On This Week’s Episode of “I’m So Tired of Talking About Ye Olde White Supremacists:” The Racialization and Privileging of the English Language 

First of all: at this point, I would prefer the damn cookbook.

It gets so exhausting investigating historical racism. Every time we have to write about how much white people hated on and oppressed non-white people, I have to fight the urge to skip class and spend the fifty minutes at Lake Yosemite screaming at the water. Don’t get me wrong–I enjoy investigating race dynamics. But I’d genuinely enjoy taking a break to talk about what prose versus meter tells you about a character, or how their diction illuminates their true motives, etc. I already know pretty well how these building blocks came together to form modern systematic racism.

That being said: I did not have to read any of these texts to know about the deep racialization of the English language and its use to subjugate colonized nations. I’ve studied it since high school. It begins with Astérix and the Gaullians turning Latin into French, the Nordic with their proto-Swedish and German, and both conquering parts of Albion, and shoving their languages together to craft some dysfunctional train wreck into a means of communication. It continues on to become a divide where the upper class use French loan words to refer to things like food, and the lower class use their more Germanic counterparts. I.e: “beef,” derived from “bœuf,” instead of cow. “Pork,” directly from “porc,” instead of “pig.” It carries on to the privileging of French and Latin over English, and the constructions of texts like The Canterbury Tales as linguistically transgressive. To write such a work in such a lowly language was wild at the time. Slowly, English becomes accepted, evolves from Chaucer’s English to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s English.

And then enter the sweetly elitist Samuel Johnson. By claiming to be “fixing” the English language, he created the concept that dialects of lesser people were not “correct” and that the whole entire language needed to be brought into hand. He had the help of six people. Six people. Johnson and his six friends decided on the entire composition of the English language. They clung to dated Latin grammatical structures. That’s why we supposedly can’t end sentences with a preposition (even though that is some bullshit up with which we should not put) and split infinitives are largely phased out. They decided that they were scholarly enough to dictate how entire countries should speak and write. Who was okay with that?!

The push for “English language education” in colonised India was a special cross between linguistic nationalism, white man’s burden, and cultural erasure. Trevor Noah has a very interesting stand up bit on British colonialism, the crux of which is: the British sought to make more British out of non-British. The enforcement of English language education was, whether par erreur où par hasard, an effort to erase the parts of Indian culture the British found undesirable in a subject.

This cultural erasure is still an issue today; we face not only the fallout of Ye Olde Actions, but the current continuation of it. English, for some insipid reason, is still touted as one of the most necessary languages to know. As someone who is formally fluent in a Romance language, I can fully attest that there is nothing worse than English. The grammatical structures are untrustworthy, the pronunciation rules are unreliable, and the tenses get so out of hand. And yet, our language is held above. We’ve certainly heard stories of Americans demanding that anyone speaking a foreign language–Spanish, Urdu, Tagalog, etc–learn to speak English because they’re in America now. We still seek to erase the undesirable parts of a foreign immigrant’s culture. We also deal with the fallout–entire languages that English managed to completely destroy. Entire cultures lost because of the privileging of English. All because men like Johnson felt like making his neatened-up English language model a matter of national importance. Thanks, dude.
-TaNayiah Bryels

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The History of the English Language

For next Friday (3/3), students will write a blog post on the following question prompt:

How has the status of the English changed, if at all, from the time of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) to Macaulay’s and Ray’s call for English language education in India?  Please keep your post focused on ONE key idea supported by specific textual evidence from these author’s writings.  For a general history of English dictionary writing, see the informative yet funny video below.

Please categorize your post under “Standardizing English” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  The post is due by Friday (3/3) 1pm, but students have the option to revise it until 6pm that day.  And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.  Warning: blank or filler “placeholder” posts submitted after the deadline will not receive a grade!

Gulliver Conforms

The suggestion given in Gulliver’s Travels aludes to the notion that Houyhnhnm way of living is the key to happiness, is perhaps Swift’s satiric method in showing how such a society is impossible, if anything, hysterically fictionalized.  In addition, as the reader, we can’t help but find it odd that the species do not carry a sense of their own individuality. If anything, their identities are rather ambiguous, thus the world that they live in lacks variety; in other words, there is no diversity, hence all Houyhnhnm are seen as perfect based on the reflection they see in one another.  

Gulliver’s arrival to the foreign land, and reception by the Houyhnhnm even shows their curiousity towards him for appearing different and for his choice in having migrated there. Gulliver describes in Part IV, Chapter I, “They were under great Perplexity about my Shoes and stockings, which they felt very often…using various gestures, not unlike those of a Philosopher,…when he would attempt to solve some new and difficult Phenomenon (209).” This not only shows their “perplexity,” but it also shows Gulliver’s as he can’t help but compare their characteristics, even in the way they delegate, versus what he is used to with the English.  

