Check this out: I overheard a student (a new first-year student, I think) and her mom shopping at Fred Meyer here in Corvallis this afternoon. I was looking at the travel mugs, and they came up behind me. The mother asked something like, “And do you need a travel mug for class?” And her daughter replied, “Yes, that would probably be smart, given my penchant for hot milk with various spices added.”
For a split second, I thought she was kidding, that she was being playful somehow. But no, she was just talking to her mother in her normal voice, as they shopped at the grocery store. And I got the quote down almost verbatim; the only thing I’m not sure of is what she said she liked to add to her hot milk (it was spices or SOMEthing). She definitely used the participle phrase “given that…”, and she definitely used the word “penchant.”
Talk about “inventing the university” — even outside the university! This was more like “inventing my college persona.” [For anyone not familiar with that first phrase, it’s from David Bartholomae’s seminal article “Inventing the University”]
When I was 19 or 20, I actually did the “inventing the university” thing, big time, in my first English class. I got papers back with comments like “excellent vocabulary but too abstract.” I was worried about sounding academic (hence my fancy word choices and my over-abstract style) more than I was about vividness, clarity, or even simple communication. Fortunately, I got over that pretty quickly.
The whole “inventing the university” thing is an undeniable phenomenon, that’s for sure. AND it seems students may also negotiate or “try on” an academic or “cultivated” (ooh! the connotation of that word that I do NOT mean in my blog title) or “educated” voice in their everyday verbal lives, too. I mean, obviously, for some students, they feel the pressure to sound mature at home as well as at school.
And hmmm, that reminds me of Alfred Lubrano talking in “The Shock of Education: How College Corrupts” (2003) about how middle-class homes encourage and support their children for college in ways working-class students rarely benefit from. The former use language explicitly, the latter implicitly. Basically, he’s saying that in middle-class homes children become more conscious and skilled with language because various views/opinions are explored and because things are talked about/analyzed more, and thereby children become more conscious and more fluent with language and with thought.
Many working-class students definitely do not have their parents there to support them at college (either financially or psychologically). I can attest to that from my years at community colleges (as student and staff).
Anyway, I’m still amazed that young woman could speak that way to her mother and that her mother thought nothing unusual about it. On one hand, it’s great (talk about hyper-consciousness about language!) but whew, talk about a persona!