Sunday, November 05, 2006

Cool Earth Vehicle

Cool_Earth_VehicleCool_Earth_Vehicle Hosted on Zooomr

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Berlitz Language Spot

Going back to Foucault

An article in today's SF Chronicle, "Prison tour program tries to keep boys on right path". What technologies, what elements of the three epistemes are operating, and how?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

News from the weekend

SF Gate article, Envoy Sorry for Iraq 'Stupidity' Comment. Did this mean 'the same thing' in Arabic, in the context it was spoken, as it did in Al Jazeera, as it does now in the U.S. media?

The language of remedial education, with Iraq as the child and the U.S. as the principal? SF Gate, "U.S. setting deadlines, goals...penalties if Baghdad fails to deal with sectarian militias"

Interesting article on the NY Times site, "The Starbucks Aesthetic.

Notice the Budweiser crown logo on commercials, 'reflected' in natural shapes everywhere in our everyday environments. Seems advertising feeding us the logic of the similitudes more and more...

Also, it's interesting to compare Budweiser's ad, "The Wave," which shows a massive card show at a football game (go to Bud's website, enter an appropriate date, click on "ENTERTAINMENT," then on "TV COMMERCIALS" on the bottom, and find "The Wave" at right), with the much-criticized and wondered-at stadium card shows in North Korea (video example of a Dan Rather news report from 2005 here, and photo example at, . American commentators seem to wonder at the mind control needed to produce such a uniform populace, subservient to a dominant ideology, yet what is advertising in our capitalist system?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Some recent news links

Some recent news items that relate directly to the Language & Power course material on Foucault and Bourdieu:

SF Chronicle article about the 300 millionth child in the U.S. (An article only possible in an age of representation)

Catherine Ho's column in the Wednesday edition of the Daily Cal, "No, no, no, no, no, and no", which seems like a valiant (futile?) effort to modify the habitus of the UCB population with behavior more befitting of the premier academic institution that we're a part of...

A NY Times article from today, Blair Criticizes Full Islamic Veils as 'Mark of Separation'.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Following up on panopticism

The NY Times had a video on its front page Oct. 10 entitled “The FBI: Reinventing the Bureau,” in which Scott Shane reported about how the bureau has been trying to reinvent itself since 9/11. He sad that whereas the old goal of the FBI was to follow domestic ‘criminals’ and make arrests in specific cases, the new goal is much broader: not to follow crime, but to prevent terrorist activity in the U.S.

Interesting in this situation is that the new director (?) Phil Mudd, a former CIA agent, is developing a policy in the FBI called “domain management,” which involves “not just following cases but understanding everything that’s happening in your domain, in your city, what he calls, ‘the spaces between the cases,’ says Shane. This involves primarily observation and surveillance of ‘terrorist suspects’—a seeming shift from a role of prosecuting crime to one of observation, or “hierarchizing observation and normalizing judgment.”

Shane also noted that in this process the FBI has “doubled the number of analysts, doubled the number of linguists…”

Meanwhile, the SF Chronicle article from Wednesday, October 11, Self-Censorship Threatens the West looks at a series of events over the last few years in which portrayals of icons of the Muslim faith in the Western media and stage performances have incurred great wrath, prompting debate about appropriate notions of ‘freedom of expression’ and self-censorship…

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Babelfish--even poissoble?

Has anyone seen, read, heard of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? There's a character that helps to decode the languages of non-English speaking aliens, called the "Babelfish." It's a sort of instant translator that works by receiving the electric brainwaves from the mind of the speaker and translating them into English. No problem, right? Sounds great! But...would it work? Thinking about Saussure, Sapir, Barthes, Austin, and even Foucault, at how we use language to understand each other. What episteme do martians who hyper-warped into our universe from year 5872 belong to?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Myths and Names

