D Greetin Bairn an D Soond U D Voice
Author(s): Mark R Smith
Copyright holder(s): Mark R Smith
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Auneebudee dt geings tae a yooniversitee is immediately involved in a relationship o pooer. I tink hit wiz in d first week dat I wiz at d yooniversitee dt I geed tae a lecture dt instructit wis hoo t write guid essays. Very helpful, towt I, dat’s whit a’ll need t lairn so’z I cin git guid marks and end up wee a clinkin first class Master of Arts degree. An dis guidance wiz helpful: doo lairns hoo t form an ergyoomint, doo lairns hoo t write in a clear academic tone, doo lairns dt t introduce aunee kynd o personal element ur opinion inta d essay iz wrang cuz hit interferes wee dy academic objectivity. Lookin back at dis classes noo, twartree years laetir, I realise dt whit wiz goin on wiz d settin up o a relationship o pooer, d construction o a hierarchy o languages, dt whit we wir bein telt wisna d correct wy t yooz language (despite d claims o d teachers) but reider we wir bein telt dat dis wiz d institutionally sanctioned wy o usin language: we wir been lairnt a code. Dis recent reflection maed my mind waander back tae d mid eighties whin I wiz at d primary schuil. Wir class heid a teacher dat hid been boarn in Shitln and hid lived dair aa his life. Noo, if aunee u d bairns dared ta spik in d dialect afore dis teacher, a savage roarin at wid ensue dt wid geng alang da lines o:
TEACHER: BOY, You shall not speak in Shetland dialect in this school. You shall speak in a correct fashion. DO YOU UNDERSTAND!
TERRIFIED BAIRN: y...yeah..m..m.mr..
TEACHER: You say YES in this school boy, not yeah!
TERRIFIED BAIRN: Yes sir.
An so d “conflict” wid end, d right wy o spikin wid be enforced an d bairn wid continue in Standard English fur d rest u d day, shakin lest he should produce an inadvertent ‘peerie’ ur ‘owre-by’ ur ‘maet’. Dis peerie story isna joost plisd here t display my deep rooted reasons fur writin dis essay in d dialect (although I suspect hit does hae a fair bit t do wee it) but t display dt d institutional imposition o a sanctioned “correct” language starts wey afore somebody ivir gits tae a yooniversitee. D imposition o language at yooniversitee is obviously mair subtle, but hit is nae less o an imposition fur a hits guise o freendly assistance. In baith situations, dir a clear dynamic o pooer in operation. A hierarchy is imposed dt says dt dis iz d right wy t spik and write and yun is d wrang wy; pooer is exercised ower a linguistic group
trow d imposition o an unfamiliar and supposedly superior language. Dis saam phenomenon is written aboot by various writers and groups o writers, sum o wha a’ll noo hae a look at. Afoar I do, howivur, I sood say dt I’m goin t use first neems throughoot dis look at idder fauks theories. I dinna waant t ey use d surname, becuz hit is defamiliarising; I widna lik it if sumeen caad me Smith a d time.
D first views I’m goin t look at ir d waans pitn forad by twartree different feminist tinkers. Jane Tompkins in her essay ‘Me and My Shadow’, which is a response tae an essay by Ellen Messer-Davidow, writes:
“There are two voices inside me answering, answering to Ellen’s essay. One is the voice of a critic who wants to correct a mistake in the essay’s view of epistemology. The other is the voice of a person who wants to write about her feelings (I have wanted to do this for a long time but have felt too embarrassed). This person feels it is wrong to criticize the essay philosophically, and even beside the point: because a critique of the kind the critic has in mind only insulates academic discourse further from the issues that make feminism matter. That make her matter. The critic, meanwhile, believes such feelings, and the attitudes that inform them,
are soft-minded, self-indulgent, and unprofessional.” (2)
Jane highlights d fact dt, if shu iz writin in an academic wy, she moast adhere t d conventions o d imposed language and keep her personal feelins oot o whit shu writes. I cin think o lots o times whar I’m gotn an essay back wee comments on it dt tell me no t shaa ower mukl dt I actually lik da book I’m writin aboot. Feelins, enthusiasm, praise fur literature ir no supposed ta enter ower mukl itae d kind o analysis cerreed oot in d yooniversitee. Jane, in her essay, highlights dis fact o academic discoors - dt I isna meant t be fun in a piece o critical writin - and goes on t subvert dat sam idea. But dis introduction u d personal voice isna aesy. Jane writes:
“I find that when I try and write in my ‘other’ voice, I am immediately critical of it. It wobbles, vacillates back and forth, is neither this nor that. The voice in which I write about epistemology is familiar, I know how it ought to sound.” (3)
Sho ‘knows how it ought to sound’ cuz hit’s d voice imposed by d academy, d voice sanctioned by d critical establishment; d impersonal voice, d objective voice, d voice dt duzna spik aboot feelin unshoor u yoursel, d voice dt winna say whiider doo liks a poem ur no, d voice dt soodna spik aboot aboot needn d bathroom. Jane, in dis essay, does manage t introduce d personal and dis maaks her essay readable and enjoyable, but in no wy taaks awaa fae d persuasiveness ur validity o her ergyoomnt.
