bird to eventually transform into a boy who will never grow old. Prior to the Victorian era, children were not considered as humans, thought to have no awareness and were compared to animals. We notice an evolution of mentality, as the little bird is given a soul, to become a living boy. Pinnochio (1881) by Carlo Collodi could be read in a similar light, the tale of an animated wooden puppet turning into flesh-and-bone child as a reward for his good deeds.
The Victorians dealt with their fear by establishing boundaries to distinguish the human world from the animal one. Humans have a soul; they are reasonable beings while animals are wild, without the capacity to think and are driven by their instincts. Is it that simple though? In The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1886) by R.L. Stevenson for instance, the entire plot focuses on the definition of humanity. It suggests that we all have inside of us a Mister Hyde who has been repressing his instincts by society but who is ready to burst out and reveal his true nature. If the Victorians used metaphors or hid behind fictitious characters to deal with the fear of that which cannot be tamed, was it not to distance themselves from the truth, to avoid it? Often, that which is the most feared is that which is not seen.
Now consider this: what if we were deprived of our ability to speak, would it turn us into animals? My point was to show that we are not one-sided beings and we were allowed a wide range of traits: would it be a crime to accept them all, or would it allow us to realise our full potential?

 

Barrie, J.M., Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up or Peter and Wendy (1904)
Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Collodi, Carlo, Pinnochio (1881)
Stevenson, R.L., The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hide (1886)

Creative writing, or the importance of creativity in an academic environment

As a practice creative writing is, to say the least, under-appreciated in France. It is a discipline that thrives in other countries, though it is largely ignored inside our borders. As if here it were fractured into two different activities: on the one hand, academic writing which is valued for its structure, and on the other: creative writing which is sidelined, and supposedly does not lead to a full-time job. Hopefully, the trend is slowly changing.

The model, or what is happening next door:
In other countries, creative writing has been introduced in schools and universities as a new way to learn and develop oneself. As an Erasmus student I have spent time at an Irish university and participated in two different approaches: a class entitled literary composition and a student group: The Writer’s Society, both based on the concept of creative writing. At the university level, creative writing is encouraged as teachers push their students to learn how to write stories and to expand their vocabulary in a non-academic way while in an academic atmosphere; students also devote some of their (free) time to practicing and discussing writing among themselves. This way, students learn to be creative as well as structured.

French advances towards creative writing:
Inspired by the emergence of creative writing courses abroad, the French have also changed their habits and feelings towards writing at the university level. As of 2016, a few Masters programs have opened their doors, as well as a « Doctorat Pratique et Théorie de la Création littéraire et artistique » being created at the Aix-Marseilles University. Thus creative writing is slowly being developed and accepted in French universities.

Creative but not only:
Creative writing is not only a means to help students unleash their creative side and feel more comfortable when writing in and about everyday life, but has also been proven to improve language learning. At our very own university, creative writing has been used as a new approach to mastering a foreign language. For the past eight years, it has been a part of the English studies, implemented by Sara Greaves and Marie-Laure Schultze, both researchers teaching at Aix-Marseille University. Their workshops are designed to offer an alternative method to learning and practicing English by appealing to the student’s imagination and feelings. The dissociation of form and meaning has a way of “revitalizing language relationships” and thus improving writing skills1. By writing in a creative way instead of an academic one, students have to adjust their skills to make the language their own and open themselves to the otherness of the tongue (2015). The creative writing classes taking place at the AMU operate at the nexus between language, literature and translation classes.

Creative writing at an academic level is more than just an asset: it is a flourishing discipline, helping students with their personal writing as well as academic writing, and has also proven to be very effective in language learning, which still has a long way to go and much more to offer.