Has it ever struck anyone as odd that the 3-wheeled vehicle used by the Berkeley Police Dep't is called the "Interceptor"? And that that name is so prominently written, in white on the black bumper area of the car? It seems at odds with the usual phrases that are visible on police vehicles that try to appeal to the public, mitigating any notion of 'encorcement': "Serving our community," "To protect and to serve," etc. Only rarely do the catchy names that are given to vehicles--Explorer, Legend, Ranger, Sonata, Armada, you name it (!)--have anything to do with what purpose the vehicle actually serves. But there it is: "Interceptor," the actual social and political function of the vehicle highlighted all the more by its rather wimpy 3-wheel stature, which couldn't possibly intercept on a road full of SUVs, trucks, etc. Why should it seem striking, though, that a name should actually state what a vehicle does, or at least one version of it? This example directs my attention back to all the other 'normal' car names, product names that then seem to be nothing if not empty signifiers, partially at least loaded with mythological meaning, made banal by their profusion but constantly draining the life out of language. Too Barthesian?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Myth activity

Here's one example of how to go about the myth activity for section. One thing I've noticed as I've been trying to tune in to myth around us is how the movie "World Trade Center" and other media on 9/11 often use silhouettes of the Twin Towers as iconic representations of the entire tragedy. And when I saw the San Francisco Chronicle "Datebook" section from August 9, I was surprised that the towers and the sky behind them were allowed to cover up even part of the word "Datebook," dominating the layout of the page:

Clearly these rectangular forms are doing important work for symbolizing the events and stories and all that has come to be associated with the thing called "9/11" (this would be another term good to analyze by the way!). So I scratched my head and tried to think about what the first order signifier and signified are, what the sign they produce is, how that sign then is used (coopted, taken, stolen, borrowed, or the like) as a signifier to be paired with a new signified. Then, in this second order, we should have a myth that uses an 'everyday' sign for a purpose quite different than was originally intended...

(Click on the image to enlarge)

The image on this newspaper cover is complex, with words, images, colors, layout, and other variables all playing a part, and there's no 'one' meaning. So the analysis above is something of a simplification, since I'm only focusing on the rectangular shapes and not Michael Pena and Nicholas Cage's identity as police officers, their upcast eyes, the silhouettes of two people walking between the 'towers', etc. I'll be interested to hear your reactions...have you seen any other examples of '9/11' represented with two iconic towers, meaning something more than just a few buildings? Has your mental image of J.R.R. Tolkien's book (and movie) "The Two Towers" changed at all, the linguistic signifer "two towers" started to be pulled at by myth?

Language on the radio

There's a series of radio shows online that should be archived afterwards, including one on English as a global language and a series of discussions on Bush's use of the word "Islamofascism".

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Facebook news

Here's the link to the Facebook user feedback page.

An interesting BusinessWeek article on the recent new features and privacy concerns on Facebook.

And a Techcruch article with background info about Facebook

I've posted a few of my own responses to Cameron's and Tyler's posts on bspace. This should get interesting later this week and next week when we get into Foucault in class...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Interested in more books, articles, events on language?

Eastern Michigan University has a website and listserv that goes out to a lot of people in the academic community interested in linguistics and related fields. I added their link to the list at right. Here's a listing from yesterday that caught my eye, related to what we've been talking about in class recently (and yesterday's video)

Title: The Spiral of 'Anti-Other Rhetoric'
Subtitle: Discourses of identity and the international media echo
Series Title: Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 22

Book URL:

Author: Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta
Hardback: ISBN: 9027227128 Pages: 280 Price: U.S. $ 138.00
Hardback: ISBN: 9027227128 Pages: 280 Price: U.S. $ 115.00

How do media inform our representations of the Other and how does this influence intercultural / international relations? While officially dialogues between different national societies are conducted by diplomats in bilateral and multilateral settings, in practice journalists also participate every day in such dialogues through the phenomenon of the "international media echo" in which they report on each others' societies. Until now, media have only been investigated for their potential role in the foreign policy of specific states. In a case study involving media in three national cultures and languages (French, American and Russian), this book presents an interdisciplinary framework that combines quantitative and qualitative analyses for the study of the international media echo in an intercultural / international relations perspective. In particular, the fundamental functioning of "spirals of anti-Other rhetoric", i.e. media wars, is examined in a Critical Discourse Analysis approach completed with Social Identity Theory and International Relations theories.

Table of contents

Foreword xi-xii
Chapter 1. Media, international relations, collective memories, and critical
discourse analysis 1-16
Chapter 2. National and international contexts for the international media
echo 17-52
Chapter 3. Russia in Le Monde and The New York Times 53-105
Chapter 4. Le Monde's and The New York Times' editorials in their national
societies 107-128
Chapter 5. Russian reactions to the West 129-160
Chapter 6. Crossing cultural and disciplinary boundaries 161-181
Appendices 183-243
Notes 245-267
References 269-277
Index 279-280

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Names and the Shibboleth test

NY Times article "To Stay Alive, Iraqis Change Their Names"

It looks like this story came out on the same day that Claire discussed the "Shibboleth test" in lecture. Sapir is one of the first people to point out the 'socializing' function of language, and the passage on p.17 seems helpful: "The extraordinary importance of minute linguistic differences for the symbolization of psychologically real as contrasted with politically or sociologically official groups is intuitively felt by most people. 'He talks like us' is equivalent to saying 'He is one of us.'"

In last semester's Language & Power class, Tim McNamara, from the University of Melbourne, came and lectured to class one day. (The article we read: McNamara, Tim. 21st century shibboleth: Language tests, identity and intergroup conflict. In Language Policy 4:4, 2005, 1-17). His argument was basically what was summarized by Claire yesterday--that not only are differences in pronunciation (what one group might consider consequential phonemic difference, and another group not recognize at all, or only as slight phonetic difference) used to decide who is in and who is out of a particular social group, but that such immediate judgments may be used to banish, torture, or kill, and indeed have been in multiple settings and in multiple eras.

This article though was startling to me because it argues that it's not even what we say, but our very names that can be used for similar purposes. On one hand it seems to relate somehow to our everyday experiences, where someone's name (read or heard) might trigger ideas or associations about ethnic group 'membership', for example, but to take this to the next level and say that it is one's name alone that can be the significant factor in life-or-death experiences....overwhelming.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Arabic T-shirt incident

Here are a few articles about a recent incident in which someone ready to board a JetBlue flight in New York was asked to remove his t-shirt because it had writing in Arabic on it, and some other passengers were 'concerned' about it:

BBC article
MSNBC article

This passage from the second (MSNBC) article especially caught my eye: "One official told him, 'Going to an airport with a T-shirt in Arabic script is like going to a bank and wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘I’m a robber,”' he said.

Of course this raises lots of questions, like, is freedom of (clothing) expression also subject to censorship, search and removal on the airlines and in public space now? What is the power of words, or, just the shape of words, to mean something totally unrelated from what the 'content' of those words means?

I have a strong visceral reaction to the story, but it's helpful to think about it in terms of the theory we're studying in Language and Power: How would Saussure explain what's going on? How about Sapir? If the shirt is bilingual in Arabic and English, and 'says the same thing,' then we might assume when we think in Saussure's terms that the signified is the same (though the idea of "value" shows us that it's not just what the words mean in themselves, but what they mean in contrast and copresence with all the other words that can be said in that language). And there are two different signifiers--in the case of English, the phrase "We will not be silent".

But the fact that the Arabic script itself was 'read' in a very different way, the fact that it elicited fear and discomfort among a group of people who didn't know 'what it said' suggests that Saussure's model (or at least the 5 pages that we've read!) doesn't do everything we need it to. Sapir's idea of the referential and expressive functions of language may be going in the right direction. the passage about the 4+ things that language does besides serve as a channel for communication is helpful. And we'll want to look at Barthes' idea of myth, and, coming up for next week, Austin's speech act, expanded on later by Butler. Language doesn't just describe things; it does things, and what is done (social effects, etc.) by what we say and what we wear can't always be predicted...


Friday, August 18, 2006

Blog coming here for language & power

In this space I'll be writing a little bit about ideas that spin off from Professor Kramsch's Language and Power class, ideas from Tuesday discussion sections, links to other relevant media online etc. etc. Welcome! And I'm looking forward to reading your comments and writing about these things...