An Interview with Scott Kaiser, author of Albert’s Adventures in Willy World

C:\Users\battiste\Downloads\Scott Kaiser Headshot.jpg Scott Kaiser is a director, playwright, master teacher of acting, and author who spent 28 seasons as a member of the artistic staff at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where he directed, adapted, coached, or performed in all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays.

Kaiser is the author of more than a dozen books on Shakespeare, including Have Shakespeare, Will Travel; The Tao of Shakespeare; Shakespeare’s Wordcraft; and Mastering Shakespeare. He has also penned several original plays, including Falstaff in Love, Love’s Labor’s Won, Now This, Splittin’ the Raft, and Shakespeare’s Other Women: A New Anthology of Monologues.

He has degrees from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

His latest book is Albert’s Adventures in Willy World, a fantastical satire of the commodification of William Shakespeare—which Kaiser refers to as “The Shakespeare Industry.”

You can visit Scott’s personal website here.

Ed Battistella: I enjoyed Albert’s Adventures in Willy World, which is a murder mystery but much, much more. I saw it as a good-natured ribbing of the Shakespeare industry, with a twist of acid. Is that what you had in mind?

Scott Kaiser: Sure, that sounds about right. Or perhaps, as Alice in Wonderland inspired the book, you might think of it a journey down the rabbit hole of the Shakespeare Industry.

EB: The setting is a fictional Shakespeare theme park, which casts Ashland in a whole new light. Do you see Ashland as a fantasy world?

SK: In my imagination, Willy World is actually closer to Walt Disney World, a place where every square inch of real estate is carefully curated to serve a purpose—that is, to make money for the Disney Corporation.

That fact is, if William Shakespeare were a corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange, it would be just like Disney—a multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate, operating in every country on the planet, worth untold billions.

Luckily, Shakespeare is in the public domain, so he belongs to everyone. Which means that everyone can make a buck off of him. And they do!

Having said that, Ashland, where I’ve lived for 30 years, was certainly on my mind when I created Willy World. You can see the Bard’s influence everywhere in our town, in faux Tudor facades, and cutesy Shakespearean names like As-U-Stor-It, Oberon’s Restaurant, The Windsor Inn, and streets like Birnam Wood Road, Romeo Drive, and Elizabeth Avenue. And why not? Shakespeare is the life-blood of this community, bringing in waves of tourists, who see plays, book rooms, eat meals, drink wine, buy trinkets, fill their tanks with gas, and eventually return to buy a second home.

EB: If it were up to you, how would Shakespeare be treated differently, not just here but globally?

SK: Like most satires, the aim of the book is not necessarily to advocate for particular changes, but to hold a mirror up to all the absurdity that Shakespeare inspires in our modern culture. Such as endless movie adaptations, “translations” of his work into plain English, people who want to ban him from the curriculum, Anti-Stratfordians who believe in a centuries-old conspiracy, First Folio freaks, original pronunciation geeks, thousands upon thousands of books and dissertations about the Bard’s life and work, bottomless merchandising of every conceivable Shakespeare-related product, and so on, ad nauseam.

EB: The characters you introduced along the way seemed to have hints here and there of real people: Barry Heckler, Louise Quibbler, Elsie Phoneme, and so on. How closely were you channeling folks?

SK: My lawyer is grateful to you for asking this question! Please note: the characters portrayed in this book are fictitious. No identification with actual persons living or deceased is intended or should be inferred.

Seriously though, the characters in the book aren’t based on anyone in particular—they’re composites of people that I’ve gotten to know during my decades of working in the professional theatre, people with quirks and eccentricities and highly specialized talents. So I’d like to think that I’ve created my characters with affection, not disdain. If the characters remind my readers of someone they know, well, that’s not something I have control over, is it?

EB: What’s been the reaction from your former colleagues at OSF?

SK: My former festival colleagues easily recognize, of course, the inspiration for certain passages in the book, and tell me they’ve gotten a good laugh out of them. But they said this during the pandemic, wearing masks, so, who knows if they really meant it!

Anyway, it’s important to note that the book isn’t really about OSF, or any institution in particular—it’s about people all over the country, all over the world really, who make their living from the corpus of Shakespeare. Which includes most of my dearest friends and colleagues. As well as me, myself, and I.

EB: Where can readers get your book?

SK: Funny you should ask! Believe it or not, the book can be found on a remarkable website called Amazon.com by using this link. And here’s my author page if you want to peruse the other 16 books I’ve written. And here’s a link if you’d rather look at a cute puppy.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Don’t let the Oxfordians get you!

SK: Zounds! You’re not one of them, are you?

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An Interview with Amber Reed, author of Nostalgia After Apartheid

Amber R. Reed is the author of Nostalgia after Apartheid: Disillusionment, Youth, and Democracy in South Africa, (Notre Dame Press, 2020), part of the Kellogg Institute Series on Democracy and Development.

She earned a BA in anthropology from Barnard College and MA and PhD University of California, Los Angeles and was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Among her specializations are the areas of South Africa, youth, democracy, race, nostalgia, apartheid, and visual media.

Dr. Reed is an associate professor of anthropology at Southern Oregon University.

Ed Battistella: In your book, you talk about the anthropology of nostalgia. What is the anthropology of nostalgia?

Amber Reed: The idea here is to apply the perspective of cultural anthropology to the understanding of nostalgia – something that I think most people instead think of as an internal, psychological experience. How can we understand nostalgia as a cultural and social practice? I write about nostalgia as a phenomenon different from other forms of remembering; it is about looking at the past with a desire or longing to return to it. But more than that, nostalgia recasts the past in ways that might not be truthful. In other words, we desire a return to something that may never have actually existed. This is a new but expanding area of anthropology; a few other people have written about this in the past few years as well.

EB: How did you get interested in South Africa and in Xhosa culture?

AR: When I started graduate school at UCLA in 2008, I knew I wanted to study the role of non-governmental organizations in promoting youth activism in South Africa. I had been to the country once before in 2005 as a volunteer doing wildlife rehabilitation, and was excited to return in a research capacity. I connected with a public health researcher at UCLA working on HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and she connected me with the Sonke Gender Justice Network. Sonke had been doing a bunch of programs in the rural Eastern Cape, and needed someone to do an assessment of one of them. I wanted to learn more about what they had done, so I traded my ethnographic skills for access and wrote a report on their Digital Stories project. That was my first introduction to the Kamva community, and they placed me with a family to live for a few weeks in 2009. That family became my second family, and when I returned to do doctoral research in 2012 I lived with them for the year.

EB: You talk about the way that nostalgia can be a form of resistance and how local cultural forms act as a prism for Western-based notions of democracy. Could you give an example?

AR: A clear example from my research is the nostalgia rural Xhosa teachers have for students during the apartheid era. They wax nostalgic for how the apartheid government was strict in schools and helped them manage their classrooms – students were well-behaved, the curricula allowed them to teach in ways they felt aligned with their cultural emphasis on rigid age hierarchies, corporal punishment was legal, etc. By comparison, democracy today in South Africa feels like an imposition; national human rights legislation has made corporal punishment illegal, the curricula demand active learning and student participation, lessons are supposed to include teaching about LGBTQ rights. These are all things many Xhosa people consider foreign and even immoral, and nostalgia becomes a way to recapture a sense of security from the past.

EB: You note that nostalgia tells us about the present. What are the implications to what seems to be a backlash among youth for the future?

AR: Yes, I see nostalgia as more about the present than the past: usually, it is a commentary on people’s dissatisfaction with now. In South Africa, this is largely about a sense of disappointment and hopelessness with how the state has enacted its democracy after the anti-apartheid movement and everything it promised. I think this has huge implications for youth and the future: for one thing, a lot of South African youth are parroting their elders’ nostalgia and talking about how life was better during apartheid – and they weren’t even alive then! Another implication might be political alignment: if people are waxing nostalgic for an authoritarian regime, is this going to change youths’ voting behavior in the future?

EB: I understand that the book came out of your 2014 doctoral dissertation. What are some of the difference between writing a dissertation and writing a book like Nostalgia After Apartheid?

AR: The biggest difference is that by the time the book comes out, you are usually really far removed from when you actually did the research! I did the bulk of this research in 2012, so it has been a long road and I’ve spent a lot of time pouring over the data again and again to get here. The dissertation is really about meeting the objectives of your doctoral committee; demonstrating your ability to synthesize ideas from your discipline, to discuss major schools of thought, to show that you did the fieldwork necessary for the degree. The book is really different – it is about introducing your readers to a new topic and drawing them into a world they might not have any familiarity with. For the book, I added a lot of stories and personal anecdotes that weren’t in the dissertation. I hadn’t thought of them as “data,” but in retrospect they were some of the more informative parts of my research experience.

EB: Are there lessons to be drawn about the US political scene from the anthropology of nostalgia?

Absolutely! Nostalgia is a political tool wielded in campaigns and by politicians constantly. “Make America Great Again” is all about nostalgia – a fantasy of a better past that relies on specific ideas of what America was and should be. It isn’t about facts, it is about painting a particular vision. I think the more we can recognize the role of nostalgia in politics, the more we can break down problematic assumptions and portraits of what America is or is not that might be harmful to particular communities or individuals.

EB: What other research projects are you working on?

AR: I have two major projects at the moment: one that is longer term and started pre-COVID, and the other that arose during the pandemic. The first is examining the movement of rural, Black families in the Eastern Cape to suburban areas that were white-only spaces under apartheid. I’m focusing on the port city of East London on the Indian Ocean coast to do this work, which is a really interesting smaller South African city that I think doesn’t get enough scholarly attention but sort of encapsulates a lot of the South African story in its history. This project is going to look at why people move to these spaces, and what they experience when they get there. I’m also looking at the role of visual media – television, Internet shows – in projecting a fantasy of multiracial suburban life that doesn’t necessarily match the reality of what people experience when they get there.

The COVID project is one I’m doing with a South African colleague who is a trained ethnographer and Xhosa person. She has conducted interviews and administered surveys with people in East London who were active in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s and are today dealing with the lockdown orders from the South African government (they had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic). We’re asking about how the lockdown laws – keeping people in their houses, forcing them to show ID to move around, police enforcement – might trigger their memories of state violence and surveillance during apartheid.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

AR: Anytime!

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Pacific Voices, 2014 -2019

Pacific Voices, 2014 -2019

Edwin Battistella, Kristin Denham, Anne Lobeck

Progress report [12/2020]

Contents

1. Introduction 2

1.1 Challenges 2

1.2. Goals 3

1.3. Oregon and Washington 3

2. Pronunciation 5

2.1 The cot-caught Merger 5

2.2 Front vowels 7

2.3 Aaron and Erin, and Mary, merry and marry 8

2.4 Horrible 9

2.5 The pin/pen merger 10

3. Once-stigmatized forms: coupon and often 11

4. Two other problematic words: syrup and route 17

5. Lexical changes in progress 18

5.1 on accident and by accident 18

5.2 dude 20

5.3 legit(ly) 21

5.4 Hella 22

5.5 Your guyses 23

5.6 Jojos 24

6. Comparison with the Harvard Dialect Survey 26

7. A Reading Passage 30

8. What we learned and what’s next 32

8.1 Struggles 32

8.2 Learning opportunities 32

8.3 Next steps 34

References 35

Key words: Oregon, Washington, Low vowel merger, California vowel shift, Pacific Northwest speech, slang and language change.

1. Introduction

1.1 Challenges

One of the challenges of teaching linguistics, and especially of teaching linguistics to non-majors is to heighten students’ awareness of dialect diversity, dialect research, and dialect stereotypes. As professors, we discuss language variation in classes and elicit pronunciations, vocabulary and usage from students, but we often find students to be uncomfortable with the complexity of usage and sometimes nervous that they are not speaking properly. Students in the Pacific Northwest are often surprised to learn that they have dialects and that the speech of the Pacific Northwest might vary widely according to features of region, age, gender, ethnicity, education and social class.

And it’s not just students. When we talk dialect diversity with members of the general public, they are sometimes skeptical that the region would have a discernable accent or dialect. A historian colleague who read an essay on Pacific Northwest dialect perceptions questioned whether bag-raising was a real phenomenon and asked how dialects compared to other regional styles, like clothing and architecture. An administrator from Texas, reviewing a grant proposal, opined that Oregonians didn’t have an accent, “not like Texas.”