1Greaves & Schultze, 2012

Divine interjection

Watching television and listening to podcasts in English has made me aware of something about interjections: a lot of them are references to God or Christianity. Many people casually use interjections such as “oh my God”, or “Jesus”, without thinking too much about it. But is this religious aspect important to those who use them? It doesn’t look that way.
The fact that a person uses terms like “God” or “Jesus” in their daily life could mean that they are more or less Christian, it could also simply mean that they were raised in a Christian environment, or even that the use of those interjections has become part of the English language. It is quite interesting to think hat, about only a few decades ago, such expressions were considered profane language. People supposedly swore so that their words would have impact, but that same impact has lost its force nowadays due to the widespread use of profanity in our modern society.
In the “No Fear Shakespeare” section of SparkNotes1, you can compare original Shakespeare texts with translations into ‘modern English’. There, you will find the interjection “oh my God” being used as a translation for Gertrude’s “oh, me” in act 3, scene 4. An example that shows how such interjections have become more common in English throughout the years. Of course, some religious people still criticize the use of such interjections nowadays, but they do not seem to be as numerous as the people who use them. However, you can still hear more neutral versions of those religious interjections, such as “geez » (for Jesus) or “oh my gosh” (for “oh my God”), which shows that some people are still conscious of the religious aspect of these exclamations. There is also the other end of that spectrum, mostly on the internet, where people are trying to come up with more elaborated versions, often as jokes; my personal favorite being “jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick”, which shows some creativity, as opposed to others that just sound disgusting or rude even to non-Christians.

« jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick »

The spread of the acronym “OMG”— oh my God — on the internet also led to other cultures using it. In France, for example, you might even find a text fully written in French with that acronym being used as an interjection2. This Anglicism may seem weird considering that French interjections related to God and religion have more or less disappeared from young people’s language, such as “bon Dieu” or « Jésus, Marie, Joseph”.
Thus, it appears that most people using these interjections, whether they be native English speakers or not, do not use them to call upon God’s name or because they are part of the Christian community, but rather because such divine interjections have become part of modern English and modern usage in general with “oh my God” being used in countries that are not part of the English-speaking world like France.

1http://nfs.sparknotes.com/

2http://sandraelle.com/article-oh-my-god-40693767.html

Other sources:

-Crowther, John, ed. “No Fear Hamlet.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Floyd. « Top 25 Des Interjections Qui Ont Mal Vieilli, Nom D’une Pipe En Bois ! » La vie, du côté top. Topito. 30 May 2015. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
-Sandra. “Oh my God!!!” Sandra, dans tous ses états. sandraelle.com. 8 Dec. 2009. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.
SwankSpike. “Jumpin’ Jesus on a Pogo Stick” Urban dictionary is written by you. Urban dictionary. 01 Mar. 2006. Web. 19 Feb. 2016

Picture by Charlotte Khemiri.

Evernote: a master student’s new best friend

After four years of study comes the final year with its master dissertation, which will be every master student’s major preoccupation for several months. This research project is quite demanding, and a good organization will help students pass the hurdle with an easy mind. Once the topic is chosen and approved by the supervising professor, an intense period of reading and data gathering begins for the students, who must know what has been written in their field of research and how to use it for their dissertation. They must also start developing their own reflexions and create an outline for their project. At this stage, the students should already have gathered a pile of eclectic notes (written or typed notes, photographs, reading notes, personal ideas, to-do lists, etc.), half of which might get lost or neglected due to lack of organization, instead of cleverly enriching the dissertation.
Luckily for all master students, there’s a fantastic tool that can make their work less difficult.  Evernote is an application which allows users to gather all their notes in one place, whether they be texts, photographs, audio recordings, web pages, etc. It also lets them organize these different notes into notebooks, create to-do lists and alarms so that no deadline shall ever be missed again, and to use tags for a finer classification. A well-organized set of notes can really prove helpful to identify underlying networks of ideas in research and therefore to build the structure of dissertation.
Evernote has many other attractive features that will make this piece of software the master student’s best friend. Evernote Web Clipper for instance is a very useful web browser plug-in as it allows the user to save web pages (such as articles for instance) and to read them later, even when offline.
Also, the time when many hours were lost combing through piles of disordered notes or skimming computer files is now over. Thanks to the search function and the fact that all notes are gathered in one place, users can find the information they need in a second, simply by entering the right keywords.
Another interesting feature of Evernote is that users with an Internet access can store their data in the cloud by creating synchronized notebooks, and then access them from other devices such as their smartphones, provided they have an internet connection. Thus, even when on the train or in a doctor’s waiting room, users can read, create, and edit their notes: genius can now strike at any moment without being forgotten for lack of paper and pen.
Last but not least, Evernote is easily accessible and downloadable on the Internet. Although users can pay for advanced versions, the Evernote Basic version is totally free and provides all the essential functions that a master student might need.
Surely, students using Evernote at first for their academic work will soon find how useful it can be in every other aspect of their lives.

