Plan for the Day
- The Copyediting Assignment is due Friday, 11/18, 11:00pm
- I’m a little behind on Review #3 comments, so I’m giving you extra time for this
- Ch. 11: The Writer’s Voice
- Rhetorical Analysis Discussion—5183 students only
Ch. 11: The Writer’s Voice
As I mentioned in the title of this page, “writer’s voice” is a nebulous term; it doesn’t have a concrete definition. However, many people (well, English professors) will say that they can “hear one’s voice” in writing. While most of that is tone and style assumptions, rhetoric is also a component. Rhetoric is a study onto itself, and we’ll only scratch the surface here. However, let’s consider voice for now. As an overview, consider a writer’s voice to be the writer’s fingerprint. There are linguists and mathematicians (Grabchak, Cao, and Zhang, 2018) who do quantitative analyses of writers’ works to determine whether or not a piece of writing is appropriately attributed to the correct author. We won’t be doing that kind of analysis, but I’ll just say analysts can find patterns in a person’s writing.
When we analyze the rhetoric of a particular, individual piece of writing, we aren’t really looking at voice–an overall writerly development–instead, we’re thinking about tone. But isn’t tone just for sound? Consider the following sentences with visual cues:
- The dishes seem dirty.
- THE DISHES ARE DIRTY!
- Wow! Look how clean the dishes are.
- Wow…look how clean the dishes are.
Before getting into the fine details, consider these passages of prose and make a determination (I wrote that on purpose) in regard to (also on purpose) the writer’s voice:
Imagine a world without the following technologies: vaccines, sanitation, or democracy. Many would consider such a dangerous, uncomfortable, disenfranchised world undesirable. However, societies developed those technologies to promote health, provide clean water, or, in theory, develop a governing system not limited to heredity or “might makes right.” Vaccines and sanitation technologies obviously responded to the pressure of larger communities: disease spreads fast when people group themselves closely together under unsanitary conditions. Democracy or any governmental system responds to society’s needs to regulate the living conditions of the gregarious homo sapien [sapien] species. These are tools. They are not perfect, but they have solved many problems and provided greater human comforts. In Chapter 6, I discuss democracy and neoliberalism in detail, explaining how both—specifically their rhetoric—influence video game themes. Neither democracy nor neoliberalism are natural, autochthonous artifacts governing technological development. They are enmeshed with human cultural values.Toscano, Aaron A. Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. Lexington Books, 2020: 19-20.
As a product of modernity and on the cusp of postmodernity, [Roland] Barthes identifies the absurdity of Western civilization granting science (and its byproduct, technology) as the sole truth making body. After all, scientists and engineers, employed by the state, used their objective selves to create an arms escalation that eventually culminated in creating the ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb. As a cultural critic and important cultural studies theorist, Barthes elevates sarcasm the way culture elevates scientific objectivity. Each can equally access the truth, but one—scientific objectivity—appears autochthonous while writers filter ideas through personal biases. However, because scientific discourse disseminates science often through writing, it is important to recognize that discourse communities influence how scientists communicate findings.Toscano, Aaron A. Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. Lexington Books, 2020: 60.
And perhaps for next week…
There are some other ways to avoid or end rioting, but the strategies above are the main solutions. These solutions are exact and follow a formula, an algorithm. Unlike real world social unrest that stems from deep-seated social inequity, social unrest in Civilization is controlled without the need to address systemic problems. The video game’s virtual world adheres to all things being equal.Toscano, Aaron A. Video Games and American Culture: How Ideology Influences Virtual Worlds. Lexington Books, 2020: 88.
For this topic, consider diction to be more than the correct meaning; it should also be the correct choice. The following words and phrases are out of context, but what connotations do they have? In what settings would you use (or not use) them? Are they age specific?
- level of commitment
- action items
- goal oriented
An easy way to distinguish between “denotation” and “connotation” is to remember denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation refers to the ideas, values, attitudes, and allusions surrounding a word. WARNING: Be careful using a thesaurus to find alternative words. Even a plain word can have drastically different synonyms.
- p. 174: Denotation is “the core meaning of a word…its essential sense.”
- p. 174: Connotation is the “special sense, association, or overtone carried by the word.”
- p. 175: “The words you choose are effective only when they are appropriate to the rhetorical situation, appropriate for the audience and purpose, and when they convey your message accurately and comfortably.”
