All posts in Language & Culture

  • Reflection // post third semester

    So, I’m pretty sure standard protocol is to begin each post-reflection talking about how difficult the semester was and apologizing for not updating as much as I should have because of said trauma. Well, why change what we all know & love?

    It was especially difficult because, if you remember, I was leaving the heaven-on-earth that is Switzerland to go back into the trenches that is graduate school. I felt like I was working on a real project with a really great team and plenty of other designers to learn from and now I had to go back to school where most things were abstract. And I had to teach.

    I had been secretly pretty excited to teach since I had such a positive experience TA-ing for the class last year. I don’t quite know how to describe it and I probably shouldn’t since I have to teach again next semester. Overall it was still a good experience, but I didn’t realize how emotionally draining it would be. When I wasn’t in class I was constantly thinking about the class. What I could do, what I should do, what I did, what I didn’t do, what I will do…It took up a lot of space and didn’t leave much room for me to be concerned with my own classes.


    (interim critique)

    (interim critique)

    I ended up dropping a class I had really looked forward to taking: Time, Motion, and Communication. It was a class where our projects were in After Effects and created animated…stories, feelings, rhythms. I just was turning in work that I was ashamed of and I knew I couldn’t put anymore time into, because I had my other classes and thesis. The dream is someday I’ll re-do the projects I already turned in. I was glad for the amount of time I did have in the class though. Dan Boyarski is a tremendous leader of students and I got to see the depth of his kindness as a person too.

    Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.24.38 AM

    My Language & Culture class was really fun and interesting to me. I thought the repetitive format of the actual class kind of dragged on, but almost all of the readings were interesting and they settled on my brain nicely. It’s one of those moments when you’re realize with fear: I could have gone my whole life not knowing this perspective! What a scary thought. It felt a little indulgent getting to learn all this stuff not explicitly connected to design, but I ended up using the readings I did for my thesis (with questionable success, apparently).

    It is admittedly hard for me to separate doing well in academia to doing well in life since I am pretty academically driven, but I would say that getting the leisure to study linguistic theory was such a pleasure for me and there is no way I can erase the way it makes me think about the world now so :P. I’ve realized recently my favorite subjects are Design, English/language, and philosophy. I could read and talk about those all day. (Although, I’m actually really bad at reading philosophy, but if you lectured at me about it all day I’d be just as happy). PLUS, since I did so much independent reading this semester, I finally think I’m better at reading dense academic articles. I don’t know why people make their ideas so unpleasant to read. I especially remember the struggle or reading these kinds of articles as an undergrad.

    Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 10.23.03 AM

    You heard a little about my independent study. It was really rewarding project to work on since they were sincerely trying to make their project happen. But again, I felt a little constrained to find the time to work on it. When I did it was really fun to dive and I felt like I learned so much just by working on it and navigating through their issues. There are some aspects about this that didn’t turn out how I would have preferred, but I’m glad I worked on it. I ended working on their service system and creating business communication pieces for them. I also offered feedback on their user experience as they tested prototypes.



    ROUGHAnd my thesis, well, you know that happened at least. I ended up being really excited about it at the end, and still am even though the allure of sleep and my mother’s Vietnamese cooking are quite distracting. Getting feedback from other reviewers was a little discouraging. Part of it could have been my tense presentation where I decided to talk as fast as humanly possible…and part can be that people have existing ideas on design. Upward and onward, I suppose.

    SoThat was my review of my coursework, but school and life are obviously not the same thing. How am I feeling about design, me being a designer, etc, etc? 

    You know, I re-read my first reflection about what I wanted to get out the program and talked to my friend Igor over Thanksgiving (he is studying graphic design at Parson’s right now). He knew I was a designer and he knew, vaguely I was doing something different now. In talking to him, I realized what I was doing and was trained to do (and what I told people I do) was different than what I was used to do. It happened so slowly—creeped upon me realized—that when I suddenly looked around I saw that I learned a lot and I had these different skill sets, perspectives, and a desire to work on something else—Well, not to replace visual design, but to do something in addition to it. It was a weird and disorienting moment. When did this get away from me? Maybe during Confluence, our career fair. You tell your story so many times you start believing it. And then during your internship you realize it’s not just a story. But maybe also that you’re head is so down in graduate school and your’e trying to survive each each that you don’t get time look back and see what you’ve accomplished until you write a semester review blog post….So now I suppose I’m an interaction designer, I was hired as an interaction designer, and I like designing for interactions. But that’s not the whole story. I like getting my grubby hands on the whole user experience and design strategy, if I am being completely honest. I like doing everything from the high level thinking to comb out the tangles, to the moving and the shaking, to the painfully meticulous visual design work.