Why you will not necessarily finish reading this post!

By Geoffrey Gosa

On average, users read less than one third of the text on a web page, according to the report:  »How Do People Read on the web: the Eyetracking Experience » written by the Nielsen Norman Group. Only a small number of you read all the way through articles on the web. Ever wonder why?
The first reason that springs to mind is the difficulty of remaining focused on an article. External links are numerous, inviting you to go and see another article or even another website. They certainly do not help you focus. People rarely read web pages word by word; instead, they scan them, picking out individual words and sentences. Studies have shown that only sixteen percent of users read word-by-word.
Secondly, the wide variety of Internet websites certainly does not help. When surfing the Internet, users are constantly assailed by thousands of websites. They have to switch rapidly between pages to avoid spending too much time on the Internet. Consequently, readers cannot stay focused and rarely make it all the way down the page—as a matter of fact, many people do not even make it halfway.
So why do users click on a page to read an article, if in all probability they will not finish it? Credibility is crucial for a web user since it is unclear in his mind who is behind the information and whether it can be trusted. High-variety is not the same as high-quality. The quality of the article will make the user scroll further. In fact, credibility can increase the reading thanks to good writing or outbound hypertext links.
In order to attract readers, websites use different devices such as highlighted keywords, typeface variations or colors. The choice of the subheading is quite important: it has to be meaningful and catchy. The structure of the article has to be relevant and ordered: one idea for one paragraph, and the very first sentence of the paragraph has to retain the main argument. Contrary to an essay, a post has to start straightforwardly with the conclusion and above all, it has to be short.
People generally share links from articles they have not fully read. If someone recommends a page online, we cannot assume the page has been read entirely. In other words, there is little correlation between sharing and reading. On the contrary, articles read deeply do not necessarily generate a lot of shared links.
For instance, if someone had any inkling of sharing this post, they would probably have done so after having read only the first lines or even after having read the title and seeing the picture at the top.

The Internet has changed our reading habits: there is always something else to read, to look at, to watch. In other words, the Internet has brought upon us the age of skimming.

 

-Johnson, Louanne. ‘Ten Reasons Nonreaders Don’t Read.’ Scholastic, n.d. Web. 16 February 2016.
-Manjoo, Farhad. ‘How People Read Online.’ Slate, 06 June 2007. Web. 16 February 2016.
-Nielsen, Jakob. ‘How Users Read on the Web.’ Nielsen Norman Group. 01 October 1997. Web. 17 February 2016.
-n.p. ‘How People Read on the Web: The Eye Tracking Experience.’ Nielsen Norman Group. n.d. Web pdf. 16 February 2016

Explore Lermastériales 2016

By Lévana Eckert & Tiffany Robert (2016)

Need some help organising your conference? Here is what you need to know if you want to be a part of AMU’s Lermastériales. Have a look at the 2016 recipe and check out what our committee was able to achieve.

Ingredients (the essential): Seven committee members

1 Valentine
1 Heidi
1 Geoffrey
1 Lucie
1 Alice
1 Séréna
1 César
Lots of patience
A strong sense of humour
Just a dash of perseverance

Preparation (you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs):

Similarly to the PhD students, each committee member volunteered to organise the annual DEMA event. The preparation included designing a poster, handling the budget, preparing a menu, getting the food, making, storing as well as transporting meals to the conference room, and trying not to panic.