- p. 175: “when words are inappropriate, they set up communication barriers. As a writer you must learn to spot your own inappropriate words.”
Time permitting, let’s look at the opening for the law school personal statement on the bottom of p. 175. Why do Kolln & Gray think something is off about the piece? I’ve written and edited many personal statements. It’s a VERY good idea to have someone look over your personal statement because, even if you’re a superior writer, you probably don’t have extensive experience in this genre. One of the biggest problems–contrary to what the “personal” in the name might suggest–I see is that writers try to narrate their lives and insist on providing the exact steps they took to attain some knowledge or intellectual attribute. You want to create the impression that you’re the right candidate for admission, so your statement should get right to your reasons for wanting to continue with school and NOT your chronological steps in life. Time permitting, I’ll tell you about Voldemort’s personal statement.
Story: I once interviewed at a consulting firm where one of the managers spoke nearly entirely in clichés. “What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander” and “Want not waste not.” It was infuriating. I decided not to take their offer and stayed at the job I had. Then, three months later, I got laid off…the other job was already filled. I was infuriated. This was 21 years ago, and I still hold a grudge.
You don’t know what you got til it’s gone.
Think back to elementary school when you learned about similes and metaphors. Both are figurative comparisons that claim “something is something,” and the “sentence becomes metaphor when that equation is figurative rather than literal” (p. 178). Metaphors help explain complex situations using more common ideas or concepts. Similes are more poetic and make comparisons using like or as.
- p. 177: “metaphor [is] the application of words from one sphere to another.”
- p. 178: The Richard Larson passage uses an extended metaphor. Let’s consider all the words and phrases that carry the “map” metaphor. What do you see?
In your own words, are the following metaphors helpful? Why or Why not?
- He’s an old flame.
- He’s a few cards short of a deck.
- Fees have gone up again.
- The wind died down during the night.
- We dug up the dirt on that sly fox.
If you haven’t gone here already, take a look at the extended metaphor from the Rhetoric of Fear page.
Another technique you may find in a prose selection is “extended metaphor.” Just as metaphors make comparisons, this technique extends the metaphor over several sentences or paragraphs; it might even weave throughout an entire work like a book.
Below is a selection of prose from the second paragraph of Montagu & Matson’s “Preface” to The Dehumanization of Man. This sentence introduces an extended metaphor, which will weave through the rest of the paragraph. The authors metaphorically relate their study to an infrastructure. I’ve highlighted the street words:
The decision to stay off the common thoroughfares where possible, and to go instead through certain half-deserted streets, is of course partly expedient—it cuts down the mileage—but it is also a choice based on our sense of the imbalance of contemporary social analysis and commentary, with its preponderant (and wholly justified) attention to political derelictions and other clear and present dangers.
The Dehumanization of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983: xi) by Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson
They compare their study to the way we travel on roads; they will “stay off the common thoroughfares” and focus on the “half-deserted streets.” And, in the image of “half-deserted streets,” readers see the bleakness of the world. The streets are not full of life but abandoned, forgotten. The streets and thoroughfares not only reinforce that the authors’ study does not repeat what others have done (they are going down the road less traveled), but using streets and city imagery helps readers understand the subject by presenting it in light of a familiar topic; in this case, it is urban decay. They even explain the boundaries of their project, why they’ll focus on a particular area, through travel language: “mileage.”
The extended metaphor of streets continues in the next sentence:
Although we do not presume, like Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, to go boldly where no man has gone before, we have attempted to go where too few explorers have gone before; or where, in our opinion, they have not gone quite far enough or brought back sufficient hard evidence of the dangers and demons that lurk out there—beyond the circle of light, behind the cool facades and beneath the paved streets of the social order, in the widening cracks of civilization: at the modern heart of darkness.
The Dehumanization of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983: xi) by Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson
Streets are a metaphor for civilization and eventually link societal degradation to potholes as the “demons” and “dangers” of dehumanization lie “beneath the paved streets” and “in the widening cracks of civilization.” The cracks are like potholes—a common problem for roads and a major clue that a city is decaying—but they are also like the fissures created by earthquakes, ready to swallow humankind. The authors don’t state “human civilization decays the way streets decay and have potholes.” That would be a stupid, unartful sentence. By having the extended street metaphor in readers’ minds, our analysis can easily suggest the rhetorical effect is to compare dehumanization to the (possible) common neglect of cities, which was a definite issue in the early 1980s when the authors published this book.
