Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Novel excerpt: Mandelbrot, Algonquian. Chapter: “Catskills”

Novel excerpt: Mandelbrot, Algonquian. Chapter: “Catskills”

by mykl sivak
2005, 2009, 2014

 
When he was a boy, Viktor Mandelbrot’s mother worked in a small factory polishing brass fittings. Her fingertips were permanently gray from handling the fittings each day, her fingerprints all but worn smooth. In my next career, I’ll be a burglar, she would sometimes joke in the thick old-world accent that Mandelbrot did not share. And young Mandelbrot would secretly delight in the thought of fantastic adventures, he and his mother stealing through the night in black clothing and stocking caps, potato sacks of loot slung over their shoulders, avoiding the coppers and ransoming hostages. This was, of course, outrageous even to imagine. His mother once punished him for pocketing a grocery store cherry. She had made him apologize and barred him from cherries for a month.

The factory was housed within a turn of the century brick building alongside the slow Housatonic. Even then the river was filthy. In the overcast light it expressed a polluted opalescence. Its varying depth seemed the defy any system of prognostication, being not influenced by the tides alone, but also by the seemingly arbitrary operations of the hydroelectric dam floodgates ten miles to the north, which themselves were often influence by the weather further north still. From its headwaters in Northwestern Massachusetts down into Connecticut, it traced the New York state line, flowed past countless factories and plants that imbued the waters with their chemical effluence and organic wastes, so that when it spilled itself into Long Island Sound, south of the factory, the so-called waters were little more than a flimsy liquid matrix, a filthy solution pushed to the limits of molecular saturation.

Once as a boy, Mandelbrot had accompanied his mother to work, and though she sat him in an old uneven side-chair with a storybook and told him not to stray, he wandered through the factory, away from the churning, growling engine lathes and milling machines, down dusty dark-pitched stairwells of hand-hewn planks and beams to strange storerooms and places filled with weird contraptions of heavily painted iron, the uses of which his young mind could not decipher. Along the back wall of one wide room were many windows, covered thick with grime and dust, and against them he could hear a periodic rapping, irregular in measure and frequency. Closer, he saw an undulating line across each window, the glass divided in two values, the lighter grey quivering above darker brown. He stared, placed his hand against the dirty pane, felt the cold rhythm pulse against his palm.

In a corner was an old stool and he brought it to the window, stood upon it to reach the tarnished brass latch, then pushed hard until the mechanism turned. He pushed the stool to one side with his leg and grabbed the wide brass grips at the window’s low bottom rail, hoisted, and the brown water flowed in. It rushed cold past his bare calves, filled his shoes, and coursed across the dust caked floorboards. He tried to close it, but he did not have the strength. He thought of running, but instead stood there, water pouring in around him, like some stupefied and ineffectual version of the Dutch boy. The water was past his waist when the men came tromping down the stairs. They ran through the water toward him. One lifted him up, trudged back to the stairs with Mandelbrot in his elbow like a floppy violin case. The other man went for the window, and Mandelbrot watched dazed as the man lowered the sash, shut it with one quick push. Then all was quiet, save the muted sound of the upstairs machines which kept running. The man placed Mandelbrot on the steps, and the two adults stood looking at one another, hands at hips and forehead, in quiet disbelief. He could hear their flushed breathing, the soft burble of the water around their rocking calves.

He figured he was a goner. His mother would be fired and he would be sent to some orphanage. But those things did not happen. Instead they were sent home early. Mandelbrot was bathed, fed soup, then sent to bed early. His mother said nothing, and Mandelbrot was certainly not going to bring it up. After that, he was never again asked to accompany his mother to work.

Not long after that, the man who had shut the window began escorting Mandelbrot’s mother home after work. His name was Mr. Novak; he was the plant manager, and sometimes he would stay for diner. And as time went on, he would be there until Mandelbrot was put to bed, and sometimes he was there in the morning when Mandelbrot awoke, in the same clothes he had on the night before appearing to have never left.

It became usual that for one week each summer, Mandelbrot and his mother would go with Mr. Novak to his camp in the Catskills. Mr. Novak was himself a Polish immigrant. As time went on, Mandelbrot got the sense that he looked out for Mrs. Mandelbrot, as Novak called her. Years later, when he thought about things through the eyes of an adult, Mandelbrot assumed that Novak had planned on making Mrs. Mandelbrot his wife.

Novak was old country, a well groomed, neatly dressed man with a clean-shaven face like a lungfish. His thin blonde hair was always combed flat against his red scalp, and though his suits were not the expensive type, they were always in good repair and well pressed. He spoke to Mrs. Mandelbrot in Polish mostly, and was, Mandelbrot later concluded, somewhere in the area of fifteen years her senior. He was never short-tempered or ill mannered, nor was he warm or kind. His manner toward Mrs. Mandelbrot was stoic and businesslike, not exactly the way a manager might act toward an employee, but similar, perhaps the way a banker might interact with a person seeking a loan: congenial, distant, and slightly skeptical.

Still there was something vaguely fatherly about the man, though Mandelbrot could not be sure of that having only witnessed such things secondhand. During the times they spent in the Catskills, Novak acted as if the Mandelbrots were his own wife and child. He drove them everywhere in his clean, though aging, Sedan. He paid for their meals and activities, took Mandelbrot to pony rides and paddled them across the lake in a canoe. Even then, the sight of Novak in sleeve garters, sweating as he paddled the full canoe beneath the hot sun was almost too much. Even as they sat atop the red and white-checkered picnic blanket, eating fruits and cheeses in a buttercup field in the shade of an old gnarled oak, Novak possessed a professional detachment. Even when he rolled up his shirtsleeves, he did not convey an air of getting down to business like a man preparing to invest some elbow grease, he just looked like he was about to do his taxes.

Often, in the long sticky afternoons, Mrs. Mandelbrot would send her son away.

“Viktor,” she would say, perhaps leaning against the jamb of his bedroom door, one arm against her waist, the elbow of the other resting upon its wrist, fingers holding a cigarette just beyond her lips. “Go into the woods and explore. Exercise your legs. Why not take Mr. Novak’s gun and hunt squirrels or little birds. What ever you like. But don’t come back before lunch time.”
He would go into the woods, Novak’s old bird rifle slung over his shoulder, and imagine himself an Indian, hunting the great bear, the whitetail, the pheasant. He killed squirrels, sparrows and mourning doves. He would bury their carcasses, perform improvised Indian burial rites.

