(This post is cross posted on the HASTAC site, where I am a HASTAC Scholar)
“All learning that is acquired under compulsion has no hold upon the mind.” –Plato
Recently, the Modern Language Association (MLA) Executive Council issued the following statement:
The MLA urges doctoral programs in English to require all PhD candidates to demonstrate, at either the admission or the exit point, advanced competence in at least one language other than English. It also urges doctoral programs to offer funding and support to students who study additional languages beyond this requirement.
Those who pursue a PhD in English are engaged in deep study of a language and its literary and cultural expressions. Most likely they will teach works in translation during their career. Knowledge of several languages and the process of language learning offer more than research tools enabling students to read primary and secondary materials in their original form. They promote consciousness of and sensitivity to both the multilingual contexts in which anglophone literatures are written and the work of translation in which contemporary writers and readers engage on a daily basis. Proficiency in more than one language promotes the cultural literacy essential to teaching in the global university of the future.
At first glance, this statement seems worthwhile and worthy of support, but then I glanced at it again, and then, I glanced at it one more time. It has become abundantly clear that the Modern Language Association is an entity lost on the steppes of the digital landscape clinging to the dying edifice of a fractured and ugly past.
Don’t get me wrong: I think language study is a wonderful thing. English is my native language, but I know French, though I hardly have time to regularly practice it. I know a little German and Italian too, and I am adept at some computer languages as well, and you know what? I learned all of them because I wanted to learn them. I’m still learning, and I will continue learning the intricacies and huge gapping maws of these languages when I eventually shuffle off my mortal coil.
However, what the Modern Language Association fails to realize (and probably always will) is that a nine-year PhD in English without advanced language study is unacceptable. So, it is irresponsible and reckless for a scholarly organization to advocate for my debt just so a student at the beginning of their career will be able to speak “passable” French that would make a French infant cringe and laugh.
Is language learning a worthy endeavor? Absolutely! Yes! But, it isn’t required for every English PhD student because not every English PhD student will need to call on a different language to do his or her work. The Modern Language Association, which is far from modern in the contemporary sense of the word, has once again reminded its membership and the world that it lives in the past.
Yet, in the spirit of support (because I am a MLA member, though I really don’t know why since they almost despise rhetoric and composition scholars), I would like to applaud the organization for their statement. I applaud them because they have left their statement both vague and specific in that they believe every English PhD student should spend more time learning a language they’ll probably never use while leaving the possibility of said language open.
I’m glad the Modern Language Association has finally decided to support language learning in such vague terms. This way, PhD students can list “Txtspeak” on their CVs and provide justification for such an addition: “The MLA supports it!” (As if that actually carries any weight, but let’s pretend it does.)
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this laughable and transitory attempt at authority is that there are so many other things the so-called Executive Council could be working on (I would make a list, but I’m sure others can come up with better ones than me—and have). Yet, they feel the need to push out a short statement with a huge sentence fragment in the middle of it.
The argument presented in the statement is vapid and yawn-worthy. You do not need to know another language to appreciate the cultural artifacts of the area from which the language arose anymore than you need to understand that a moon pie is made with graham crackers to appreciate its deliciousness. No PhD student in any discipline makes it through his or her program without encountering an appreciation of some type of cultural literacy, regardless if they label that literacy as “cultural.” It’s haphazard to assume such things, and it speaks to the Modern Language Association’s tremendous belief that they still matter.
My advice to members of the Modern Language Association would be to advocate for more study of the topics relevant to an individual’s path toward degree completion. In addition, I think the topic of language learning should be left between the PhD student and his or her advisor. The student and advisor know what’s needed to graduate in a reasonable amount of time (which should be no more than five years), and the advisor knows what his or her field looks like and expects.
If you’re a PhD student in any discipline, you have a pretty good idea of what you need to know in order to graduate on time, conduct research in your field, and achieve whatever it is you wish to achieve. There is no need for an organization, like the Modern Language Association, to throw up barriers and butt its way into your studies.
It’s not their studies; it’s your studies. Period.
If I take anything away from the Modern Language Association’s statement it is this: I am proficient in Txtspeak, and I can now list it on my CV. Huzzah!
4 realz, yo.
