I realized today that I haven’t even opened my WordPress dashboard in weeks. And when I did finally open it, I really didn’t have any particular desire to write anything. All of this tells me that it’s time to take a break from blogging. I’ll leave the page up, and I might decide to come back to it later, but for the time being I think I’ll just stick to reading and commenting on the blogs I enjoy. Thanks very much to everybody who’s been reading RandomColin over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with you all.
The countdown until the end of the semester is on. I can tell for two basic reasons. The first is that hits on my Hebrew Stuff page have been spiking again, so I know the Intermediate Hebrew crew are working on their vocab and parsing skills. The second is that it’s Monday night at 8:41 and I’m in my office at the college with no prospects of leaving soon. The last paper of the semester is due Wednesday night, after which I am once again allowed to do the following:
3. Hang out with my wife (I always do this, but more so I mean)
4. Watch TV
5. Work on German
As any doctoral student knows, work doesn’t really stop over the Christmas break, but the character of it changes enough that I still find it relaxing. My plan over the break is to read a lot of German, and to tweak my article on the Animal Apocalypse into a more publishable state.
I hope 2009 is winding down well for you, particularly my readers who are also doing schoolish kinds of things and are consequently feeling a little pinched right now. But, as I’ve just said, I’m not done yet, so I’d better get back at it.
Has anybody else noticed that the biggest item on Roland Boer’s tag cloud is “Jim West”? Hmmmmm, curiouser and curiouser. Also, spell checker doesn’t pick up curiouser, which is odd.
As some of my recent posts have indicated, my first time out to the SBL annual meeting was very enjoyable. I learned an awful lot, and I met some new people, some of whom I’d been hoping to meet. I also didn’t do enough fun things or meet enough new people, which is a problem I intend to remedy next time. I did see many, many sessions, and one of the things that I have often been told about SBL presentations was entirely true. Though some of them are very good, and entirely engaging, some of them are very, very, very boring. I’ve been reading some Ruqaiya Hasan this week, and she’s given me some language to help pin down why, from the perspective of functional linguistics (SFL particularly), that is.
The presentations that I saw at SBL that were poor were not poor due to mediocre research or specious reasoning. In fact very few of the presentations I saw suffered from plain old crappy scholarship. Instead they suffered from problems related to register.* In some cases this was unavoidable. This isn’t because those presentations were bad. The problem was a breakdown between Field and Mode.
Briefly, Field is an SFL term used to describe “the nature of the social activity…the kind of acts being carried out and their goal(s)” (Hasan, Language, Context, and Text, 56). In the case of the presentations I’m thinking of, the kinds of acts being carried out were just too much for the Mode, or the way in which they were being carried out. Mode is essentially concerned with the way language itself is being used in communication, including the idea of Channel (phonic or graphic) and Medium (Spoken or Written) (Hasan, 57-59). The semantic content and rhetorical drive of these presentations were too heavy for a phonic channel (something spoken aloud). The latter could not bear the weight of the former. The weight of the information that was brought to bear simply overrode what was possible for the social situation of an oral presentation. It was like watching a hippo sit on a folding chair.
The other kind of breakdown that I saw was related less to a conflict between Field and Mode, and more to a conflict between two sub-categories of Mode. As I just indicated, Hasan differentiates between Channel (phonic/graphic) and Medium (spoken/written). At first this seems redundant, as it seems that a phonic Channel should always have a spoken Medium. But she uses this distinction to illustrate that some kinds of communication involve splitting this expected pairing. Think of a personal letter (Hasan, 59), where the Medium is words written on paper, but the Channel is much more like phonic communication, like speaking aloud in a conversational tone. One is writing, to borrow Hasan’s term, “as-if” one were speaking.
That as-if is very important, particularly for oral presentations. What happened in many of the SBL presentations I attended is that the presenter wrote a scholarly paper, and then when presenting it, spoke as-if he or she were still writing a scholarly paper. Spoken Medium but Graphic Channel. This is backwards. One can split the expected Channel-Medium pairing, but it has to happen in the other direction. Thus one would write the presentation as-if it were an oral presentation meant to be heard by the audience and not a paper meant to be read by the audience. There is no need to dumb things down to do this. All that is required is that one writes as one would speak in, for instance, a classroom setting. Use the first person personal pronoun (for shame!), use contractions (sir, I protest!), even the occasional colloquialism isn’t out of the question (the very idea!). What you present at a conference can’t possibly be a full paper in any case, as there simply isn’t the time (average journal articles being 25-30ish pages). It is only sensible, then, to try to line up your Channel with what will have the maximal communicative effect for your audience.
* Yes, I know I talk about linguistic register a lot. In case you haven’t cottoned on yet, it’s part of my dissertation research…in theory at least.
I am not home yet. I’m supposed to be rolling into Hamilton right about now, but instead I’m chilling in my very nice room at the Spring Hill Suites a few miles from the Cincinatti airport because my flight was cancelled and we’re stuck here until tomorrow. Oh well, another half day of work down the tubes, but not much to be done about that now. Almost time for bed.
SBL rumbles on. We’re into Sunday afternoon now, and I’m taking a break for a bit. I’m into my own room, and I’ve even figured out how to get free internet up here from the Sheraton (just pick the low speed option). I know you’re dying to know what the best papers have been so far, so I won’t keep you waiting.
The top spot is currently a tie between Christo van der Merwe‘s paper on word order in Joel, and Anathea Portier-Young‘s paper on apocalypses as resistance literature. Both of these papers fit right into some work that I’ve been doing, in Obadiah and the Animal Apocalypse respectively, and they’re going to give me a tonne of help with my work. Van der Merwe provided a copy of his paper, and Portier-Young very kindly agreed to send me a copy of the longer piece that her presentation was based on. I think it is going to be an extension and adaptation of her doctoral dissertation, which is already peppered throughout my footnotes for that AA paper. Can you tell I’m excited?
Had another good chat with Hobbins yesterday, and I also got to meet Daniel (of Daniel&Tonya fame) for a minute, and he seems like a really good guy too. Oh, and I spotted that icon of biblioblogging himself, Jim West, in the lobby this morning but didn’t get a chance to stop him and get my computer screen signed. Bummer.
Time for a little bit of actual work, then I’m off to the next Biblical Hebrew Poetry session to watch my good friend Beth present her killer Ezekiel paper. A whole session on metaphor…sounds like a party to me.
Well, made it to New Orleans safe and sound, though Continental decided it was important that we fly in a jet only slightly larger than my Dad’s old single-seater Quickie. And also, they charge for checked luggage?!?! That did not make me happy.
Had a great dinner last night with the steering committee for the Hebrew poetry session. My supervisor’s on the committee so he dragged me and another Mac grad student along cause we’re into linguistics and Hebrew poetry. It was a great time. John Hobbins took us to a local place where a friend of his works as the soup chef. I had a lovely squash soup with parm and pancetta to start and then filet of beef in a wine reduction with blue cheese butter and chard. It was all fantastic. The place is called Bistro Daisy, if anybody else feels like dropping a big stack of cash on a meal here in NOLA. Everybody on the committee was wonderful and welcoming, and we had a lot of fun at dinner. I also got to meet John’s throughly charming daughter Betta. What a great kid John!
And to close, a quick memo to NOLA: they have these things in the rest of the world called “coffee shops with free wifi”. Look into.