Later in the chapter we learn that the only diversity that does is exist is between two kinds, the Houyhnhnm and the Yahoos; of course, one is seen as less civil.  The irony in that is that Gulliver cannot distinguish the difference until it is brought to his attention, therefore again alluding to the impression that that species themselves are living a lie, a lie they have been conditioned to believe since their beginnings.  

Slowly, but surely we see Gulliver begin to remove any previous ways of thinking and beliefs he had, previous to arriving on their land.  He puts them on a pedestal, and eventually assimilates himself into their culture.  He disregards anything that seems unfair, especially the perspective they have towards the Yahoos; hence, we can assume that society would rather turn a blind eye to social injustices rather than resist.  Gulliver basically blindly conforms to the Houyhnhnm “enlightened” society.

-Maricela Martinez (Marcy)

*eugenics

*slave

*deportation

Travel Points for Gulliver

Yahoos is a word that is constantly being repeated and I noticed that there is a personal beef with the Yahoos in how the Houyhnhnms look down on them. There is a very bold elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. The Houyhnhnms are looking at the Yahoos as literal fecal matter and it becomes closely related to the genocide ideology we have seen with the Nazis. This repetition allows for us to keep consistently thinking on what the outcome of the Yahoos is going to be. The irony is that they are horses and usually horses are ridden and owned and tamed by their masters in real life. When Gulliver seems to go crazy after trying to talk to his horses, it really questions as to how far the imagination of someone can go from envisioning fiction and trying to bring it into real life.

Master seems to be a word that sounds out of place. It makes me uncomfortable in the sense that someone is praising a horse and is ok with someone being second-class. I guess I can relate an example to how we look at celebrities and envision everything they do to be perfect so we place them on a pedestal. We think everything a celebrity does is godly and would not mind being their doormat to be walked on everyday. There is a funny meme that says someone could get slapped by Beyoncé 20 times and say thank you every time. So it seems ok ideally that Gulliver would idolize these horses since they seem to have much more down in their ideal Utopia and don’t have any problems. Gulliver unfortunately is too clouded to see that they are not the best people to be inspired by.

Subtly, I see that Swift makes it aware through the satire to us that it is not ok for this superiority mindset. While Gulliver is awed in all the glory the Houynhmnms seem to present, it is to be shown to the reader that exterminating someone for their own good is not morally ok and presents a sense of disguist in how people “horses” can be perfectly comfortable with this decision in the sense that they are doing the world a favor. I would like to know in more detail or as a footnote or attachment why Gulliver was so fascinated by Houynhmnms in an explanation from Swift. I also would like to know what drove Gulliver to look like a lunatic once he started speaking to horses. To the average reader who cannot see the bigger message Swift blends in the satirical-style writing, it may bring forth the intent of the writing in a way that people can see thing that are not ok in a form of bullet points.

gulliver-pindar-houyhnhnm-mare

 

-Daniel Estrada

You People are so Petty. And Tiny.

Gulliver, the world traveler, says in the very beginning, in the letter that precedes the text proper, that he is but a Yahoo, and should live his life more like a Houyhnhnm. However, it is not apparent that Gulliver liked humanity, even before he had ever traveled to Houyhnhnmland. Gulliver, while in Brobdingnag, is forced to sit and listen to one of the giants compare him, England, and all of humankind to insects, with the addition that humans “Love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray” (100). Perhaps this was Swift’s view of humanity, as seen from a disconnected place. Perhaps when viewed from an alternate angle, or any other angle than from within, humans do very little more than loving, fighting, disputing, cheating and betraying.

This goes on, though. Gulliver is insulted and wounded by these words, but reconsiders his anger, eventually settling that “If [he] had beheld a Company of English lords and ladies… [he] should have been strongly tempted to laugh as much at them as this King and his Grandees did at me”  (101). This serves to further the argument that humanity itself is ridiculous, as Gulliver notices, even from within humanity. Humans are petty, and tiny.

-Ross Koppel

“Perfection of Nature”

The Houyhnhnms (the horse civilization) in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels seem like an ideal place in the eyes of the titular Gulliver, as they often seem to be surprised by the problems facing his society. While disregarding the fact that it is a race of horses, Gulliver was venting to his “master” how humans in his civilization “could never have enough” (Gulliver 231) money to spend so they are always in necessity of it because they feel it is the most fundamental basis for life. It is actually kind of Marxist of Gulliver to explain this to his “master,” and it is also kind of Marxist of the talking horse to respond with saying it is a “miserable country which cannot furnish food for its own inhabitants” (232). The Houyhnhnms seem to be the perfect civilization in the eyes of Gulliver, despite having to call one of them “master,” and being subject to the inspection and vetting of them to make sure Gulliver is not a Yahoo.