The whole thing starts with accepting a large amount of unknown since you have to start organising the day without all the variables. When the committee met in February, right after being elected, they first intended to attribute clear-cut tasks to each member. In the end though, only two students were given a specific role (respectively designing the poster and handling the budget). All M2 students actually voted for the poster they preferred among the three that had been designed; but after that, it was the committee’s role to visit On’copie and get a cost estimate in order to print the posters and programs before collecting them and handing everything to Anne Page. As far as planning a menu was concerned, it was taken care of by five committee members, who faced two main difficulties: special diets and undisclosed budget. While they thought they would have a whole month to prepare the event, the most important tasks (like shopping and cooking) were carried out in one day: the day right before the Lermastériales (told you that not panicking was of the essence – and wait until you read the rest).

Before going into more details about the menu, let us underline the committee’s participation to editing the book of abstracts and standardising all the propositions. Their efforts and attention were also caught up in the very time-consuming task of finalising March 4th’s schedule. Séréna explains how never-ending the list of little corrections and adjustments was (whether on spelling, standardisation, or running order), and Geoffrey points out that more than fifty e-mails were exchanged between the committee members in twenty-four hours, on February 24th, the day before a final version was sent to Anne Page. This is just one among several examples on how easily the pressure was increasing as D-day was approaching.

Continuer la lecture de Explore Lermastériales 2016

Lermastériales : « Une affaire qui roule »

By Lévana Eckert & Tiffany Robert (2016)

This is how Christelle Klein-Scholz described the Lermastériales when we met with her and the PhD students who helpfully contributed to the organisation of the conference. This year was the fifth edition of a successful project: the result of a great amount of work, mainly carried out by Anne Page through her commitment, time and effort. Five young researchers were at her side this year: Justine Dupouy, who is a PhD student in English literature and has been taking part in the Lermastériales for three years; Florence Floquet, a PhD student in linguistics, who has been contributing for two years; Christelle Klein-Scholz, a doctor in American literature and ATER at AMU, who has also been involved for three years; Jean Missud, a PhD student in linguistics and phonetics, who has been helping with the Lermastériales both as a PhD student since 2015 and as an MA student for the second edition, and Emilie Mitran, for whom it was the first time being involved as a PhD student (in American civilisation), although she did participate as an MA student in 2012.

In previous years, at least one session was devoted to a less formal encounter with young researchers who then presented their field of research and educational background. Those sessions and the time allotted to the preparation formed a stronger bond with the students, Jean Missud lightly remarked, expressing how he felt like a coach supporting his team. Students had the opportunity to spend more time on their proposals and worked over three drafts before the final version. This year, scheduling issues resulted in less time for researchers and MA students to meet, discuss, and prepare their communication — they met only twice. Proposals had already been written and the focus was on form rather than content.

Perhaps the most challenging part for the researchers was sorting out the communications into workshops; they noted that all of our papers tackled the given subject, « Confluence(s) » , in very different and unexpected manner and it was not simply a question of regrouping papers from the same field but rather to see how each student dealt with the main topic. After reading the proposals, Christelle Klein-Scholz and Anne Page both suggested a possible programme for the day. Following from the first session with the students, a final version emerged, which was then edited by the committee.

On D-Day, March 5th, they noticed how we soon fell into a good rhythm, punctuated by the many questions of the audience which brought momentum to the day. One couldn’t tell it had been prepared in only a few sessions. According to the young researchers  we have to thank the pressure that was put on the students, who were not only serious about their work, but also showed real professionalism.

‘C’est un apprentissage, c’est formateur de devoir penser à tout’

Florence Floquet remarked. In the end, the main role of the PhD students and reseachers, according to them, is to reassure the students, who know that if anything goes wrong the PhD students are there, thus being a benevolent presence.

Picture by Heidi Fausel of some of the students and PhD students, at the end of the day.

Food for thought… thoughts on food !