Once, deep in the woods, he knelt above the grave of a thrush he had tracked into the wood’s interior. He killed with a single shot to the skull as it dug for grubs among the litter. He dug, first through the rust-colored blanket of pine needles, then the fertile black loam, with his fingers, whispered brother bird you died so my people might live as he plowed the earth and shoots above its lifeless form. He fashioned a cross out of twigs, he had seen this in movies, and realized then that he had never wandered this far in before. Even as he called out to the Great Spirit on the dead bird’s behalf, he ignored the nagging fear that he was hopelessly lost and would not be able to find his way back to Novak’s camp before dark.

He watched a red-tailed hawk spiral slowly above the valley, watching for prey, patient as the hills. A smaller hawk trailed, beating its wings fiercely to keep up as its mother rode the currents with her wide wings, not flapping once, just hanging there spinning like a feather at the surface of a little river eddy.

Mandelbrot checked the sun’s position. It was sinking faster now; soon it would be twilight. The threat of wolves was real. All week, and the summers before, he had heard them calling their tribal songs from the hills in the night as he lay beneath thin cotton sheets, bathed in the white light of the bright rural moon. There were mountain lions too, and black bears, and those could climb trees if they wanted and he did not doubt that his soft pink body would motivate them to do so. He did not like the sound of spending the night in the woods. He slung the rifle over his shoulder. Said one last blessing above the buried thrush.

At first, he did not think it strange to see the man standing there, at the hill’s crest, looking toward him, but in an instant the incongruity of it manifested and his blood froze. Suddenly it appeared to him that though the man was looking in his direction, he could not see Mandelbrot. It was though he was looking through the boy, over the hillside and across the valley, toward the barley visible pond that lay secreted among the trees in the valley among the hills.

The man was shirtless, dressed like a television Indian. He wore buckskin leggings and moccasins. His hair was cut short at the top, and at the back ran down his neck to fan over his shoulders. His skin was the color of pine needles, his cheeks and chest marked with white and red clay. The boy watched the man for a moment, became somehow unafraid. He raised his hand but the man made no acknowledgement. He just stood there staring into the wilderness. It was as if Mandelbrot had found his way into some motel room painting, or slid somehow into an ancient moment long passed.

In a strange instant, an improbable emotion overcame the boy. He became overwhelmed with the notion that the man was his father, whom he had never met. He raised his palm to the man, and the man turned away from him, moving like a somnambulist, took a step and disappeared above the crest beyond Mandelbrot’s line of sight.

He felt something like a punch to the ribs, ran wildly up the hillside, the rifle slipped from his elbow, bounced crazily on its strap that hung from his elbow. He sought to catch the man, to grab him, face him, make him see him there, shout you are my father! I am the son you never knew and I have found you! At the crest, his foot caught a stone, and it sent him flying to his belly. He slid for feet across the floor litter, down the opposite slope, wind knocked from his lungs. He struggled to get up, but he could not see through the tears. All that was visible was the vague shrinking shape of the man’s form as it moved down the hill, until it disappeared amidst the trees.

He sat there for a moment, wiped his eyes on his wrists, picked sediment and needles from the scrapes on his knees. He stood up, brushed debris from his body, picked up the rifle from where it had fallen, then without a thought took off across the forest. He ran without thinking, as fast as he could. The sun was already dipping below the western ridge. He was going in the correct general direction, he knew that at least, but soon the moss laden roof of the cottage peeked between the trees and he fell into the yard like a ballplayer sliding for home. He imagined a wolf at his back, its slobbering maw snapping at his heels just as he leapt from its reach beyond the boundaries of its woodland realm. Safe. He saw glowing eyes in the shadows, among the tree trunks, heard disgusted growls from beastly throats. “Better luck next time,” he said then spit, slapping his hands together repeatedly in a that’s that movement.
He dropped the rifle beside the back steps and entered the cottage. He was thirsty and his legs stung in the spots he had skinned them. In the back porch he found his mother sitting in an Adirondack chair, looking through the wire screen toward the place along the hills where the sun had set. A cigarette languished between her fingers, slowly burning to the long ash that hung precariously from its tip. There was the tinny music of the wireless radio, piano and nearly inaudible guitar strumming, deep bass plunking, and the sad soulful sound of a deep female voice singing something in another language. It wasn’t Polish, he knew that, but what language it was, he had no way of knowing.

“Mom,” he said, but she did not appear to hear him. She did not look toward him. Her gaze stayed fixed on the hills. There were a few candles lit in the cottage, and some stray rays of blazing red sunlight, and these sources filled the rooms with a flickering mystical ambience.

He approached her, placed his small soiled hand on her arm. “Mom?” He spoke again.

She turned slowly to him and smiled a slow pulpy smile. Her eyebrows did not move.

“Hello, kochanie,” she said, swiped a palm across his dirt coated forehead, touched his cheek soft with smooth gray fingertips.
She was still a young woman then, not much older than thirty. Her flesh was pale and soft, but on her forehead and beside her eyes and lips thin creases had already formed. She was dewy with sweat, and the candlelight played upon her damp skin, made her glisten as if coated in fine crystal dust of sugar or quartz. Her hair was pulled back in a sloppy thoughtless bun. The two top buttons of her summer dress were unbuttoned and her eyelids looked sleepy and heavy. She smelled of alcohol and something else and her breath near his face was like smoke and skim milk.

 “I saw an Indian,” he said, and she smiled.
“Did you?” She said. The smile dissolved and her eyes moved back out the window. “Did you shoot him with your gun?”
“No,” he said. He took the cigarette from her fingers, flicked the ashes into a candle, then placed the still lit butt between his own pursed lips and inhaled a little. He plucked it from his lips with his thumb and forefinger to speak.
“I think he was a ghost. It was deep in the woods and I tried to chase him but I fell and skinned my knees. When I got up he was gone. Disappeared.”

She didn’t respond, swiped gently at his hair with the back of her fingers making tiny circles with the backs of her knuckles. She leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes.

Mandelbrot watched as his mother drifted quietly to sleep. He turned on the old ceiling fan and placed a knitted afghan up over her shoulders. In her sleep she settled in to it, nuzzled her cheek against the needlework.

He did not find Mr. Novak anywhere in the cottage. He poured himself a glass of lemonade from the icebox, then went and sat on the back porch and smoked his mother’s cigarettes as phantom bats flitted past his head and yellow-green fireflies drifted by in the starry darkness. The candlelight cast flickering shadows across the lawn before him until it went out from the fan or was suffocated by its own tallow. The little blue lights of all the Universe slowly spun overhead and the red cherry of the cigarette pulsated in the darkness between his face and his fingers.

That night beside the open unscreened window, he drifted to sleep. And as the waking world turned to dreams, he saw a string of fireflies float weaving across his bed to hang at his ceiling like stars. In his slumber he dreamed of the Housatonic, its cold clean waters bursting the dam to rise ever deeper beside the factory walls until the building was submerged. The windows dissolved like sugar and the waters flowed in, sinking the machinery, sending little brass parts to the purified floor. Then he saw his mother floating peaceful in the clear blue water. Her pure white fingertips were rutted and furrowed and her face was not.