    I realized that not everyone likes this whole arch of design. I realize that some people really like the planning part and really hate the execution part (some of my students, for example ;) ). But I don’t. And I really don’t like that some (not all!) interaction designers look down on graphic/visual design. It really frustrates me because so many of the designers I admire are graphic designers. They do incredible work that is thoughtful and stunning. They impact and audience and make them feel something. They can incite behavior change through a static medium in the right place at the right time. The quality and skill that it takes to do what they do shouldn’t be undercut.

    All of design is hard.

    It’s noble and important to think about inciting change through design at the highest level: How a town, city, government can change by design perspective. But I still believe that design represents those ideas realized. So if you have a sloppy voter registration form you’re telling people that you didn’t think it was important. That care wasn’t taken into this experience for them. You’re telling them that design isn’t important. Does that make sense? Bringing design into the sphere of public conversation and governmental concern needs to trickle down into every aspect the public touches in order to speak to its significance. Because you read into the things you interact with. Nothing is neutral. That’s how I feel, anyway.


    Your favorite idealist,


  • Lakoff & Johnson | Metaphors we live by

    Literature Review //  Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (2003) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


    This was a really delightful reading we did that argued that we really understand our world in terms of metaphors. Lakoff & Johnson explain that these are different from the metaphors we’re used to thinking that serve a more artist purpose, but they actually do work and influence our understanding of the world. Lakoff & Johnson are expanding metaphor away from merely language to be descriptive, but talking about how these metaphors frame our thought and our thinking.

    “The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to people. Our conceptual system thus place a central role in defining our everyday realities.”

    Lovely, right? He’s arguing that, because talk about and frame something like argument is war, we perform arguments as if they’re war. We talk about arguments as if they are a battle that can be won or lost. We recognize arguments as war like. Compared to, for example, a culture that uses a dance metaphor for arguing that implies collaboration and turn taking. We might not even recognize this activity was an argument because it doesn’t have the qualities we associate with war. It’s unconscious but persistent. This is called a structural metaphor.

    Orientational metaphors deal with direction. For instance, we have this idea that up means good/happy and down means bad/unhappy.

    Ontological metaphors describe a situation where we have made someone and entity and can now refer to and categorize them by that entity. The two types are metonymy (when one things stands in place for another) and synecdoche (where a part stands in for the whole to put emphasis on certain qualities). This also helps us quantify them as things that can be discretely bounded. Examples are (26-27):

    • Referring: “working towards peace”
    • Quantifying: “a lot of patience”
    • Identifying Aspects: “pace of modern life”
    • Setting goals and motivating actions:  “find true happiness”

    Container metaphors: can bound and area that does not such clear boundaries or does not bound at all. “Are you in the race?” This lets them be quantified as an amount of substance that might not actually exist.

    Metaphors have the power to highlight and hide things of the speakers choosing. Michael Reddy calls this a “conduit metaphor” and structures such rhetoric this way (pg 10):

    • Ideas (or meanings) are objects
    • Linguistic expressions are containers
    • Communication is sending  

    Lakoff & Johnson still emphasize context and speaker in order for a metaphor to be successfully performed and understood.

    Towards the end of his paper he argues from a greater collaboration from those who are objectionists and subjectivenists. He offers a third option which he calls “experientialist synthesis.” He feels that metaphor best combines reason and imagination (193). “Reason, at the very least, involves categorization, entailment, and inference. Imagination, in one of its many aspects, involves seeing one kind of thing in terms of another kind of thing–what we have called metaphorical though. Metaphor is thus imaginative rationality” (193). 