What does higher education imply? It implies great and long efforts made by the brain to reach athletic levels of concentration combined with reasonable amounts of stress. Even if we, English students, are not considered to be physically active, we do have our share of marathon writing of dissertations and races for grades and success. We could be compared to hurdlers, jumping over obstacles that fill our university life, which is as exhausting as it is rewarding.

There is, however, something that is neither emphasised sufficiently, nor taken into consideration in a student’s educational background. For instance, athletes are constantly asked what diet they are on to improve their performances. Yet, I have never been asked: ‘What kind of diet are you on to improve your intellectual performance?’ or ‘What type of food do you need to eat to pass your exams?’ or ‘Before writing a good dissertation, what do you reckon you should eat to find the right words?’  As amusing as these questions may sound, if our brain does not obtain enough or only poor quality fuel to think, our intellectual performances, like those of athletes, will not be very promising.

Eating complete and healthy meals is crucial, especially for students. However, cooking for oneself and bringing one’s lunch to campus can be challenging at times, whether living at one’s parents’ house, in a shared flat, on one’s own or with one’s sweetheart or abroad. It is true that we do not always have the motivation to go into the kitchen and actually make tomorrow’s lunch. Because it is considered a waste of energy? Because why bother when something can be bought at the cafeteria… Fair enough. But consider this: aren’t the countless hours spent on Facebook, scrolling to look at pages without content, the greatest time-consuming activity of the 21st century?!
Food awareness is essential and making one’s own food is a cheaper, healthier and quicker option than queueing up at the cafeteria and paying for a sandwich that has no or barely any taste, a greasy punnet of French fries or a four-hundred-calorie donut. I am not saying that we should all start cooking like three star chefs but if we feed our body better, our mental performances will improve. You are what you eat, as they say. Your body is the reflection of your brain.
Now for the practical approach. You might not know where to start and have no idea what to cook. Here’s where you can start: online. During my year abroad, being as helpless as one can be in the kitchen, I searched online what to do with my leftovers and came across this wonderful cooking channel called ‘Sorted Food’. Its goal is to help people being better cooks by proposing simple recipes with affordable and everyday ingredients. It is therefore perfect for students. The concept is easy: cooking is meant to be enjoyed as much in its making as its sharing. Eat healthy, study better and enjoy yourself more!

https://sortedfood.com/

 

Anglicisms and brain rewiring: « J’ai confronté ma mère dans la cuisine »

At first glance, the French quote in the title might sound acceptable to a French student studying English, yet it is not. While the words “week-end” and “management” have now been fully integrated into French, some verbs are still up for discussion. “Réaliser” in French, as in “prendre conscience de”, has borrowed its meaning from the English notion “to realize”; and even though it appears in the dictionary1, some French speakers still won’t accept it as being fully French. Some syntactic structures, however, the ones we call anglicisms, do not seem to be so acceptable.
As students of English, or early English scholars, I dare say, we are constantly in the presence of our language of choice. At university, where most of our classes are either taught in English, or about English media. In our personal lives, when we watch movies or videos on YouTube, read books in English… Due to its omnipresence, our subject is not only work-related, it is everywhere and contributes to our proficiency, and also, if we look even further, to the way our brains work.
In 1978, Albert & Obler2 studied the implications of bilingualism and defined two categories: on the one hand, balanced bilinguals, who “have acquired both languages from birth in a natural “‘one parent—one language’ setting”; and on the other, dominant bilinguals who “have been exposed to two languages consecutively, so that they have a mother tongue and a second language that they have learned later and possibly in a formal setting.” We, as advanced students fluent in English, accordingly fall within the second category. This distinction, however, implies two kinds of bilingual brains: one, balanced, with a single uniform language system, and another, dominant, with two separate systems. A fact which has been proven in a study by Peltoa et al.3 who used modern technology to show that “dominant bilinguals have two separate phonological inventories,” when balanced bilinguals have only one.
The question that should be raised at this point is: Why do we, dominant bilinguals, sometimes produce anglicisms in perfectly French contexts, while talking with French monolingual relatives or friends, when we should only be using the inventory of our mother tongue. Bylalstok et al., in their NIH study (Bylalstok et al., 20124) led experiments to study the problem and have found that this is not how things actually work; because of a phenomenon they coined ‘joint activation’. They state that while “A fluent French-English bilingual ordering coffee in a Parisian café has no reason to consider how to form the request in English. […] fluent bilinguals show some measure of activation of both languages and some interaction between them at all times, even in contexts that are entirely driven by only one of the languages.” In other words, for us, dominant bilinguals, the existence of two systems prompts us to tap into our ‘English brain’ (which takes time, sometimes provoking a slower reaction time when talking) even when the linguistic context does not require it, hence sometimes generating odd English syntactic structures while speaking French to your perfectly-oblivious-to-English mother…