The Yahoos are a human civilization that the talking horses consider savages, which gives the Houyhnhnms the reason to believe Gulliver is one of them. The Houyhnhnms use their own frame of reference to inspect Gulliver and differentiate him from the Yahoos they have not known to be “teachable,” civil or clean (216). We have to pick up the subtle clues that these horses are not in fact an ideal race, or a city upon a hill, as Winthrop would put it. The reason the horses think of Gulliver as an exceptional Yahoo is because the Yahoos are othered in the eyes of the Houyhnhnms, so they see him as a kind of anomaly and nothing more. In other words, Gulliver is othered as well, because he is still filtered through the original stereotype of the Yahoos. Swift goes as far as to use linguistics to make this race of horses similar to the Eurocentric behavior of the people in England. Gulliver notes how the etymology of the word Houyhnhnm means “perfection of nature” (217) as jab from Swift to the hubris of the elite in his own country. The satire here is that, as readers, we cannot seem to get our mind off the fact that these are literally talking horses. This ridiculous choice from Swift is to play with the subjectivity of the reader.

Cesar Ramirez

Shipwrecks and Hardships: Hey I know, I should go Sailing again!

In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift takes his reader on a journey through the eyes of his comic hero Gulliver. This satirical novel pokes fun of a lot of the ideas that were common in that time. One of these ideas is Imperialism. Swift, who was Irish, saw first hand how negative the effects of Imperialism could be. His book is somewhat unkind to the English, and this may have been a direct result of the attitudes between England and Ireland while Swift was writing his book.

Art is not created in a vacuum, it is a reflection of the culture and politics of the time. This is true of all art to some degree, but it is strongly reflected in Gulliver’s Travels. Not only is Swift mocking the English, but he is also attacking the prevalent idea that imperialism and colonialism is a good idea. While this book is certainly meant as a political discourse, I also think that there is a direct discourse between Swift’s book and another that was written just 7 years prior to the publication of Gulliver’s Travels. This book is Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe.

For those that haven’t read this pro imperialism/ colonialism novel I will give a brief synopsis  (spoiler alert). Robinson Crusoe decides to go to sea (against his families wishes) gets shipwrecked he lives but still doesn’t go home (even though everyone thinks he should) he goes to sea again and gets shipwrecked… this happens multiple times and he is made slave, escapes and then once again goes to sea and, you guessed it, gets shipwrecked by himself on an Island for over 20 years. Robinson gives a highly detailed account his time on the island.

There are a number of parallels between between the two novels, for example, when Robinson Crusoe was first published the author was “Robinson Crusoe” and the book was implying that his adventures actually happened, not unlike Swift’s tale about Gulliver that was molded after several popular non fiction genres. Defoes book also has several genres such as a captivity novel (when Crusoe gets captured and turned into a slave) and a very detailed travel journal, there is even a little Utopia in there because Crusoe becomes “Lord” of his only little colony.

What really struck me was the way in which Swift mirrored his character to have a similar idiocy to that of Robinson Crusoe. After his perilous adventure among the citizens of Lilliput he returns home and then just 10 months later gets on another boat. Swift writes, “Having been condemned by Nature and Fortune to an active restless Life, in ten Months after my Return, I again left my native Country…” (79). Condemned by nature he says, condemned carries negative connotations and, it is as if the character realizes he should stay home but cannot. This is mirrored in Robinson Crusoe, and by using this framework but opposing Defoe’s message, Swift is commenting on the negatives of imperialism.

While Gulliver finds enlightenment among the Houyhnhnms, I don’t think Swift is nessesarily saying that we would be better off if we were just like them. Instead I think Swift is offering the opinion that we should be tolerant of one another’s ways. Furthermore, people should look to there own issues among there own people instead of going out an trying to conquer people we may perceive as “savages.” In other words if you keep getting in wrecks at sea and you have responsibilities at home, maybe you should keep your ass  on the shore.

Katie Oswald

They really aren’t that great

Although the Houyhnhnm appear to be rational creatures, I don’t think the world would be better places if it could think and behave the way Houyhnhms do because it is to similar to the way in which humans have taught and behaved in the past. For instance, when Gulliver was learning the language of the Houyhnhnms he was treated as piece to look at because many were “convinced that [he] must be a Yahoo, but [his] teachableness, civility, and cleanliness astonished him; which were qualities altogether opposite to those animals”. The dichotomy between Houyhnhnm and Yahoo is similar to the hierarchal structure of races. The Houyhnhms believe themselves to be better beings than the Yahoos because the Yahoo’s way of living does not coincide with the Houyhnhnms way of life. Also, Gulliver was to refer the Houyhnhnm who take care of him as “master”, which thus created a master and slave relationship between the two. No matter how much Gulliver were to learn the language and communicate with the Houyhnhnm efficiently, Gulliver was still going to be viewed less than due to the fact that he is to call his teacher, “master”. He would never be seen as an intellectual equal of any sort, always as a less than outsider. At times, it seemed that Gulliver was less than the slaves because the slaves would find him so intriguing as well and enjoyed teaching him the things he did not know.