Here we report on some survey and classroom techniques to bring linguistic research into the classroom and engage students in exploring their own speech variation. Taking Ashland, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington, as end points along the I-5 corridor of the Pacific Northwest, we piloted a survey of about 887 (mostly) students during the academic years 2014-2019 (continuing into the 2019-2020 academic year), asking about perceptions of pronunciation with a long-term goal of collecting demographic information. After obtaining IRB approval, we used the Qualtrics survey software to develop an online survey asking students 35 questions, 22 of which had to do with language and 12 of which were demographic, and a final question about using their survey results.[1]

1.2. Goals

Initially, we had four goals. First, we wanted to give students an appreciation for the complexity of dialect data and the way in which representations of dialect (and data) are often abstractions. Thus, in class discussions, students often note that their own speech differs from textbook descriptions, and they cite various anecdotal examples and counterexamples from friends and relatives (“My boyfriend says EYE-ron and it drives me crazy,” said one student). By having students analyze actual data from their speech community, they can see where patterns exist and don’t, and they may become less judgmental about variation.

Second, we wanted to explore the various vowel shifts and the extent to which they might differently be showing up in the speech of northwest Washington (Bellingham is 21 miles from the Canadian border) and southwest Oregon (Ashland is 13 miles from the California border). We hoped that we might spark students’ interest in the topic of vowel shifts and phonetic variation more generally.

A third goal was to collect data on some potentially age- and social class-related items, such as the use of gender neutral dude, the double possessive your guys’s, hella, and legit, as well as the pronunciations of items like often and coupon.

Our fourth goal was to develop some questions, activities and exercises surrounding local dialects that would allow us to reinforce learning goals in linguistics as we discuss the survey results in classes.

Finally, in this initial phase of our work, we cast a wide net to experiment with the survey software and to determine both what was doable as researchers and what was important to teach in class. In the conclusion, we offer some suggestions for the future.

1.3. Oregon and Washington

The earliest languages spoken in the Northwest were those of immigrants from northeast Asia, traveling across the continental shelf into what is now Alaska and Canada, making their way along the Pacific coast and inland. As a result, the Northwest shows especially dense concentrations of pre-European languages. First contact by Europeans came by sea, when Spanish galleons landed along the coast of northern California in the mid-1500s. In 1778, on his third voyage to the Pacific, English Captain James Cook sailed to the central Oregon coast and in 1792, Captain Robert Gray of Rhode Island sailed into the mouth of the Columbia River, which Gray renamed after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. The famous expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the founding of Astoria in 1811 helped to further establish the American presence in the Pacific Northwest.

From 1818 to 1846, the Oregon Territory was jointly occupied by British and Americans. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 fixed the boundary between Great Britain and America at 49 degrees. Once the border was established, American settlement in the Oregon Territory took off. In The Willamette Valley: Migration and Settlement on the Oregon Frontier, William Bowen writes that those settling in that area tended to be “disproportionately from the ranks of unmarried men from the Northeast or abroad.” The census of 1850 recorded 11,873 Oregonians, 60% of whom were males and most of whom hailed from the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio (Loy, et. al. 2001, 15).

According to Randall V. Mills, most settlers funneled through the Missouri and Iowa area while preparing to travel west on the Oregon Trail. The migration brought language to the new territory that incorporated the speech of many emigrants from New England or New York (Mills, 1950: 83). In Oregon, Mills proposed three broad founding dialect areas, a narrow strip along the Willamette River from Portland to Eugene, a more rural area extending from the Willamette River Valley to the Pacific Coast Range, and an area to the east of the Cascade Mountains and to the south of the Calapooya Mountains. As for Washington, Carroll Reed (1952) noted that while the Missouri element predominated in the areas of Washington adjacent to Oregon, spreading “all along the Columbia River, particularly in the areas east of Walla Walla,” other waves of settlers from Iowa, southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio predominated in the Pacific counties. According the Reed, “the speech of southern Illinois and Iowa may be considered typical for most of the state of Washington,” at least as far as the founder effect is considered.

Today both states are increasingly multilingual, though less so than much of the rest of the country. According to the data from the Language Map Data Center of the Modern Language Association, about 83 percent of the Oregon and Washington population speak English at home and about 17 percent speak a language other than English, with Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, and Tagalog among the most robust.[2] Apart from the founder effects and linguistic diversity, both Oregon and Washington have significant urban-rural divides and show the influence of emerging industries and of emigrants from other states.

Our subjects were 887 (mostly) students at Southern Oregon University and Western Washington University.[3] Demographic data collected included age, gender, ethnicity, hometown, perceived social class, college major, and family household income. We also asked students’ self-perception of whether they were urban, rural or suburban and to rate themselves as speakers and writers of English.[4]

2. Pronunciation

2.1 The cot-caught Merger

The Pacific Northwest is geographically situated between two current linguistic shifts in vowel production: the so-called California Vowel Shift and the Canadian Vowel Shift. The California Vowel Shift, shown below with the shifts represented by arrows, involves a fronting of the vowels produced in the back of the mouth—the long vowels boot and coat and the shorter vowels in could and cut being pronounced more toward the front of the mouth (approaching butte, key-oat, cud and ket), with the short front vowels being lowered and backed (kid toward ked, get toward gat and cat toward cot). At the same time, the earlier distinct vowels in cot and caught are merging. Linguistic shifts happen slowly over long periods of time, and are sensitive to style shifts and the performance of identity, but overall what had been a vowel trapezoid historically is becoming more of the vowel triangle.[5]

C:\Users\Brandon Aleshire\Desktop\CALshiftWARD41.png

(diagram from Ward, 41, from Hinton, et al.)

Not shown in the diagram is a counter-raising among the front vowels in syllables ending in velar consonants (g, k, ng). There, the lower vowels in the front of the mouth shift upward, yielding beg for bag, laig for leg, thenk (or even think) for thank, and so on. See Freeman (2013, 2014).

The elements of the California vowel shift are proceeding at different rates and are more prominent in different speech styles and some (such as the lowering and backing of /æ/ and the fronting of /uw/ have made their way into media stereotypes of the Valley Girl/Surfer Dude speech. Students are often aware of the fronting of /uw/ in their own speech as an aspect of speech style but seem to be less attuned to their backing of /æ/.

The Canadian Vowel Shift is similar to the California Shift in several respects. First described in 1995 by Clarke, Elms and Youssef, the shift also involves the lowering of the front lax vowels /æ/ (the short-a of trap and cat), /ɛ/ (the short-e of dress), and /ɪ/ (the short-i of kit). It also involves the merger of the cot and caught vowels, though the merged Canadian vowel is more rounded, slightly lower and slightly further back than the merged cot/caught vowel among many speakers in the U.S.

According to Charles Boberg, the retraction of /æ/ is being led by speakers from Ontario, in in east-central, and by women. The shift is somewhat less advanced among speakers from the other regions of Canada and among men (Boberg, 2005). In the Atlas of North American English, (Labov et al., 2006), it is suggested that about a quarter of speakers in the Western U.S., exhibit the Canadian Shift. [6]

C:\Users\Brandon Aleshire\Desktop\CANshiftWARD42.png

(diagram from Ward, 42 from Clarke)

When we discuss the vowel shifts in introductory classes, students are fascinated but also sometimes unsure of their own pronunciation. Thus we begin by collecting data on some of the more easily identifiable of the vowels involved in the shift, the vowel sounds in the names Don and Dawn. The don/dawn pair is salient for students because the orthography indicates the word difference and thus highlights the phonological merger. And often, someone knows in a class knows both a Don and a Dawn and can attest to the possibility of confusion arising from the merger. Two of our survey questions looked at this pair and at hock and hawk:

Q2 – How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words DON and DAWN? The same or differently.

Q19 – Do you pronounce the words HOCK and HAWK the same or differently?

81% said they pronounce don/dawn the same and differently and 83% pronounce hock/hawk the same.

It is worth asking at this point whether students are accurately able to self-identify their pronunciations in response to prompts. More research is doubtless needed on this topic, but in section 8 we report on a sub-study comparing actual pronunciation to reported pronunciation for 23 speakers. Here we found an 89% accuracy in identifying their own pronunciation.

2.2 Front vowels

We also asked a set of questions about the pronunciation of the front vowels in the words Craig, leg, and egg, where the vowels may be tensed /e/ or a lax /ɛ/. The name

Craig is word of Celtic origin and related to the Scottish Gaelic creag “rock,” and thus also to the word “crag.” The pronunciation varies in the English-speaking world, and in the U.S. and Canada it is often pronounced with the lax /ɛ/. Historically the pronunciation of Craig falls outside of the California/Canadian shift and the alternate pronunciations appear to be in fairly evenly distributed among Pacific Northwest speakers.

Q5 – Do you usually pronounce the name CRAIG as crAYg or crEHg?

59% reported pronouncing the name as crAYg and 41% as crEHg.

In leg and egg we were looking for evidence of raising of the vowel lax /ɛ/, to a tensed /e/. This is part of the counter-raising aspect of the California vowel shift in particular.

Q7 Do you usually pronounce EGGS more like EHggs or AIggs?

Q20 Do you usually pronounce the word LEGS more like LEHggs or LAYggs?

The results were:

Non-raised /ɛ/ Raised /e/

64% EHggs 36% AIggs

62% lEHgs 38% lAYggs

Most speakers reported pronunciations with a lax /ɛ/ though just over a third were egg and leg raisers.

In classes (and conversations, especially those with individuals in the service professions) we also find evidence of raising of the /æ/ vowel in thank, which is in a closed syllable before velar /ŋ/ and /k/. Thank you is sometimes pronounced /thɛŋkju/ or even /thInkju/. We return to thank you in section 8.1 below.

2.3 Aaron and Erin, and Mary, merry and marry

We also examined the pronunciation of the pair of names Aaron and Erin, which makes a nice pedagogical contrast with Dawn and Don. In most of the U.S., the pronunciation of Aaron and Erin is the same, with a mid-lax /ɛ/ rather than a low /æ/. American English merged the two sounds before /r/ while they remain distinct in the U.K.[7]

Given this, we expect the American West to show the merger of these sounds quite robustly.

Q17 – Do you say the names ERIN and AARON the same or differently?

78% reported pronouncing the names the same.

The Aaron/Erin merger opens the door to classroom discussion of the three-way contrast before /r/ in the words Mary /e/, merry /ɛ/, and marry /æ/. In New England, New York City and Philadelphia and parts of the South, the three words are often distinct. In the Inland North and mid-Atlantic (excluding Philadelphia), there is often a two-way contrast of with Mary and merry pronounced as /mɛri/ and marry retaining the /æ/ (/mæri/). See Labov, et al. (2006), Dinkin (2005) and Gordon (2008), and Kretzschmar (2008) for more background and discussion. In much of the rest of the country, the three are merged as /mɛri/. For simplicity’s sake in the survey, we took for granted that Mary and merry would be homophones (pronounced as /ɛ /) for many speakers and focused on marry and merry.

Q 9 How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words MARRY and MERRY? The same or differently.

83% reported pronouncing them the same. 82 respondents reported pronouncing both marry/merry and Erin/Aaron differently, but 110 of those who pronounced marry/merry the same pronounced Erin/Aaron differently and 70 of those who pronounced marry/merry differently pronounced Erin/Aaron the same.

2.4 Horrible

The pronunciation of the word horrible (and similar words (such as orange, florist, and Florida) with /ɑr/ is common in the area including New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Carolinas. Elsewhere the pronunciation tends to be the /ɔr/, with the exception that Oregonians typical have an /ar/ in the state’s name. We expected the pronunciation of horrible to have the pervasive /ɔr/ we represented as HOAR-ible.

Q6 – Do you usually pronounce HORRIBLE as HAR-ible or HOAR-ible.

97% reported HOAR-ible.

2.5 The pin/pen merger

The pin-pen merger is a merger of /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ before the nasal consonants [m], [n], and [ŋ], which predominates in the South, resulting in a near homophony in words like pen and pin, gem and gym, him and hem, kin and Ken, bin and Ben, and so on. Bailey and Maynor (1989, 13) report that the merger began “in the last part of the nineteenth century and worked its way to completion during the last half century.” The pin/pen merger is found in the Midland Regions (Labov, et al. 2006), has expanded west, and is widespread through Kansas City, Houston, Seattle, and Bakersfield, California (Strelluf 2014 and Koops 2008). Since parts of Oregon and Washington were settled by emigrants from the South, we were interested in testing the robustness of this merger in the Pacific Northwest. Impressionistically, it appears to be most prominent with speakers who have Southern roots or close relatives. [8]

Image result for pin pen merger

pin/pen merger areas in purple

We approached this obliquely by asking about the pronunciation of center, rather than pin/pen directly.