1 Réaliser. (s.d.). Dans Dictionnaire Larousse en ligne. Repéré à http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/r%C3%A9aliser/66830?q=r%C3%A9aliser#66084

2Albert, M. L., & Obler, L. K. (1978). The bilingual brain: Neuropsychological and neurolinguistic aspects of bilingualism. New York: Academic Press.

3Maija S. Peltola, Henna Tamminen, Heidi Toivonen, Teija Kujala, Risto Näätänen “Different
 kinds of bilinguals – Different kinds of brains: The neural organisation of two languages in one brain” Brain and language. Volume 121, Issue 3, June 2012, Pages 261–266

4Ellen Bialystok, Fergus I.M. Craik, Gigi Luk “Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain” Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 April 16 Consulted at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3322418/

In Memoriam: Apprehending History as Self-Reflection

Tackling the final essay of your Master’s degree is more than just a random research project. Now, of course, when considering the importance of what is at stake, the task appears beset with hardships and expectations. But its interest may lie in an unexpected — if not overlooked — dimension. Whatever the subject may be — whether in literature, history or linguistics — the student should not limit his investigations to the world of his chosen academic topic, but extend it to himself. Regarding the essay’s general direction, personal interests are evidently important. No one wants to struggle with the burden of an undesired subject. If the choice of the supervisor is important, the student is the main individual concerned. It is his private background that will shape the original route of his research course. If this essay can be considered as the first distinctive achievement of a future career, it will always be the mirror of a given identity, and the reflection of an intellectual evolution.
Considering historical research, historians are acutely aware of the influence of their own cultural background. Whether expressed at an individual level or at a more collective one, the concepts of memory and identity appear to be fused1. But the following question often remains: why and what do we choose to remember?

When the city of Québec celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plaines of Abraham in 2009, what exactly did it chose to commemorate? The French defeat entailed the destruction of New France and the end of its imperial ambitions in North America. Moreover, it meant the permanent submission of a wide Catholic and French-speaking population to a reviled foreign power. Yet presently, the event is regarded as one of Canada’s founding moments, with the bonding of divided populations by law and pain to share a common future. New monuments now celebrate this cultural marriage2.
While growing up in Michigan, I rarely missed an opportunity to assert my distinct nationality. In spite of the elaborate rituals around the American flag, anthem and Pledge of Allegiance — dutifully repeated in class every other morning — I willingly remained conscious of my linguistic and cultural uniqueness. Perhaps I was being snobbish and unnecessarily chauvinistic, but I was certain that unlike the many European families who had preceded us in ages past, we had not crossed the Atlantic for good. Visiting the landscapes of America and nearby Canada, I remember being struck by the legacy of my past countrymen. Forts, churches, cities… countless areas linked to the history of my country remained in this foreign land. It was a story few of my fellow classmates were aware of, as we were so young. Yet I remained determined to explore it.

Je me souviens

is the city of Québec’s motto. I have simply chosen to do the same.

 

1 Philippe Joutard : Histoire et mémoires, conflits et alliances ; Paris, La Découverte, collection « Ecritures de l’Histoire », 2013, 275 pages.

