Paper #2: Language Interpretation
proposal: due Nov. 18
prospectus: due Dec. 2
final draft: due Dec. 15
For this final paper, you will be applying your analytic and interpretative skills to an invented language of your choosing. Select a language and make an interpretative claim about it using the tools of linguistic analysis and cultural or literary interpretation that we have been working on. An interpretation claim does not take a position about whether a language is good or bad, effective or not (this is an evaluative claim), and it does not take a position about whether one should learn it (this is a directive claim). An interpretative claim should either be a literary claim (in which case, it uses the invented language to illuminate some aspect either of the film, novel, or series that includes it) or a cultural claim (in which case, it uses the invented language to illuminate some aspect about the culture or subculture that produced it or consumes it).
Your description should be 5-6 pages, double-spaced, Times or Times New Roman font. (5 pages does not mean “onto the third page.” It means, “at the bottom of the fifth page or onto the sixth page.”)
Because it helps to have some feedback along the way, I have built in a few preliminary deadlines.
Proposal (due Nov. 18): A few sentences about which invented language you are focusing on and your possible claim about it. Consider this a chance to test out your argument in a sentence or two.
Prospectus (due Dec. 2): A one-page version of the paper. Include a statement of the interpretative claim (the argument) as well as a summary of the evidence. This could essentially serve as an outline for your longer paper. You won’t be able to give details about all of the evidence — consider this as more of a sketchy version of the whole. It is ok to use some meta-text to talk about what you will do in the final version. For example: “Here I will give a description of the phonological system in order to show that the creator wanted to create an impression of high-pitched bird sounds in the phonology.” You will submit this electronically to receive comments from two of your classmates.
In composing your final paper, I might recommend the following process:
1) Select a language. This step might take a little while and involve some internet research. Wikipedia provides a list of some languages to consider: . The Wikipedia links can be a resource to start your description — they will often have linguistic descriptions and can provide links to others. Please make sure that the language you select gives you enough to work with.
2) Consider how examining the language illuminates something about the culture that produced it or about the literary project of its creator. Does it shed light on something about its historical time period? Something about present-day culture? Or can it help us to better understand the artistic ambitions of the work that it comes from? In other words, how can thinking about this invented language help us to understand something beyond itself?
3) Consider which of the analytic tools that we’ve discussed will be useful for developing your claim. This will involve the categories for language description that we worked on previously. How is the effect of the language created through the details of the sound system or the grammatical system?
4) Consider how you might organize your discussion. How will the pieces fit together into one developed essay? Which information belongs in the contextualizing introduction and which information should be included in the body of the essay?
**5) Construct a central thesis statement which serves as argument or claim. This thesis needs to make a critical argument or interpretative claim about the language. It helps to organize the essay, presenting a unifying point which permits you to move through the description. It should be possible to disagree with your argument. (Therefore, “X is a really interesting language and important for the fictional world Y” is not a real argument because no one could disagree with it.) A sample intro and claim (for an invented invented language) follows:
Seymour Birds used his invented language Cheep in his game NEST: The Hatching to create vividness for his world. The language, which contains bird-like effects in its phonology and morphology, unfolds for the player as the game progresses. The player advances to more sophisticated uses of the language which involve linguistic speech acts together with territory annexation and the acquiring of food. Birds’s language Cheep helps us to see the subtle and overt power relationships between nestlings and permits players to use linguistic force as a tool for acquiring resources in the game.
Birds’s language Cheep, in providing linguistic resources for speaking only about food stores and disputed territory, constrains player interaction to situations of conflict and is a product of a video game culture that focuses upon the struggle for dominance as the central purpose for communication.
6) Write up the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Your introduction will probably need to give the context of your language. Construct different paragraphs addressing different subtopics of your description. Be sure that each observation that you make contains evidence and examples. And make sure that you cite the sources of your evidence and examples (you can use parenthetical citations or footnotes). You should be careful, too, not to be overreliant on a single source (your paper should not be simply a reiteration of a single Wikipedia page, for example).
7) Construct a works cited section which includes any of the sources that you cited. I am not overly concerned with which template you follow, as long as you are consistent. If you do not have a favorite, I might recommend Chicago style’s Author-Date format: . It utilizes parenthetical citations.
8) Revisit the introduction. If you did an early draft, you will often need to rewrite the thesis statement to make sure that it effectively includes the way that your organization worked out. One hallmark of first drafts is that the thesis statement in the conclusion often makes a more interesting and subtle point than the thesis statement in the introduction — better to go back and rework the thesis statement in the introduction once the essay is drafted.
9) Reread and revise the whole thing. Revision is the key to clear writing. Sometimes it can help to read pieces of it aloud: sections of convoluted prose are often more apparent that way. The writing center might be of particular help here — especially if you know that polishing prose style is not your strongest skill.
Paper #2: Language Interpretation