Fun with Blogging 201!

I’m having a lot of fun with Blogging 201, which is a two-week WordPress course about developing your blog. I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out in The Commons, which is the Blogging 201 area for chatting about all things blog-related.

Fun with Blogging 201

Although my blog looks fairly similar to how it did before I started the Blogging 201 course, changes are going on behind the scenes. I have plans for scheduling a blog series: a succession of posts which all relate to a particular topic. As I sit here and type, my notebook is open beside me with plans for my blog series.

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Three Blogging Goals: Focus, Engagement and Design

You might have noticed that a Blogging University badge has appeared in my sidebar. During the next couple of weeks, I’m taking part in Blogging 201: Branding and Growth. This WordPress course is designed to help bloggers who feel they are familiar with the basics of blogging and who want to move on to topics such as design, creating a blogging ‘brand’, and growing their blogs.

Image courtesy of Steve Bridger, sourced from Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Steve Bridger, sourced from Flickr Creative Commons

As part of Blogging 201, we outlined our three blogging goals for the rest of 2015. My goals are:

1. To increase my average daily hits by 25% by the end of 2015

I plan to achieve this goal by creating posts with a specific focus (e.g. a series of posts about a particular topic) and by setting myself a weekly target. At the moment, I post as and when I have time. This is usually a minimum of once per week, but I’d like to create a regular schedule and perhaps post on specific days during the week.

2. To encourage more engagement with my blog

Essentially, this involves receiving more comments on my posts. It’s great to receive feedback and I’m always appreciative of comments, so I aim to encourage more people to stop by and interact.

3. To improve the design of my blog and make some changes to my blog theme

One of the Blogging 201 tasks has encouraged me to think about the design of Cultural Life. This involves thinking about my ‘brand’ and how I can make my blog stand out in the crowd.

Do you keep a blogging schedule where you post on particular days per week, say, Mondays and Fridays?

Have you changed your blogging theme or kept the same one since you first started blogging?

And for bloggers who receive dozens of comments on each post, how do you encourage people to engage with your blog?

What’s Your Blog Name Origin Story?

When I started blogging four years ago, I knew that I wanted a blog title which would give me the scope to write about multiple topics. I also wanted my blog title to evoke culture in a dual sense.

Screenshot from Oxford Dictionaries

Screenshot from Oxford Dictionaries

In other words, I wanted to come up with a blog title which would reflect my curiosity about culture in an anthropological sense, giving me the opportunity to write posts about travel, language and linguistics as well as exploring the culture of literature, film and music.

Whether or not we choose to follow popular culture or engage with the arts, we are all influenced by society and its customs, and for many people, cultural choices form part of their identity.

I experimented with various combinations of Cultural + ?, before settling on Cultural Life. I think that adding life into my blog title adds a personal touch to my blog. It gives me the freedom to write about aspects of my life as well as acknowledging that our daily lives are bound up in culture.

Laptop blog photo

An ideal set-up for an afternoon of blogging!                                                                   Thanks to Public Domain Archive for the photo.

So, that’s how I created my blog name!

What’s your blog name origin story? How did you decide on a blog title? And what do you want your blog title to convey to your audience?

Musings from a Soon-to-be Graduate

Graduation frame - public domain image Text added by Grace @ Cultural Life.

Graduation frame – public domain image
Text added by Grace @ Cultural Life.

Last year, I was walking to class one day and another student was talking on his phone in front of me. Snippets of his conversation floated back to me and one of them was:

“Can you believe it? I’m actually getting a degree!”

I smiled when I heard this because I understood the feeling. As students, we know that we will get our degrees, as long as we study and work hard — well, even the students who don’t work hard can get degrees, but their degree classification will most likely suffer! — but it still feels slightly surreal.

When I walked out of the exam room for the last time, having spent the past two hours intensely focused on writing exam answers, I felt a strange mix of happiness and wistfulness. Graduation is a time of change and transition, which can bring mixed emotions with it. As I reflect on the past few years, I can see how far I have come and how much I have changed from day one to the last day of my undergraduate degree studies. I have developed increased self-assuredness and strength, as well as confidence in my own abilities and determination to reach my goals and push through challenges.

I completed my degree at the end of May and I received my official result in June: I am graduating with a First Class Honours degree! As most of my readers are from North America, achieving a First in your degree is equivalent to a 4.0 GPA. Needless to say, I am very happy with my degree classification! I’ll share some photos after my graduation ceremony in a few weeks.