Q18 – Do you usually pronounce the first vowel of CENTER as sen or sin?

Speakers overwhelmingly selected the non-raised vowel. 96% reported the pronunciation SEN-ter. Of the 4% of respondents whose responses suggest that they have the merger (34 individuals) 8 were from the South or had lived in the South several of the Oregon, Washington, and California speakers reported rural identification.

3. Once-stigmatized forms: coupon and often

There is of course more to speech variation than pronunciation of vowels, so we have also been collecting data on the pronunciation and use of lexical items that seem to be social variants. One of these is the pronunciation of coupon, which in American usage is pronounced with or without a glide following the initial /k/. The glide is a twentieth century development and was for a time stigmatized (and it remains a shibboleth for some speakers and in some pronunciation guides), though current dictionaries give it as standard. But while, dictionaries of American English give both pronunciations, older dictionaries and more prescriptive guides still treat the glide pronunciation as substandard (the Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, for example, calls it “Spurious” and Bryan Garner says that it “betrays an ignorance of French and of the finer points of English”). Nevertheless, in the U.S., pronunciations with a palatal glide (a /j/) before long /u/ are common after velar consonants (as in cute, cube, cue, Cupid, skew, factual, regulate, angular, and argue). [9]

In the case of coupon, we offered speakers the third option of reporting that they pronounced it both ways.[10] The speakers we surveyed reported a slight majority pronouncing the word as COOP-on but roughly a quarter consistently pronounce it with the glide (CYEW-pon).

Q8 Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as COOP-on CYEW-pon? Or both ways.

58% reported the pronunciation COOP-on; 21% reported pronouncing the word as CYEWpon or CUEpon; 19% reported pronouncing coupon both ways.

In classes, the coupon item can lead to a discussion of the misleading role of etymology in judging pronunciation. Coupon can be traced back to the French word coup (meaning a blow, as in coup-contrecoup or coup de grâce and later an impressive act (as in a publishing coup). Coupon entered English in the 19th century, with a first OED citation from 1822. It was initially a financial term related to certificates attached to bonds. The meaning evolved to refer to prepaid ticket for travel and in the early twentieth century to the familiar sense part of an advertisement redeemable for a discount or free offer.

We also looked at what connections there are between self-perceptions of social class and of speaking/writing ability and pronunciation of coupon? There was relatively little difference across class.

Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as:
COOP-on CYEW-pon I pronounce it both ways
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 40% 42% 44%
Lower Middle Class/Working Class
Middle Class 13% 19% 19%
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 47% 38% 37%
Total 493 206 174

We also looked at the self-reports of speaking and writing, and again there is very little difference. Interestingly the CYEW-pon speakers did not consider themselves less good English speakers or writers, suggesting that it is not stigmatized for them.

Do you consider yourself _____ speaker/writer of English
a better than average an average a worse than average Total
COOP-on 292 211 9 501
CYEW-pon 117 82 6 205
both ways 102 62 1 165
Total 511 355 16 882

58% of COOP-on speakers considered themselves better than average as did 57% of CYEWpon speakers and 61% of those who pronounce coupon both ways. COOP-on is still the marginally dominant pronunciation but about 40% of respondents either pronounce the word CYEWpon or alternate. The results are consistent across social class and gender.

The situation for often, another former shibboleth, is somewhat more complex than that of coupon. The formerly stigmatized form AWFten is vastly preferred, though somewhat less so by females and urbanites. The preferences of the self-described middle class speakers are fairly close.

Historically, often comes from oft, and the /t/ was lost among educated speakers in the 17th century. But the /t/ was retained or reintroduced as a spelling pronunciation. Merriam Webster cites the pronunciation as \ˈȯ-fən, ÷ˈȯf-tən\, with the ÷ sign (the obelus mark) indicating “a pronunciation variant that occurs in educated speech but that is considered by some to be questionable or unacceptable.” [11]

Others commentators are less diplomatic about the /t/-less pronunciation, with Elster’s Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations calling it “less common in educated speech and far more often disapproved of by cultivated speakers—particularly teachers of English, drama, and speech.” Elster cites early twentieth century commentators who called it “vulgar” and “sham-refined,” or in Henry Fowler’s terms, practiced by “the academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours … & the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.” Garner refers to it as non-U usage (following the terminology of Alan Ross and Nancy Mitford for upper-class and non-upper-class usage and social practices in England).

Nevertheless, the speakers we surveyed pronounced the word without a /t/ by about three to one, though some noted in class discussion that they sometimes pronounce it either way.

25% reported pronouncing the word with a t (AWFTen)

75% reported pronouncing it without a t (AWFen)

When we cross-tabulated this split for social class we found little difference in the percentages according to class self-perception.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 14 26 40
Lower Middle Class/Working Class 79 236 315
Middle Class 39 121 160
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 96 270 366
Total 228 657 887
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 35% 65%
Lower Middle Class/Working Class 25% 75%
Middle Class 24% 66%
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 26% 64%
26% 74%

Gender did not appear to be a factor either: the percentage of females with the AWFEN pronunciation is about the same as the percentage of males.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
What is your gender? Male 69 178 247
Female 151 463 614
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten
What is your gender? Male 28% 72%
Female 25% 75%

However, rural speakers appear to prefer AWFten, 82%, as compared to 65% of urban speakers and 76% of suburban speakers.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your background? Urban 50 91 141
Rural 26 115 141
Suburban 80 257 337
Total 156 463
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten
How would you characterize your background? Urban 35% 65%
Rural 18% 82%
Suburban 24% 76%

Finally, we looked to see what the preferences of COOP-on and CYEW-pon speakers were with respect to often and vice versa (the preferences of AWFen and AWFten speakers for the pronunciation of coupon.)

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as: COOP-on 150 363 513
CYEW-pon 41 166 207
I pronounce it both ways 37 128 165
Total 228 657 885

About 10% more COOP-on speakers preferred AWFen than AWFten and 10% more AWFen speakers preferred COOP-on suggesting a clustering of the former prestige forms for some speakers.

Say AWFen Say AWFTen
COOP-on speakers 30% 70%
CYEW-pon speakers 20% 80%
Both 24% 76%
Say COOP-on Say CYEW-pon Say both
AWFen speakers 65% 18% 16%
AWFTen speakers 55% 25% 19%

4. Two other problematic words: syrup and route

How do you say the words syrup and route? The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) gives the pronunciation of the former as “Usu. [‘sɪrəp, sɝəp], Sth SMidl [‘sʌrəp, ‘sɝp],” noting that there is additional regional variation and evidence from spelling pronunciations. The DARE coding indicates a usual pronunciation with a high lax vowel or a mid-lax rhotic [ɝ] with somewhat different pronunciations in the South and South Midlands. Merriam-Webster offers the pronunciations [ˈsər-əp, ˈsir-əp, ˈsə-rəp] as variants and the Harvard Dialect study points to the widespread use of the variants with the [ʌ] or [ə] in the first syllable.

The various transcription systems make for a sticky situation, but the key question is whether the word is pronounced with a higher front vowel (as in SEER) or a lower more back vowel (as in SIR):

Q3 – Do you usually pronounce the word SYRUP as SIRup or SEERup?

72% reported SIRup

In American English, the word route can be pronounced as either /ru:t/ (rOOt) or /raut/ (rAWt), making the word polyphonic like economics, either, garage, and Celtic. Pronunciation may be affected by cultural influences like the iconic Route 66 and by competition from the term router for the networking device that moves data packets between computer networks. According to DARE, the usual North Eastern and Central Atlantic pronunciation is /ru:t/ with some variation in specific uses like a rural free delivery mail route or a paper route (/raut/).

DARE respondents for /ru:t/

DARE explains that the /raut/ pronunciation (they give both [raUt and [ræUt]) is “scattered but chiefly IL, OH, wPA, WV, MD.” DARE cites an Oxford English Dictionary comment that “Down to c 1800 the usual spelling was rout,” and that the pronunciation appears in 19th century still “remained in military use, and by many speakers in the U.S. and Canada.” DARE also observes that in the west, route has an additional sense in which it means the length of time working in a logging camp. Our tentative hypothesis was that westerners would prefer the /raut/ pronunciation, but also be well aware of the /rut/ pronunciation from the media. We asked

Q4 Do you usually pronounce the word ROUTE as rUWt (like boot) or rOWt (like out) or do you say both?

However, in the first two years of the survey, we forced a choice between the two pronunciations.

60% ROWT when there was a two-way choice. When there was a three-way choice, 33% reported ROWT and 42% reported pronouncing route both ways.

Add a map of route in OR & WA

5. Lexical changes in progress

We also asked about several lexical and grammatical changes in progress including the spread of gender-neutral on accident, dude, your guyses, legitly, hella and jo-jos.

5.1 on accident and by accident

If you do something accidentally, is it on accident or by accident? According to Leslie Barratt (2005), younger speakers in different parts of the country are moving toward saying on accident while older speakers tend to use by accident, a form that is still prescribed by some traditionalists. Barrett and her students studied on accident in four communities differing in size and demographics: Terre Haute, Indiana; Farmington Hills, Michigan; Irvine, California; and McRae, Georgia. Barrett’s project surveyed actual usage (with a reading passage), reported usage, and reported acceptance of the two phrases. In Indiana, for example, the use of on accident was largely nonexistent for speakers older than 30, while both by accident and on accident were used by those younger than 30. Reported use was not identical with actual use, with about 29% of those who used on accident exclusively saying that they would use by accident, a confusion which suggests that “some speakers are not aware of the form that they in fact use.” Results were similar in Michigan, California, and Georgia, though California speakers (in Irvine and Laguna Beach) showed some divergence:

While on accident occurs more frequently than by accident among the 11 and 12 year olds surveyed (22 to 13 for I did it ___ accident), it is completely absent among those surveyed over age 34. Likewise, in reported use, Californians were slightly less likely to report that they used on (21 responses) than they were to use it (26 responses). Finally, people who reported that they used by were less likely to accept on than the reverse.

Barrett concluded that on accident was found nationally among younger respondents in all four states and suggested that the use of on accident in different parts of the US dates back to at least the late 1970s. [12] Students in our classes have sometimes proposed a distinction in the use of on and by, depending on whether the speaker is responsible or someone else is. We tested this with the following two questions, one in which contrasts a third person she with first person I:

Q11 – If your roommate does something wrong unintentionally would you say:

She did it ON ACCIDENT 65%

She did it BY ACCIDENT 11%

I could say either one 24%

Q21 – If you did something wrong unintentionally would you say:

I did it ON ACCIDENT 62%

I did it BY ACCIDENT 13%

I could say either one 24%

It seems that the proposed 1st person/3rd person split distribution is mythical rather than actual, at least in this group of respondents.[13] Overall, younger speakers overwhelming prefer on accident and the few younger by accident speakers often report being explicitly scolded on the distinction when they had used the innovative form.

5.2 dude

If you have seen the 1969 film Easy Rider, you may recall the jail scene where the Harley-riding protagonists Wyatt and Billy find themselves in the lockup with boozy lawyer George Hanson, played by a young Jack Nicholson. When George talks the guard into giving Billy a cigarette, Billy says,You must be some important dude. That treatment—”. Here George interrupts, “Dude? What does he mean, ‘dude’? Dude ranch?” and Wyatt explains “‘Dude’ means a nice guy, you know? ‘Dude’ means a regular person.”

The dialogue encapsulates the development of dude. The first DARE citation is an 1877 one from painter Frederic Remington who wrote fellow artist Scott Turner, with whom he was swapping sketches: “Don’t send me any more women or any more dudes.” He was referring to drawings of men and women in evening dress that Turner had been sending him. Remington said Turner should “Send me Indians, cowboys, villains, or toughs. These are what I want.”

Dude in Remington’s use means a man or boy pretentiously concerned with his clothes and grooming, as was the case for a city person new to the West, someone who might come to a dude ranch. The sense of being an out of place novice is also found in later uses in military, where dudes are new recruits. A 1936 DARE citation finds: “All right, you dudes. Fall out.”

Early on, dude could also just mean an ordinary male—a guy—and this usage picked up steam by the 1960s, according to both DARE and the OED. [14] And along the way, dude came to be used for either sex or even for inanimate objects. From 1968, we find “When the FAC pilot gets the green light to go in he fires one of these dudes to mark the target,” and a 1985 citation is “Mom asked me and I said ‘No way, dude’.”