Nancy Sanchez

Happiness is more than Perfection

 

Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.

George A. Sheehan

Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Sorrow and Frustration have their power. The world is moved by people with great discontents. Happiness is a drug. It can make men blind and deaf and insensible to reality. There are times when only sorrow can give to sorrow.

-Winifred Holtby

Would we be happier if we acted a bit more like the Houyhnhnms, and also reasoned in the same manner they do? Perhaps in some regards, as suffering and conflict would surely be diminished, but the happiness we live and breathe for entails a notion that is evidently separate from the seemingly perfect philosophy of the supposedly superior horse-people in the land of the Houyhnhnms. Happiness is found to occur over accomplishment and triumph, over the strife and struggles present in our society, that seem to be devoid or lacking on this horse-run island. Happiness is infinitely defined, and can be seen also  alongside the vices of our world and the insinuation of terror,  and in the ways blissful innocence and enlightened thinking may. I believe that Swift does a commendable job at putting into perspective the imperfections and ethically digressive actions we partake through the characterization of the Yahoos, and I sense an underlying presence of irony in that Gulliver becomes too caught up in his own fantasy of a Utopian society, forgetting the beauty of the challenge and the triumph of adversity.

Through the doubt of those who have denied your capabilities, you have many times succeeded in life and felt the elation of such a victory. Opposition and challenges are what opportunities to succeed and overcome. They are scenarios in which brave individuals and daring souls have resisted and rejected attempts of tyranny and authoritative rule. Swift shows the fault of laws, greed, war among other repulsive aspects of our culture, but he begins to lose a grasp of what makes us human. Ironically, in his attempt to convey the grotesque and undesirable reality of mankind, he  inadvertently reveals the magnificence of imperfection. There is a severe lack of joy and happiness in the world of the Houyhnhnms. The unpleasant realities of our world give us a platform to contrast onto our perceptions of good and righteousness. Heaven in the bible wouldn’t seem so amazing without the depiction of hell. However Swift brings to light our perception of happiness directly. Truly, happiness can be a result of maniacal fervor, or blatant addiction, but this is where the unique existence of our kind is shaped. For those who find happiness in the light of positivism and ethical behavior, then evil is indeed necessary.

We have come to define happiness in our own ways throughout time, and to extract a more perfect definition of this, would oppose and detract from the original meaning of the word itself. Like each and every human, our world is imperfect in its very own beautiful way, and happiness is defined with this imperfection. Johnathan Swift implies a more peaceful and desirable way of living through the Houyhnhnms, but demonstrates that ultimately a transition to a more perfect society would inevitably dismantle the true definition of happiness that we surely all pursue.

Swift is evidently targeting John Locke’s philosophy of nature, war, and society. Locke seemed to justify European colonization attempts with his doctrine on the necessity of society. The enlightenment aimed to glorify the intellectual, but at the expense of those who were deemed as not within the category of a society, the uncivilized. The Houyhnhmns seemed to emulate this Lockean philosophy, and were willing to exterminate the Yahoos for their own well-being. With Gulliver’s Travels, Swift expresses his concern over the dangers that Enlightenment thinking can insinuate. He insists that superiority will involve gruesome and heartless actions. He makes it clear that happiness is not present through the path that the enlightenment might proceed to. Johnathan Swift defends those who would otherwise have no say, and presents a rare defense to the encroaching oppression of tyrannical governments.

-Thomas Pham

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Utopian Society: A Society to Imitate

In the fourth section of Guliver’s Travels, Swift is critical to humankind as he illustrates the present corruption by creating an ideal society of rational creatures such as the Houyhnhnms. Houyhnhnms are described as kind, noble, and intelligent horses who are unable to lie, hate, and other humanlike practices. In contrast, the human equivalent in this utopian society appear as Yahoos which are ill-mannered and deceitful. “When I thought of my family, my friends, my countrymen, or human race in general, I considered them as they really were, Yahoos in shape and disposition, perhaps a little more civilized, and qualified with the gift of speech, but making no other use of reason than to improve and multiply those vices” (255). Swift is illustrating a negative image of humanity in this passage and compares people (even his family) to these uncivilized and savage-like Yahoos. Swift suggests that we imitate the Houyhnhnms because of their honorable characteristics as he criticizes corruption within English society.

-Rahma