Interrogating Language Syllabus Instructor: Brandice P. Walker
Shaped by our mother tongues, our cultures, our upbringings, and how we view language(s) in relation to others and other languages, we all foster different relationships with and to language(s).This course is designed to challenge specific problems pertaining to different aspects of language during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, focusing on the 18th century. This language course, divided into three modules, will look at three distinct issues as it pertains to language and the effects on those historically excluded from literacy. Students will devise and engage in activities that will help to solve some of the problems presented in the modules.
Students are expected to have intermediate to advanced competency in at least one language other than English. This course will heavily use French as the second language. While all the modules are not purely translation-based, students will be expected to be able to adequately compare texts in two different languages.
- Explore the challenges that arise in performing a deep analysis of language.
- Develop ways in which to treat problematic language.
- Collaborate to collectively to determine “what to do” with language that has historically posed problems in its respective context.
Final project: Envision that you have been charged to commission a language council that makes decisions on “what to do” with (problematic) language. Think along the lines of what l’Académie Française is for the French language, or the Real Académia is for the Spanish language. Using some of the methods you have learned during the modules, who would comprise the council? What kinds of cases would you hear? Why and how might the corpus be useful? This is a group project that will be presented at a mock session of the council. Be sure to include everyone’s roles, their qualifications (including non-academic factors that may be of value), and the individual treatments of the issue that will contribute to all final decisions. As this is meant to mirror a real corpus, the groups will be fairly large. We can decide together whether you would like to have the group be the entire class or divided into two groups. Individual grades will be assessed based on the contribution to the overall decision of the problem treated.
Module One- Gendered and Racialized Language
Texts: Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle Orléans by Sidonie de la Houssaye
Pre-assessment – Without consulting a dictionary, define the following words: witchcraft, magic, witch, sorcerer, sorceress, Negro, Negress, Mulatta/o mistress, and master. Feel free to choose other words related to gender and/or racial identity that are prone to spark discussion. You should have a total of 6 words.
Discussion: Since you did not consult a dictionary, what associations did you make to define the words? What are you basing your definitions on?
Activity: What approach(es) would you take to translate the passages selected from Les Quarteronnes de la Nouvelle Orléans? Examine some of the gendered and racial terms within the source text and how it might influence your target text.
Assignment for next class: Using a dictionary, etymology dictionary, and other references, re-define the words. Bonus- look up definitions in other languages against those of the English.
Discussion: Compare notes with your peers on your initial definitions and the definitions you found after consulting a dictionary. How do your definitions differ? How similar or exact were they? When sharing the entries you found, be sure to include the date as well as the language. Share the country that published it at that time. (If it was published during a time when the country is not known as it is today, be sure to note this.)
Assignment for next class: Choose three of the words that you defined and write a history report on them. In your findings, be sure to include a timeline of the words, the trajectory of any changes in connotation that may have influenced their definitions, and people or events that may have affected their meanings. Be ready to present and discuss one of the reports with your classmates.
Discussion: History report presentations.
Assignment: Look for non-secular definitions of the gendered terms. You may look to literary sources as well for context. Compare them with secular definitions of the words. Keep this for later.
Also, think about some of the problems you have encountered in confronting the terminology we have covered. Begin considering how they can be applied to the final project.
Module Two- Translanguaging and Code Switching in the 18th and 19th Centuries
Texts: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution by C.L.R. James
Discussion: Examining runaway slave announcements, what do you notice? What do you make of how the racial terminology was translated? What other observations can you make?
Activity: What are different ways to measure language comprehension? Think of all the ways one can comprehend a language. Split up into groups of mixed language competency (if possible). What are some of the indicators that you are using to measure the differences?
Assignment for next class: Read up to Chapter 5 of Black Jacobins. Map out potential routes of language acquisition for Black people and People of Color during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Discussion: Share the maps that you created. Imagine bilingualism and multilingualism during that time. According to some of the fugitive slave posters we have seen, literacy and languages spoken have been included as identifying markers. How do you think language competency may have been tested at that time? How does it compare with your indicators from last week?