    Why I think this is relevant: 

    I was excited about this paper when I first read it was such a good marriage of language, thought, and our interactions with the world. I think about how much design might be influenced by these metaphors. Or, alternative, how much design is pushing for new metaphors where they might not have exist. I think about the infinity screens where you’re pulling down from the top (to refresh) and the information pours down. Once you get to the bottom, you can click to load older posts. Top means new, bottom means old. Does it stem from top means good? Have we created something new in our minds now? What does swiping left and right mean to us now? Naturally, it doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s why I always have to figure out which one saves and which one deletes. Some go left and some go right. We don’t have a clear metaphor in our minds about how that works. But hopefully we can fix it.

    But then this made me think, are we getting in to the old skeuomorphism debate? I asked Cameron about this and he said wasn’t import. Haha. I found it fascinating and really well written.

  • Language is not up to that…

    I’m reading this paper that quotes José Ortega and it absolutely loved and had to interrupt my reading to catalogue it to no one in particular:

    “Man, when he sets himself to speak, does so because he believes that he will be able to say what he thinks. Now, this is an illusion. Language is not up to that. It says, more or less, a part of what we think, and raises an impenetrable obstacle to the transmission of the rest.”

    It’s lovely, no?

  • Fairclough | A Social Theory of Discourse

    Literature review // Fairclough, Norman. (1992) “A social theory of discourse.”  Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press. 62-100.

    Read in Language & Culture

    This was a slightly painful class because we, collectively, weren’t quite sure what we had just read but we kept getting asked questions about it. I mean, I appreciate interactive classrooms as much as the next kid, but I don’t know how helpful it is to try to comment on something we didn’t understand. Overall, Fairclough seemed to be talking a lot about agency through hegemonies and ‘orders of discourse.’ Orders of discourse is like a genre or social situation where people are producing language. In certain settings these are encoded into the way people behave.

    He distinguished hegemony not just as domination but of leadership and constructing alliances. To me what was interesting about this was that it was dominance through creating social structures and norms so that that the dominance performed through everyday actions unconsciously. And yet, wit these hegemonies are always ‘unstable equilibriums’  (92) that affects and is reflected by social discourse. Language can be used as a site of resistance of the power. Fairclough believed that language is involved in the power struggle of restructuring, supporting, or challenging hegemonies.

    Fairclough also detailed a framework for which to analyze text in two parts, the text level & the discursive practice:

    Text level:

    • Vocabulary. The actual word used. Jargon, connotations, metaphors. For example, using ‘freedom fighter’ versus ‘terrorist.’
    • Grammar. How words are combined (pronoun usage, passive voice, subject/object relationships).
    • Cohesion. How sentences are linked together. (Repetition, transitions).

    Discursive practices:

    • force of utterance. The purpose of the utterance (speech acts, illocutionary)
    • coherence of texts. the meaning-making the reader does, assumptions made, interpretations
    • Intertextuality. History of the text, how a text by be put into a new context (quotes) and why someone might do that. The connections betweent he texts
  • Whorf | The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language

    Literature Review // Whorf, Benjamin Lee. (1941) “The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language.” Language, culture, and personality: Essays in memory of Edward Sapir. 75-93. Rpt. in Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (1956). Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press. 134-159.

    Read in Language & Culture

    While now considered a more dated linguistic theory, it was important to read Whorf as a background since so many following linguists confront his theories. He is most famous for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic determinism (strong) or linguistic relatively (weak).

    Linguistic determinism: Language determines our worldview and perception and therefore language limits our thoughts.

    Linguistic relativity: Language influences our worldview, perceptions, and tendencies.


    In this paper, Whorf mainly described the differences in SAE (standard average European) and the Hopi tribe to show how their language influenced the way they thought about the world. Some examples include:

    • Hopi tend to see time as a gradient while SAE tends to see time as an object. This allows us to refer to it, count it, and ‘matter’ it.
    • SAE was more likely to see objects as containers.
    • SAE used metaphors while the Hopi did not.
    • Hopi don’t use tense, instead used validity. Something either did or didn’t happen, unlike things in the future and past.
    • Hopi had a greater believe in human agency and that thoughts could create (or are) action.
  • Austin | How to do things with words

    Literature review // Austin, J. L (1975) How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Lectures 1-3 & 7-9.

    Read in Language & Culture class.

