Sunday, October 30, 2016

Letters From the Lettered

The devolution of culture is as exponential as it is inexorable. Its flotsam and jetsam stream across our screens each day. The decimation and impending demise of newspapers is a paradigm of this descent.

In the 20th century, when well-educated individuals often sought my counsel in crafting their correspondence, I mused whether letter-writing was a dying art. With the rise of chat and texting in the 21st, it is the future of the letter itself that concerns me. 

Yet letters, particularly those penned by the literate, are literature, Such Letters From the Lettered may end up in the dead letter box, but their worth lies in their writing, and that is the legacy I hope to honor through this review series.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Return of the Prodigal Son

While a significant contributing factor, our fallen human nature is a poor excuse for our lapses and failures. Suffice it to say, this is not the first time that I have picked up my quill to write some lines here after a prolonged absence. Such is the nature of life  mine, at any rate, mea culpa ― a carousel of contrition, confession, penance, amendment . . . and relapse.

I thank God for His mercy and the kindness of my confreres for affording me the opportunity to return to my post, as a prodigal son, and rejoin our common cause: language in the service of a life of reason in the quest for truth, one I've continued to wage elsewhere, however imperfectly ― which brings us back to the opening line. Carousel indeed, won't you join me for the ride?  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Effects of EFL Proficiency on Students

As language plays a key role in the transmission of information and the regulation of cognitive processes, proficiency may have profound effects on learning and development, particularly when it involves mastering a foreign language. A recent Australian study examines the experiences of five international students from Brazil, China, Colombia, Mongolia, and Saudi Arabia, and finds that the higher the level of English language proficiency, the lower the levels of cultural stress, academic difficulties, and negative emotions. For details, see "The Influence of Language Difficulties on the Wellbeing of International Students: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trade-Offs of the Elite

"The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable," concedes William Deresiewicz, whose Ivy-League Ph.D. is from Columbia. "You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards." Given that assessment and its import in a society that has grown increasingly materialistic and expensive, it seems almost cheeky to question what may be lost in the exchange. But then again, what did Socrates observe about an unexamined life? While its a moot question for most of us and scarcely likely to prove persuasive for those for whom it is not, at least a cursory glance at the disadvantages of an elite education may be in order.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Spheres of Reading

"Knowledge expresses itself as a fusion of pre-existing ideas," Aiden Arnold, a Visiting Research Scholar at the University of California, Davis' Center for Neuroscience observes. "Our own thinking involves permutations of basic elements into fascinating combinations," he continues in a recent essay in which he applies this data to the practice of reading to craft a tiered structure that channels the synthetic nature of our thoughts to facilitate our creative insights. Whatever your present system modus operandi  if any, "Combinatorial Knowledge and Reading in the Spheres" is worth reading.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Major Exodus

With decreasing mandated exposure to the humanities, fewer undergraduate college students are taking the introductory course that could awaken a lifelong passion for philosophy, history, or English. The latter appears to be one on the hardest hit with the rapid decline in English majors at the University of Maryland, College Park, reported by Colleen Flaherty in the pages of Inside Higher Education, a textbook case of a problem that is pervasive and growing. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Academic Writer, Heal Thyself!

Academic writing takes time and can prove challenging. With its rigorous demands, it is seldom smooth sailing, but the problem may not be writer's block or any of the trendy syndromes with which writers may tag it. It could simply be a case of sorting out what you want to say and how to say it. You may need to talk over the writing with a colleague, read further, or revisit the data, advises Pat Thomson, Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. To her helpful insights on the pitfalls of hasty self-diagnosis, I'd simply add: feel free to talk with the editor who will help hone your draft, one who shares and supports your mission to disseminate knowledge in the most effective manner possible.   

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Simple Truths Mask Complex Losses

The days that English shares our planet with thousands of other languages are numbered. A century from now, a time traveler from our age would be apt to notice two things about the 22nd-century language landscape, predicts Columbia University's Dr. John McWhorter. There are vastly fewer languages, and they are far simpler, in particular, as they are spoken. While some may lament the reduction of 6,000 different languages to just 600, the process is already underway, as the world witnesses the birth of optimized versions of old languages, McWhorter concludes in "What the World Will Speak in 2115." 

Saturday, January 03, 2015

How To Get Published: Editors' Advice

A pressing challenge facing journal editors is the badly written papers sent by authors eager for publication. As Brian Lucey, editor of the International  Review of Financial Analysis, notes, an initial hurdle may be that English isn't the writer's first tongue. This can be overcome or compounded, as when writers fail to have their work edited by a competent editor, preferably one whose English is native. Lucey and fellow editors offer sound advice on getting published in their pages. As the race begins with the starting gun, don't neglect the link to tips on how to write for academic journals.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Language Instinct or Language Myth?

Our brains and bodies are language ready, Dr. Vyvyan EvansProfessor of Linguistics at Wales' Bangor University, acknowledges, but do we have a language instinct as Dr. Noam Chomsky, "the father of modern linguistics," and the received wisdom maintains? 

The evidence is compelling declares Prof. Evans, whose research focuses on cognitive linguistics. The title of his latest book, published by Cambridge University Press, conveys his verdict: The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct. He delineates his case in a recent issue of Aeon.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Organizing the Humanities

Many literary historians concede that the traditional pedagogical organization of the humanities according to national language and literature has exceeded its expiration date, yet there is little consensus on alternatives. Mobile demography, immigration, and dispersed media networks defy such categorization, but post- nationalism can blind us to the economic and national power struggles that underlie literary politics and to conflict among monocultural states and multilingual communities. Cf. Emily Apter's Untranslatables: A World System

Monday, September 22, 2014

Whom Does the Engine Train?

"In spite of our collective belief that education is the engine for climbing the socioeconomic ladder ― the heart of the 'American dream' myth colleges now are divided by wealth more than ever," Vicki Madden, a veteran teacher and instructor, observes in her New York Times op-ed. As a token student in my era, I am not surprised. As data amassed by Profs. Michael Bastedo and Ozan Jaquette reveal, only 14 percent of students in America's 193 most selective colleges come from the bottom half of her socioeconomic strata and just 5 percent from its lowest quartile. The more elite the school, the greater the gap, not only among students' financial status but the students themselves. "As the income gap widens and hardens, changing class means a bigger difference between where you came from and where you are going," Madden concludes. Ah, there's the rub. The price demanded for a better life for self and family should not be the abandonment and even betrayal of  your people, the kith and kin left behind where you came from.