2 Mémorial de la Guerre de Sept Ans and Monument François-Gaston-de-Lévis : http://www.capitale.gouv.qc.ca/realisations/grille/commemoration-et-art-public

Waking up Finnegan to music

Mind-blowing, wild, nuts, impenetrable, odd, striking, cryptic, dense, obscure and baffling is only a short, inexhaustive list of adjectives commonly used to describe James Joyce’s literary anomaly, Finnegans Wake. The Irish author took seventeen years to write the book, and rumour has it he expected the reader to spend seventeen years reading it. Imitating a dream-like state, words are put together in a challenging way and are borrowed from dozens of languages, when not simply invented by Joyce:

« What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishygods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quáouauh! Where the Baddelaries partisans are still out to mathmaster Malachus Micgranes and the Verdons catapelting the camibalistics out of the Whoyteboyce of Hoodie Head. Assiegates and boomeringstroms. Sod’s brood, be me fear! Sanglorians, save! Arms apeal with larms, appalling. »1

Reluctant to conform to a conventional approach, the text raises issues of connection to Joyce’s language: how is one to read Finnegans Wake? The 1939 novel, precisely, invites the reader to set out on an adventure with words, paving the way for many creative approaches. Whether through music, live shows or digital technologies, Joyce’s works have often been adapted to reach wider audiences. In May 2015 a new musical and collaborative project was launched, entitled “Waywords and Meansigns: Recreating Finnegans Wake [in its whole wholume]”.

In February 2016, a second edition of the project was released, bringing together both amateurs and professional musicians from all over the world. Each participant was assigned one of the seventeen chapters. Free to use whatever kind of music or sound effects they wished, the only requirement was that each artist should render all of the chapter’s words in an audible way, more or less in their original order. The outcome of this independent, non-commercial project is now freely available online. Over thirty-hour long, it offers an unabridged audio version of the Wake mixed with varied musical performances ranging from jam bands to rock and jazz.

“Waywords and Meansigns” thus challenges the view that Finnegans Wake is to be read by privileged academics only, using mass communication and web interconnectedness to renew one’s access to literary texts. After all, Joyce did not use words with their commonplace connections, but treated them as living things. Their charm was to be revealed notably by liberating sounds from their servile role, thus promoting the benefits of reading the book aloud.

Instead of simply scanning the page without actively engaging with the literary fabric, attempt to pronounce the Wake’s onomatopoeias or phonetic distortions. It offers a challenge to the tongue: stimulating one’s relation to the text, these strange sounds and rhythms actualize the music of the book. “Waywords and Meansigns” also offers an opportunity to take part in future multimedia projects, allowing one to actively interact with works like Finnegans Wake and as Joyce would put it, to let oneself be affected by the linguistic phenomenon.

http://www.waywordsandmeansigns.com/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/apr/28/finnegans-wake-james-joyce-modern-interpretations