Jumping for joy! (Public domain image source)

On the whole, my undergrad experience wasn’t the stereotypical student life; my mother developed a serious illness in my first year of studying and it culminated in a year’s leave of absence from my studies while I coped with being her caregiver and all the responsibilities which it entailed. However, I returned to academic life after my leave of absence and the experience gave me a greater sense of perspective.

Meanwhile, although it is exciting to graduate, I am already busy formulating a plan for the next step: working while studying part-time for a Masters by Research.

I have a research proposal for a linguistics project which is ready to go ahead and I will be sharing more about this in the coming weeks. The only obstacle is that the project needs funding. Earlier this year, I applied for funding from an academic research council, but unfortunately I didn’t get it. There are no scholarships available; I have written to educational trusts in the hope of obtaining a small grant, but many of them only fund undergraduates or PhD students.

Public domain image

Academic funding budgets are small and have been cut in recent years. As a result, more and more graduates are turning to alternative and entrepreneurial ways of funding academic projects, including crowdfunding. As a student said in a Financial Times article,

“It’s really hard to find funding for postgraduate courses in the UK, in the same way that it’s really hard to afford the fees for undergraduate courses in the US”

I plan to work to fund living expenses and I will conduct my linguistics research part-time, which will take two years. Although I have mixed feelings about it, I am investigating crowdfunding as a funding method; my university has its own crowdfunding platform and other postgraduates have successfully raised funds.

Cultural Life is strictly non-commercial and is a space for me to share posts and connect with other bloggers. However, I decided to join Amazon Associates a few days ago after seeing that a few blogging acquaintances use it. If you click through to Amazon and make purchase anything via my Associates link, I get a tiny percentage as a reward for referring you to Amazon. Anything that I receive from being an Amazon affiliate is going to fund my project. Thank you very much!

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

As always, I welcome feedback and discussion in the comments section. What advice would you offer to graduates who are transitioning to the next phase in their career?

Also, I am aware that crowdfunding can elicit negative responses — what do you think about the growing trend for postgraduate researchers to seek support via crowdfunding platforms? Please be honest! I’d love to hear what my readers think!

Joy Williams — Venus

The journey that led to the release of Joy Williams’s new album, Venus, was an eventful one, marked by the separation of The Civil Wars. The four-time Grammy award-winning duo, comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White, split in 2012 after citing “irreconcilable differences”.

In recent interviews about the experiences which gave rise to the songs that we hear on Venus, Joy talks candidly about the personal challenges and sadnesses in her life over the past few years, from losing her father to Stage 4 cancer to coping with troubles in her marriage and adjusting to becoming a new mother. In this detailed song-by-song look at the album, Joy discusses the inspiration and the writing process behind each song.

When I heard the first single, Woman (Oh Mama), from Joy’s new album, it wasn’t what I expected. As a Civil Wars fan, I thought that their Americana country/folk influence would feed into Venus. However, Joy is venturing into new territory with her solo album: The Guardian describes it as “grownup pop”.

As a listener, you sense that Joy has done a lot of work, personally and professionally, to move into a different space. This has made her music stronger and although Venus has been described as “pop”, the eleven tracks on the newly released album are not mindless pop tunes: they are songs with lyrics about pain, letting go and having the courage to work through change.

Joy’s voice has extraordinary strength and beauty and Venus encompasses a range of genres, from the upbeat tribal sound of Woman (Oh Mama) to the quieter piano melody of What a Good Woman Does. “Hear me/I haven’t lost my voice without you near me,” Joy sings in the latter track, which clearly refers to The Civil Wars parting ways.

Joy certainly hasn’t lost her voice! Venus is an exciting new musical direction for her, with powerful and inspirational lyrics sung by a stunning voice.

Venus is out now. You can find it at Amazon and other music sellers.

Amazon US: VENUS

Amazon UK: Venus

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase on Amazon via one of the links above, a small percentage will go toward my graduate school fund. This doesn’t cost you anything.

Sunday Snapshot

I’m not feeling great today. I think I am still recovering from exams and the build-up to getting my degree result. I’ll write a post about finishing my undergraduate degree soon, when I have more energy.

In the meantime, here’s a Sunday Snapshot with a very apt quotation!

Kittens are born with their eyes shut. They open them in about six days, take a look around, then close them again for the better part of their lives. ~Stephen Baker

image

Blogiversary: Cultural Life turns 4!