Assignment for next class: Research mother tongues before the introduction of colonial languages by region*, former colony/present-day country. Make an argument for what code switching may have looked like during that time. Think of the role of language(s) at that time in relation to survival.
*You may focus on African languages or Indigenous languages of the Americas.
Discussion: Think about the implications of translanguaging and code switching on literacy during that period. Consider the development of Creole languages versus colonial languages as it relates to mobility and survival.
Assignment: Continue thinking about a potential issue to treat for the final project.
Module Three-Translation Quality Assurance in the 18th and 19th Centuries
1. Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon, the High Priest of Boonda in Africa; Who was a Slave About Two Years in Maryland; and Afterwards Being Brought to England, was Set Free, and Sent to His Native Land in the Year 1734.
2. Autobiography of Omar ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831. Ed. John Franklin Jameson.
Discussion: Think back to the role of religion in literacy and language comprehension based on acquisition. Using Arabic as an example, look at the ways in which the language is acquired. Within and outside a religious context, what are the implications on one’s comprehension?
Assignment: Read the narratives of Job, Son of Solomon, the High Priest of Boonda in Africa and Omar Ibn Said. To the best of your ability, research the translators of these narratives. How did they learn Arabic? The information is scarce, but what are some plausible possibilities of the language acquisition responsible for their claim to competency? How did Job and Omar learn English?
Discussion: When translating, each language pair presents with its unique challenges. What might quality assurance (QA) on translations at that time have looked like? What would the profile of a reliable translator or editor have looked like during that period? What about now?
Activity: Come up with a QA protocol for the Arabic <> English language pair. Can this be applied to languages where you are familiar with both the languages?
Assignment: Find a text of no more than 200 words to translate for next class. Do not pre-translate the texts as you will be working on them during the next class.
Discussion: Translation and interpretation are often confused. Discuss the similarities and differences. Think about dictated translations in comparison to traditional translations and how accuracy may be affected depending on which method is used.
Activity: In groups, take turns performing dictated translations. Pair yourselves by languages known/spoken. Using the texts you found, first perform a dictated translation with your partner. Then perform the same translation directly from the text. Compare your translations. What conclusions can you draw? Do you notice any difference in accuracy?
Assignment: Begin narrowing down what language issue(s) your council will be hearing for the final project. At this point, roles should be established and assigned for contributions to the final resolution.
“Historical Documents.” Qc History X, www.qchistoryxtours.ca/historical-documents.html.
De la Houssaye, Sidonie. Les Quarteronnes De La Nouvelle-Orléans I Octavia La Quarteronne Suivi De Violetta La Quarteronne Introduction et Notes de Christian Hommel. Tintamarre, 2006.
Esclavage | Musée Virtuel de La Nouvelle France. www.museedelhistoire.ca/musee-virtuel-de-la-nouvelle-france/population/esclavage/.
James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution, 2nd Edition Revised. Vintage Books, 1969.
Lewis, Danny. “An Archive of Fugitive Slave Ads Sheds New Light on Lost Histories.” Smithsonian Magazine, 2016. www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/archive-fugitive-slave-ads-could-shed-new-light-lost-histories-180959194/.
Omar Ibn Said, b. 1770? And J. Franklin Jameson (John Franklin), 1859-1937, Ed. by. Autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831. Ed. John Franklin Jameson. The American Historical Review, 30, No. 4. (July 1925), 787-795. www.docsouth.unc.edu/nc/omarsaid/omarsaid.html.
Runaway Advertisements. www.ngsmonthly.ngsgenealogy.org/runaway-advertisements/.
Runaway Slaves in Britain. www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/.
Thomas Bluett. Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon the Highest Priest of Boonda in Africa ... www.docsouth.unc.edu/neh/bluett/bluett.html.