You are on page 1of 8

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

What Counts as English? I have been asked on several occasions, why would you study English? Other times I have been asked why I would pursue formal education in what is believed to be a useless degree when I could have used my time to study business or something more useful. I decided to study English primarily because of my general interest, appreciation, and love of literature. But as I take steps closer into the direction of actually teaching English as part of a standard school curriculum, the question of why studying English remains, but now the question of what constitutes English has been raised. Is English simply a matter of reading a text and answering questions? Have the dynamics of English changed? I would argue that essentially everything counts as English, since all forms of texts that fall under the umbrella of English education require to some degree or the other a form of critical analysis. As a result, the dynamics of English are constantly changing because the study of English coincides with our world and if our world is ever changing, so too are the dynamics of English. To understand what counts as English however, one must understand what skills are crucial to the study of English and how they apply to life outside of the classroom. I have previously mentioned that all mediums of texts require some degree of critical analysis, but the question is what is critical analysis? Critical analysis to me means viewing texts in multiple ways in order to derive deeper meaning and understanding; it means to take what is presented to you and ask questions to fully make sense, or at least make some sense of what is in front of you. As Sarah Golsby-Smith states, the subject of English falls into a world where we decide and are yet to decide, where human fashioning and human postulations are what govern and shape reality (2011, 312). If this is the world in which English falls into, then through critical analysis, we decide and shape reality to our understandings. Through critical analysis, we

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

derive meaning, allowing consumers of text to attempt to read and understand a text. From there, make meaning follows (Golsby-Smith, 2011, 313). Critical analysis in search for deeper meaning allows for more in-depth learning and understanding of different perspectives, which is an important skill to apply outside of the classroom. Such a skill can be applied while watching the news or listening to a debate, or even as Golsby-Smith states, the implicit invitation that subject English makes: Make your case (2011, 317). In order to present your views and understandings on a subject, you must be able to present it in a logical and critical way not only for the benefit of others so they understand your perspective, but also so you can understand it yourself. It is important for all consumers of text, and in our interests especially, students and teachers to understand the importance of deriving meaning from text in order to understand what is being represented or stated. For an author to create something in written form, visual representation, lyrical form, etc, there must have been something worth putting down on paper or screen or any medium. But even if there was no deeper meaning to why something was documented other than pure enjoyment for self and perhaps for others, the simple enjoyment of consuming a text for pleasure is important enough. Jeff Park states that Most contemporary English language arts curriculum guides acknowledge six strands of language use that are important in todays world: reading, writing, speaking, listening, representing, and viewing (2010, 173). As a result, consuming a text is not limited to simple written word on a page, at least not in this advanced, technological, and everchanging age we live in where multiliteracies and multimodal representations exist. The existence and use of multiliteracies and multimodal representations demonstrates these six strands of language usage in various forms. Multiliteracies shape the dynamics of what constitutes as English to meet the ever changing dynamics of the world we live in. English

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

constitutes and is constituted by shifts in culture and community, flows of capital and discourse, emergent technologies and communications media, as much as it might entail language or literature per se (Luke, 2004, 86). As a result of these shifts in our world, Luke discusses different methods in which text is now consumed, but also how what constitutes a text is changing. We have learned to consume text through different mediums, via the standard written word, screens (including movie, telephone, and computer screens), visual representations such as pictures and video, performances, music, and the list goes on. Reading and writing occur in multiple forms of discourse. With technology come many other discourses and media that either substitute for written text or are amalgams of graphics and text (Courtland & Gambell, 2010, 25). But do all these different representations of text constitute as English? I would argue that they do, and this is relevant to us as future teachers. Todays students are fluent in many new literacies, and we as teachers need to recognize these multiliteracies and understand how they work to shape students understanding and use of language (Courtland & Gambell, 2010, 25). I believe that all forms of multilieracies in their multimodal mediums constitute as English because regardless of the format in which a text is presented, one as a consumer still criticizes, questions, forms deductions and conclusions, finds deeper meaning and understanding, and also enjoys the presented text. As argued earlier, this search for meaning and enjoyment of text is a component of why we study English and therefore, such representations must constitute as English whether in written form or any other medium. As an example, I will briefly explore three different mediums in which text is represented and consumed. The first is William Shakespeares Sonnet XVIII (Figure 1), the second is a study on why Eminem is considered by some a great lyricist, and finally an excerpt from Jeff Smiths Bone (Figure 2).

