Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where cats undermine the tyranny of nationalist grammar...

Ever thought about why some of us get so annal when it comes to grammar, accents and 'speaking correctly'? After all, who decides what the correct way of spelling or saying something is? And according to what criteria?

There's a nationalist (and sometimes racist) history to this, and it has to do with classifying the 'correct' version against all other versions labeled as 'deviation' or, in this case, 'mistakes' (for instance, making the distinction between language and dialects; or between speaking without/ with an accent). I'll give you a few examples of what I mean by that:

1. The notorious legal attempts in France to prohibit the use of non-french words in public arenas. While it is certainly a form of protest against the hegemony of English language, it is equally a nationalist form of linking who you are, what you can think/say to a language. Au revoir 'email', bien venue 'courrier electronique'.

2. Purging a Romance language of its Slavic elements as part of a state project: take Romania, an Eastern European country priding itself with being 'an oasis of Latin in a Slavic sea'. While Romanian is a Latin language, the influence of the multicultural composition of the region has certainly shaped the language too. After some 50 years of being under the influence of Soviet Russia, which also shaped language too, nationalist intellectuals decided to purge the language of (at least some) Slavic influence by changing the spelling of certain words. And, from one day to another, students in Romania found themselves policed by an army of professors, teachers and intellectuals ready to penalize them if they misspelled a word... So, who decides on the right spelling?

3. Closer to the North American context, a particular type of English predominantly associated with African American or Latino groups has become more and more popular, primarily through music (think rap) and other forms of popular culture. Try writing like this in school...

Well, the only point of this long post was to introduce a short movie about Cats undermining the norms of grammar, spelling, and 'proper speech'. This may well be a literacy project, but in my mind it is a very good example of how everyday life people challenge the dominance of nationally defined languages. An interesting art project which, for me, opens up the space of thinking about language as an organic, everyday life process which disregards national or racial boundaries:

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites