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.

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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.