The Yummy World of Linguistics

The field of linguistics is a rapidly expanding and intensely fascinating area of study. But just how much would you say you know about it?

Although linguistics has made numerous significant impacts on other fields, (such as anthropology, cognitive psychology, computer science, philosophy, sociology, and quite a bit more), the average person on the street might be clueless as to what exactly linguistics is, if you were to mention it. If we didn’t know any better, we could be tempted to say that those who are linguists are grammar experts or, possibly, someone who is a fluent speaker of languages.

In actuality, linguistics is simply the study of human language. It centers around the processes of human thought, and also around the structures that form the foundation of language. Because of linguistics, we are able to study how we communicate with one another, and the factors that go into play in the usage of language. Linguistics is broken down into several subsections, such as:

  • Morphology, which is the study of the formation of words. When studying morphology, the main goal is to understand the way in which the words of a language are constructed, and to find out if those words consist of smaller parts that still hold meaning.
  • Pragmatics, or the study of language usage in its context. MacMillan English Dictionary provides a more thorough explanation, defining pragmatics as just, “how people use language… describing the connection between language and human life.”
  • Phonetics, which is the study of sounds produced in human speech, and Phonology, which focuses on the study of patterns of sounds in languages. Both of these center around how sounds are produced (by humans), and are perceived (by humans).
  • Semantics, the study of meaning, or how we, as humans, use words and grammar to construct meaning.
  • And Syntax, which refers to the study of the formation of phrases and sentences.

Although the field of linguistics is often overlooked, it is because of linguistics that we are better able to understand how we understand one another, communicate with one another, and, ultimately, connect with one another. Now, go and tell your friends about its wonders. 

Hustlers like Hosseini

As students of writing, we are often given opportunities to learn about writers we may not have ever heard about. Ones with styles unique to our own, who can give us new insight into how we may present our writing to the world or how to improve our own writing techniques. For most of us Eagles, it’s likely that we’ve often been instructed to read, study, and analyze the writings of mainly European or American writers. Although there are numerous talented writers that are American or European, it is best to not forget that writing and writers are just as diverse as the populations of the earth, meaning that we ought not to limit ourselves in our studies. The field of writing is open for all writers of any nation, of any descent.  

Meet, for example, novelist and physician Khaled Hosseini. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini and his family were quite accustomed to the refugee life. When Hosseini was eleven years old, he and his family were forced to relocated to France because their home-land was invaded. Four years later, because they were still unable to return to Kabul, Hosseini’s family applied for and were granted political asylum in the United States, and shortly after were given citizenship.

While Hosseini was studying medicine in the United States, he also worked on his first novel, The Kite Runner, a work of fiction which centers around the life of an adult Afghan refugee who tries to heal from the trauma he experienced as a child. It centers around the themes of the violence and warfare; its effects on family and children; and how those affected can learn to accept and recover from the violence. Hosseini, however, was quite unaware at the time that his first novel would become an international success, becoming available in over sixty countries, and remaining on the bestseller list of his own country for well-over a year. When being interviewed about what aspiring (and veteran) writers can do to improve their craft, he presented us all with his simple, but worthwhile advice:

“Read a lot. Read new authors and established ones, read people whose work is in the same vein as yours and those whose genre is totally different. You’ve heard of chain-smokers. Writers, especially beginners, need to be chain-readers. And write every day. Write about things that get under your skin and keep you up at night.”

Hosseini is just one of the many brilliant examples of writers we may not hear too much about. However, fellow Eagles, let not our sights become narrow to the writers who are just like us. We will never grow that way. Instead, let us collectively open up our minds to exploring writers who are totally different from us. We have so much to learn.    

Introducing Kim Addonizio

During the second night of February of this year, phenomenal poetess and author Kim Addonizio graced the House of Georgia Southern with her electrifying presence. Addonizio, proud mother-author of two novels, two story collections, two poetry-writing instruction books, and of seven poetry collections, gave public readings of her poetry from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., courtesy of The Department of Writing and Linguistics and The Georgia Poetry Circuit.

Little in stature, but mighty in the word, Addonizio’s presentation was likened to that of lightning: Brilliant. Captivating. Undeniably powerful. As she read to the audience from her latest poetry collection, Mortal Trash (W. W. Norton), she allowed us access into her world. More importantly, into her life, her story, and into the moments that made her become who she is.

Following her readings, she bestowed upon us audience members the opportunity to ask her questions, and to have them answered. When asked about how did she arrive at the position of courage that allowed her to so boldly become raw with her poetry, she responded simply and wonderfully that “this is what literature is about – being human.” She furthermore went onto explain that as writers, or those who aspire to become writers, it is imperative for us to become comfortable with “telling our stories however way we can tell it.” Addonizio mentioned how in poetry, “everything is fair game,” meaning that anything from our lives could be written about, if we so choose.