Novel Excerpt: New England Clam Chowder

by mykl sivak

January 28, 2002
July 24, 2004
August 27, 2014



Image: Henry, Eugene P. “A Maine fishing Village.” 1922. Web. August 27, 2014. <http://www.hellenicaworld.com/USA/Photography/en/PictorialPhotographyAmerica1922.html>
 
In the winter rain they stood upon some strange wooden pilings, sodden waterlogged beams, remnants of some out-of-use edifice, but neither seemed to know what its use had been.

Two walls of wood, slats affixed to wide pilings and foot by foot cross beams.  The whole thing was fitted with wide hex-bolts with threads displayed naked where the water and accumulated sand of tides and tides had forced the wooden pieces apart.  With each wave that sloughed up through the roughly twelve-foot wide space that separated the walls, the wooden beams hulked and shook, the one-inch bolts wrenched out of their stripped shafts and snapped back sharply as the waves fell past. The whole thing shuddered.

It must have been some type of levee, designed to direct the flow of brackish water out from the estuary marshland and down into the bay, a way to minimize beach erosion.  But the geology of the beach must have changed much since the walls were built, which was clearly many decades past, for the estuary’s flow was little more than a dribbling trickle which died half way down the beach never reaching the spot where the walls began.

Or perhaps there had been a road.  Yards away, to the Northwest, there were signs that a portion of what was now the beach had once been paved, for here and there broken bits of old asphalt jutted up from the sand. And rusted lengths of pipe stuck up among the rocks at the base of the rock cliff suggesting antiquated plumbing.

Nathan walked out first, foot before foot, with a jaunty, almost cartoonish, confidence which seemed, to Berry, inappropriate given the strong wind that blew across the pilings sidewise and the white capped sloshing waves that lapped the wood from all sides and at times broke inches above the topmost planks’ surfaces.

The wind was warm, given the setting, but the bay’s water was icy cold.  Berry sneered at the water as it smacked against the sides of Nathan’s black canvass sneakers.  He heart skipped a beat when the kid’s worn soul failed to find purchase with one step and his whole body tottered before landing the next step. But Nathan hadn’t even seemed to notice.

Halfway down the structure, Berry’s glasses were so covered with rain and salt his visibility was less than if he wore no glasses at all so he removed them. Stuck them into the waistband of his tighty-whities. Suddenly everything became like a wash of thinned ink. A gradient of grey that moved and morphed as if dragged across paper by the unseen brush of god.

Berry felt his face growing red with … was it anger? Anger for whom? For this kid, Nathan? For the elements? For himself? It smoldered hot beneath the red of chill on flabby fat cheeks.
He could not scorn the sea.  It was what it was, and he guessed he respected its climatic barbarity.  But he found himself, now, filled with a bubbling rage for the slight boyish frame which moved across the wooden pilings before him, and the oblivious something-like-grace with which it moved despite the grossly obvious danger surrounding it.

As if on cue, it spoke: “Don’t worry, dude! The water’s so high, if we fall in we can just pull ourselves back up.” A pause. “Unless there’s some crazy undertow, which there no doubt is.”
Berry sniffled hard; a booger shot up into his sinuses.

That morning:

Berry awoke to the sound of water slamming against his room window.  It was the ocean.  During the night a winter squall had moved in from the sea.  Berry sat up in his bed, rubbed his eyes, and the back of his neck.  Yesterday, he hadn’t closed the window’s curtains, and now the diffuse grey light of stormy Maine filled the room.  Rhythms pulsed around him.  The cyclic undulation of rain on the roof and window was an offbeat to the pounding of the surf against the outer wall of Berry’s room.  He got out of his bed and walked to the window. He looked out through the slosh and clamor of the breaking waves and across the turbulence.  Through the rain and the waves, Berry could make out a few brightly painted fishing boats, tethered to posts, and pitching uncontrollably in the ocean’s billows.  For a moment he got the strange sense that the waves were like the arms of the ocean, and they were reaching out for him. He imagined what it would be like, if the waves were to knock out the wooden pilings which bore the weight of the B&B. If he and his whole room were sent crashing down into the breaking waves.  A small fat man and his suitcase, in which were the few remaining things he owned, the entirety of a whole life, set spiraling down to the water and the rocks to be tossed and smashed to nothing.

He put on his pants, and his shoes, and his black turtleneck sweater. He grabbed a small black satchel off the floor next to the bureau and went downstairs.

Berry had hoped that Nathan would be around when he got downstairs, but he wasn’t.  He had hoped Nathan might let him borrow his jacket.  He thought about going up to Nathan’s room and knocking on the door to see if he was in, but he decided against it.  Instead he went into the dining room, poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down in a chair, and waited.

He sat at the same table he’d sat at yesterday.  He sat in the same chair.  The inn seemed empty, again.  Not even the man behind the desk (was he an innkeeper?) was around.  Berry didn’t suppose that anyone besides Nathan and himself were staying there.  It was deep winter in Vacationland.  It was summer someplace else.  He sat and sipped his coffee.  Slowly the realization fell that Berry had a slight hangover, and that he didn’t know what time it was and he allowed his mind to shut off. He became part of the room, motionless, breathing, in existential syncopation with the waves and the rain and the seagulls who barked, somehow still gliding on the hellacious winds.

Soon Berry heard the inn’s front door open.  Sodden footsteps sounded on the lobby’s hardwood floor. Nathan appeared from around the corner, his jacket hood pulled up over his head.  He was dripping with rain.
 
“Berry,” said Nathan smiling.
“Hey,” Berry responded.
“It’s pretty fucking wicked out there today.”
“Yeah.”
“Listen, I came to get you.  You said you were looking for a job on a boat, right?”
“I don’t think I said that.” Said Berry, pulling himself up from a slouch.
“Sure you did. Last night at the pub. You said you felt lost. Like you had never done anything real. I said you should get a job on a boat.”
“Oh.” Berry said, embarrassed, confused.

Well, I was talking to this guy at the docks, and he said he might have a job for you.  We’re going to meet him at the pub tonite after dinner. But first we need to teach you how to fish!”

“Okay,” said Berry. He placed his belongings into his bag and walked toward Nathan.  He expected Nathan to move, to turn around, head out toward the front door.  But he just stood there, and by the time Berry stopped, he and Nathan were standing right in front of one another.  Berry hadn’t noticed before, how short Nathan was.  Berry was only about five ten, and Nathan appeared to be at least three inches shorter.  Nathan was chuckling. 

