Sunday, October 21, 2012

Week nine

This is from a research paper I wrote for English 302 in the spring. It was for the linguistics unit of the class, and I opted to write about John Searle's classification of speech acts, and how they are used in online spaces. Passive voice/transitive verbs will be bolded and in green, abstract subjects will be bolded and in blue, and linking verbs will be bolded and in red. I've decided not to include the introduction in this excerpt, because I feel that the actual “meat” of the paper (if you will) is more overblown and lardy. (Also, even though it was not one of the requirements, I will be highlighting prepositional phrases in yellow.) (Another side note: apologies for the formatting being a total mess, I had to re-download this from Google because I lost the original, and this is what I got.)


The main question that was to be answered in this paper was the question of which speech acts

in particular are used to respond to inflammatory posts or comments in an online setting. My theory

uses John Searle's classification of speech acts, wherein he states that there are five different

illocutionary speech acts: assertives; directives; commissives; expressives; and declarations (Searle

1975). I theorized that assertives would be used most often in responding to these kinds of posts or

comments, with the rationale being that assertives are used to “commit a speaker to the truth of an

expressed proposition” (Searle 1975), and, in niche settings, people are eager to identify with the group

of which the niche consists (?), or the group that is challenging the niche group. In feminist settings, and

particularly in settings where “men's rights” activists (hereafter referred to as “MRAs”) are the majority

population, gender is obviously the biggest distinction between these two groups of people. Age and

social standing appear to be of no consequence in these arguments, possibly because this information is

not readily available to other parties, which correlates with the anonymity provided by the internet.

Additionally, previous research suggests that feminist forums are particularly vulnerable, as “they must

balance inclusive ideals against the need for protection and safety, a tension that can be exploited by

disruptive elements to generate intragroup conflict” (Herring et al. 2011).

To find my data, I exclusively observed online sources, as they were more than appropriate for

the kind of information I was trying to glean. I had initially intended to find my information through

blogs that are of a feminist/womanist bent, but discovered that the vast majority of well-

known, “mainstream” feminist blogs have a policy of deleting any trolling or off-topic arguments in the

comments. This made it relatively hard to find data on these sites, as the majority of the speech

examined fell under their description of trolling, even if it may not have been considered trolling in

other forums. For this reason, I then narrowed my horizons to Reddit, where comments and posts in

the “subreddits” are stated to be similarly moderated, but in reality, are not. I then further narrowed my

sample area to one post on Reddit in the “r/MensRights” group that received over 1,500 comments

from MRAs, feminists, anti-feminists, and many participants who represented various other groups.

(Worth noting is that the original poster identifies as atheist, so atheists were significantly represented

in the group, though this had no bearing on the arguments or speech acts used.)


Rewrite: In this paper, the main question I strove to answer was: Which speech acts are found in responses to inflammatory online materials? To answer this, I used John Searle's classification of speech acts, which includes five illocutionary speech acts: assertives; directives; commissives; expressives; and declarations (Searle 1975). I figured that assertives would appear most often, as they "commit a speaker to the truth of an expressed proposition” (Searle 1975). In feminist settings, especially when "men's rights" activists are significantly present, gender is obviously the main distinction between the sparring parties. Age and social standing do not appear to matter, possibly because this information is not necessarily publicly shown. This correlates with the anonymity provided by the internet. Also, research suggests the vulnerability of feminist forums, who "must balance inclusive ideals against the need for protection and safety, a tension that can be exploited by disruptive elements to generate intragroup conflict” (Herring et al. 2011).
For this data, I only observed online sources. I had wanted to find the data on feminist blogs, but the majority of "mainstream" ones generally delete off-topic arguments or "trolling" in the comments. Because of this, I could not find sufficient data on these sites, and moved my sights to Reddit, where comments/posts on "subreddits" are frequently unmoderated. Finally, I narrowed my sample area to a post with over 1,500 comments from many participants who represented many groups.

Original: 425 words
Rewrite: 232 words

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Week eight

I had a little bit of trouble identifying the active and passive voice; I marked [av] every verb that sounded even remotely active without giving any thought to which ones were transitive verbs, and which ones were simply linking. I was told [pv] that I needed more to go on from my journal page, so hopefully I will do okay.

I am still really interested in the brush strokes, yet I can't seem to find a lot of evidence of them having been used in my earlier papers. I think I am wary of over-expressing myself in academic papers, and reluctant to let them sound florid, but perhaps using the brush strokes will make my papers even better. The problem, strange and daunting, still looms. I do not want to make my papers sound too over-done or over-thought, as my grades have been lowered for doing such things in the past. Changing my style completely to get better grades, I realize there are tasteful ways to incorporate more drama into academic writing. I have been quite leery for some time of making it sound like I have nothing to say and am padding my paper with obnoxious fluff in order to hit some kind of limit.

I mean, I can say something like, “The paper, a scroll of nothingness that filled up the table, stopped being meaningful long before its end.” However, that seems unbelievably out of place, and like I'm just trying to use the most lurid language I possibly can in order to either make myself sound smarter, or fill a page. Mind racing, hands flying over the keys, I desperately try to find a balance between ridiculous and supplementary. I like that one a little better, but it still seems strange and a little forced. I guess practice makes perfect in an instance like this. It's up to me to strike the balance in my own writing.

Adjectives out of order

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Week seven

I'm really interested in the “brush strokes” that we learned about earlier in the week. I am always looking for ways to make my writing more descriptive without making it florid, and I think that these are really useful tools to have, especially if we want to write creatively in the future. I think that I've been doing these things without really realizing it for some time, but it's nice to have them in my repertoire now.

For example, for me, finding the fine line between fleshing out your characters' descriptions and overdoing it can be difficult. I have read stories that tell us everything about the way a character looks, right down to what brand of mascara she is wearing, or what color the stripes on his Adidas are, and, conversely, I have read stories that leave me wondering if the character described even has any physical characteristics whatsoever. (That sentence is a little overlong. I'm still learning.)

One of the things I really like about the “brush strokes” is that they give you a lot of different ways to say the same thing, which is something I always appreciate. For example, with a little tweaking, you basically have infinite ways to say something as simple as, “The blonde girl cried.”

“Painting with participles”: Hugging herself to protect from the cold, the blonde girl wept bitterly in the cold.

“Painting with absolutes”: Body shaking, eyes streaming, the blonde girl cried like her life depended on the tears.

“Painting with appositives”: The girl, a pale ghost with even lighter hair, sobbed without respite for hours.

“Painting with adjectives out of order”: The girl, pale and hunched, wept silently.

I realize that outright providing examples like that rather than trying to incorporate them them into the actual blog post is kind of going for the low-hanging fruit, as it were, but I wanted to do it like this because I wanted to use examples that are more creative than technical, if that makes sense. With that said, I look forward to working more on these in the future, because I think they will be quite helpful (especially in that “one chapter” assignment a few of us are working on for English 325 – of course, I can't speak to these techniques' helpfulness for other people, but hey).

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Week six

At this particular point, I do not have a “paper” due for another class, per se, but I am taking English 325 (Young Adult Literature), and our final assignment is to write the first chapter of our own young adult novel. I have been told to over-analyze my own writing less and free write more, since I'm road-blocking myself, so I suppose I'll kill two birds with one stone and do some free-writing here.

I didn't ask to be the leader of our group. I never laid in bed at night praying to some faceless force in the universe, a great reckoner of high school fortune, to make me suddenly important. I was about as invested in that as I was in extracurricular activities (I wasn't). That said, I sure as hell never complained about it, either. I've always had kind of a thing for power (not that having two other nerds kowtow to me and one girl constantly try to one-up me really constitutes “power,” I suppose, but hey – we're in high school.) And, at any rate, power is only convenient when it's convenient—your friends don't want to see the new kung-fu movie, but you do? Well, they're going now. Unfortunately, stuff like that is the only benefit to this kind of social set-up: stupid petty stuff that doesn't matter are the things on which people are the most likely to defer to you.

I'm not making myself sound exactly likable, am I? I don't care. I tried for likable. I tried for likable for sixteen years. It went nowhere. No, I didn't get dumped, “friend-zoned,” or locked away in some metaphorical ivory tower to pine for my beloved. Nothing like that happened, which I suppose makes this unlike every other story in the universe. No, you know what happened? She died. That's what happened. So you'll have to excuse me if I don't feel like being particularly “likable” at the moment, because there isn't exactly anything to like.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Week five

It came as news to me that one is not supposed to ever put a comma after “although”. I just created a split infinitive there, but I'm going to go ahead and leave it, since this is supposed to be a learning experience.

I am definitely learning a lot about punctuation. I think that I tend to over-comma (is that a compound verb?) (is that even a thing?) because I am afraid of my sentences sounding like they're running on and on and going out of control kind of like this one is but then again this is a bad sentence for a variety of reasons so I suppose I should end it now. On the other hand, when I use commas excessively, as I tend to do, I end up pausing my writing so much that it sounds as if it could be read by William Shatner.

It is interesting to learn that I do not have the handle on things that I thought I did, as I have considered myself a champion of grammar for a long time now. I realize that this sounds conceited, but (at the risk of sounding like I'm passing the buck) it can be easy to feel that way when you spend more than five minutes a day on the Internet and see what passes for decent in that realm (i.e., “at least” being considered one word). At any rate, it is interesting to learn so many new things that I can tuck away into the recesses of my mind, until such a date that I will be able to share my newfound grammatical knowledge and truly get a handle on it.

