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Monday, August 03, 2009

A word I am probably not the first to have coined:

Fauxbo (n.): one who likes to imagine that he is living the derelict, and therefore romantic, life of a vagabond or wandering street urchin, but who was by age of eight earning more for picking up pinecones in the back yard than millions of others earned through backbreaking labor, who has a lifetime of more or less stable employment guaranteed to him merely by virtue of being born a certain color in a certain place and time, and who still has an undeniable need for conveniences and creature comforts such as food that doesn’t look funny, periodic or even frequent warm showers, deodorant, gmail, and blogging.

That definition was written in order that you might understand the following statement: my 7-month-ish period of being a fauxbo has come to an end. This is not because I have given away my money and successfully shed my upper-middle class desires and prejudices, but rather because I have at long last become employed as a white guy who can dress up and speak English in front of pupils (who could probably care more or less) at an educational institution (which itself could probably also care more or less [insofar as institutions may be said to be capable of caring or not caring in the first place]).

The institution in question is 영진전문대학(Yeungjin Specialty University, or Yeungjin College), which happens to be located in Daegu, within about 15 kilometers of my previous job. As far as I can tell, Yeungjin is pretty much a junior college or vocational school. It hast departments of tourism, business, engineering, beauty, etc, and places little emphasis on the humanities. Which is fine, because if everyone were a fauxbo like me, there’d be nobody to actually accomplish anything. Though, of course, whether anything is actually worth accomplishing is a question only the humanities can pretend to be the only one to be able to answer. No, that wasn't a typo.

I wasn’t intending to come back so close to where I had been working and probably only about 5% of the positions I applied for were in the area. Nonetheless, of the 10 or so interviews I did, and the 5 or so positions I was offered, this one seems to have the longest non-teaching time (4 or 5 months!), though I’m not allowed to go abroad for all or even most of it. The kicker, though, is that THERE ARE NO FRIDAY CLASSES. 3-day weekends for an entire year. I am going to read so many linguistics books hat I’ll probably go totally solipsistic and get lost in minute self-analysis every time I attempt an utterance. Which will mean the end of the blog as you know it. But by that point, I won't care, now will I?

Last weekend, I met a {Scottish} fellow who’s been teaching at Yeungjin for a semester and he took me on a mini-tour of the campus. Everything seems pretty nice. The buildings have smooth, shiny, marbly floors with corridors that are creepily wide when bandoned, as during the summer months. One (Korean) friend has told me that the flower blooms brought on by spring are enough to make one intoxicated. There are tennis courts and badminton courts and a faculty cafeteria, and the foreign teachers (12 or so, 6 new like me) have an office together. There is apparently only 1 level of English class, and thus only one book, such that despite teaching 18 lessons a week I only have to plan for 3 or 4. And that’s if I don't bum a lesson plan off of a colleague. Not that I intend to do that.

The Scotsman also showed me his crib, which one assumes will be similar to mine. It was a little bigger than my old one, some 550 square feet, with a better veranda and a much-hyped and therefore moderately disappointing view of a river and some trees. Many, if not all, of the University’s English-teaching faculty are housed in the building, I think even on the same floor, so living will be very dormirific.

With the job search finished, I pretty much get to kick back and enjoy some downtime in which to read

(DFW-STYLE INTERPOLATION, THOUGH REALLY IT’S MORE OF AN ASIDE: I am currently reading Black English, an old book from ‘72 explaining why it's completely wrong to assume that standard Black dialect is basically just a version of Standard White/Written English with all the grammar removed. I will admit that even though the linguist in me has long prodded me to say thingsike “Black English isn't wrong, it's’s just different," the former was more or less in fact my underlying attitude. That is, if I had heard the phrases "I done go," I done gone” “I done went," "I done been gone," or "I been done gone," I would havand assumed the speaker meant “I went," but didn't know how to properly express verb tense and aspect. But apparently, if you know how to decode them, such sentences actually contain information about the act in question - in some cases, even, informaton that Standard White/Written English tends to leave out. There’s even a difference between "he sick" and "he be sick," both of which I would have assumed were simple cases of deciding to leave the copula uncojugated or even out in order to simplify thtence and get rid of redundancy. END INTERPOLATION)

, do a bit of extra planning for camp classes, run around Seoul with the other camp teachers (material for a future post), meet a few old friends living in the area, keep studying Chinese character, and worry about my new job, though by all accounts it ought to run smoothly.



Jamal said...

Sounds like a great gig, you fauxgabond. When do you start? And why can't you leave the country during your 4-5 month break? Aside: Have you been convinced by the book about "black English?" I am no linguist, but my inclination is that standard English (which I won't call white English) is better, i.e. clearer, more exact, and consistent. I can see how seducing it would be to claim the opposite, but I remain dubious. Thoughts?

Mike said...

Whether or not I'm "convinced" by the book is an interesting question.