“Berry, you need a jacket,” he said.  Berry didn’t say anything.  He did need a jacket.
“I’ve got an idea,” said Nathan.  “Hold on a second.”  He moved passed Berry, across the dining room and through a pair of swinging double doors Berry guessed lead into the kitchen.  Berry heard what sounded like cabinet doors opening and closing.  In a moment Nathan returned, dragging behind him a gigantic black garbage bag.

“Here,” he said, thrusting it in Berry’s direction.  “Put a hole in it for your face.”

On the pier:

“I think we should just go back,” Berry shouted to Nathan who now was more than halfway down the total length of the structure, just feet away from where it sank completely beneath the surface of the tide.

“No way, Berry! Don’t be a chicken.  This is fun!” The shape shouted back, giving no verbal sign of alarm when, for a moment, it again almost lost its footing.

Berry felt his body tense, almost diving forward into the water before the blur regained its foothold on the wood.  In a second the tension passed, and Berry became immediately relaxed. In a moment, his fear for Nathan had tamed his rage, transformed anger into courage; and when that too had passed, he realized that he himself had been standing upon the shaky wet wooden prop for minutes.  He tightened his grip on the fishing pole he was carrying, and stepped forward, following Nathan out into the crashing waves.

Nathan was squatting, cutting off chunks of mackerel against the planks between his sneakers.
“If a boat goes by, we’re fucked!” Nathan screamed, laughing.

“Gimme your pole,” he said to Berry as he baited his own hook.

Berry took a few uncertain steps forward, stretching his arm out toward Nathan.  Nathan grabbed the fishing pole, beneath the top loop, and Berry let go.  The pole splashed down into the waves, submerging the reel and bottom half of the pole.  Nathan pulled it up from the water, quickly stuck a hunk of fish on the hook.

“Att’ll do ya,” he said, handing the poll back to Berry.  Too far now to reach the pole without being speared by the dangling hook, Berry took a few more steps forward.
“Watch out,” Nathan said throwing back his pole.

“Okay,” Berry replied, flinching a bit, unsure of what exactly was about to happen.
Then he watched in awe as Nathan cast his line off into the surf.  The purity of motion was amazing and beautiful.  Nathan had never impressed Berry as being particularly graceful.  His movements, though deliberate, had always seemed more purposeful than elegant, impelled more by youthful rawness, than some sort of refined physical dexterity.

But this was something different.  Berry was amazed to behold muscle memory in action. And his brain was flooded with molecules of shame.  It was as if he’d been placed before some large fourth-dimensional mirror, and for what was surprisingly the first time in his life, Berry realized just how entirely physically awkward he was.

There was nothing he did as automatically as Nathan had cast that line.  Not shoveling food into his fat face, not scribbling notes to himself on stolen office post-its, not fucking, not riding a bike, not wiping his ass after a neat little shit.  Berry was incapable of grace even through the most redundant practice.  He was capable of mechanical mindless action, but even that was sloppy and unsure.
“Aren’t you going to cast?” Nathan shouted over the wind, as a large swell billowed over the piling and halfway up his calf.

“Yeah,” said Berry. “I guess so.  I’m not sure I know how.”
“You’re just going to have to figure it out,” said Nathan amidst the tumult.

Berry wrapped his chubby pink fingers around the line just above the reel, pulling it back against the rod.  Then, as he’d seen Nathan do moments before, he flicked the metal arc at the top of the reel with his thumb.  The wind blew hard, and fishing line began to fly off the reel, beneath where he held it with his fingers. He panicked, snapped the pole back over his shoulder then flung it forward. When the pole was pitched 90 degrees he let the line loose with his fingers, sending the bated hook flying out with the wind.  The gust took mackerel and carried it out so far Berry thought he might lose sight of it.  Finally it splashed down to the waves with a whirl.

“That was a good cast!” Nathan shouted. “I thought you said you’ve never fished before.”
Berry just smiled, rainwater and sea spray flowing down his fat dumb face like cum down the faces of Asian girls in the bukkake films he watched.

“Keep casting on this side,” Nathan shouted. “If you cast in the other direction, you might get tangled up on the other wall.  If a fish swims around the pilings, you’re fucked. I’ll keep casting out to the front, here.  That way, our lines shouldn’t get tangled.”

“Alright,” Berry yelled back, not completely sure he understood what it was Nathan was talking about.  A wave swelled up above his toes, filling his loafers with cold saltwater.

The rain was picking up now, and the sea was spraying something wicked. Small steady streams of brackish water were flowing hardcore off Berry’s garbage bag poncho. He was standing sideways upon the structure, water before him, wind at his back.  The rotting wood beneath his soles was soaking up water like a sponge, and the thin green layer of grassy algae was growing slicker from compaction and inundation.  Berry willfully slid his right foot side to side a bit, and a stupid bloated smile spread across his doughy pink cheeks.

He looked to his right, through the gauzy haze of water that had run down his brow and filled his eyes, toward the end of the plank where Nathan stood. He was just a rain soaked blur, like an out of focus photograph.  A soundtrack of windy discord, the crashing and swelling of seawater surrounded him, filling his ears and mind like a superb rising ebb tide.

All at once he was alive.  The wind beat his back harder. Raindrops smacked against his face and cheeks so hard it stung. And soon, Berry couldn’t tell if he wasn’t crying. He laughed, and his laughter was awkward and whooping, forced yet uncontrollable like the unchained sobbing of a grown man thrust into miserable hysteria. And soon, he felt he couldn’t stop himself, and he wasn’t even sure if he hadn’t lost it.

Through clenched and watery eyes he saw Nathan’s form turn toward him.  He heard him shouting.
“Berry!  Your line! You’ve got a bite!”

Berry looked in front of himself.  The rod he was holding had arced down drastically, bent almost 180 degrees.

“Fuck! Nathan! What do I do?” He shouted in a panic.
“Set the hook!  Jerk back the rod!”
He did it, staggering.
“Now what?”
“Reel it in!”

Berry pulled the rod hard against his paunch.  The base stuck in his gut, and he cranked the reel in a frenzy.
He was turning the reel with all his might, forcing the pole’s handle deep into his belly until it hurt.  Still, he felt he was making little progress.  Berry felt as if he were attempting to ride uphill on a bike stuck in the highest gear gear. He turned and turned.

“God!” Nathan shouted, “This thing must be huge!”

Berry’s fingers felt like ice-cold jelly, and just when he felt he could turn the reel no more, the fish’s head broke the surface of a cresting wave which crashed down upon the levee all around Berry.
The head was huge, with a threatening boney jaw, and shining golden eyes.  The horrible face was still burning in Berry’s mind when the waves closed in above his head.

Suddenly, everything was a muffled soundlessness, and murky obscure brown-grey light.  There was no up nor down and everything was drowsy weightlessness and cold.  Berry felt the garbage bag swelling up all around him, he saw vague shadows of ghastly gigantic fish suspended all around him.  And then, suddenly, he could see them. A school. A dozen or so gigantic fish, hovering almost motionlessly, twelve-foot a piece, with strange pointed snouts and prehistoric boney plates down their backs and sides. In the murky light they seemed to glow gold, or ghost white and he could feel them watching him. Like old gods. Like something beyond the experience of man. Like silent acceptance.
He suddenly felt very tired.  He felt as if he was already asleep, and at once everything became just a dream. This was not his life.

He saw himself, from a camera angle outside of his own body.  There he was, sitting behind his desk, in his office at Head Over Advertising, back in Filler.  It was springtime, and all the cartoon frog-green leaves of old maple trees were shimming with sunlight, dancing in the warm Connecticut breeze.

He was there in short sleeves; his old blue and green striped tie tied snug around his fat well-fed neck. Little specks of dust and airy flotsam drifted past the yellow square of window sunlight. And all he could hear was the quiet hummy buzz of the perpetual fluorescent lighting.

Even the old faux-wood paneling upon the office walls seemed bright and welcoming.  Every spilled-coffee carpet stain was gladly received. He was home again, but now everything had changed.  What he had called monotony, was security.  What he had perceived to be boredom was protection, shelter.
That was his life.  Routine is refuge; and he had torn that refuge to bits, cast his haven into the cold Atlantic where is would sink and sink, only to be buried in all the silt of a hellish abyss.

It was a moment before he felt the smacks on his face.  He could see Nathan’s face, flushed and drenched and teary shouting before he heard the screams.  He was back upon the levee, eyes open staring up from a pale expressionless face. Nathan was kneeling on his groin. He puched Berry hard in the sternum with a audible crack.

“Berry!” Nathan’s voice shouted.  “Berry, please!” “Fuck Berry! Please!

“Somebody help!” Nathan screamed so loud it seemed blood would pour out from his throat. And the Berry coughed.  He hacked and felt the sting of saltwater spurt out from his lungs. He swore he felt a little fish wriggle out over his tongue.

“Berry! Jesus, Fuck!” Nathan cried. “Jesus Christ, Berry! Fuck!”

Berry clenched his fat cheeks with fingertips. Jolted up. Tossed Nathan back on his ass to the structure. He stood.

“Nathan! God damn it! You almost killed me! I almost died!”

Nathan got up on his feet ran to Berry, grabbed his face and pulled it down to his and locked his gaze.

“But Berry! You’re alive!”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Emerson: Crossing a Bare Common

image
"Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear." —R. W. Emerson

Whitman and Doyle



The romantic friendship that Walt Whitman shared with Peter Doyle embodied the "love of comrades" celebrated in Whitman's "Calamus" poems. Their thirty-year friendship (1865–1892) left a legacy of loving letters from the older man to his younger companion ...

Doyle and Whitman met one winter's evening in Washington, D.C. The twenty-one-year-old Doyle was the conductor on a Pennsylvania Avenue horsecar, and the forty-five-year-old Whitman was the car's sole passenger. Doyle recalled, "We were familiar at once—I put my hand on his knee—we understood . . . From that time on, we were the biggest sort of friends" (qtd. in Bucke 23).

Source:
Murray, Martin G. "Doyle, Peter." The Walt Whitman Archive. Web. Aug 17, 2014. <http://www.whitmanarchive.org/criticism/current/encyclopedia/entry_3.html>

Image: Wikipedia.com

Love, by Henry David Thoreau


"Love is a severe critic. Hate can pardon more than love. They who aspire to love worthily, subject themselves to an ordeal more rigid than any other."

Love, by Henry David Thoreau

Thesis Excerpt: "Towards a Rich, Scholarly Fiction: Cross-disciplinary Synthesis and Practical-scholarly Methods in Fiction Writing as Primary Creative Exploration"

Towards a Rich, Scholarly Fiction: 
Cross-disciplinary Synthesis and Practical-scholarly Methods in
Fiction Writing as Primary Creative Exploration
mykl g sivak
April, 2012
With slides from the conference presentation:
Sivak, Michael, G. Towards a Rich, Scholarly Fiction: Cross-disciplinary Synthesis and Practical-scholarly Methods in Fiction Writing as Primary Creative Exploration. Twelfth Annual Graduate English Conference. Southern Connecticut State University. 2012.

image
While traditionally treated as a discipline with processes set apart from the scholarly, the field of creative writing, in actuality, presents the unique opportunity to apply many concepts of both scholarly and creative techniques in a single unified process. Creative writing and scholarly analysis of texts represent two sides of a single coin, the two ends of one process. The writer writes so his words may be analyzed. That analysis may be performed casually by a non-scholarly reader, in terms of craft by a fellow creative writer, or academically by a scholar. The possibilities for various types of reading and analysis are probably endless, as each is personal to the individual. That said, there are certain absolutes inherent to the processes of textual creation and analysis. A part of that set of absolutes is that good writing lends itself particularly toward scholarly consideration, and that scholarly analysis is the end to which all good literary fiction aims. It is a symbiotic relationship. The writer writes to be read. The scholar reads to analyze. In his discussion of the tenets of liberal humanism, Peter Barry writes: “The job of criticism is to interpret the text, to mediate between it and the reader” (Barry 20). This may or may not be true. After all, how does that criticism reach the readership at large? Perhaps, in fact it is the job of criticism is to create secondary texts to supplement and expand the primary materials. At any rate, it is the job of the creative writer to supply the scholar with the texts to be analyzed. One major goal of this paper is to explore the idea that by understanding this relationship between writer and scholar, the creative writer may produce richer, more scholarly fiction, and in fact should write with this end in mind.
READ MORE:

"Psychotechnic Torture"


image

"A Spanish art historian uncovered the first use of modern art as a deliberate form of torture: Kandinsky and Klee, as well Buñuel and Dalí, were the inspiration behind a series of secret cells and torture centers built in Barcelona in 1938, the work of a French anarchist, Alphonse Laurenčič (a Slovene family name!), who invented a form of 'psychotechnic' torture: he created his so-called “colored cells” as a contribution to the fight against Franco’s forces. The cells were as inspired by ideas of geometric abstraction and surrealism as they were by avant-garde art theories on the psychological properties of colors. Beds were placed at a 20-degree angle, making them near-impossible to sleep on, and the floors of the 6-foot-by-3-foot cells were strewn with bricks and other geometric blocks to prevent the prisoners from walking backward and forward.The only option left to them was staring at the walls, which were curved and covered with mind-altering patterns of cubes, squares, straight lines, and spirals which utilized tricks of color, perspective, and scale to cause mental confusion and distress. Lighting effects gave the impression that the dizzying patterns on the wall were moving. Laurenčič preferred to use the color green because, according to his theory of the psychological effects of various colors, it produced melancholy and sadness."