Four years ago today, I sat down to write my first post on Cultural Life. For the first few months, views from blog visitors trickled in and comments were a rarity, but during the last few years, my blog has attracted more and more visitors. One of my posts was even Freshly Pressed! I would love to be FPed again in the future: it gave me such a boost to continue blogging and the comments from readers were lovely.

My blog stats are still modest compared to some bloggers who get thousands of views per week and hundreds of comments on every post, but to me, blogging isn’t all about statistics: it is about community. I feel a part of the WordPress community and I have  ‘met’ so many amazing bloggers whose writing has inspired me and motivated me to keep blogging.

When I look back at old Cultural Life blog posts and think how much I have learned and how my writing and approach to blogging has changed in the past few years, it makes me excited for the changes that will, no doubt, take place in the next four years.

To all my readers, thank you for taking the time to read, comment and leave feedback on posts. It is truly appreciated!

Like It Or Not, Language Is Changing

Last night, I was idly browsing online on my phone while waiting for some friends to join me, when I stumbled across this issue which was submitted to an agony aunt column in The Guardian: My daughter sounds uneducated because she says ‘like’ so much. The parent who contacted the agony aunt is concerned that their daughter’s use of the discourse marker, ‘like’, is making her sound ‘stupid’ and ‘uneducated’.

As a linguist, the parent’s question immediately caught my interest because it is representative of common folk linguistic judgements, i.e. “beliefs about language held by non-linguists” (Hartley & Preston, 1999: 237). Perceptual dialectology is one of the many fascinating subfields of linguistics and it elicits folk linguistic attitudes and judgements about language. Preston’s (1989) work in the U.S. found that judgements are commonly based on the ideology of the ‘standard’, in other words, correct vs. incorrect language. This type of judgement is exactly what we see in the concerned parent’s question to an agony aunt column.

It could be argued that one of the most pertinent questions about language attitudes is how these judgements are entrenched within us. No language or dialect is inherently wrong, it is simply that a particular phoneme (a unit of sound) or a word has become “enregistered” as a marker that is associated with certain characteristics. The concept of enregisterment has been discussed by Barbara Johnstone, Professor of Rhetoric and Linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, who has focused on enregisterment in the variety of American English that is spoken in Pittsburgh (e.g., Johnstone et al., 2006; Johnstone, 2009). However, enregisterment is a concept which we can apply to any variety of language: it refers to the way in which “indexical meanings get attached to linguistic forms” (Johnstone, 2010: 31).

The use of the discourse marker ‘like’ is a prime example. Take a minute and think about the characteristics you associate with someone who uses ‘like': “and then he was like, ‘I said no’, and then I just like laughed and it was really like awkward”.

We know that users of ‘like’ are more likely to be young (Dailey-O’Cain, 2002). Perhaps the teenage girl in the photo is a ‘like’ user. Also, ‘like’ is commonly associated with the stereotype of the Californian Valley Girl, i.e. vapid, materialistic young women who do little more than shop and obsess about their appearance. From this, we can deduce that attitudes toward ‘like’ are often unfavourable because it has become enregistered as a marker of the speech of a social group which is considered to be young, ‘airheaded’ and unintelligent. A study by Dailey-O’Cain (2002) concludes that “the use of like is associated with more negative perceptions of the speaker” and found that “Informants perceive [people who use like] as less educated” (p. 73).

At this point, considering that studies have shown that ‘like’ is often negatively evaluated, you might think that the parent has valid cause for concern. However, if I were the agony aunt who responded to this letter, I would have answered it very differently. I would point out that language has changed for centuries and it will continue to change for centuries after you and I leave this earth. The increasing use of ‘like’ as a quotative in phrases such as “I was like…” is simply an example of language change. Next, I would suggest that if we spent less time viewing language as we think it should be (the prescriptivist viewpoint) and more time observing language as it is (the descriptivist perspective), perhaps we could attempt to sidestep these stereotypes and snobbish biases about people who use particular varieties and dialects.

We all speak differently….and that’s okay. If everyone spoke in the same way, linguists wouldn’t have any fun!

References

Dailey‐O’Cain, J. (2000). The sociolinguistic distribution of and attitudes toward focuser like and quotative like. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(1), 60-80.

Hartley, L.C. & Preston, D.R. (1999). The names of US English: Valley Girl, cowboy, Yankee, normal, nasal and ignorant. In Bex, T. & Watts, R.J. (eds.). Standard English: the Widening Debate. London: Routledge, pp. 207-238.