There’s more to the story of dude, no doubt, including its popularization by The Big Lebowski, and its emergence as a term of address. But stripped to its essentials, dude seems to have evolved from a mildly pejorative term to an neutral one and from being semantically male to increasingly generic. Our survey asked

Q12 If you use the word dude, can it refer to males or females?

Yes, it can refer to both sexes.

No, it refers only to males.

88% reported that dude can refer to both sexes. Of the 103 speakers who reported that they would not use dude generically, 76 were in the 18-29 age range. One student suggested that guys would be his preferred usage for mixed-gender groups.

We will return to the question of guys as mixed gender in section 8, along with the competing form y’all.

5.3 legit(ly)

The word legit represents a change in the part of speech as well as a clipping of legitimate. In its use as an adjective short form, Merriam Webster dates its origin to 1907 and labels it “informal.” MW also includes the adverb form, labelled as “slang,” with a first citation from 1998.

Merriam Webster doesn’t, however, include legitly, the –ly adverb. Anne Curzan, writing in her Lingua Franca column in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2014, reports being contacted by an Michigan teacher who noted students saying things like:

“I legitly left my homework at home!”

“I legitly bombed that quiz.”

At the time, Curzan found disdain for the –ly form in both the Urban Dictionary and the popular press but concluded that “adding an –ly to legit to make a new adverb is, from a linguistic perspective, far from morphologically rebellious.”[15]

Legit, it is worth noting, was first recorded–as a noun–in an 1897 issue of the National Police Gazette: “Bob is envious of Corbett’s success as a ‘legit.’ It pained him to see Jim strutting through four acts of a real play.” The reference is to boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett, who became an actor after his boxing career ended. The clipping legit seems to have originated in the theatre, where it meant regular, normal or standard. The OED gives a 1908 citation to “Scene shifters, stage carpenters, actors, everything and everybody strictly ‘legit’. In the early citations, the quotes indicate the novelty of the form.

We noticed the adverb uses of legit and legitly around 2013 and were curious. At first we asked about legitly, but based on feedback from students and respondents, who indicated that they used the flat adverb legit rather than the –ly form, we revised our question in year 2 of the survey.

Q16 If you are trying to explain to your friend that you really like something, would you ever say “I legit love that book.”

Yes, I can use LEGIT that way: 27%

I’ve heard this but do not use it myself: 44%

No, I do not use LEGIT this way and haven’t heard it: 28%

Based on the low numbers, it seems, however, that legit is still not quite legit.

5.4 Hella

Hella, along with its middle-school counterpart hecka, is an adverbial intensifier that apparently emerged in the 1970s Bay Area. Linguist Ben Zimmer (1986) gives an early citation from an August 1986 interview in the magazine Thrasher in which Metallica band member James Hetfield used hella twice.[16] As youth slang, it is an index of coolness, and according to Bucholtz (2006) was “used among Bay Area youth of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and both genders, much as teenagers in other parts of the United States use the intensifiers wicked and mad.” Bucholtz cited examples from a 1995-96 Bay City High School yearbook, suggesting widespread use from across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and gender. [17] Among them:

I love ya’ll hella tite. (African American girl)

I wont to say I had a hella fun time Playing with every one from the football team. (African American boy)

this year was hella fun! (Latina girl)

my big sista, known you for hella years, you were alwaysthere for me. (European American girl)

haven’t seen ya for hella long (European American boy)

Bucholtz saw hella as “a very stable regional marker” in the Bay area and northern California at that time with “only isolated use outside of this region.” Writing in 2006, she noted that hella “currently enjoys a much wider circulation, thanks to its occasional use in popular music, television shows, and films aimed at a youth audience … but outside California it appears to be a marked, trendy term, in contrast to its enduring use as an unmarked feature of Northern California youth speech.”

We asked our subjects:

Q15 If you are trying to explain to your friend that something is very, very good, would you ever say “That’s hella good.”

Yes, I can use HELLA that way: 57%

I’ve heard this but do not use it myself: 40%

No, I’ve never heard HELLA used this way: 3%.

From these results it is clear that hella is pervasively known (by 97% of respondents) and has clearly gained traction in the Pacific Northwest youth culture, being used by more than half.

5.5 Your guyses

Since the loss of the second person singular thee, thou, and thy/thine, the standard Written English forms have been the formerly plural forms you and your. A similar process of plural- to-singular is underway with the third person they/them/their, which is widely used as an indefinite and today is increasingly used as a singular personal pronoun as well (see Baron 2020). To attenuate the ambiguity of you in the second person, various forms have emerged that distinguish singular you from plural, such as you/y’all, you/yinz, and you/you guys. [18] Yinz (from you ones and sometimes spelled yuns) is a regional form (DARE) while y’all has seemingly spread to a general friendly second person form. These plurals can be used in the possessive as well, giving yall’s, yinz’s, and you guys’s, and for many speakers your guys’s, with the possessive marking on both parts of the compound. Prescriptivists sometimes object to your guys. Here is Paul Brian’s view, from his Common Errors in English.

your guys’s: Many languages have separate singular and plural forms for the second person (ways of saying “you”), but standard English does not. “You” can be addressed to an individual or a whole room full of people.

In casual speech, Americans have evolved the slangy expression “you guys” to function as a second-person plural, formerly used of males only but now extended to both sexes, but this is not appropriate in formal contexts. Diners in fine restaurants are often irritated by clueless waiters who ask “Can I get you guys anything?”

The problem is much more serious when extended to the possessive: “You guys’s dessert will be ready in a minute.” Some people even create a double possessive by saying “your guys’s dessert. . . .” This is extremely clumsy. When dealing with people you don’t know intimately, it’s best to stick with “you” and “your” no matter how many people you’re addressing.

We approached your guys’s obliquely, by asking about the double possessive and giving speakers the opportunity to say that they don’t use you guys.

Q13 – If you do say “your guys’ party?” or “you guys’ party” do you pronounce it with one s or two?

I say YOU(R) GUYS PARTY: 17%

I say YOU(R) GUYSES PARTY: 56%

I might say it either way: 21%

I don’t use “you guys” or “your guys” this way: 6%

Only 6% of the respondents said they did not use possessive you guys, and the majority did report using two sibilants in the possessive. Of the 53 respondents who eschewed your guys, 39 were in the 18-29 year-old age-group and the remaining 14 were older. We have no survey data on whether speakers use you guys or your guys, though informal observation suggests that the latter predominates.

5.6 Jojos

According to local-lore and the popular press, jojos (with or without a hyphen) are a regional specialty and perhaps even an Oregon term for deep-fried, lightly breaded potato wedges. Anne Marie DiStefano, writing in The Portland Tribune in 2013, confessed to growing up in California and never having heard of jojos before moving to Oregon. She tracked the usage to the early 1960s, suggesting that “the term jojo potatoes was used widely across the country. But not universally. They also were called home fries, wedges, spuds or tater babies — and Shakey’s Pizza trademarked the term ‘mojo potatoes.’” Jojos arose from the popularity of the broaster, invented in the 1950s, which sped up the process of frying foods. According to DiStefano, the Flavor-Crisp company of Creighton, Nebraska, claims the word. She interviewed Ron Echtenkamp, retired president of a company that sold Flavor-Crisp pressure fryers, who explained that the dish arose when salespeople at a trade show used Idaho potato wedges from a nearby vendor to clean the oil in the fryer. Someone set the wedges out on the table and, according to Echtenkamp, one of the salesmen called them jojos. A similar story is told by Paul Nicewonger of Nicewonger Co., a restaurant-supply company in Vancouver, Washington. Nicewonger attributed the story of jojo being coined at a food trade show to his late father, whose company introduced the name into Pacific Northwest markets. In any case, the earliest ad found in Newpapers.com seems to be in The Evening Review (of East Liverpool, Ohio) from July 14, 1962, for Kennedy’s Restaurant in Ohio. The ad refers to Kennedy’s “New Flavor-Crisp ½ fried chicken and New jo-jo potatoes.”

Curious about the term, we included the photo below, limiting our question to jojos, steak fries, O’Briens, and potato wedges, but other terms for such fare includes the trademarked “mojos,” “tater babies” or “tater boys.”

Q22 – What name do you use for this food?

https://sou.co1.qualtrics.com/CP/Graphic.php?IM=IM_1XP1Mufo4euDDIV

Steak Fries

JoJos

Potato Wedges

O’Briens

44% called them jojos and 43% potato wedges with another 8% opting for steak fries. Among Oregon speakers, the percentage of identifying the spuds as jojos rose to 52%.

6. Comparison with the Harvard Dialect Survey

The Harvard Dialect Survey, an online survey developed by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder consisted of 122 questions about phonetic, lexical, syntactic, and morphological differences in English in the United States. The questions were multiple-choice with a write-in option and used rhyming words to narrow the options for participants. The total number of participants was 30,788, with 385 from Oregon (1.24%) and 860 (2.78%) from Washington. Vaux and Golder’s state breakdown page gives results for 166 respondents from Oregon and 511 from Washington.[19]

Below we consider selected results from their study.

Coupon

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results
as in “coop” 56.91% 57.89% 58%
as in “cute” 40.06% 39.70% 21%
19% (both ways)

The number of COOPon speakers is consistent between our 58% and their 56.91% and 57.89% results. Some of Vaux and Golder’s 40% CYEWpon speakers likely alternate.

Craig

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results
as in “say” 52.63% 59.63% 59% (crAYg)
close to “say” 22.99% 18.55%
as in “set” 12.47% 13.02% 41% (crEHg)
close to “set” 11.63% 8.18%

Our two-way distinction yielded about a 60%-40% split between [e] and [ɛ] as compared to the 75.62%-24.1% and 78.18%-21.2% splits in the Harvard Dialect study.

Mary/merry/marry

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results
Mary & marry the same 83%
all 3 are the same 79.44% 78.39%
all 3 are different 2.22% 3.13%
Mary and merry are the same; marry is different 4.72% 5.48
merry and marry are the same; Mary is different .56% .63%
Mary and marry are the same; merry is different 13.06% 12.37%

For simplicity’s sake, we assumed (based on our observations) that Mary and merry were identical for most speakers and asked only about the pronunciation of marry. Vaux and Golder’s 78-79% for all three being pronounced the same is close to our 83%. However, they found 12-13% percent of speakers reporting a Mary/marry homophony distinct from merry, which suggests that the situation is more complicated that we had anticipated.

Route

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results

(3 way)

rhymes with “hoot” 17.56% 15.13% 25%
rhymes with “out” 25.78% 35.11% 33%
either way interchangeably 34.84% 32.01% 42%
like “hoot” for the noun and like “out” for the verb. 16.15% 11.78%
like “out” for the noun and like “hoot” for the verb. 4.82% 4.06%
other .85% 1.91%

Details of the percentages aside, our results and Vaux and Golder’s suggest that most speakers either alternate or prefer the ROWT pronunciation.

When we forced a two-way choice, our respondents reported using ROWT 60% of the time. We did not test for a correlation with part of speech.

Syrup

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results (2 way)
sear-up 23.01% 23.81% 28%
sih-rup 14.49% 11.46%
sir-up 61.36% 63.61% 72%

Our results are very close to those of Vaux and Golder, assuming that their “sih-rup” group corresponds to people who opted for our “sir-up” choice.

Cot/caught

V & G (Or) V & G (Wa) Our results
Same 87.22% 83.67% 82% (don/daw, hock/hawk)
Different 12.78% 16.33% 18%

The [a]-[ɔ] merger comes in as robust in both surveys.

You guys

Vaux and Golder also asked what words people us to refer to “a group of two or more people” with about 57% responding that they used you guys.

V & G (Or) V & G (Wa)
you all 8.48% 8.59%
you guys 56.73% 56.65%
You 24.85% 27.47%
y’all 6.43% 4.21%

In our study, which asked If you do say “your guys’ party?” or “you guys’ party” do you pronounce it with one s or two? Only 6% of the respondents said they did not use possessive you guys. 94% responded in a way that implied use of you guys.

on accident/by accident

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington) Our results
by accident 66.47% 67.63% 11-13%
on accident 11.66% 14.87% 62-65%
Both 18.66% 13.97% 24%

There is a puzzling split between our results and those of Vaux and Golder. We found nearly two-thirds preferring on-accident while their reported results indicated the opposite.

bag, leg and egg raising

V&G (Oregon) V&G (Washington)
[bæg] (like “sat”) 86.30% 75.47%
[bɛg] (like “said”) 0% .74%
[beg] (“like “say”) 11.08% 20.49%
Other 2.62% 3.29%

The greater percentage of raising in Washington respondents is intriguing. We did not test for raising of [æ] in bag, though we did consider the [ɛ]-raising in egg and leg.

