Sometimes, I find my way back

5 03 2008

I had a meeting today with my phonology professor/academic advisor. It went so well, I was stunned.

First off, I walked in there with a plan to denounce any skill it seems I might have with optimality theory and tableaus. I had been waiting to receive an assignment back from 2 weeks ago and we had a test last week. I didn’t feel good about either of them. So I walk in and say “Look. I think I’m doing all of this backwards and illogically and I don’t think I know what I’m doing AT ALL, EVER and it’s stressing me out. I would also like to point out that I know that approximants are not a natural class and I don’t know why I put that in my last assignment.”

My professor calmed me down, gave me my assignment back (I got an A-, yay!) and told me that I’m not stupid. Which always makes me feel good. She explained a few things, showed me what I did wrong, and made me feel better in general. She also offered to be my first reader on my thesis whenever I’m ready to start working on that and listened to my multitude of ideas for a thesis. I told her about a short paper I had recently written for sociolinguistics, about the clashing of speech communities post-Katrina and she was fascinated.

This is the thing about doing Katrina research. I feel a little labeled already as the “Katrina student.” People know that I moved to Austin from the New Orleans area and, even though I don’t discuss it much, they can do the math and figure out that I was there for Katrina. I felt a little worried about doing research in that arena. But it’s a rich resource that is going ignored. From an academic standpoint, it’s pretty much untapped. From a social standpoint, there are a lot of problems there surrounding language that need to be addressed. And, as Anna points out, if I don’t do it someone else will. Someone who isn’t from there and might miss some important nuances. It’s kind of like the Spike Lee documentary. Someone needed to do it, but he got parts of it wrong because he just couldn’t know. So I might as well do it. If I can combine phonology with socio, maybe examine salient phonological features of a dialect and examine how they’re used to identify speakers, maybe that will give me a good angle.

My professor also loaned me a couple of books to look at over Spring Break next week, Queerly Phrased, a look at gay and lesbian speech and slang, and a book on gender and language. The articles look wonderful, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

All in all, a great meeting. I always feel much better after meeting with her. I usually feel out of place in my department, as if I’m just not understanding everything or I’m looking at everything in a slightly different way. But I’m getting excited about school again, which is nice.

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