Monday, November 10, 2008

texts and selections

Seth forwards a link to a blog post that includes this cite:

This morning I got an email from a prospective [...] student who wanted to see my syllabus prior to registering. Because [the course] deals with literature of many genres, I use the word 'texts' in my syllabus (rather than the specific terms story, play, poem, essay). The student wrote back asking whether she would need to buy a new cell phone, seeing that we were reading so many texts. I assumed she was kidding and replied with a smiley face. Immediately, I received a furious tirade about how unfair I was to expect students to purchase phones and to pay for text messages, which are expensive. I replied that I hadn't realized she wasn't joking and defined what a 'text' means in English class. She wrote back that I had no right to use that word in a way that 'no one could possibly understand' and that she had already looked into buying phones which had worsened 'an already bad day' (guess she didn't vote for Obama?). I didn't have the heart (or stomach) to tell her that I'd switched to 'text' from my previous term 'selection' because former students had found 'selection' confusing (they thought it meant they only had to read part of an assignment--a selection of it. Usually, they just read the first page, especially if I neglected to include the entire page range of a selection on the syllabus).

I have to suspend disbelief a bit to buy this, but that's probably just because I don't deal much with the demographic in question. I can easily imagine that as a college student (I'm assuming), your first definition for text is what you create on a, you know, device. Where this goes wrong for me is that this anecdote suggests that the student in question does not have a second (or subsequent) definition for text that would make more sense in the context here (an English Lit class).

Is it possible that for this language community, the definition of text has become so strongly associated with texting that it has crowded out, so to speak, more traditional definitions?

The confusion over selection here isn't as problematic for me here, again assuming that we're talking about students who are young and/or new to a literature class. Couple this with the natural tendency of most students to want to do the least possible to fulfill an assignment, and with a bit of squinting, I can see this.

All this said, I have no suggestion as to what term here would be completely unambiguous to both teacher and students. What could one use here. Readings?

Anyway, for an amusing take on cross-generational vocabulary confusion that I can relate to, have a look at Matthew Baldwin's You Say Tomato post.


Damon Lord said...

When I did English (language) courses at uni, about 3 years ago, it was explained to us what a text is at the beginning. A text had been considered by a number of the students to be a block of words in paragraphs or similar; maybe a diary entry, a novel, a letter, or a poem or book of poems, etc. I myself subscribed to this narrow view at the time. However, learning about what a text can be, we soon would need to take into account other things too, such as a sketch on a comedy TV show being a text (and the script for the same sketch being another text, bringing the idea of multimodal texts to us), the pictures used in an advert as well as the words comprising the whole text, etc. Graffiti was a curious and enjoyable form of text that we looked at, at one stage.

Only after the initial introduction of what a text can be was it then mentioned that a text can even be a SMS message (text) or an e-mail, which easily fitted in with what we'd been told. We hadn't really considered mobile phones as it was an English class, so only at first we thought it would be primarily the traditional idea of text as clarified above.

On a tangent, I have yet to discover a comprehensive linguistic corpus of text messages or e-mails, however. Maybe the prospective student thought that such a corpus would be used and delivered by mobile phone? Although how you'll send Shakespeare, etc. by mobile phone, I'm not sure..... I'm just thinking the student had not read the "lit" bit of the description....

Anonymous said...

Try "works," assuming that your readers aren't intravenous-drug addicts.