Photos by Flickr users stpauliesgirl (adapted by author) and the author, respectively. // All Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY
On August 15th, I celebrated my one year anniversary of moving to Minneapolis, MN to begin my doctoral studies. I have lived in Minnesota for one year, and I couldn’t be happier. I think this is one of the few times in my life where I am truly happy. I have accomplished a lot this past year. When I came to the Twin Cities, I made a promise to myself to take it easy, relax, encourage a stress-free environment, and enjoy my time. I have done all those things, though I don’t think you can ever have a truly stress-free environment, especially during finals week, and I accomplished more than I ever thought possible.
Over the last year, I have accomplished much:
I started and completed my first year of doctoral school.
I worked with world-renowned scholars on my writing and researching.
I wrote about a dozen papers, and I submitted half of those to various interdisciplinary conferences.
I taught writing courses, and I challenged my students and, more importantly, challenged them to challenge me.
I served as the 2010-2011 US Bank Fellow in Technical Communication at the University of Minnesota.
I attended THATCamp Great Lakes, met fellow digital humanists, and discussed the role of the digital humanities in the 21st century.
I made more friends and met more colleagues than ever before, both face-to-face and through social media.
I started writing for many different popular publications, all of which value public writing.
I saw my CV grow by pages.
I started to explore the world of gaming more fully.
I volunteered for various national and local organizations.
I adopted/rescued a six month old kitten named Tanner.
I strengthened my relationship with my dad.
I entered into a relationship, which is still going strong.
I believe I’ve accomplished a lot over the past year. There are times when I think I didn’t do much, but when I write everything down, I think I did enough. These are just the big things; there are various little things I did throughout the year.
Now, I am preparing for my second year of doctoral school; I’ve picked out awesome classes with great professors. I have a chance to collaborate on an scholarly article with a professor. I’ve started thinking about my exams and dissertation topic with my wonderful advisor. I will be working with my advisor and another professor in establishing a digital humanities initiative at the University of Minnesota. I’ve had two proposals accepted for two different conferences, one this fall and the other in spring 2012, and I’m preparing another proposal for a third conference. I will be done with coursework at the end of next spring. I have a feeling the next year will be exciting, stressful, challenging, and fun. I can’t wait to get started.
I couldn’t have accomplished anything without the help of my family, friends, and significant others. They helped me often and usually without me asking. I owe them much, and I love them. I think graduate students frequently feel like the world rests on their shoulders; I know I have felt like it did before, but I always take a breath, think of my loved ones, the fortunate life I live, close my eyes, and the weight of my world vanishes.
Even if it doesn’t vanish, I’ll just watch this, and I’m sure I’ll feel better:
As I was revising my thesis for submission to the UALR Graduate School for format check, I was looking through a copy of my work that one of my committee members gave me with mark ups. He had done a copyedit for me as well as asked some pertinent questions about my structure and ideas. As I was reading page-by-page looking at his mark ups, I noticed that he had doodled little bodiless heads in my draft.
I saw them and started laughing. It was just the little pick me up I needed to finish my draft for format check. All of my committee members were great and extremely helpful. My doodling committee member always makes me laugh and smile when I talk to him. So, seeing little bodiless heads in my draft, little places where he had doodled as he read my work, was a perfect commentary to his personality.
He made me laugh and sometimes that’s all you need.
One of my favorite documentaries is Objectified by Gary Hustwit. It is a brilliant look at design and how we gain meaning from objects. I often like to think about objects from a rhetorical perspective. I first saw this documentary at my thesis advisor’s house this past year. Some instructors, grad students, and undergrads gathered at his place and we munched on burgers and watched the documentary.
It was great to watch it among friends. We discussed what we saw afterward. I think design and rhetoric can be seen as similar. One cannot exist without the other. Rhetoric and discourse are employed when something is designed. Rhetoric is used to initiate, plan, and explain a designed object.
When I think about all the manufactured items that exist, I can see how rhetoric influences everything. It is in everything. Rhetoric is universal and allows us to understand the world to a degree. This is what I took from Hustwit’s documentary.
The most challenging aspect of my grad school experience up to now has been writing my thesis. I have definitely found a new appreciation for revision during this process. My research deals with how users construct identity via performance and narrative within Facebook.
I find online communities and issues of identity within those communities fascinating. I am so thankful for my thesis advisor–Dave Fisher. He is a phenomenal advisor and mentor. He has done more in the last six months to prepare me for the rigors of doctoral school than my entire time in my MA program.
My thesis will not be perfect and it will not be what I envisioned when I began writing it; however, it will be okay. It will be something that I can improve over time. I think this is true of most theses.
Anyway, I love writing, research, and everything they entail. So, doctoral school should be wonderful and challenging.