Full downloadable PDF of Žižek's book The Paralax View

Text:
Žižek, Slavoj. The Paralax View. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006. Web. Aug. 19, 2014. <https://libcom.org/files/Zizek-The%20Parallax%20View.pdf>

Image Source:
Romero, Pedro G. "Dècor." Archivo FX. Web. Aug. 19, 2014. <http://fxysudoble.com/es/tesauro/d/decor/>

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Sociolinguistics of Wolof: Language and Identity in Senegal



The Sociolinguistics of Wolof: Language and Identity in Senegal
mykl g sivak
December 2007

Baobab tree, Senegal
What is “correctness” in language, and how are the sociological specifics of an individual speaker linked to/defined by his/her own idiosyncratic sociolinguistic class of linguistic correctness a perceived by the self and his/her peers? In this paper, by examining various cases of use of the Wolof language in Senegal, I hope to explore these concepts more fully.  In these cases, we will see, just how plastic concepts of correctness can be, and how for some speakers in these cultures, correctness can be achieved only through acceptable types of incorrect usage.  This paper will concentrate primarily on two ethnographies which examine different sociolinguistic aspects in Wolof-speaking communities in Senegal. The first ethnography was composed by Judith T. Irvine, whose work focused on the study of sociolinguistically-caused noun classification divergences in rural Wolof-speaking communities.  The second ethnography, composed by Leigh Swigart, focuses on speakers of so-called Urban Wolof (An amalgamated form of Wolof and French) by residents of the Senegalese city of Dakar. Swigart examines Senegalese speakers’ use/perceptions of language, and illustrates the role language plays in the construction of individual identity in urban post-colonial Africa. These two studies, each focusing on a different societal system within the political and linguistic boundaries of a single country, each with social dynamics and socially-informed rules of use that differ greatly in their respective urban/rural social frameworks, illustrate just how complicated the relationship between social identity and language actually is. Paralleling these studies will also illustrate divergences in rural/urban identity as influenced by Western colonial influences or a relative lack thereof, respectively.  To further inform the conversation, I will incorporate the concepts considered by Donal Cruise O’Brien in his article The Shadow-Politics of Wolofisation which takes a more political-sociological perspective of the sociolinguistic tapestry that is modern Senegal. By taking this multi-angled approach, one can begin to appreciate the nuanced complexity of sociolinguistically-defined concepts of identity within the boundaries of a particular multifaceted linguistic arena.
William Labov, in his work The Social Stratification of English in New York City (1966), Illustrated just how interwoven are the concepts of class, prestige, and identity are with the ways in which a speaker speaks.  Labov’s work famously concentrated on the “presence or absence of consonantal [r] in postvocalic position” (Labov 44). The study demonstrated how factors such as a speaker’s age, class-background, place of employment, and (I believe) professional upward mobility[1] can affect the speech patterns of a member of a society.  In the case presented by Labov, concerning the concept of prestige between the pronounced and unpronounced /r/, prestige seemed to fall upon the pronounced /r/ as the more correct form based on sociological factors.  This is interesting when one considers the fact that American English as offspring of British English, diverges in the pronunciation of /r/ in postvocalic position. The pronounced postvocalic /r/ may have at one point been viewed as the “incorrect” form, however, over time it seems to have moved to the position of being more “correct” than the unpronounced form. I present these concepts merely to illustrate how plastic and changeable concepts of correctness are in speech, and how closely that correctness is linked to the sociological specifics of an individual speaker.  These ideas reach a great level of blatancy and complexity in the societies of certain Wolof-speaking rural Senegalese.  Irvine writes: “Wolof society is highly stratified, organized in a system of exclusive, ranked categories…these ‘castes’ are named status groups with occupational specializations, and there are eight categories” (Irvine 39). These principle categories range from the highest-ranking ‘nobles,’ which include farmers, administrators, and religious leaders. The ‘noble’ cast is also the largest, comprising as much as 30% of the population of a specific Wolof group. The lowest ranking groups are known as ‘girots’ and consist of the ‘praise-singers’ or speech specialists and the drumkeepers, also called ‘slaves of girots’ and together make up about 12% of the population. Between the ‘nobels and ‘girots’ exists a number of social gradients comprised of (in highest to lowest order) soldiers and police, ‘slaves’ and weavers, smiths, and leatherworkers (Irvine 39). Irvine also notes that there exists the ranking of individuals/families within each caste, creating a level of upward-mobility within each caste, especially for early-middle-aged males of the nobility caste (Irvine 39-40).
The most interesting aspect of rural Wolof sociolinguistics would have to be the role Wolof-language mastery plays within the dynamics of the caste system. As Irvine writes:
“Fundamental to the role of speech in Wolof social life is the prevailing assumption among rural villagers that fluency in speaking is an attribute of low social status.” “restraint…is supposed to characterize the speech of high-ranking nobles. Thus it is a sign of nobility to speak little” (Irvine 40).
At first consideration, this may seem little more than a concept of nobility based on careful elucidation and reservedness on the part of the so-called nobility. However, the characteristics considered part of ‘noble speech’ do not end with relative silence.  The more remarkable criterion is the expectation for ‘nobels’ to speak “incorrectly” (Irvine 40).
‘Girot’ speech is marked by its relative verbosity; and it is this verbosity that is not only agreed to be ‘correct’ by the members of the society for the ‘girots,’ but it may also be a means of income for them.  Since it is considered inappropriate for a ‘nobel’ to give long speeches, let alone possess the ability to do so, oftentimes a ‘noble’ will hire a ‘girot’ to deliver a speech for them (Irvine 41). This seems to equate to the admission of the superiority of ‘girot’ speech in rhetorical matters, and is interesting when viewed through the stereotypic lenses of a Western mind.
Wolof ‘nobels’ are expected to make errors when they speak. Some common error-types cited by Irvine include a breathiness of voice, a lisp/stammer, altered or ‘incorrect’ vowel sounds, omitted consonants, and errors in the noun class system.  This expectation for ‘noble error’ is so rooted that when Wolofs describe the speech of a Wolof king (none of which had existed fro over one hundred years at the time of Irvine’s study) they describe errors in the king’s speech. Likewise, if a modern ‘noble’ were to speak without an ‘adequate’ number of errors, his ‘too pure’ Wolof would be viewed as a betrayal of his high birth-rank (Irvine 42). Irvine illustrates, however, that speech errors are viewed as a positive/appropriate trait only in the case of a ‘noble.’ If a non-noble were to speak with a number of errors perceived by a listener (noble or otherwise) to be too great, he would be viewed as a ‘moron,’ careless, or possibly a foreigner.  In this respect the same linguistic error may be viewed as an appropriate characteristic of a high-ranking Wolof, or as a sign of incompetence in non-nobles (Irvine 42).
It is necessary at this point to include Irvine’s sketch of Wolof noun classification, as it is noun classification on which Irvine focused her study.  In a nutshell, Wolof minimal classification is comprised of eight singular and two plural classes, and it is only the singular classes which Irvine focuses on.  The singular classes are as follows: BI, GI, WI, MI, JI, SI, LI and KI.[2] Here are a few of Irvine’s examples of usage for the BI and GI classes:

nen ‘(an) egg’
satala ‘(a) kettle’
nen bi ‘the egg (close)’
satala gi ‘the kettle (close)’
nen ba ‘the egg (distant)’
satala ga ‘the kettle (distant)’
satala gii ‘this kettle’
nen bee ‘that egg’
ab nen ‘a certain egg’
ban nen “which egg’
genn satala ‘one kettle’
bii, bu wex la ‘this (egg), it’s a white one’ (Irvine 44).

There are constructions in which noun markers can be avoided, Irvine notes that several male noble informants of early middle age, the precise demographic she notes as having the greatest possibility of upward mobility, viewed the sans-marker variety as being ‘safer’ speech, in terms of status appropriate speech.  Members of this demographic often “contradicted” their own speech in terms of noun class usage, pointing toward a conscious though not totally successful effort on their part to speak in a manner contradictory to their internally solidified speech patterns (Irvine 59).
Irvine notes an interesting factor in the sociology of the high ranking males’ tendency toward “erroneous” speech. Since this group has the least amount of interact with young children, Irvine believes it is unlikely that these “incorrect” usages will easily be passed onto younger generations. It seems to me, that if this is true, it marks an interesting evolution of the system in that to at least some extent, it assure that only members of society who effectively climb the social ladders of the highest castes will appropriate the proper though “erroneous” speech style deemed characteristic of said class, and that only through concerted effort can the style be adequately achieved.  This coupled with the view that anyone who speaks as incorrectly and is not a recognized member of the caste in which this is considered proper would themselves be considered defective and possible mentally flawed.
In sum, the caste system of rural Wolof communities, with the emphasis it places on proper/improper speech as connected to positions of prestige, is a highly interesting example of the sociological contortions a group of speakers who so directly link language with their social stratifications.  It is interesting especially to Western minds that may be quick to view such a framework as illogical and even, literally, backward in its logic. However, I do believe there are relative analogs in Western culture, specifically relating to the vilification of “correct” grammar usage among American teenagers and the prestige dialect of youth slang, which is in many ways out-of-joint with the rules of “proper” ASE language rules. I believe however, there are greater correlations to be found in the various idiosyncratic uses of what is commonly called Urban Wolof, specifically in the more westernized urban center of Dakar, Senegal.  Here African and Western societies mesh in a post-colonial mishmash and, as we will see, these duel-continental concepts of language and identity become equally muddied.
Swigart claims to have intended to focus on Senegalese French/Wolof codeswitching. However, after observing no discernible logic in the continuous intermingling of French and Wolof in urban Dakar, Steward placed his attention elsewhere. Swigart describes urban Wolof, a muddling of French and Wolof, as less a creole and/or codeswitching system than a Variété Urbane, or rather, as the spoken language of a culturally creolized society. Swigart calls a Variété Urbane the “code of preference for an educated elite,” and links it to a reduction of traditional culture. The view of such a Variété Urbane can be met with broad gradients of views from those who live in the society in which it is spoken, even by those who speak it themselves. Swigart views this as endemic to post-colonial societies, where a creolized language will fall into widespread use before it gains a true widespread cultural acceptance bu its speakers (Swigart 175).  While a creole usually develops as a pidgin between speakers of two languages who share no common tongue, a Variété Urbane developed by speakers who share more than one common language who wish to sculpt and expand their speech in a manner which allows them to communicate with more nuance and expression (Swigart 178).
Urban Wolof is a complex thing. Usually, it manifests itself as a Wolof matrix that utilizes a French lexicon. These terms may or may not me assimilated into Wolof phonology, Wolof tense requirements, or Wolof morphemes. Sometimes French terms will be inserted untouched between purely Wolof phrases, or French phrases may be rendered literally into Wolof. Essentially all of these examples may also manifest form in their respective opposite formulations as well (Swigart 176). It seems that nearly any mixture of French and Wolof is possible in Urban Wolof, however, Swigart cites three fundamental features:  Urban Wolof Form is comprised of a mixture of French and Wolof elements, and may incorporate elements of a third or fourth language as well; and switches between elements are unmarked, without specific cause beyond choice of expression by the speaker (Swigart 176-177)..
 As plastic as Urban Wolof may be, the specifics of a speaker’s approach may be met with varying degrees of acceptance among various social groups and may be seen as carrying a range of sociological meanings and implications.  For some, speaking a Variété Urbane can mean a high level of education and sophistication while holding on to traditional values (Swigart 178).  For example, Senegalese who overuse French, that is, speak French outside of its context as the language of the state, risk being viewed as too complacent to the nation’s colonial past, or assimilé. Likewise, an urban speaker who overuses Wolof, that is, does not adequately pepper his speech with common French words, will be viewed as a kawkaw, or “hick,” a person out of touch with modern life (Swigart 179-180).  Interestingly, this opinion does not carry over to the women of Dakar, or members of older generations.  Interestingly, even urban non-speakers of French have come to interject French words of phrases in their speech, perhaps in order to align themselves with the truly bilingual urban elite. In a way, Urban Wolof requires of its speakers a position of limbo, with a foot in both sides of post-colonial African life.  That is not to say there is a general happy acceptance of Urban Wolof as a mode of communication.  There seems to be the view that the mixing if languages equates to a cultural coarseness.  One particular group who is loathed for their behaviour and their unabashed acceptance of a particular dialect of urban Wolof which incorporated a number of English wordsis the group dubbed the jeunes bandits de Dakar, or ‘young Dakar low-lifes.’  These young men are known for their love of urban trappings, their overtly Western dress, and perhaps even delinquency (Swigart 181).
To speak Urban Wolof in certain company is considered disrespectful.  The great irony here is that among most speakers of Urban Wolof, there seems to be a general ignorance of the level in which the Variété Urbane has made it into their everyday speech.  Even in dubious cases, as in the case of presidential candidate Abdoulaye Wade who denied his having mixing French and Wolof even though he did this constantly during his campaign, there seems to be an actual mass misconception as to just how much of Urban Senegalese Wolof language utilizes French words and influences (Swigart 185).
Recently, there has been some intellectual uprising in support of a pure Wolof, devoid of French influence. One case involves a Senegalese newscaster who refuses to use any French in his broadcast. Instead he has chosen to pepper his Wolof with words he borrows from Arabic, which he “Wolofizes.” Many Dakarois claim they can only understand 60-70 percent of his newcasts (Swigart 181). However, as O’Brien points out:
“The most ardent advocates of written Wolofisation were often those who had already been through the best of French-language instruction, some of the more prominent of them were French nationals: Most Wolof speakers on the other hand wanted to see better French-language instruction, as a passport to occupational and geographic mobility to their children” (O’Brien 40).
Since French is the official language of Senegal, and at times 70 percent of employment was within the governmental bureaucracy, people are likely to see education in this area as far more important than in Wolof. A further irony does exist in certain Senegalese claims that the French want the Senegalese people to preserve the use of French in official contexts to save their dying language (Swigart, O’Brien). The Senegalese people may be all too away of the fact that their own Wolof poses no threat of becoming a global lingua franca as widespread and multi-national as English or Spanish.
O’Brien describes the expansion of Wolof across Senegal, specifically in Urban areas. Though French is the official language, government jobs are declining, and Wolof is the home language of the majority of Senegalese. He points out that concepts of ethnicity fall largely on the criteria of language in Senegal, and as more speakers of other languages switch to primarily speaking Wolof, in essence they switch their ethnic identity as well[3] (O’Brien 25-26).
O’Brien also points out the difficulty of the prospect of shifting the official language of Senegal from French to Wolof. Firstly, Wolof is a largely written language. It is sometimes transcribed phonetically in either roman or Arabic characters, depending on context. Another issue exists in the fact that only about half the population of Senegal speak Wolof as their primary language. To make Wolof the official language would be to, in effect, risk alienating another 50 percent of the population. And so, in some ways, French, though the remnant of colonial invaders, represents a relatively benign left-over of the colonial era (O’Brien 29-31). O’Brien writes:
“A linguistic confrontation in the Senegaliese National Assembly in the 1980s showed perhaps some future possibilities, when a speaker from one of the small opposition parties…spoke in Wolof…this speaker wanted to make a symbolic point on behalf of the Wolof language. He was answered by a government minister in Pilaar, a language which the previous speaker did not understand, making another point, that ‘Wolof was not the only indigionous alternative”’ (O’Brien 32).
This does not seem to be an issue with an easy solution and it may be evident why a number of Senegalese are content to stick with the status quo in matters of national language.
            It is clear by this brief exploration of the great scope of divergence in the sociolinguistic politics of just one language in only one nation, just how important and complicated language is where issues of identity are concerned.  It is obvious that issues of identity, social appropriateness, and other factors concerning an individual’s place in the framework of a society are highly contingent upon that individual’s relationship with the language he or she speaks.  The Wolof language indeed represents a complex tapestry of sociolinguistic nuances, and I believe it serves as an appropriate representation for the sociolinguistic dynamics of many other languages as well.