Our results
EGggs 64%
AYggs 36%
lEHgs 62%
lAYggs 38%

Looking just at Oregon and Washington speakers, 39% of our Oregon respondents said ayggs and 42% responded that they said layggs; 37% of Washingtonians responded with ayggs and 39% with layggs.

Overall OR WA
EGggs 64% 61% 63%
AYggs 36% 39% 37%
lEHgs 62% 58% 61%
lAYggs 38% 42% 39%

7. A Reading Passage

Subjects completing a survey such as ours may have misperceptions about their own pronunciation or usage, the may be unsure or guessing, they may be unduly influenced by spelling, or even misled by clumsily worded questions or transcriptions. As a check, we developed a short reading passage intended to elicit some of the Pacific Northwest distinctions we surveys as well as some others than might not be amenable to a survey method or that might be interesting for class discussion purposes. These are indicated in bold in the passage below, though of course they were not bolded in the actual reading passage. We collected 23 usable samples from speakers, most from speakers from the Pacific Northwest.

Several items in the reading passage parallel ones in the survey: Dawn, marry, Aaron, horrible, coupons, egg, legs, syrup, route, hawk, and center. The items not in the survey such as dude, food, and new reflect the /u/ and /o/ fronting found in the California Vowel Shift. The items both, wash and Washington are possible terms in which we might find an intrusive [l] or [r]. The words that and dad relate to the backing of /æ/, while menu, tent and rented to the pin-pen merger.

The repeated Thank you, thank you, thank you was an attempt to collect data on the counter-raising of [æ] and to use the allegro repetition of the phrase to induce the raising of that vowel. A few words, such as Ian and Ann, aunt, mountains, salmon, almond, greasy, poem, Saturday, and roof are indicators of dialect features not typically associated with the Pacific Northwest. Culinary and Josie were added to contrast with coupon and greasy.

Here is the passage:

Last year my friend Dawn decided to marry this dude named Ian. Both of her brothers, Aaron and Harold, helped plan the wedding menu. That was a horrible mistake.

So, the guests arrived—from Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, and there was even one aunt from Florida. Her Mom and Dad had arranged for the wedding to take place in a tent they rented. It was a cool setting, in a park with a view of the mountains.

Anyway, back to the food. It turned out that Aaron and Harold had gotten all the wrong food for the reception. They had supermarket coupons and bought random stuff: little hot dogs, salmon with almond sauce, milky egg salad, greasy chicken legs, and melting ice-cream cake covered with chocolate syrup. It was a culinary nightmare. Luckily Dawn’s friends Ann, Mary and Josie retraced the route to the store, and bought some real wedding food. It was a miracle that everything worked out, and Dawn’s parents just kept saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Then just as the ceremony was ending and Mary was reading a poem called “Saturday,” a red-tailed hawk swooped into the center of the tent and snagged some of the salmon. It almost got stuck under the roof but didn’t. Dawn and Ian got married and went on their honeymoon. As for Dawn’s brothers, their new job was to wash the dishes from the party.

As a check on the Qualtrix survey, we also asked the passage readers to respond to the short survey below, which was checked against their recorded pronunciations.

  1. How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words DON and DAWN?

the same differently

  1. Do you usually pronounce the word SYRUP as

SIRup SEERup

  1. Do you usually pronounce the word ROUTE as

rUWt (like boot) rOWt (like out)

  1. Do you usually pronounce HORRIBLE as

HAR-ible HOAR-ible

  1. Do you usually pronounce EGGS more like EHggs or AIggs

EHggs (with the EH vowel in get) AIggs (with the AY vowel in say)

  1. Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as:

COOP-on CUE-pon I pronounce it both ways

  1. How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words MARRY and MERRY?

the same differently

  1. Do you pronounce THANK YOU as more like

thAHnk you (like the vowel in drank) thEHnk you (like the vowel in pen)

  1. Do you pronounce OFTEN as

AWFen AWFten

  1. Do you say the names ERIN and AARON

the same differently

  1. Do you pronounce the words HOCK and HAWK

the same differently

  1. Do you usually pronounce the word LEGS more like LEHggs or LAYggs?

LEHggs (with the vowel in less) LAYggs (with the vowel in lay)

Comparing actual pronunciation to reported pronunciation for 23 speakers, we found that an 89% accuracy in identifying one’s own pronunciation.[20]

8. What we learned and what’s next

8.1 Struggles

There were some rough spots. In the initial survey, we collected demographic data in a relatively open-ended fashion, asking about hometowns and parents’ hometowns, with respondents giving both leaving both gaps and giving answers like “military brat” or “moved around a lot.” We did collect zip codes, which facilitates the eventual mapping task, but we first collected age as numbers, which required us to regroup the data later to get age ranges.

Asking about social class and their perceptions of their own speech also proved to be interesting in that most self-identified as middle class and self-identified as “a better than average speaker/writer of English” (not surprising since many were English or linguistics majors). The later iterations of the survey (2015 forward) supplemented the self-identification of social class with a question about income levels, though many subjects preferred not to answer that. Later iterations of the survey also contained fewer questions, age ranges, a full list of US states and regional universities, and a question about whether hometowns were urban, rural and suburban.

We struggled with the best folk orthography for questions. From 2015 onward survey we added some homophones to the answers in the hopes that questions would be easier to follow. We initially collected data on the pronunciation of thank, but stopped because it seemed that respondents were unduly influenced toward thAHnk by orthography; only 98 responded identified thEHnk as corresponding to their pronunciation suggesting that thank might be better studied in a reading passage.

Going forward, we might drop some of the questions related to issues that seem well-resolved among young Pacific Northwesterners and add some new items, such as bag and beg, and bit and bet. The reading passage too could be simplified (respondents especially struggled with the phrase “salmon with almond sauce” and other tongue twisters that arose from our trying to do too much).

8.2 Learning opportunities

The most rewarding aspect of the research has been the way in which the work of studying data on regional speech—and their own speech—has engaged students in language study and critical thinking about language. By involving students in a local survey and discussing the issues connected to language variation and change that they can observe, we are able to engage them at several levels—as consumers of surveys and media, as thinkers about language and linguistic diversity, as speakers of a particular region, and as co-investigators in research.

The in-class discussions that arise from the survey debriefs are especially rich. Since many of the students are planning careers in fields in which they will be working with language, the survey experience gives them a first-hand look at the variability of speech and at language change in progress. Students think about their own usage, about where they came from about what has influenced their speech, and about the codes and styles that they switch into and out of. They also think about language they encounter in their lives and become curious about language and less prescriptive in their outlooks.

Various activities and discussions that can be tied to the survey questions. Here are a few we have attempted (but certainly not honed to perfection).

  1. Discussing the loss of the old singular second person (thee, thou, thy) forms and the re-emergence of the plural (you guys) in relation to the extension of the third person they, them, their, a topic which is on the minds of students. Discussion of pronouns can reinforce the idea that such forms have shifted for social reasons in the past.
  2. Introducing and critiquing the principle of “one form—one meaning” as it relates to by accident and on accident, and other terms. One reader of an early draft of this report commented that it seemed like a dumb thing for language change to create “confusing” homophones like Dawn and Don and Erin and Aaron. We have the opportunity to illustrate that the logic of language change does not always match our preconceptions of what makes sense communicatively.
  3. Identifying and documenting other instances of preposition variation, which tends to be less remarked upon than other types of variation (such as waiting “in line” or “on line” or getting something “on the internet” or “off the internet”).
  4. Taking jo-jos as the point of departure, exploring further variation among other culinary terms (including server slang, as described by Adams (2009). Students might design and administer their own food term surveys or research local eateries.
  5. Extending the analysis of selected terms using dictionaries and databases, such as the OED, The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) or the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA).
  6. Researching the history of parallels between guys and dudes, the history of guy (Metcalf 2019) and some of the contemporary criticism of the term’s use (Carey 2016, Pinkster 2018).
  7. Studying intensification and the emergence of hella and others forms (see for example Ito and Tagliamonte 2003).
  8. Introducing acoustic analysis of select vowels via Praat (Van Lieshout, 2003, Wassink 2016, Freeman 2013, 2014, Becker, et al. 2016).
  9. Research on local communities and on identity and affiliation, perhaps involving map tasks (Hartley 1999, Evans 2011, 2013), local history (Denham 2019), or dialect Story Maps (Szukalski and Carroll, 2019).

8.3 Next steps

What is next? We are considering relaunching the survey in the fall of 2020, perhaps inviting a wider swath of participants from Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. Along with this, we may wish to add a simplified reading passage and a (short) wordlist that can be used for acoustic analysis, and which can be recorded on a phone. Eventually, we might identify key communities in the Pacific Northwest for a comprehensive survey to be done in conjunction with presentations on dialect and linguistic diversity to include audio and video samples. An ideal next step would be an app that provided some feedback and a systematic expansion of the survey to other Oregon, Washington, and Northern California universities. We also will want to promote the work and the connection to teaching, diversity, and local history in order to generate interest in the survey from potential participants and partners.

References

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Al-Hatlani, A. (2019) “Potato wedge? French fry? Not quite. How the jojo became a Pacific Northwest staple.” The Seattle Times, (Aug. 7, 2019).

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[last rev. 7/22/2020]

  1. The earliest versions of the survey had 46 questions, 35 of which had to do which language and 10 of which were demographic.
  2. The MLA Language Map Data Center provides information about over three hundred languages spoken in the United States, using data from the American Community Survey and the 2000 US Census. See https://apps.mla.org/map_data.
  3. Since the survey was available by link, some students invited roommates and others to participate and we know of at least one faculty member who took the survey along with a class.
  4. Additionally, we asked about parents’ hometown but the results were too unsystematic to be helpful other than anecdotally.
  5. See also Conn (2000), Esling and Warkentyle (1993), Foster and Hoffman (1966), Denham (2019), Becker (2019b), Wassink (2019), Fridland, et al. (2016, 2017), Kennedy and Grama, James. (2012) and Luthin (1987)..
  6. According to Ward, “both Canadian and California English share the low back vowel merger, a lowering of front lax vowels, a retraction of /æ/, a centralization of / ʌ/, and some degree of fronting in the tense back vowels /ow, uw/ and the back lax vowel /u/” (Ward, 42). The California Shift parallels the Canadian Shift, with the apparent distinction that the Californian /ɒ/ is more centralized and less rounded than Canadian /ɒ/. Those studying the Canadian shift are also still trying to resolve the details of the shift of the vowels in kid and dress, particularly focusing on regional variation within Canada, on whether the shifts are lowerings or retraction, and whether both the /i/ and /ɛ/ are involved. Boberg (2008) also notes that /æ/-raising before /g/ is a regional indicator for the Prairies. See also Becker (2019a).
  7. The exceptions are New England and parts of New York City and New Jersey. See the discussion on the Linguist List (https://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/message-details1.cfm?asklingid=200384213). There is considerable variation in the U.K. pronunciation of Aaron and Erin.
  8. See Bigham (2005), Koops, Gentry, and Pantos (2008), Thomas (1958), and Brown (1991) for more discussion.
  9. Palatalization before /u:/ tends to occur in some relatively well-defined phonetic situations, such as when the /u:/ occurs at the beginning of a work as in university or usual. Palatalization is especially robust after labial consonants in American English. These include the stops /m/, /p/, and /b/ (as in mute, amuse, pew, pure, puerile, repute, beauty, bureau, vocabulary, constabulary) and also the fricatives /f/ and /v/ (as in fuse, fuel, fuel, futile, view, revue, uvula). Palatalization is not automatic after these sounds, however, and spelling is often a clue: pew and pooh, beauty and booty, feud and food, mute and moot. Not long ago one of us heard someone pronounce the name [Stanley] Kubrick as CUE-brick and the name Pulitzer often has a glide (though Joseph Pulitzer insisted it did not). Aside from such pronunciation, it turns out that the palatalized versions of many common words are often the older forms, still used among many speakers of British and Canadian English: due, tune, dune, news, lewd, and so on. Twentieth-century American speech tended to drop these palatal glides.
    Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as:
    COOP-on CYEW-pon I pronounce it both ways Total
    How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 18 11 11 40
    Lower Middle Class/Working Class 174 76 65 315
    Middle Class 68 40 34 142
    Upper Middle Class/Affluent 233 79 64 376
    Total 493 206 174