Johnstone, B., Andrus, J., & Danielson, A. E. (2006). Mobility, indexicality, and the enregisterment of “Pittsburghese”. Journal of English Linguistics, 34(2), 77-104.

Johnstone, B. (2009). Pittsburghese shirts: Commodification and the enregisterment of an urban dialect. American Speech, 84(2), 157-175.

Johnstone, B. (2010). Locating Language in Identity. In C. Llamas and D. Watt, (eds.). Language and Identities. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 29-38.

Preston, D. R. (1989). Perceptual Dialectology: Nonlinguists’ Views of Areal Linguistics. Dordrecht: Foris Publications Holland.

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015): a masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel

Bathsheba Everdene is a young and independent woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and intends to manage the farm herself: an unusual role for a woman in the Victorian era. At the beginning, Bathsheba works on her aunt’s smallholding where she meets a young shepherd, Gabriel Oak, who lives a frugal life but has managed to purchase his own flock of sheep. When Gabriel proposes marriage, Bathsheba refuses:

“I HATE to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day […] It wouldn’t do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know. (FftMC, ch. 4)

The next time they meet, their circumstances have reversed: Gabriel’s flock of sheep were driven to their deaths over the cliffs by an unruly young sheepdog and he has fallen on hard times, travelling from town to town in search of work. One night, he arrives at a farm where a hayrick is burning and the fire is threatening to destroy the barns. After helping to put out the fire, Gabriel discovers that the owner of the farm is, in fact, Bathsheba and he finds employment there as her shepherd. As the story progresses, Hardy introduces more characters who vie for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage: the dashing and vain Sergeant Troy and Mr. Boldwood, the gentleman farmer with an unhappy past.

I studied the novel when I was fifteen and I loved it: Hardy’s descriptions of rural life and the vividness of his characters encouraged me to read several of his books. However, Far from the Madding Crowd is arguably the warmest of his novels. It contains tragedy, but to a lesser extent than the sheer bleakness of Hardy’s other novels, such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. As I enjoyed FftMC so much, I eagerly anticipated the new movie adaptation of it and I was not disappointed. It is a beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s novel.

Carey Mulligan portrays the lead character and she is an ideal casting choice for Bathsheba: the audience watches her progression from a headstrong young girl to a woman who has reached a greater level of maturity by withstanding trials in her farm business and her love affairs. Mulligan conveys this progression through her expressive voice and mannerisms in a performance that deserves to win awards. Her three suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood) and Tom Sturridge (Troy).

This adaptation has been filmed with attentiveness to the essence of Hardy’s original work. It was filmed on location in Dorset and it shows panoramic views of Hardy’s Wessex countryside, as well as close-up shots of buds unfurling and a snail crawling up a fern. Scenes such as these create an evocative setting for the film. The setting is more than just a backdrop: the bucolic landscapes are as much a part of the film as the characters themselves.

I particularly enjoyed the moments of wry humour in the film. For instance, Bathsheba asks Gabriel for advice about her love life and when he asks why she is choosing him as her confidante, she responds that he is someone who can give her objective advice. Clearly, Gabriel is the last person who could give Bathsheba an objective perspective as he is still deeply in love with her! “You’re asking the wrong man,” he replies.

Gabriel repeats this line later on when Mr. Boldwood is nervously awaiting the arrival of Bathsheba to a Christmas party at which Boldwood is planning to propose. His fingers are trembling so he asks Gabriel to tie his bow tie for him: “Is there a knot which is particularly fashionable?”. It made me smile as Gabriel, clad in the everyday attire of a farm labourer, is evidently the wrong person to ask about such fripperies as the latest fashions of tying bow ties.

Of course, some of the plot details have been trimmed to condense the book into a two-hour movie. In the book, there is a scene where Bathsheba saves Gabriel’s life when he is sleeping and his hut fills up with smoke, but this has been omitted in the film. However, the structure of the plot is accurate and the screenwriter has not diverged wildly from the novel.

With a gorgeous soundtrack, stellar acting and wonderful locations, it was such a treat to see this masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel on the big screen. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it twice!

“Far from the Madding Crowd poster”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – Wikipedia film poster

Far from the Madding Crowd was released on May 1st, 2015. Have you seen it? Are you a fan of Thomas Hardy’s writing?