However, these things take a lot of practice. I read once (like, four years ago) that using the word “lots” was not technically grammatically correct, and I still have to actively work to keep it out of my speaking and writing. These are not the kinds of things for which one can just make flash cards, nor can you truly effectively use things like worksheets or memory drills. I feel that, at least for myself, I must learn these things organically, or they will never really take root in my head. For instance, I have been attempting to use absolutely no parenthetical thoughts or dashes in my writing these last few weeks, yet today I decided I would allow them to creep back in, and they have, once again, taken over. As it turns out, anyway, I have found new ways to interrupt myself, like the overuse of commas that seems to be the hallmark of this particular blog entry. The sentence either sounds like it's getting away from me, or it sounds as if I need to take a breath every other word, so what am I to do? I could use the Internet for information, but it isn't necessarily reliable. I could read Nitty-Gritty Grammar from cover to cover, for I believe that would be the source. I suppose all I can do is keep working at it!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Week four

I've been enjoying getting into more advanced concepts, such as syntax. Although, I will admit, I took a linguistics class last fall and, between you (all) and me, I did very poorly, so I am hoping that I can pull myself through this unit a little better and improve my track record.

I have always considered my grammar to be very good, though not impeccable, and I have wanted to work on making it as close to perfect as possible for some time. I don't want to be the person who slips up on “lay”/”lie” or says “you and I” when I mean “you and me,” so I am looking forward to learning even more about things like intransitive verbs and other related concepts so that I can always know that I am using the right form. As an English major, I find that people frequently look for opportunities to nitpick and correct my grammar, which would not bother me if said people did not seem so self-congratulatory, as they frequently do in such instances. Generally, I like to respond to such people with a joke I once heard: “I'm an English major, not a speakin' major.” That said, I would like to be able to refine both my spoken and written grammar to the point where such things no longer occur.

To that end, I have largely been working on interrupting myself less in my writing. In my first blog post, I made note of my overuse of dashes and parenthetical thoughts. I have been actively attempting not to use them at all for now; after I get used to writing without them, and saying what I need to say in more of a straight flow of ideas rather than constantly interrupting myself, I will attempt to work up to using them sparingly. That said, it is a little tricky to get used to the way my writing sounds in my head without them. It sounds somewhat clipped and abrupt, though I suppose that, as I become more accustomed to not using them, it will start to sound more natural. I've also been working on really paring down and dividing sentences where necessary to avoid the dreaded run-on. I mean, I got through this whole post without one parenthesis or dash appearing, so I think I would call that progress.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Week three

For me, a semester really has to get into full swing before I feel like I'm “learning” anything. For the first month or so, I'm always caught in this bizarre transition period where I'm caught between summer and school. I'm thinking, “I have to read this article and write 500 words and also finish Beowulf and read the Bible and I'm already thinking about finals?! Two weeks ago, I was at the zoo!” There is, of course, a chance that I am making it harder on myself than it really needs to be.

However, despite my nostalgia for that day at the zoo, and my lingering summer (mental) fog, I am learning things. (I'm kind of making it sound like I'm learning against my will.) For instance, I was fascinated the other day to hear that long sentences are not necessarily a bad thing in writing, so long as they contribute to sentence variety. One of the issues I see in my own writing (and this could just be me) is that I do not really have enough sentence variety. My sentences are long, my paragraphs are long, my papers are long. I suppose that no one has ever really complained about it, but it's something I am trying to work on nonetheless. As a high school student, my stuff was too long; as a college student, it's way too long. I can only imagine what will happen when I get into grad school.

In another vein, I also appreciate how much we emphasize ways to work around having to use worksheets and drills with students. I would like to implement these practices on my future classroom, since I have yet to meet someone who was helped by worksheets. For example, I tutored a young girl last year whose teacher's biggest learning aids were worksheets. I helped her work through these, and she learned basically nothing from them. Unfortunately, the organization for which I was working also relied heavily on worksheets, which I felt was indicative of their lack of creativity. For the most part, the worksheets were not even theirs; they had been pulled from workbooks and off of the internet.

I look forward to moving further into theoretical and more complex concepts later in the semester; for example, the work we're going to be doing in October looks to be quite interesting, particularly because I am not terribly well-versed in things like noun absolutes. I also look forward to continuing to learn things I can bring to my future classroom, though I do hope that, as I intend to teach high school, students will know how to correctly use apostrophes by then. I suppose if they don't, then I will have a whole arsenal of things with which to teach them. I also plan to continue with my original goals of not interrupting myself so much in writing. For instance: I was going to previously put a dash after the word “writing” and start talking about the excessive amount of parentheses in this post, but I stopped myself!