Sum o d saam kindo ideas cin be fun in Barbara Christian’s essay ‘The Race for Theory’, but Barbara introduces d idea o race inta d equation. Sho writes:
“For people of color have always theorized - but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic. And I am inclined to say that our theorizing (and I intentionally use the verb rather than the noun) is often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language, since dynamic rather than forced ideas seem more to our liking.” (4)
Barbara aergues persuasively fur d idea dt Western academic / critical tradition excludes alternative forms dt ir associated wi an ethnic minority group. Da academic norm, accoardin tae Barbara, is an exclusive, white, western tradition. Black traditions irna admitted, perfictly valid kinds o theorisin dt dinna fit d white, western, male imposed language irna permitted intae d academic club. So, t git on in academia, Barbara suggests dt maunee black tinkers adopt d alien medium. Sho writes:
“Some of our most daring and potentially radical critics (and by our I mean black, women, third world) have been influenced, even coopted, into speaking a language and defining their discussion in terms alien to and opposed to out needs and orientation.” (5)
Fauk o a certain linguistic group ir forced t spik in a tongue dt hiz nithin t do wee dim. Henry Louis Gates Jr. engages wee d saam idea in his essay ‘What’s in a Name?’. He writes:
“I think that many of us [black academics] are trying to work, rather self-consciously, within the [white academic] tradition.” (6)
D academy aunlee permits fauk o colour on hits ain terms. Joost lik Jane Tompkins abuin, in dir professional context black academics hi tae allow an alien medium t be imposed upo dm. D exercise o pooer is exactly d saam in baith situations: a groop o fauk, whidder hit be weemin or a non-white ethnic group, ir forced by d institutions and traditions in which dae work t spik a foreign language. Joost lik wee d peerie boy in d schuil, pooer is exerted through language. Olivia Frey in her essay ‘Beyond Literary Darwinism sums dis idea up weel:
“Those who have power define and maintain these standards and use them to wield power, although they may not think that they are repressing someone or even exercising power. What they think they are doing is maintaining excellence.” (7)
D academy is a structure whaar pooer is exerted unconsciously. Whin a marker pits a comment on dy essay dt waarns aboot beein ower enthusiastic, dae ir, nae doot tryin tae help dee git better marks ida future; but whit is actually goin on is d enforcement u d officially sanctioned language o academia.