  10. Some of the speakers who report pronouncing coupon both ways also report having different meanings for the pronunciations: physical ones that you would cut out would be CYEWpons but other kinds, such as internet coupons, are COOPons.
  11. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/help/faq-february-nuclear-pronounce. Merriam Webster adds that “We are definitely not advocating that anyone should use those pronunciations [ … ] or that they should abandon the others that are regarded as more acceptable.”
  12. Barrett notes that one poster to the Linguist List (Patricia Kuhlman) even recalled its being used in the 1950s in a rural area outside Chicago, Illinois. Barrett adds that the rise of on accident remains unclear and that analogy with on purpose is at best a partial account. Other suggestions include reanalysis of “an accident” as “on accident.”
  13. One speaker suggested that on accident is used when a person is involved and by accident is used when animacy is not involved, which is worth exploring.
  14. There’s also a later development in which dude means “a foolish or obnoxious fellow,” and the DARE gives a 1970 citation of “There were a lot of good kids in that school. Also, a lot of dudes, but a lot of good kids, too.” So perhaps dude expanded that pretentious newbie sense for some speakers.
  15. Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, in a 2010 post on their Grammarphobia blog, note that both legit and legitly are used as adverbs, but say, rather too prescriptively in our view, that “we find them clunky, and wouldn’t recommend either one.”
  16. See Thrasher, August 1986, p. 71, Asked if the drug scene scared him, Hetfield replied “Yeah, hella,” saying later that “If people are into it that’s cool, they wouldn’t mind about the subject we’re talking about. I was at that party and it freaked me out and I’m hella paranoid.”
  17. Bucholtz explains that the data were written by graduating seniors as part of paid personal messages to friends, family, and others printed at the back of the yearbook. See also Bucholtz, et al. (2009).
  18. On the plural second person forms, see Richardson (1984), Maynor. (1996) Spencer (1975), Ching (2001). For singular “y’all” can be singular, see Tillery and Bailey (1998) and Butters (2001).
  19. The Harvard dialect study was the basis for Joshua Katz’s Heat Maps which took population density into account for data visualization; see Katz (2013) and media coverage in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere. The New York Times dialect quiz (based on the Harvard Dialect study) was one of that newspaper’s most successful interactive links.
  20. We included the item often in the survey but not on tape as a further check of our online survey; here 30% responded with AWFEN and 70% with AWFTEN, close to our online results of 25%/75% AWFEN/AWFTEN.
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Susannah Perillat remembers Vaughn Davis Bornet

“I tried to do the best with what I had.” Favorite Words- Erudite. Anyway.

Dr. Vaughn Davis Bornet (VDB or Dr. B.) was born October 10th, 1917, and passed away peacefully, October 5th, 2020, five days before his 103rd birthday. This is a tribute to a man who gained creditability in his academic domain as a historian and a scholar. Bornet published many works in the field of presidents, social welfare and in health with the American Heart Association. Dr. Bornet continually pursued his passions outside academia, including music, photography, outdoor life, and volunteering, for the health of himself, his family, and his community large and small.

I was hired to assist him nearly five years ago, and the more I endeavor to share the bird’s-eye view I was privileged to have, the more a few highlights stand out. As we started working more closely together on his manuscripts, he would test me by asking me to argue my point. Gradually, I began to have more confidence. I started winning him over to my suggestions or objections, so much that he started saying, “You just go ahead and do it!”

He rarely complained about himself, he stuck to his rhythms, and he didn’t take himself too seriously, except when he did. I would often rub my arm against his and say, “Please rub off on me – just a little.” He harnessed a stick-to-it-iveness that was enviable. People were always asking him what the secret to his long life was.

Writing predominated his thoughts. Sometimes I’d arrive early in the morning, trying to get to editing work before he’d arise. I often told him one had to be an octopus to accomplish all that he had ready to work with at a moment’s notice. He had me constantly use his well-worn dictionary and make it a habit to look up information in his encyclopedias. Encyclopedia Britannica had hired him to write the section about American presidents. Dr. B., as he let me call him, immersed himself in his writing, research, reading new books on his subject and corresponding with those willing to accompany his present journey of writing.

He had grown up academically at Stanford University, working with think tanks and brilliant minds. He had a slew of professionals at his fingertips: secretaries, researchers—though he did most of his research himself—proof-readers, editors and very importantly—publishers. He found his stride teaching at Southern Oregon College, as it was called back in the sixties. Vacation time was a mix of play and work. Together with his wife, Beth, he would tool around the country in their RV, along the way writing, gathering information, and getting ever closer to their destinations, our presidential libraries. He had secured approval to study the contents for one of his books.

Being a child of the Great Depression, he welcomed an opportunity to save on finances and have a good time doing so. Vaughn would often reminisce how his wife provided one of the most important tools for his writing: reading those manuscripts out loud together. TV was non-existent those days in an RV. I would gladly step in to read for him and build upon a new tradition of editing and proof-reading. Still, nothing would interfere with his eight-decade long habit of listening to the opera on Saturday mornings. The outdoor life nourished his inner life and creativity. Along with listening to music, he also played the cornet since childhood and he could remember the words to almost any tune, especially spirituals. I used to call him a living juke box!

He spent hours writing every day. He didn’t put much thought into eating after Beth passed. Four eggs, half a grapefruit, which we ordered a box at a time online, and a cup of coffee with two packets of fake sugar for breakfast. He defended his no-sugar idea until the end, except for the dark chocolate Hersey bars we also ordered online. This morning routine would be followed by the exercise bike, which he insisted be placed on most difficult gauge and he wouldn’t stop until he completed one hundred and forty repetitions. He never smoked. He sang. A lot. And laughed.

Writing poetry was a lifelong passion and hobby; his reading preferences were non-fiction. He didn’t see the sense of fiction as life, for him, was so full of history and amazing stories filled with comedy and tragedy. He had his share of tragedy. He felt it kept him humble.

With that said, his favorite companions were dogs because of their unconditional love. He actually did write a children’s book loved by all who read it. It is about one of his favorite dogs, Blaze. Here, I learned how to diplomatically argue the edits and the rearrangements of the illustrations. I found out how helpful the folks at the copyright office were on the phone. He encouraged me to never hesitate to ask for help.

He had a bittersweet relationship with his computer and printer. You would become his hero if you could get him out of whatever his present jam might be: his computer glitches, his printer not working, or learning how to update his website, www.Clioistics.com. His website is a compilation of thousands of pages of his writings, mostly published. Another one of his legacies.

Dr. B. kept in touch with his peers until they died off, then he kept in communication with the younger generation, eighty years or younger, a new audience for his oratories. Within his writing, he would refer to his previous works and awards.

He regularly published at History News Network and sent material out to those who mattered to him for their points of view, corrections, and praise. Founder of History News Network (HNN), Rick Shenkman, wrote, Vaughn Davis Bornet, RIP at 102. During Mr. Shenkman’s thirteen years working with Dr. Bornet, he noted that VDB published over sixty articles on the HNN website. His first article in 2007 was written about race relations, a subject Vaughn often fought for by writing, thus exercising his civic duty. His last article, published in May 2020, was about the havoc being wreaked upon world affairs by the current president. He optimistically titled that article, “‘This Too, Shall Pass’. History and Life, Say So!” (Schenkman).

He would often call or email Elisabeth Zinser, past president of SOU (2001-6) and president at Ashland Rotary (2017-18), to talk about his works in progress, requesting her valued feedback. She appreciated that he always respected her edits. Elisabeth would visit from time to time and bring something for his sweet tooth and share a cherished glass of port. At his memorial, she also shared with us that His best speech was for his 100th birthday celebration while I was President at Rotary. He had us in stitches.” He always wrote and prepared for his innumerable speeches but delivered them off the cuff. She said Vaughn was a dear colleague, scholar, academic, and Rotarian: they became friends (Zinser). He portrayed the Rotary motto, Service Above Self. His writing was his civic duty. Volunteering was essential!

Perhaps most important to both he and his wife, Beth, was their sense of civic duty. He was constantly looking for ways to be of service. Ron Bolstad, a meaningful friend and colleague at SOU, Ashland Rotary, and a musician, says he never knew what Vaughn had up his sleeve when he would call. Once, from Vaughn’s hospital bed at Linda Vista, he saw a man in the rain at the bus stop and insisted that Ron get right on it and have a shelter constructed for that bus stop. After many months of effort, the lack of funds stopped his good idea (Bolstad).

Many times, when I would tell people who I was working with, they would exclaim, “Oh did you know his wife Beth?” Ellie Holty, another caretaker, and assistant, said in my recent interview with her that she loved his “enormous dedication to Beth and how it remained untouched by time.” He expressed that same dedication and love for his family.

He had had professionals to tend to his previous erudite work, including secretaries and university publishers like University of Kansas, who published his work on President Johnson. Thanks to them, he could pride himself in footnotes, indexes, table of contents, and perhaps even a glossary, but he was an incessant editor as well as endlessly working on probable titles. When he thought something was finished it had to be printed at least five times. Needless to say, he had a constant stream of ink supplied by Amazon and reams of paper and new printers. I took on the task of making sure all that paper got recycled. He earned his indulgences.

He stuck with two fonts, New Times Roman and Bookman Old Style—probably the latter because it filled pages faster—after the age of 100 insisted on size 14 font. His typewriter habits were hard to break. Back in the day italics didn’t exist. Rewriting his typewritten manuscripts onto Word, we had to replace all the underlines for the new and improved—italics. Yet whenever he would type on his computer he would continue to underline as well as constantly inserting his thoughts in parentheses. One could not, would not, and absolutely should not leave one word at the end of a paragraph, nor empty space at the end of a page, nor begin a sentence with a preposition—no arguing with him. In the dark of the night, he would fill up those empty spaces.

Ellie Holty worked for Dr. Bornet for four and a half years. She was more than happy to be interviewed for this paper about Vaughn Bornet on Sunday, 29 November 2020. I had prepared several questions and honed them down to one most pertinent to me as a human being. I chose the guiding question to be centered around how this “Cantankerous Centenarian” (from the title of a John Darling article in 2017 for Vaughn’s 100th birthday), influenced our lives today and earned the long-time admiration of those near and far, myself included. He could challenge her unconscious limitations or fears. He would encourage her to do better. Not only because he was used to high standards but because he believed in her and needed to get this book published. Today, she has co-authored the book Humane Leadership with a headstrong man and has found that she is able to stand up for herself thanks to the training and internship with Vaughn. Ellie learned an enormous amount about putting together complicated timelines and dealing with intimate letters, proof-reading, and editing, all the way through to working with the publisher. Today she knows she will stand up to the task at hand. (Holty).

Like Ellie, those of us at his memorial, and the many who shared a part of Dr. B., it takes a village of stories to feel the breadth of his long life and big personality. Personally, my time with Dr. B. is felt every day as I come across challenges, push myself to act even though I feel afraid, and continue learning and writing. I told him when it came time for me to graduate that I would dedicate it to him. What rubbed off on me was his spirit, something that can never be destroyed. When you have the spirit of doing your part yet staying connected to people, no matter what your profession or place in life, you have community. When you also create or participate with community, together you have love, that love is creative, and it inspires you how to improvise, adapt, and adjust to whatever circumstances present themselves. Dr. Vaughn Davis Bornet’s life embodies an ever-expanding community for myself and I dedicate this effort of tribute to him.

Works Cited

Bolstad, Ron. Vaughn Davis Bornet Memorial. Ashland: Ellen Gribbon Bornet, 10 October 2020. Zoom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqKmG-05DBw&feature=youtu.be.

Holty, Ellie. Small Business Owner Susannah Perillat. 5 November 2020. Phone interview.

Schenkman, Stone Age Brain aka Rick Schenkman. “History News Network.” 15 October 2020. History News Network (HNN). Ed. Rick Schenkman. Online blog. 5 December 2020. http://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154417.

Zinser, Elisabeth. “Former President at SOU and Ashland Rotary.” Memorial for Vaughn Davis Bornet. Ashland: Ellen Gribbon Bornet, 10 October 2020. Zoom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqKmG-05DBw&feature=youtu.be.

Susannah Perillat is a senior in the Creative Writing program at Southern Oregon University. She worked with Dr. Vaughn Davis Bornet for four and a half years. He was one of her biggest cheerleaders to keep up the good work.

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Daniel Alrick remembers Stephen Weiner

Daniel Alrick is a graduate of the Professional Writing English program at Southern Oregon University and Chair of the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities.

EB: Tell our readers a little bit about Stephen Weiner and his work.