    1.What is Austin’s motivation for his theory of performative utterances? What problems in philosophy of language is he responding to? How does Austin’s work provide a new look at language? How does this connect to culture?

    Austin was exploring exactly how to we doings with words and how me make sense of them. This had to do with culture because both the speaker and receiver must have a predetermined agreement on how to accomplish things with words through cultural norms. He was responding to theorists like Saussure who were only interested in the semantic meanings of words in disagreement.

    2. Define the performative utterance. What are the critical features of Austin’s concept? What are some examples (beyond his own)? What kind of utterance is not a performative utterance?

    A performative utterance compared to a constative utterance (or a statement) performs an action. He evaluated them as being either happy or unhappy through a set of felicity conditions. These terms generally described how ‘well’ something was performed in a the social context of the word. This evaluation would be on the whole act of the utterance, rather than just the words.

    This was unlike constatives, which are statements that aren’t merely descriptive. They can be evaluated as either true/false and are an objective state in the world.

    3. What are the felicity conditions? What are the types of infelicities? How hard and fast are these rules? Is there any grey area? Especially consider his comments on 36-38.

    His felicity conditions are basically that…there is a conventional procedure, that the people involved in the procedure are appropriate, that they participate correctly, completely, with certain thoughts and feelings, and must conduct themselves appropriately afterwards. I don’t think these are hard and fast rules because as Austin points out in page 37, there can be uncertainties in how the audience receives and interprets the data, despite best intentions.

    4. In Lecture VIII, Austin distinguishes locutionary, perlocutionary and illocutionary acts. What are the differences between these different acts? How does this help us understand language use?

    Locutionary: utterance with meaning that we take the ‘regular sense and meaning of the words”

    Illocutionary: Doing the act you’re saying. To make the audience do something in a social context.

    Perlocutionary: Audience’s response to the illocutionary act. This is outside the speech act.

    For example: If someone says “Is there any salt?”

    • Locutionary: Questioning if salt in existence
    • Illocutionary: A request for salt.
    • Perlocutionary: Act of causing someone to pass the speaker the salt.

    5. Pay close attention to the first full paragraph on page 100. Why is it important for us to consider that “the occasion of an utterance matters seriously”? How does this connect to Whorf and Bourdieu? What are similarities and differences of their perspectives on language and culture?

    Austin believes the context is important because the words are explained by the context (100). Given the example Austin includes, I would agree that without the context the words would take on completely different meanings than the original speaker had intended. Whorf and Bourdieu also believed that social context played an important role in evaluating language. In fact, Bourdieu references Austin’s speech acts in his essay.

  • Bourdieu | Language & Symbolic Power

    Literature review // Bourdieu, Pierre (1991) Language & Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (38-89)

    Read in Language & Culture class

     First, I want to remind future-Jacklynn how poorly-written this article was. Bourdieu seemed to have a phobia of ending a sentence and would avoid them at all costs. Loved interjections, hated interjections. Take this sentence chosen at random:

    ” What guides linguistic production is not the degree of tension of the market or, more precisely, its degree of formality , defined in the abstract, for any speaker, but rather the relation between a degree of ‘average’ objective tension and a linguistic habitus itself characterized by a particular degree of sensitivity to the tension of the market: or, in other words, it is the anticipation of profits, which can scarcely be called a subjective anticipation since it is the product of the encounter between an objective circumstance, that is, the average probability of success, and an incorporated objectivity, that is, the disposition towards a more or less rigorous evaluation of that probability. ” (81)

    Now just imagine reading 60 pages of that. 

    Anyway, on to the analysis:

    This paper introduced me to many interesting concepts that I can imagine using throughout the class and hopefully in the work I’m doing through my thesis.

    So first, we compared Bourdieu and Saussure and how Bourdieu built off of this background in his work. Saussure, apparently, is now accepted as a more dated theory in linguistics but is important as a foundation. In summary Saussure kind of argued for linguists to focus and study on the dictionary, formal language (lange) instead of the spoken language, the language in use (parole).  With that in mind, Bourdieu definitely explored the parole side of things more in this work.

    “Grammar defines meaning only very partially: it is in relation to a market that the complete determination of the signification of discourse occurs.”  (38)

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