I was wrong

I thought it would work to just re-initiate blogging here, and that because it wouldn’t require the effort of trying to build a new virtual house, and refine my virtual voice, that it would be easier. That, it turns out, was incorrect, and I find myself casting about madly for ways of writing and settling on absolutely nothing.

So finally, I am willing to consider this blog officially defunct, and I will be setting up a new home just around the corner. Stumblers-upon can now find me at Fray Adjacent.

This article from a few days ago previews the upcoming (Oct 24) release of census data describing Canadian’s linguistic abilities. It deals in particular with the relationship between the data that is reported and our national identity:

“It’s a portrait of who we are, linguistically, as a nation,” says Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies. “There’s a lot of symbolic dimension to this. It’s not just about the numbers.”

Which is true, with a caveat. The symbolic dimension doesn’t just emerge from the numbers – it emerges from what we make of them, in our everyday conversations and in the media. And one thing that I continue to find striking about the discourse about language and bilingualism in Canada is the tendency to conflate the concept of a “bilingual country” with rates of individual bilingualism. Here in Canada, they are being constructed as the same thing – the relatively low rates of English-French bilinguals in the country, especially among English speakers, is referenced as a sign of the declining importance of English-French bilingualism for our national identity.

Although most Canadians perceive the country as bilingual – the result of government policies mandating services and labels in both official languages – the legitimacy of that image is under growing scrutiny.

My shallow analytical counterpoint would be that regardless of how many English-French bilinguals exist in this country, the country remains bilingual by virtue of those very government policies. But this scrutiny exists no matter what I think, and these contributions are, I think, going to change the conversation about our official language policy, and may bring it up for questioning in ways it hasn’t been for quite some time. Maybe they’re one off points, but with a separatist government in Quebec and an unsympathetic Conservative administration in Ottawa, the linguistic gloves might come off.

One thing I would like to see is how our political vs personal bilingualism discourse compares to what happens in other countries with multiple official languages. I’m fairly confident, for example, that South Africans don’t spend a great deal of time worrying about the fact that very few individuals speak all of the 11 official languages of that country. I’m also curious about how Canadians conceptualize the role of English overseas and things like the high rates of fluent L2 English speakers in countries like Sweden or the Netherlands, in contexts where it is not a part of national identity. I wonder whether thinking and talking about that makes a difference to the assumption that our identity as a bilingual nation must or should map on to a greater number of individuals manifesting that particular form of bilingualism.

Bilingualism and Canadian Identity

I feel a little guilty saying so, but nothing makes me so glad to be something other than USian than election season. I’m certainly not saying that Canadian elections are spectacular displays of democracy in action, but as with most things we do, the volume on the bullshit is not turned up quite so high.

From a sociolinguistic perspective, however, those debate things cannot be anything but interesting. The chance that somehow, a discussion, a dialogue, a debate might accidentally emerge underneath all of the performing, and the inevitable ways that what one politician hopes is a throwaway comment will generate thousands of words of analysis and hundreds of barbed pictures (in this case “women in binders”). Before the second debate, Charles Pierce said:

It is the last stand for spontaneity, the last possibility of a human moment before both candidates climb back into their bubbles and bounce across the landscape the way that white blob on The Prisoner used to do it. It will be the last chance for flesh and blood before the election roars to its inevitable conclusion as a bloodbath of decimal points.

What is even more interesting to me is the dynamic of interaction, which Deborah Tannen discussed this week in the NYT. Because no matter what, that is almost inevitably revealing. Who is allowed to interrupt whom, when, and how? What is seen as a transgression when it is performed by the female moderator vs. by Mr. Romney vs. by Mr. Obama? How do their reactions become themselves part of the performance? Obama saying “I’m used to being interrupted” reads, to me, like a scathing commentary on disrespect from his political opponents. And I’d be gasping right along with the audience when Romney said “You’ll get your chance in a minute. I’m still speaking”, and making a whole pile of links to broader processes of Romney’s infantalization of Obama.
Which is really just the tip of the iceberg of what there is to talk about in the debates. There is always flesh and blood in these conversations if you’re looking for it.

Debates and Political Performance

Revisited, Again.

Again I hit a point where life made blogging essentially untenable. Again I have come to find that I miss it and want to try to make it work between me and the internet. Again I am likely to fail – whatever that means – though this time I hope to force myself into some kind of a scheduled structure that will motivate production.