Works Cited

Guiterrez, C. Paige. Cajun Foodways. Jackson, Miss: U. Press of Mississippi, 1992. As seen in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography on the Web, (12/10/2007).

Irvine, Judith T. “Wolof Noun Classification: The Social Setting of Divergent Change.” Language in Society 7.1 (1978): 37-64. As seen in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography on the Web, (12/10/2007).

Labov, William. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania P, 1972.

O’Brien, Donal Cruise. “The Shadow-Politics of Wolofisation.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 36.1(1998): 25-46.

Swigart, Leigh. “Cultural Creolisation and Language Use in Post-Colonial Africa: The Case of Senegal.” Africa: Journal of the International Affairs Institute 64.2 (1994): 175-189. As seen in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography on the Web, (12/10/2007)
 

[1] Labov writes: “the shift from the influence of new England prestige pattern (r-less) to the Midwestern prestige pattern (r-full) is felt most completely at Saks. The younger people at Saks are under the influence of the r-pronouncing pattern, and the older ones are not. At Macy’s…stockboys, the young salesgirls, are not as yet fully aware of the prestige attached to the r-pronunciation. On the other hand, the older people at Macy’s tend to adopt this pronunciation…” (Labov 59). This may have been illustrative of the possible class background of the employees. In cases in both stores, employees of the ages between 35-50 pronounced (r-1) exactly 26 percent of the time. As opposed to employees of the ages between 15-30. In this case Saks employees pronounced (r-1) 67 percent of the time as opposed to similarly aged Macy’s employees who pronounced (r-1) only 21 percent of the time. It may have been that the employees of the younger demographic in Sak’s may come from wealthier backgrounds then their counterparts at Macy’s. it is also worth considering the fact that the level of prestige that comes with working in a department store probably decreases as an individual moves from the 15-30 years old demographic to the 35-50 years old demographic. People of the older demographic in both stores may come from comparable levels of social class, which may be close to the social class of the younger Macy’s employees, but lower than the younger Sak’s employees.
[2] Irvine notes that the BI class “has the largest membership and takes most loan words. It is frequently the alternate for noun stems assigned to other classes, a fact that has been interpreted as historical trend” (Irvine 45).   Irvine attaches a level of semantic importance on this trend as a signal to the shrinking of semantic meaning of noun markers.  Though there is little general agreement of semantic meaning for noun markers, a few of the more common include: Trees (GI), Fruit (BI), Large (GI), Small (SI), Neutral (BI), Birds, Nests, Eggs (MI), Collectives (JI, SI) (Irvine 56). The broadening of the BI class may be due to its designation of semantic marker for all things neutral.  This may be evidence that Wolof speakers are abandoning semantic meaning (some of which are clearly founded in the natural world) for a less specific markers.  The Wolof speakers are evidently aware of this shift. This is evident, for example when one speaker stated, “Some people nowadays just use BI for everything” (Irving 56). It is worth noting, however, that girots and noble females trend away from the BI class and toward noun class elaboration (Irvine 58).
[3] This brings into consideration Gutierrez’s examination of Cajun identity. She writes that though Cajun self-identity is stronger than it has ever been, many Cjuns find it difficult to answer the question: What is Cajun? (Gutierrez 16).  “For those Cajuns who speak French today, the particular dialect they speak is not what determines whether they arew Cajun or non-Cajun French ethnicity, although dialect is associated with class distinctions…they call white Creole and tourists from france “real French people” (Guitierrez 17).  This should not be confused with their term for all Cajun and non-Cajun native French speakers in Louisiana which is French People. This designation includes Cjuns, white French Creoles, black French Creoles and Creoles of color. The term French People is contrasted to the term Americans. Cajuns call any American who is not a native-french speaker American but stress that this does not equate to a lack of American patriotism on their part (Gutierrez 20).