http://peterchrisp.blogspot.fr/2015/03/james-joyce-describes-finnegans-wake.html

1   Joyce, James. Finnegans Wake. England: Wordsworth Classics, 2012, p. 4.

Picture By : c. Khemiri & M C Morgan

cc licence picture

Speak/Spoke/Spoken

On the way to bilingualism, my fellow English-learners and I have come to the conclusion that the essential flaw in our apprentissage is the obvious lack of exposure to English. The amount of time spent actually speaking the language in real conversation has been negligible. When personal enthusiasm and motivation slowly fade as well, one may wonder: how can French students learning English get real experience? Should they continuously eavesdrop to catch the melodious sound of a native speaker talking, and try to sneak into conversations? Or are there better solutions? My first suggestion was successful on many occasions, yet to enjoy regular opportunities, why not try to find a weekly meeting?
In France, as in many other countries, when not organised by young motivated students or societies, some “conversation groups” can be found outside of university grounds.
As Masters II students of English literature, civilisation, translation or linguistics, we have all been given the tools to master this language we adore. At university we usually are in contact with teaching-assistants – native speakers from different cultural backgrounds who offer conversation classes and groups. However, learning a language in a scholarly environment has its limits, when it is not spoken in a different context.
In Aix-en-Provence, for instance, conversation groups exist, such as Conversations Polyglottes. Soon the Franglish Society will start its own events as well. They mainly follow a similar modus operandi; a friendly and casual gathering in a bar or in a café to exchange a product of a very peculiar nature: people’s mother tongues. So not only does it allow to improve linguistic skills, it also bonds people together. On a less formal tone, Erasmus Nights or International Nights are often organised by pubs, mainly to favor encounters between foreign and French students. Some choose more comfortable surroundings preferring tea to beer and benefiting from a more tranquil exchange. Often a cosy café is chosen to meet on a regular basis rather than a boisterous and crowded bar. One can be surprised to see how difficult it is, no matter what the technological advances are, to properly learn a language without interaction – and these exchanges are the closest thing to real immersion into a country’s culture.
Information on such groups can be found online, on Facebook groups and websites listing the events of a town. For the less formal ones, ads can be found directly at university libraries and cafés like Book in Bar, on bulletin boards. If you are curious, open to new encounters and wish to learn a foreign language, know that in every city, conversation groups exist and will help you make friends from all over the world. My final advice is to speak, speak and speak some more… and of course don’t forget to travel!

You can find all the useful links below :

https://www.facebook.com/groups/145339865640730/?fref=ts
http://www.aix.franglish.eu/en/language-exchange-aix
http://www.bookinbar.com/infosprat.php

What Future for English?

One of the great advantages of studying English is that it does not just grant access to a wide array of different English-speaking cultures extending over five continents, but to a rich repository of non-native cultures as well.

A scholar of English literature does not only read Wilde, Walcott and Hemingway, but also Nabokov, Conrad, Ishiguro and Rushdie. Nowadays English is not only the universal second language, but also the second most spoken native tongue worldwide, the official language of 70 countries, which controls about 40% of the world’s total GNP1, and influences international media, cinema, music, science and computing. But how long will its supremacy last?

That English has become the de facto universal language is less tied to the language itself, and more to the former dominance of the industrially-preeminent British Empire, and the current influence of American political, economical, technological and cultural hegemony. By a lucky coincidence, it also happens to be “one of the simplest and easiest natural languages in the world”2, thus more easy to acquire by large foreign populations, and easier to adjust to diplomacy and business, science and culture, all at once.

Yet universal languages rise and fall. French was a lingua franca in the 18th century, the “unchallenged sine qua non of diplomatic patter”3. It had dislodged Latin, which had itself dethroned Greek; in the era of world mass communication, English has long since toppled French, but how long before it gets deposed in turn? If language is, above all, a powerful tool of subjugation, its importance necessarily fades whenever the power erecting it dwindles. If China is to be the new world empire, who is to say Chinese will not become the new universal language?

According to a study by The Washington Post4, native speakers’ charts clearly put Chinese and Hindi-Urdu-Bengali – all dialects included – massively ahead of English, with Arabic and Spanish closely on its tail. These languages also prevail from an economic-influential vantage point. If we are looking for the most geographically-disseminated languages, we should add French to the list, and we should not neglect Russian if it is culturally influential languages we seek.

Does that mean we will eventually find ourselves specialists of a fading language? Of course not: English will certainly remain a major global language for yet a very long time. It is highly unlikely, however, that it will remain as dominant worldwide as a second language in academia and culture. If one indicator arises from this study, it is that the future will not be made of one but of several linguae francae, and none more prominent than the digital signals of the Internet. English will continue to thrive as a cultural repository, but may no longer remain the vector of universal understanding. Learners – and more so scholars – might soon have to reevaluate the pertinence of settling for a single global language, for the days of unilingual imperialism may very well be numbered.

 


1 Torres, Carlos Carrion. « English as a Universal Language ». Omniglot. [http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/engunilang.php]

2 Ibid.

3 Pulvers, Roger. “The days may be numbered for English as a universal second language”. The Japan Times: 03/03/2013.

4 Noack, Rick. « The Future of Language ». The Washington Post: 24/09/2015.

Research Blog of the Masters Students in Anglophone Studies (Aix-Marseille University)