I see your point about how some might find the claim seductive, but obviously it's also seductive to claim that the dialect you personally speak is "better" in whatever way. Judging by the number of people subscribing to it, it would seem that the latter is the more seductive of the two.

Anyway, as I said earlier, I am in the position never having even entertained the thought that black English could be different from Standard Written English in consistent and meaningful ways, except so far as phonetics is concerned. I am assuming you are mostly in the same position. To me this means that I should be prepared to accept the conclusions of anyone who does some (apparently) serious research in the subject.

If you're asking what kind of evidence the guy is able to marshall, then the answer is that he recorded speakers of black english in certain situations and after certain prompts to see what kind of statements people make and how they modify them, whether to change the tense or to negate them or make them interrogatives. The author says that the language is consistent. I don't know if you'll find that convincing, but I find it more convincing than any "inclination" in the mind of someone who hasn't given serious attention to the issue. I suppose there are always questions about authority and trusting authors, but nothing specific in the book jumps out to tell me that he's not a good source.

Then there's also the point that linguists often make, which you may doubt, that there aren't any languages which are unclear, less than exact, or inconsistent, as long as you're talking about the perceptions and abilities of native speakers. Everyone, barring extreme cases of retardation and such, becomes completely fluent in the language of his/her family and/or peer group and finds it adequate for expressing himself and describing his environment. Actually most probably come feel in the end that it expresses their world better than any other language would (which I doubt is true, for the record).

Uh, gotta go. Not sure if I was done. Thoughts?

Discomfort => Disregard said...

There certainly exist cases besides extreme retardation that find linguistic mediation inadequate in both the expression and description of the direct experiential content of expanded states of awareness. No language can eff the ineffable. You read redundancy. You assume what you don't know doesn't exist. You won't risk wrong. The world isn't made of language and neither are you. Fix your eyes on seen sights, word toys for little boys. Expect no more than no more. Seeker for sure you are. The perfect scholar.

Mike said...

Point taken about how (by definition) no language is able to eff the ineffable. However, as you know, I was making an argument pertaining to comparative linguistics (or something like that) and didn't have "expanded states of awareness" in mind, so to speak.

Maybe I should have said that, while no language can expess the ineffable (be it qualia or expanded states of awareness or something else), all are equally sufficient for the purposes of expressing affairs in the realm of the effable "middle-size dried goods" that Bernard Williams talks about when trying to give an account of "truth." No language is so deficient that people who speak it can't survive, nor is any language so awesome that it automatically makes its speakers better or smarter. (I suppose this claim only appeals to syntax and not to vocabulary.)

jeff be done stepp said...

One of the things I find troubling about this discussion is the assumption that language is only meant for purposes of verbal, audible conversation. Sure, this is a very important part of language, but certainly not the only.

In a given context, like you say, anyone can probably function and understand a distorted language, but in the written medium, I think the reality is much different. Written word has no opportunity for clarification or contextualization by another party. The word on the page is, and that's that.

I think the written word can aim for higher beauty than just conveyance of information (much like oratory), and to do that must adopt for strict and formal elements, as in standard white English.

Yes, no?

Michael said...

Jeff, I see what you mean about how the discussion so far has only focused on speaking. On the one hand, you're write that righting is of course important. On the other hand, it should be noted that of the 6000 or so languages that currently exist (last I heard, anyhow), only about 200 or so have a writing system, and many of those (particularly African ones) have simply had the Roman alphabet given to them. That's not even counting all the languages that existed before writing was invented. I'm sure that speakers of these languages were able to find certain phrases moving and beautiful despite the lack of ways to visually represent them.

On top of that, the argument of the book is that Black English doesn't at all lack "strict and formal elements," if by that you mean an internally consistent grammar system. (If that's not
what you mean, please explain). So it seems to me that Black English (along with other pidgins and creoles, for that matter) has everything necessary to represent "higher beauty." What it lacks is a literary tradition, or at least a tradition as substantial and as familiar as ours.

Also, my middle-size dry goods comment didn't mean that language can only express relations between objects, failing when it comes to emotions. I suppose I group emotions together with middle-size dry goods, as they are a standard part of human experience. What I meant was that all languages, in the eyes/ears of their native speakers, are equally inept when it comes to talking about the "ineffable" and equally useful when talking about normal human actions and emotions. There's nothing about Black English that would prevent some form of sonnet or play or song from being written in it.

Case in point: while in San Fran I found an anthology called "Rotten English" in a bookstore that had poems, stories, and novel excerpts written in several varieties of English: Scottish, US Southern, Latino, caribbean. All as capable of conveying "higher beauty" as the language I use daily.

una pajarita said...

I used ineffable meaning that words cannot be employed effectively in the identification/description of a real event and not to mean just what words can't do. It's not nothing, but rather beyond the scope of words, supralinguistic. Ineffable by no means means unreal.

And from what I know about Sanskrit and Quechua, indeed they are superior to English in what they are equipped to describe via syntactical structuring. Effability is to some extent language-specific.

Dami said...

hi mikeeeee!