Lastly, although most importantly, she eloquently reminded us all, myself included, that in order to get anywhere with our writing, we need to “not worry whether people are going to react [or not],” but to mainly do it for ourselves. So that we are using our gifts. So that we are putting our literary treasures out into the world.

Overall, having Kim Addonizio visit Georgia Southern University was an absolute pleasure, and we hope we can have her back here again sometime soon. Addonizio is also the award winner of two Pushcart Prizes, fellowships from the NEA, and also from the Guggenheim Foundation. She was a finalist for the National Book Award for her masterful poetry collection Tell Me (BOA Editions, 2000). She enjoys teaching and speaking across the country, and internationally.

In addition to her awesomeness, she also a member of the musical group Nonstop Beautiful Ladies, in which she plays the harmonica. May she continue to be so amazing!

 

Encouragement [Poems] for Writers

For When You Start to Give Up

Remember your accomplishments:

You’ve given life to paper.

Made universes from drops of ink.

Formed souls out of thin air.

Like how the body swirls the blood,

Inside of you swirls Enchantment,

Wonder,

Delicious mystery.

The kind that only you can produce.

The kind that you have shown to produce time and time again.

Why not one more time?

Another Reminder

Are you aware that

Through the glides of your pen

You are infinite

Imagination beats on

Storytellers never die 

Why Writing is Good Stuff

Sometimes Creative Writing gets a bad reputation. More than likely we have heard how pursuing a writing degree (or any liberal arts degree) is not a worthy cause, and that those foolish enough to enter will be heading towards a fruitless future. However, despite what has been said, there are actually good things to come out of being a writer.  

For one, it is through the process of writing that we refine our communication skills. Without knowing how to efficiently communicate with one another, we cannot expect to succeed as a society or even as a world.

Secondly, the more that we write, the better we are able to make meaning out of the events happening in our communities, societies, and in the world around us. It is through the outward observation of the state of affairs occurring here on planet Earth, as well as the inward exploration of the affairs happening within ourselves, that we can acquire the material needed to form our stories and understand our lives.

Thirdly, when we are writing, we are sharing our knowledge, our thoughts, our emotions, and other valuable parts about ourselves or perspectives. By doing this, we may come across numerous similarities among each other, which can lead us to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, we’re not as different as we had previously thought. As a result, we are better able to understand our own human nature, along with those of our neighbors.  

It is also through the process of writing that we are able to yank our imaginations from out of our minds, and lay them out for ourselves and for our fellow humans to observe. When we do this, we invite others, and the entire world, into our worlds. We allow them to dabble in homelands built out of our fantasies, and to explore and adopt lives to which we have given birth. When we produce our stories, whether we are aware of it or not, we are in agreement with the truth that we are world-creators; that we are earth-shakers; mystics with the pen.  By sharing ourselves like this, we are giving our planet a mighty and irreplaceable gift.

To write means to connect with ourselves and others.  To write means to seek understanding and meaning in our lives. To write means to have fun with our imaginations. To be a writer means to leave the world a little better than how we found it.

As a side note: the Department of Writing and Linguistics here at Georgia Southern is home to an abundance of classes, and a treasure-trove of professors whose desire is to push and inspire students to be the best writers they can be. Come and see us sometime!

Soundtracking Your Writing Life

At some point in middle or high school, all of us took some sort of test to determine what kind of learner we were. Some of us ended up being aural learners–the kids who listen to lectures and regurgitate information after one go-around. Some of us were visual–the ones who most hoped that the teacher would stop talking and play a video. Still others would be classified as “hands-on” learners–the nice term for the kids who would tear the room to pieces the minute the teacher left.

If you, like me, found yourself among the former group–the aural learners–then your writing process may often find itself supplemented by your music library, if only ever to serve as white noise. While many of us work best in absolute silence, many of us prefer to work over the latest jams, the classic tunes, and everything in between. This is a good thing. We can pull inspiration from any number of texts, and music is no different. It can serve the poet in the same way that film can serve the fiction writer–as another manifestation of the same principles.

It’s often easy to ignore texts outside of our own medium, but chosing to tune in (*ba dum tish*) to things outside our spheres can improve our own art by degrees. There are some things to remember when building your writer’s playlist, though.

1. Music can stimulate more than just pleasure. So, you’re writing an angsty, post-modern diatribe-turned-plot-turned-actually-pretty-solid-piece about subjugation, objectification, and some other -ation. You don’t think Nicki’s The Pink Print or Coldplay’s Whatever Album Coldplay Put Out This Year is quite going to give you the moody vibe you’re looking for. Why not try something else? Something bizarre? Something haunted and unpleasant? Maybe someone like Sigur Rós (below) or Jenny Hval is for you right now.

Perfect for that piece featuring gas masks, made-up languages, and existential terror that you’re writing right now.

Are you writing a fantastical short story about a Barbarella-esque warrior woman and her journeys through some strange, pastoral landscape? Maybe consider listening to something that fills your head with those sorts of images (I would suggest Sleater-Kinney if you’re heavier on the warrior woman aspect, or Joanna Newsom if you’re looking to capture the idea of strange, foreign lands).

The point is this: sound can do so much more than lift our spirits. A great song can fill you with awe, dread, or even revulsion. Consider your own piece before attempting to complement your process with that new Bruno Mars track featuring that one guy.

2. Lyrics are important. It’s easy to forget that–just like literary poetry–musical lyrics can come in two (basic) flavors: lyrical and narrative. Are you looking to meander through the human psyche for a while, or are you looking to propel a group of characters through a sweeping narrative?

Figure out where you are going with your work, and demand the same of your playlist. Maybe Bowie’s story of Major Tom mirrors your own. Maybe listening to Fiona Apple ramble roughly about heartbreak and abuse will send new life through your own lyrical essay about the time your Siamese fighting fish died.

3. Lyrics are not that important. One advantage that music holds over traditional writing is the (you guessed it) audio component. It’s a medium filled with hundreds of elements: tone, tempo, progression, lyrics, structure, timbre, arrangement, technique, ability, technology, and volume, just to name a few.

Consider these elements. They drive music in the same way that the elements of writing drive our own work. If you can’t find any music that speaks to who you are thematically, then you may be able to track down something that speak to you on a baser, stylistic plane.

4. Know when to turn it all off. Even the most auditory learners need to find silence every once in a while. There is a reason why communications experts call extra input “noise”–our media consumption can easily overwhelm us, or worse, color our writing until it becomes something we did not intend.

Just like that one time you got lost in in downtown Savannah looking for that place you were supposed to be at for that thing you planned to go to, every once in a while, it’s time to turn down your radio so you can squint at the roadsigns around you and determine where you’re even going with yourself, even if it’s not totally apparent to you why you’re even turning the radio down.

Map of Savannah City Map, Georgia, United States 1885

You’ve been so very lost here so many times. Admit it.

Other mediums are great to dive into, but make sure you don’t drown in the glory of it all.

5. Completely ignore everything I’ve just said. We’re artists, after all. We have that freedom. Your process is your own, and no amount of suggestions from me or any other hoity-toity pseudo-critic like me will change that. If listening to German death metal helps you write your nature poem more effectively, then more power to you. Pursue the mediums and the genres that make you a more effective creator. discover what makes your creative metronome tick.

Jane Fonda as Barbarella Still 5

Just remember my advice when your Barbarella spin-off novel based on extended progressive rock listening sessions hits it big.

The Wisdom of Sholeh Wolpe’

Sholeh2

This Wednesday February 4, Georgia Southern University and the Writing & Linguistics Department enjoyed a rare treat: a reading, workshop and q&a with poet, writer, and translator Sholeh Wolpe.

Wolpe’s very opening words struck the nostalgic mood of the reading and her subject matter: home is the missing tooth that tongue reaches for in the empty space.  An immigrant myself, I immediately recognized the core, complex truth of those simple words.  Wolpe left her home in Iran when she was thirteen years old, before the revolution that would eventually prevent her from returning, making her, in effect, an exile.

“An exile is someone who wants to  go home but can’t,” she explained candidly to a rapt audience.  Her early residence in Trinidad sprinkled her poems with vivid sensory images of a caribbean paradise, yet the longing for home permeates even the most uplifting poems.

“I finally decided,” said Wolpe of her long search for home, “that home is within the heart.  We carry it inside of us.”  She believes that if all people came to understand this, then we would all look to each other as “our people” and home would be everywhere. There would be no need for wars or separation based on religious or political differences.

“I’ve decided to make poetry my religion,” said Wolpe candidly.  I wanted to stand up and applaud.

BOOKS BY SHOLEH WOLPÉ

sin-selected poems of Forugh FarrokhzadRooftops of Tehran The Scar SaloonBreaking the Jaws of Silence--Sixty American Poets Speak to the WorldKeeping Time With Blue HyacinthsThe ForbiddenTable & Pen--Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle EastThe Atlanta Review

Scroll down to see these books   or  click on each book for more information

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Student Justin Willoughby Publishes in Microfiction Monday Magazine

Welcome back!

The new year brings us tidings of success, as we’ve just received the first confirmed student publication of the year.

Congrats Justin Willoughby for getting his mirco fiction piece, “Tired of Jewels” in this January 5 edition of

Microfiction Monday Magazine

Microfiction Monday Magazine

Justin received confirmation of his publication just this past December 30th.  What a way to start the new year, huh, Justin? Keep writing those horror micro pieces.  We love it.