         Stephen Weiner

DA: Stephen Weiner was the publisher of the local newsletter The Suspicious Humanist, a newsletter of literature and political writing. He was a Stanford graduate and journalist who wrote extensively on mental health in personal essays that were published in Classics of Community Psychiatry and The Oxford Handbook of Psychiatric Ethics. Throughout his life, Steve was active in left-wing politics , counterculture, and Jewish identity. He also wrote about the experience of living with schizophrenia and being an “adult in need of the welfare state” to quote one of his articles, and social programs for the disabled.

And Steve was a community librarian, who kept a library of hundreds of books in his small apartment, often keeping multiple copies that he would loan out to others.

EB: What was The Suspicious Humanist and how did it come about?

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        Milton Weiner

DA: The “suspicious humanist” was his father, Milton Weiner, who was the original publisher, editor, and author of the newsletter in 1970 out of San Francisco and Sausalito, California. Steve inherited the newsletter and title from him.

Milton was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, which he had fought in as an American volunteer on the Republican side.  He believed in fighting fascism in Spain because he had experienced anti-Semitism from the Ku Klux Klan while growing up in New Jersey during the 1920s. But while in Spain he discovered the war against Franco nationalism was sidetracked by the warring factions of the Communist party. When he returned to America, he enlisted in the Army and fought in WW II as a soldier in the Dixie Division.

Milt was wounded in both wars and was later an advocate for disabled veterans. After Milt’s service in WW II he was a soil scientist before he was blacklist and labeled a “premature anti-fascist” for his time in Spain and his membership in the communist party.

All these political disillusionments and betrayals led him to conceptualize the notion of being a “suspicious humanist,” a sort of ancient mariner of the old left who was skeptical of the new radicalism emerging from California in the 1960s–a political movement his son Steve would become a part of in his youth. In Milt’s view, he had fought in the battle of peace and fascism for real, while the New Left was just talking about revolution in a pretentious way. He believed that he had dealt with matters of existential importance and survival, so his children did not have to. Milt’s world-weary philosophy of humanism summed up was “Just like you, I was born without pockets and a fair share of my urge to help my fellow man.”

Steve embraced those values, but he was torn as a child of the sixties between his idealism toward leftist politics and his own challenge with understanding mental illness. Steve also experienced his own personal sense of betrayals in radical politics. On top of that how does he measure up to the looming presence of his massive father figure in Milt, a bona fide war hero. Being a suspicious humanist, as both father and son would come to believe, is marching to your own drum in politics and humor, a sort of ronin for having both survived and fought in the arena of life.

EB: How did you get involved in the publication of Stephen Weiner’s book When Nothing is Real: Notes of a Humanist?

DA: Steve had worked on his memoir for many years as a handwritten manuscript on notebook paper, which was then edited by local author Richard Seidman. I got involved with Steve primarily from our friendship and interest in politics and books. Through our conversations I gradually became interested in the story of his father, Milt. And through compiling research into Milt’s biography I became more involved in the stewardship of Steve’s papers from The Suspicious Humanist. As Steve became ill with stage four kidney cancer it became a race against time to complete his own memoir and secure the surviving records of Milt. What became apparent to me was that Steve was living out a lot of his own life in the shadow of Milt, whether or not his father loved him, and how he had measured up to the old man in terms of his political journey. It was in a way a release of two ghosts upon the end of that life cycle.

EB: How would you characterize his work: political theory, psychology, philosophy, advocacy, memoir?

DA: The book contains all of those elements. But it is primarily a philosophical memoir. What Steve undertook was a life of letters, reading and writing, to understand both his personal, mental condition and his times as a Baby Boomer and Jewish man in left-wing politics. Readers will find much to relate to in terms of Steve’s chronicle of the political upheaval in California of the 1960s, but also frank admission of loneliness and weariness at the hand he had been dealt. In comparing the lives of Milt and Steve, I was struck by how much more existential Milt is about matters of his security and survival, while Steve is drawn much more intimately into the anguish of family trauma, his parents’ divorce, the death of his sister, spiritual fulfillment, and his thoughts on sexuality, health, and mortality. Milt had a less enlightened view on mental and emotional illness. Steve was more the humanist, while Milt was the suspicious ronin.

EB: What’s the significance of the book’s title?

DA: We talked about the title in the days leading up to his death. “Nothing is Real” referring primarily to Steve’s struggles with paranoid schizophrenia, in reference to the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Which goes to show how Steve was very much a product of the 1960s. Steve believed in enlightenment values and secular humanism but rejected postmodern ideas.”. He resisted and resented the notion that life was an illusion or that objective reality was an ephemeral space, but he also wanted peace of mind in the basic common decency of kindness and thoughtfulness. He had joked to me that he wanted the quote “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different” to be his epitaph, but decided on a quote from Henry Miller instead.

EB: What was the process of putting the book together like?

DA: It was a struggle of the sundown in Steve’s life. He was very ill with diabetes and COPD and then was dying quickly of stage 4 cancer. His memory remained sharp, even in his weariest moments, up until the final weeks in which those synapses started to fail. Richard Seidman did the work with Steve editing the manuscript and designing it for final publication in approximately the last two months of Steve’s life, while I was doing much of the final interviews with Steve and trying to trigger any bits of useful info. I was also collating all of Steve’s surviving papers, along with old records from Milt he had forgotten about. I wrote a draft of the afterword for the book while visiting Steve in the hospital and was watching a video tape of Milt when I received a phone call that Steve had died later that day.

EB: What’s been the reaction so far?

DA: Steve’s friends and family were very supportive, and the people who knew him in Ashland fondly remember his political advocacy and involvement in the Jewish community. Like Milt, Steve was strongly opposed to what he felt was anti-Semitic language on the political left. And what has become clear is how much resonance there was among people who knew Steve from his diligence to remain active and generous with his community in his knowledge and insights. Everyone who knew Steve remembered him as one of the brightest individuals they knew, as well as one of the most honest.

EB: Any plans for further publications?

DA: I have worked on and hope to finally publish a comprehensive biography of Milt. In recent years, concepts like “antifa” and the use of WW II metaphors to describe our political moment have reminded me of Steve and Milt’s struggle with political conflict both in their personal fight, while also a struggle to rise above ideology. Steve and I began our discussions about Milt during Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination during the 2016 Presidential election. What Steve heard in Sanders was both a callback to the kind of Old Left rhetoric that Milt intoned, while identifying Sanders as exactly the kind of guy Milt was frequently skeptical of in the 1960s. The constant war between ideas and the yearning to carve out one’s place in the pantheon of “the good fight” remains a potent issue.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

DA: Thank you.

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An Interview with Cara Black, author of Three Hours in Paris.

Cara BlackCara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 19 books in the Aimée Leduc series, which is set in Paris.

From the California’s Bay Area, she travelled widely in Europe and Asia, studying Buddhism in Dharamsala in Northern India and studying Chinese history at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Her love of all things French was kindled by the French-speaking nuns at her Catholic high school, where Cara first encountered French literature She has been to Paris many, many times entrenching herself in it secret history.

Her 20th book is the standalone thriller Three Hours in Paris, published in April 2020 by Soho Press, which the Washington Post put on its Best Thrillers and Mystery Books of 2020 list.

You can visit Cara Black’s website here:

Ed Battistella: This is your first standalone novel. How did it feel to venture away from your Aimée Leduc Investigation series?

Cara Black: Quite scary at first. I’ve written Aimée Leduc for a long time and at first felt I was being ‘unfaithful’ but once I got writing it was a wonderful challenge. A great chance to write something new about a story that I became passionate about.

Three Hours in ParisEB: Where did the idea for the novel come from? What are the three hours in the title?

CB: The idea came from a historical footnote. Doing research I came across a footnote that detailed Hitler’s brief, one and only visit to Paris. It struck me as strange that he never returned or had a big victory parade on the Champs Elysées. It was only for three hours. Hence the title

EB: Were there really female snipers in World War II?

CB: Yes, the Russians had a whole unit of female snipers. The story of Ludmilla, who got 309 kills, inspired my idea for an American, like Kate, to also be a sniper.

EB: I enjoyed the way that the two main characters, the assassin Kate Rees and the policeman Gunter were both doing their part, as they saw, it and staying true to themselves. What’s the larger message?

CB: War is complex and so is the truth. I wanted to show a German man, a family man who is good at his job like Kate who is good at hers, doing his best. Gunter didn’t like his boss, the Fuhrer, and it was important he not be a cliché Nazi.

EB: What was the research like for this novel? There was a lot of spycraft, firearms, and military history.

CB: Research is the best part of writing. I started with the idea for this book about ten years ago, so research along the way was in fits and starts. Four years ago when I got the contract then I concentrated of going through 20 years of notes I took in Paris to do with the war, began purposefully visiting french Archives and war collections. I interviewed several female Résistants, now sadly who’ve gone, but felt very lucky to have spoken with them. Also in London, I went to the Churchill war rooms underground and the Imperial war museum. Stanford University has the Hoover Institute where I found WW2 spycraft gadgets – treasure trove.

EB: Can we expect more stories about Kate Rees in the future? The ending is open?

CB: I’m certainly thinking there’s a whole rest of the war for her to possibly work in.

EB: Perhaps an older Kate Rees might someday be a client of Aimée Leduc?

CB: Who knows?

EB: It was nice to see a protagonist who was a cowgirl from Oregon. Is ranching good training for being a spy?

CB: Definitely. Ranching fosters resilience, self-reliance and thinking on your feet. Three qualities a good spy needs.

EB: This is your 20th book. What’s next?

CB: I’m just working on the edits for the next Aimée Leduc novel – title TBA – set after 9/11 in Paris. This will come out in November 2021.

EB: Thanks for taking with us.

CB: Thank you.

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Grad School: An Interview with Dante Fumagalli

Dante Fumagalli is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Southern Oregon University, with a double major in English and Art History. A member of the founding class of SOU’s Honors College, he was the 2017 student commencement speaker. 

Ed Battistella: What is your graduate school experience like so far, both in New York and now in Eugene?

Dante Fumagalli: I’ve had very different experiences in New York and in Eugene! I only made it through one semester in New York attending the Art History master’s program at Hunter College. It was a very academic program and I enjoyed all of my classes a lot, but I came to the realization that I rushed into graduate school without giving more thought to my long-term goals. I wasn’t sure what I planned to do with my Master’s so I came to the difficult decision to put off graduate school after that first semester.

Ultimately, I’m very glad I did that! I spent the next two years living and working in New York and realized that what I appreciated most about my work in museum education was the connections I would make with students with disabilities. This prompted me to check out the Master’s program in Special Education at the University of Oregon, where I’m now in my second year. I love the mixture of application and theory that a program like this provides – it’s really fulfilling to be able to use concepts we discuss in my graduate courses practically in my practicum site!

EB: What’s are your long-term plans?

DF: I went into this program with the idea that I would work specifically on reading interventions with students with reading disabilities. I think that this would be a great way to combine the skills I acquired during undergrad studying English with my current studies in special education. However, this term my practicum site is with a functional skills classroom at a local high school and I’ve been really loving it. I’m teaching a unit on functional reading skills which has me considering whether a life skills or functional skills setting might be a better fit for me. I want to make sure I keep my options open because I know that I will be graduating with this degree and entering into a field with great need so there is room for flexibility in where I go from here.

EB: What has been the most interesting part of your studies so far?

DF: My favorite thing about my program has been applying course content into my practice with my students. I’m currently taking a course called Design of Instruction and I feel like each week I’ve learned about a new principle of design that I can use to improve the instruction I am providing my students. It feels really gratifying to be able to apply the things I’m learning and see results with my students.

EB: What courses have you taking?

DF: During my first year, I took: Foundations of Disabilities, Behavior Management, Assessment in SPED, SPED Law, Diversity in SPED, Supporting Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities, SPED Math and a year long sequence on literacy. This year, I have taken Advanced Behavior Management, Design of Instruction, Practicum, and Professional Practices. Over the next two terms I will be taking a two-course sequence on transition programming which I’m very excited for!

EB: What’s been the best thing you’ve read as a grad student?

DF: We recently read some very interesting articles by Lisa Delpit regarding intersections between equity, access, and inclusion with traditional skill-based teaching methods and the liberal ethos of fluency-based instruction. She argues that many students of color already exhibit fluency but within different dialectical contexts than their white peers and that this liberal mindset does not address the skill gaps between these students properly, leaving students of color at a deficit. I would highly recommend that educators read Delpit’s writing!