Tom Leonard, in baith his poetry and his prose, sees dis saam idea in terms o class. Tom writes wee reference tae an exam question dt akses fauk tae ‘discuss’ d metaphysical poets, ‘Well, discuss, but not in a Glasgow accent’ (8). Agaen, whin sumeen is at yooniveritee, ur in aunee academic situation, dae ir subject tae a pooer relationship articulated trow d medium o language. But, and at dis point da discussion widens oot, dis idea isna restricted t d yooniversitee, hit cin be seen in aa pairts o society:
[CENSORED: Tom Leonard poem beginning "right inuff"] (9)
Pooer is exercised trow language at nearly iviry turn. Workin class speech is constantly seen as bein inferior tae a linguistic standard imposed by groups higher up d social scale. In idder wirdz, by exertin pooer via language, d divisions in class baised society ir upheld; d workin classes wee dir coorse, barbaric speech dt iz foo o aafil swear-words ir telt fae aa angles dt dae ir inferior becuz u d wy dt dae spik. As weel as dis imposition o a linguistic norm and dairfur a linguistic hierarchy, d yooniversitee is complicit in idder wys in d reinforcement and perpetuation o an unequal class structure. Tom writes:
“The university (and I here speak specifically about the arts faculties) is a reification of the notion that culture is synonymous with property. And the essentially acquisitive attitude to culture, “education”, and “a good accent” is simply an aspect of the competitive, status-conscious class structure of the society of the whole.” (10)
D exam is d main method dt d yooniversitee uses t enforce d idea o knowledge as a ting t be acquired. Dis is especially pertinent tae onybody doin a coorse in literary theory (as d closure o theory is no supposed t be possible), but applies tae aa sections o a yooniversitee degree. An exam forces whaivur is sittin it t cunsyoom ur possess as much o a chosen subject as dae can. Fur example, here’s a question taen fae da Glasgow University Literary Theory exam o 2003:
“Put in context and discuss any one of the following terms: Differance; dialogism; abjection; interpollation; the subaltern; rhizome; authorship; Orientalsim; hysteria; the subject.” (11)
Noo, onybody doin d exam will hae a fairly guid idea dt a question lik dis will come up so will arrive at da examination haal wi chunks o Derrida, Said ur Kristeva committed faithfully tae memory. In addition t dis, twartree critics will hiv been lookit at in oarder t provide sum different approaches t d material. In idder words, d student will have consumed eenyauch material t git trow d exam. Efter d exam is ower (unless dae hae tresit d ting) dae need nivur look at a anidder page o Derrida agaen as lang as dae live. Derrida his been consumed by d student - d M.A. certificate is d document o ownership - intellectual property hiz been acquired thus enhancin d status u d consumer. Dis method duzna encourage auneebudy t really tink aboot onything; aa hit does is reinforce d idea o property dt is inherent in a class baised, and dairfur unequal, society.
Noo dt I’m spent aboot twa thoosand words haein a go at d yooniversitee, I suppose I bettir say whit I tink is a solution tae d problems I’m been goin on aboot. I tink dt dir a wy oot t be fun in d last twa lines o Tom Leonard’s poem:
“all livin language is sacred
fuck thi lohta thim”
Nae wan language hiz an inherent superiority ower annider. Critical or academic writin, an dis applies tae insignificant undergraduates, right up tae d hallowed heights o respected and published academics / critics / theorists, sood be aupind up tae alternative forms, alternative languages, diverse wys o writin. I caa dis idea creative criticism ur creative theory. Writin lik Gloria Anzaldua’s “Borderlands” wid come inta dis category; writin dt crosses boarders, writin dt allows d personal, writin dt duzna try and force an alien(ating) ur foreign form on auneebudy. I used t hae a job as a plumbers labourer which I wisna very good at (I mind a certain incident dt saa steam emenatin fae a flushed shitepan), but at denner time I used t read various tings especially d novels o William Burroughs. I didna realise it at d time, but I see noo dt I wiz, in fact, readin theory. William Burroughs wrote aa aboot language as a virus, aa aboot d inadequacy o language, aa aboot language as an ideological tool; in idder words Burroughs spiks aboot alot o d tings dt post-structuralist theorists lik Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari spik aboot, but his writin included social satire, humour, and spikin ershauls. Creative theorists lik William Burroughs, Tom Leonard and Gloria Anzaldua ir serious and valid tinkers but dey work ootside d confines u d academy. Dey irna subject t d imposition o an officially sanctioned voice and so ir free t fin dir ain wy o writing. Henry Louis Gates Jr. points tae Toni Morrison as an example u d saam ting whin he writes aboot d novel “Beloved”:
“Toni Morrison’s genius is that she has found a language by which to thematize the very unspeakability of slavery.” (12)
Toni Morrison is a theorist u d horrors o slavery but shu is writin ootside d confines u d academy ur critical establishment. In “Beloved” shu fins a voice dt iz suitable fur spikin aboot d times whin black fauk wir enslaved and turned inta animals. Toni Morrison, lik William Burroughs, lik Gloria Anzaldua, lik Tom Leonard, is a creative theorist. Deese writers ir engaged wi serious theoretical issues o language, o class, o slavery, o gender but ir also writers wha wish t yooz language in a creative, interestin, humorous and entertainin wy. Creative theory cin achieve a synthesis atween d supposedly opposed languages o critical writin and creative writin. Dis, I wid say, maks writers lik d wans mentioned here mair intersetin (in terms o style) and mair pleasurable t read dn maunee, mair academic, theorists, and also maks theory accessible tae fok ootside u d yooniversitee gates. T allow d encouragement and proliferation o creative theory athin d academy, I propose d followin:
1) Dt d academy gits rid u d exam system. D exam system is an anathema tae everything d student is supposed t learn at yooniversitee - critical tinkin, creative tinkin, d ability t tink fur yursel - an turns writin and knowledge intae objects t be consumed, intae intellectual, status-enhacing property.
2) Dt d yooniversitee sood stop enforcin a “correct” mode u writin and encourage d student t try and be a creative critic. D techniques o “correct” essay writin sood be taught, but it sood be meyd clear dt dis is joost waan wy o writin, no the wy o writin. Dat wy, d hierarchy o languages braaks doon, pooer is nae langer exercised and different voices cin begin t be heard.
And dat, fauk, is whit I tink aboot it.
1 John Graham’s dictionary, lik ony dictionary, is a codification and standardisation o a certain linguistic medium. D language I use in dis essay iz an attempt tae render
funetikalee (as fer as d standard alphabet allows) d version u d dialect I use ivree day. My wirdz ll therefur differ a gret deal fae d wirdz dt ir fun in The Shetland Dictionary. Howivur, dis book will certainly help tawards an understandin o d language employed in dis essay.
2 Jane Tompkins, ‘Me and My Shadow’ in “The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp.2129-2143 (p.2130).
3 Tompkins (2001), p.2133.
4 Barbara Christian, ‘The Race for Theory’ in “The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp.2257-2266 (p.2257).
5 Christian (2001), p.2257.
6 Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ‘What’s in a Name? Some Meanings of Blackness’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman,
Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.135-150 (p.148).
7 Olivia Frey, ‘Beyond Literary Darwinsm: Women’s Voices and Critical Discourse’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.41-65 (p.45).
8 Tom Leonard, “Intimate Voices: Selected Work 1965-1983” (Devonshire: Etruscan Books, 2003), p.64.
9 Leonard (2003), p.134.
10 Leonard (2003), p.64.
11 Exam Question taken from University of Glasgow, Degree of M.A. With Honours in English, Paper 12: Literary Theory (Question 19).
12 Gates, Jr. (1993), p.146.
Christian, Barbara, ‘The Race for Theory’ in “The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp.2257-2266.
Eagleton, Terry, “Literary Theory: An Introduction in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp.2243-2249.
Foucault, Michel, ‘The Means of Correct Training’ in “The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought” ed. by Paul Rainbow (London: Penguin, 1991), pp.188-205.
Freedman, Diane, P., Frey, Olivia & Zauhar, Frances, Murphy, ‘Introduction’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.1-10.
Freedman, Diane, ‘Border Crossing as Method and Motif in Contemporary American Writing, or, How Freud Helped Me Case the Joint’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.13-22.
Frey, Olivia, ‘Beyond Literary Darwinsm: Women’s Voices and Critical Discourse’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.41-65.
Gates Jr., Henry, Louis ‘What’s in a Name? Some Meanings of Blackness’ in “The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism” ed. by Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey & Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), pp.135-150.
Graham, John, J. “The Shetland Dictionary” (Lerwick: The Shetland Times, 1999).
Graham, Laurence, ‘Introduction’ in “A Shetland Anthology: Poetry from Earliest Times to the Present Day” ed. by John J. Graham & Laurence I. Graham (Lerwick: Shetland Publishing Company, 1998), pp.xv-xxiii.
Leonard, Tom, “Intimate Voices: Selected Work 1965-1983” (Devonshire: Etruscan Books, 2003).
Leonard, Tom, ‘Introduction’ in “Radical Renfrew: Poetry from The French Revolution to The First World War, by Poets Born or Sometime Resident in the County of Renfrewshire” ed. by Tom Leonard (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990).
Miller, Nancy K., “Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts” (New York & London: Routledge, 1991).
Murphy, Timothy, S., “Wising up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs” (Berkley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 1997).
Tompkins, Jane, ‘Me and My Shadow’ in “The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism” (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp.2129-2143.
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D Greetin Bairn an D Soond U D Voice. 2021. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved January 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=958.
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