My main motivation for this is actually to help siphon some thoughts out of my head and create some space and order for dissertation writing. A lot of my posts are likely to revolve around themes related to said dissertation and language/linguistic anthropology more generally.

I will be posting an updated description of who I am and what this blog is about, because that information has seen some major changes. I thought about starting over with a new blog and a shiny new internet identity, but as I struggled to come up with something, I started skimming these old posts and just felt…at home. So I decided to run with that, and see what happens.

And here we are.

Rethinking protest

Okay, so now that the situation in Toronto has gotten really serious, all of a sudden we’re having an entirely different conversation about protest. Well, an entirely different conversation from the one most people were having last week, anyway. Now we’re in the territory of repeatedly using the word “anarchist” in fear-mongering constructions, suggesting that the overwhelming police presence was not only justified but possibly insufficient and CBC online commenters using such expressions as “barbarians”, “animals” and following brilliant lines of reasoning to connect acts of vandalism with any kind of left wing politics.

Now, the conversation is about “legitimate protest” vs. violence. These people are destroying whatever legitimacy could have been found in peaceful demonstration. Because it’s in the hands of the general public to legitimize objections, and if Joe and Jane Q Public decide that they find your tactics unsavoury, the content of what you say is absolutely irrelevant. You didn’t put your hand up, you chose to shout the right answer out, so the teacher will ignore you and likely penalize you on your report card. And the person sitting next to you, who is clearly your friend and who put his or her hand up before you shouted out the answer, but was being ignored in favour of the students the teacher liked better, well, that person will just continue to be ignored because they shouldn’t be friends with you and give answers that are the same as shouter-outers. Because yes, we are actually all in grade school, and order is more important than learning, discussion and truth.

In this discussion that has primarily become about violence vs. legitimate, peaceful protest, I can’t help but note one thing that I’m not seeing mentioned all that much. We’re not actually talking about violence. We’re talking about vandalism and property destruction. I have not seen a single report of anyone being injured (if anyone is actually reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong, but a quick search of major Canadian news outlets don’t disprove this, and I have to suspect that they would be the first to jump on any story that existed). Private and public property costs money, and burning police cars are powerful images. But they are not necessarily violence. Is it tenable to suggestion that in some cases, possibly this one, these acts are violent? Probably. Should it be stated as truth without question or dispute? Absolutely not.  The standard expected by the family Public is that protest does not actually disturb anyone or anything. The less it is noticeable, the better.

I can’t say I really support property destruction and burning things as acts of protest…I have a deep feeling that some sort of shift in tactics needs to take place in order to create any kind of effective protest…but damned if I can’t say that at least we’re talking about something, even if all most people are doing is erasing the line between vandalism and violence and delegitimizing anything not resemebling the status quo.

Sports Nationalism

The commentary portion of the World Cup broadcast just brought up a somewhat intriguing point in reference to the spectacular failure of the French. Apparently, the French government has requested an “inquiry” into what happened to cause this meltdown. FIFA and the French Football Federation are against this course of action, because, as the commentator put it, they believe it’s important to keep the football-governance structure separate from the running of the country.

And yeah, okay, in some ways it’s actually really easy to mock something like this as far too trivial and trite, and to be sure, an inquiry would be a pretty unjustifiable use of funds. But at the same time, FIFA’s suggestion that it’s absolutely ridiculous to consider this anything but a pure football issue seems a little bit disingenuous. World-stage sports – especially such massively popular events like this one or the Olympics or whatever – obviously have a nationalistic component to them, but it’s always been somehow sanctioned as separate from the problematic kind, the actual work of nation-building and identity formation…even though it’s not, not really. This is a non-governmental channel for unification, a positive source of group pride and energy and whatnot.

It’s a brief point, and a minor one, to be sure, but it just seems to point further towards this sense that “well yes, we’re representing France as a nation, and whatever we do on the field is pretty strongly suggested to be connected to our identity and to our national cultural features, but this isn’t an issue that should concern France as a state government”. International sports fascinate me as a site of discourse-construction, and this little moment of contestation raising the question of whether the jersey-nation can or should really fall into the governance structure of the flag-nation brings some of the reasons why to the surface.