EB: What has been the hardest part of grad school?

DF: The hardest part has definitely been time management and finding time for self-care. Especially now that school is all done remotely, I find myself sitting at my desk for hours upon hours each day and have a hard time pulling myself away to take mental health breaks.

EB: What’s next for you?

DF: I would love to find a job within the 4J school district here in Eugene at the end of this year when I graduate. I’ve grown to really like this city and I would like to continue to foster the community relations that I’ve been able to establish through my practicum here so far.

EB: What do you know now that you wished you knew earlier?

DF: You don’t need to rush into graduate school! It’s okay to take the time to figure out exactly what you want before applying.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

DF: Thank you!

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Grad School: An Interview with Kendall Meador

Born in Lewiston, Idaho, Kendall Meador moved up and down the west coast before completing her BA in English at Southern Oregon University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in American literature at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and cooking.

Ed Battistella: What is your graduate experience like so far?

Kendall Meador: It’s difficult to describe very succinctly, but I’ll try. It’s been at once thrilling, disheartening, emboldening, devastating, inspiring, and excruciating.

EB: What’s been your intellectual focus and how has grad school changed that?

KM: I initially went in wanting to do Chicanx lit, especially focusing on what I think of as “messy” bodies — feminine bodies, wounded or disabled ones, queer ones, fat ones, etc. I am still very interested in working with representations of those bodies, but not specifically in Chicanx lit. The questions that drive my interests have shifted and are now really questions of citizenship. That is, whose body do we think of when we think of a citizen? And I’m interested in how our conceptions of citizenship impact reproductive rights and choices about sex and sexuality.

EB: What courses are you taking and what sorts of things were you reading?

KM: This term I am taking an archival research course and a Chicanx literature course. For the former, we’ve read a lot of interesting texts like Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages (much better than her recent op-ed), and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale. I enjoy reading the fruits of these long research projects that reconstruct the lives of historical women. In the latter class we are reading texts from Caballero by Jovita González and Eve Raleigh, to Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera, to Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper. We’re really tracking the development of Chicanx identity and culture over the term, and it has been a lot of fun.

EB: What has been the most fun so far?

KM: I just love talking about books in seminars. I love it when something a colleague says transforms my understanding of a passage, or when I have a moment of realization in class and get to share this thing that I’ve just seen that’s really exciting to me.

EB: What has been the weirdest?

KM: This year, it’s been working remotely. When I do go to campus occasionally it’s practically deserted, and that feels very peculiar and a little eerie.

EB: What’s next for you?

KM: Wrapping up my first term as an instructor, writing a couple of long papers, and celebrating a year with my partner, who is also in my program.

EB: Any advice for students considering going on for more school?

KM: First off, apply for a GRE waiver! That waiver will qualify you for graduate program application fee waivers and those bad boys add up. A less cheery piece of advice is that if you’re interested in going to grad school because you want to work in academia, you need to recognize early on that the job market is dismal. COVID may make it much worse for the foreseeable future. So, if you do go to graduate school, go to a program that will not require you to take on any additional debt, and do it to enjoy every available opportunity to develop and indulge your interests. Make the program a worthy end in and of itself, because that’s what you can control. Last, I would also advise new grad students to make friendships with their cohort mates and other peers as soon as possible. You have no idea how crucial those relationships can be, especially when imposter syndrome and multiple deadlines conspire to crush you. Just knowing other people are feeling or have felt as you do can make all the difference. Good luck!

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

KM: Thanks for the opportunity.

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Grad School: An Interview with Alexis Noel Brooks

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Alexis Noel Brooks is a fiercely feminist learner, dog mom, graduate student, coffee addict, “novel in progress”ian, wannabe chef, t-crosser, i-dotter, and lover of all things writerly. After graduating from Southern Oregon University in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Alexis went on to pursue a Master of Arts in English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Ed Battistella: What has your graduate school experience been like so far?

Alexis Noel Brooks: Grad school has been exhilarating, stressful, exhausting, challenging (in the best possible sense of the word), and deeply rewarding. Honestly, I am just trying to soak it all up, to learn everything I possibly can from anyone who is kind enough to teach me. I feel really lucky to have ended up at UNLV. When I left SOU, I was terrified that I’d show up to grad school only to discover I had inadvertently chosen a program where my professors and colleagues didn’t really care like the people I studied with through undergrad. What I found instead, though, was a community of scholars who are excited about what they do and excited to learn along with me. Grad school is endless labor, but a welcoming, warm environment makes it exponentially more pleasant to do good work and be human in.

EB: What is your focus as a scholar?

AB: Maybe I am reading into this question too much, but my scholarly focus and my focus as a scholar are actually two different things to me. That said, they definitely inform one another. Let me explain. My scholarly focus—as in, my research area—is in Black women’s literature and Black feminist theory. My research has been centered around the ways that Black women writers negotiate and reimagine spaces of literary fictionality. My focus as a scholar, on the other hand, is this: how can I amplify the perspectives, voices, and feelings of Black women as they continue to work toward equality in a culture that actively works against their freedom, joy, and very existence? The difference between these two definitions, to me, is that the first is the product of my research and the second is the undercurrent, the driving force, behind my research.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and writing?

AB: I am currently reading so much amazing stuff, and a lot of it all at once (because that is grad school for you). I am almost done reading Morgan Jerkins’ beautiful new release, Wandering in Strange Lands. It is fantastic. Most of my reading is thesis research these days. I love it. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have the flexibility to choose what I read. In academia, reading loses some of its magic. When your reading choices are dictated by packed syllabi––even if they’re packed with great material––it simply does not leave much room for literary exploration. Now, I can read that random monograph or sci-fi novel I’ve been dying to read, all in the name of possibly using it in my thesis. As for my writing, most of it is academic writing right now. I spend most of my time working on my master’s thesis, which explores how Hannah Crafts reimagines fictionality in The Bondwoman’s Narrative and situates Crafts within a long tradition of Black women writers who use creativity as a tool for subverting the master narrative. I do set aside small batches of time for creative writing, which is one way I practice self-care.

EB: What has been the most interesting of graduate work so far?

AB: I work for the UNLV Honors College as a writing consultant, which essentially means I tutor students one-on-one, teach writing workshops, and guest lecture in Honors classes. One of the most interesting things about my job is the variety of students I get to work with. In a given day, I read first-year students’ papers on anything from mythical cosmogonies, to exposés on “home,” to education reform. I love getting to read and discuss their personal takes on life. They have so many interesting things to say and ways of expressing their unique styles.

EB: How has your graduate study experience changed you?

AB: I am a first-generation college student, which I think is part of why I felt relatively lost and self-doubting entering into graduate school. In my head, it was the most formidable of intellectual spheres. I didn’t know what to expect or whether my ideas would “measure up.” My graduate study experience has made me a far more confident person, not because I haven’t made mistakes but because I’ve been supported along the way. I think it was my first semester, when I sat silently afraid that I’d be asked to read “Goethe” out loud and a fellow student admitted to not knowing the pronunciation either, that I realized we are all in this learning journey together. “Imposter syndrome is real” is something I’ve heard regularly from grad students and professors alike. We all live it. I’ve learned to be okay with this and to put myself out there anyways.

EB: Is there anything you know now that you wished you knew earlier?

AB: That it is okay to not know and to admit to not knowing. I re-learn this constantly.

EB: Can you share any long-range plans?

AB: What are “plans” even, in the middle of a pandemic. It is so hard to know. What I know for sure: I will graduate with my MA in English in May 2021. What I hope for: a career that allows me to put my unique skillset and interests to positive use, and eventual international travel again.

EB: Do you have any advice for undergraduate students considering going on for more school?

AB: Do what makes you happy. This cannot be said enough. Practical tips: If you don’t get accepted into any grad schools the first time around (which I didn’t), try again (which I did, successfully). By the way, if you still want to go to grad school after this, that’s a pretty clear indicator that it is where you need to be. Don’t just research schools’ and professors’ credentials; it is equally important to research the environment. Talk to professors you think you might want to work with and to current graduate students. Ask what they think of their department. Ask whether they feel supported. Ask whether they feel they’re given the tools to thrive. Trust me, it makes all the difference.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

AB: Absolutely! Thank you!

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Grad School: An Interview with Sabrina Sherman

Sabrina Sherman is a 2016 cum laude graduate of Southern Oregon University with a BA in English. A native of Grants Pass, she is completing a PhD in English at the University of Oregon, where she teaches college composition.

Ed Battistella: What has your graduate school experience been like so far?

Sabrina Sherman: It has been challenging, but most of my challenges are outside of coursework and academics. It’s important to recognize the toll it takes on a person’s finances to be in school for so long; alongside the financial sacrifice is the sheer amount of time spent enduring academic gatekeeping. On that note, I should point out that most of my graduate school experience has consisted of heaps of imposter syndrome in which I constantly question if I deserve to be in a program that has awarded me a six year tuition waver, a stable income, and many other career opportunities. So, obviously, someone thinks I deserve to be here.

EB: What’s been your focus as a scholar?

SS: I am an African Americanist with a focus in theories of passing, mixed race identities, and black feminisms. I am particularly interested in early 20th century US ideas about colorism and its role in mixed race or white passing women. The texts I look at mostly deal with black women who pass for white or are mixed race. The time period I focus on is 20th century, mostly, or the Harlem Renaissance to present. So, I am looking at the narrative echoes of Nella Larsen’s novella Passing.

EB: What sorts of things are you reading and writing about?

SS: Well, I started my grad school career reading lots of post-structuralist theory such as Foucault and Derrida. Now that I’m getting more specialized, I’ve moved into reading Black Feminist theorists and writers such as Morrison, Walker, Spillers, Davis, and Christian, to name a few. I’m in my final year of coursework and my third year of a six-year PhD program. I am currently (in fall 2020) taking a class/seminar on nonfiction comics (which is totally out of my wheelhouse) and I am working on revising a term paper into an article for a publication course. I am also teaching a first-year writing composition course, and I do the readings I assign for my students. I write stuff for my classes, both as a student and instructor. So, lots of writing, always!

EB: What has been the most interesting aspect so far?

SS: Interesting for me is such a loaded term, but then again I learned to question the word “interesting” in a seminar. Go figure. So, I find it interesting (and frustrating) how what I consume on a cultural level—so, Netflix shows, memes, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, etc.—gets circulated into my academic life as relevant material. Everything you do seems to matter, but that also means that it can be hard to compartmentalize personal and academic/work lives. I tend to establish boundaries in good faith and spend a good amount of time trying to enforce “fun” time that is purely inconsequential to my graduate work.

EB: Has graduate school changed you?

SS: Yes, beyond what I can see or notice right now. It has changed everything for me. I can’t emphasize enough how much “grad school” sort of attempts to consume your entire identity such that you often refer to yourself as “just a grad student.” But, actually, grad school just emphasizes the ways in which you can ask better, more specific, and consequential questions. Maybe I’m oversimplifying that idea, but I’m sticking with it. Also, I’m convinced that grad school makes you second guess everything.

EB: Not to be nosy, but what’s are your long-range plans?

SS: I’m assuming you’re referring to my career goals. If so, to answer your question, I will attempt to apply for and attain a tenure track position somewhere. I plan to finish my PhD in the allotted time of six years from entering my program at UO. So, hopefully, by 2023, I’ll be able to call myself a PhD holder. At that point, I will try to get a job to whatever extent that is possible in whatever way that is the most mentally and financially viable. In other words, I don’t want to take a job (mostly, I’m thinking adjunct professorships) that requires me to teach 5-6 sections of 30 students per section and in which I am barely scraping by. Being a professor isn’t that important to me; however, mental, physical, emotional, and financial stability, are.

EB: Do you have any advice for undergraduate students considering going on for more schooling?

SS: My biggest piece of advice is to take a gap year between undergrad and grad school. Especially if you’re considering applying for a PhD program like I did, take a long, hard look at why you want to go to grad school and what you think it’ll offer you. I have never regretted my decision to wait to apply to graduate schools after a gap year. Especially if you’re a Writing or English major, it might be intimidating to take a break from writing, and you might worry that you’ll lose those skills. I’m convinced that life experience guides a more focused statement of purpose and that is precisely what application committees love to see. They want to know why you want to be in their graduate program, which for me took a year or so to figure out.

EB: Thanks for talking with us!

SS: No problem. I am proud to represent Southern Oregon University, and I am grateful for my experiences there. Seriously. I don’t know how I could’ve done grad school well without SOU English instructors’ teaching me the foundational strategies that I still use today! So thank YOU!

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