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

In written form, text is able to put emotions and visuals into words that allow for a rich picture to be built in our minds, but also is able to describe something like the sun as a personified eye of heaven which is the case in Shakespeares sonnet. In this particular sonnet, the written word allows for a beautiful mental image to be painted, comparing the beauty of a loved one to a summers day, using the elements of summer to describe beauty. The ending couplet of the sonnet reflects that so long as humanity is alive and able to read, the eternal beauty of the loved one will be eternal. From this written example of poetry, one is able to gain understanding and meaning by analyzing what the written word is saying. But this is also true of song lyrics, for lyrics after all are a form of poetry. NiewulisEminem (2013) from YouTube posted a video demonstrating the poetic and rhyming ingenuity of Eminems rapping. From this video, it is evident that something such as rapping can be an ingenious piece of literature, but the video itself also presents a multimodal representation of sharing information. For the author could have simply written an article to make the same statements, but the video has a speaker and a visual demonstration of how the lyrics rhyme, effectively making the authors statements clear. The song itself uses music and tone to emphasis words and emotions, and allows for consumers to analyze, understand, and in some cases connect with the lyrics as is the case for most songs. Finally, a combination of written words and visual representations can be best demonstrated through the use of graphic novels or comic books. As demonstrated in Figure 2, the use of written word is still utilized. However, the written word is manipulated to match body language, emotions, and tone. This is accomplished through the use of jagged lines, capitalization, and font, mirroring the use of language that some people use in conveying emotions through text messages. Simply through these three brief examples then, it is evident that consumers of text are bombarded with information coming from different mediums, surpassing the standard written

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

word as the only form of English studies and matching Parks earlier statement about the strands of language use. Although written text still exists, this day and age provides text in different mediums to share information and still allows for critical analysis and enjoyment. English studies are an ever-expanding, ever-changing phenomenon that matches the dynamic changes of the world we live in. Studying English allows for consumers of text to become critical analysts, but also helps to develop important language skills that are useful and applicable outside of the classroom. If this is what makes studying English important, it is crucial then to understand what constitutes as English. I argue that essentially everything constitutes as English since text is no longer simply represented in written form, but in this changing world we live in, text can be represented in various mediums. As consumers of text, we are exposed to various mediums such as movies, advertisements, songs, videos, comic strips, graphic novels, pictures, etc that all require to some degree critical analysis in order to gain understanding and meaning. The three examples I briefly discussed are not representative of the expansive variety of texts that our students and ourselves consume, but it demonstrates that as teachers we are to understand that students will come into our classroom with expansive funds of knowledge in regards to consuming text, and we are to embrace and learn from students as much as they learn from us.

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

Appendix Figure 1. Sonnet XVIII Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer's lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade Nor lose possession of that fair thou owst; Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou growst: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

Figure 2. Bone by Jeff Smith.

RUNNING HEAD: WHAT COUNTS AS ENGLISH?

References Courtland, M.J. & Gambell, T. (2010). Socio-cultural constructivist pedagogy for literacy teaching and learning. Adolescent Language Arts. Golsby-Smith, S. (2011). From the boundaries: Rhetoric and knowledge in secondary English classrooms. Changing English, 18(3). Luke, A. (2004). The trouble with English. Research in the teaching of English, 39(1). NiewulisEminem. (2013, February 6). Why Eminem is considered the best lyricist [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pENAIV6kPfk. Park, J. (2010). Graphic novels in the modern English Language Arts classroom: Acknowledging the complexity of literacy. Adolescent Language Arts. Shakespeare, W. (2009). Sonnet 18. In Greenblatt, S., Cohen, W., Howard, J.E., & Maus, K.E. (Eds.), The Norton Shakespeare (2nd ed.) (1674). New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Smith, J. (2005). Bone: Out from Boneville. New York: Scholastic.