***This assignment is for ENGL 5183 students only***
The above discussion is an attempt to help you (5183 students) think about how you will analyze the rhetorical effect of the prose selection you’ve chosen. If we have time, I’ll ask you to review the paragraphs on this page Finding Dominant Rhetorical Appeals.
Kolln & Gray tell us “Metadiscourse refers to certain signals that help the reader understand the writer’s message–signals that clarify the purpose or direction of a particular passage, acting as guideposts for the reader” (p. 184). Most conjunctive adverbs (meanwhile, nonetheless, in fact, on the other hand, etc.) are writing about writing.
In technical communication, we commonly use “first,” “second,” and “next” as metadiscourse telling readers the order of steps and procedures. Look at pp. 184-185 and notice the difference between openers and hedges.
- p. 184: “The use of probably and very possibly in sentence 3 is called hedging…”
- p. 185: “Although you might think that using words like perhaps and probably would communicate doubt about the author’s authority and the reliability of the information, such hedges actually have the opposite effect on the reader.”
- What do you think? What tone might hedging imply?
Next, go back and re-read the Thomas Kuhn paragraph in “For Group Discussion” on p. 186.
Code Gloss and Attributors
Here are a few attributors in my video game book:
- “As mentioned above, the definitions of aggression and violence are not universally understood” (p. 52).
- “As mentioned throughout the book, video games are cultural products, reflecting the culture from which they come (p. 113).
- Are the commas appropriate or necessary?
- “As mentioned before, values do not have to be universal in a society…” (p. 126)
This is the only code gloss example I could find, which is surprising…
- “There is variation, but focusing on prevailing attitudes (for instance, the way Americans espouse the rhetoric of freedom) reveals strongly suggestive cultural patterns, suggesting what is more relevant for culture overall” (p. 64).
Point of View
This discussion should help draw your attention to point of view for your Review (#1, #2, & #3) revisions. We commonly use first person to describe ourselves (I, me, mine, we, us, our). We may use third person to conform to the assumed objectivity required of scientific contexts (the research, observations were made by the author, etc.).
But what about second person? Many of your reviews will be greatly improved by using a second person point of view. Instead of using first person, which comes across as you airing all your pet peeves, tell what you‘ll find, learn, enjoy, etc. For instance, notice the difference between the following:
- I was greeted by a host I wouldn’t mind getting drinks with later–hottie AF! The wings I had were way too hot for my weak, sensitive palate.
- Upon walking into the restaurant, you‘ll be greeted by one of the beautiful hosts, chiseled by Zeus himself. If you‘re adventurous, try the super spicy wings, but (you) be warned! You‘ll want a glass of ice water nearby.
Continuing today’s theme of “what does Dr. Toscano do in his writing,” I found my use of you:
- “Throughout the game, CJ builds a bigger, faster, stronger character. One of the more annoying parts of the game is that you need to work out, eat at regular intervals, and even hold your breath to build muscle, maintain sex appeal—an actual stat in the game—and swim underwater longer” (p. 115).
A Note on Romantic
Many of you did restaurant reviews for one of your Review Assignments. It’s good to discuss the service, atmosphere, and, obviously, the food. One description of places that reoccurred was the setting/atmosphere as romantic; however, I never really got the sense the place was romantic. An aggressive anti-romantic, I will offer a standard for “romantic restaurants.* Check out the page I have for the Information Design and Digital Publishing class.
*Consider this sentence and its structure. What type of grammatical structure is the opening clause?
Although the Rhetorical Analysis Assignment this assignment is for ENGL 5183 students only, the following reiterates some of Kolln & Gray’s points.
In order to highlight the discussion on writer’s voice, I want you to consider the difference is among the following passages:
- Ladies and gentleman, we at the Globe Theatre are pleased to present “Twelfth Night,” performed by the Royal Shakespeare Society.
- Dude, “12th Night”‘s at the Globe.
- It is an honor and privilege that we bestow upon thee a magnificent performance from the spectacular Royal Shakespeare Society, an acting troupe of world-renowned status.
What are the characteristics of formal, informal, and conversational tones in writing? In which contexts might the statements be appropriate or inappropriate?
Dominant Rhetorical Appeal
This is more for the ENGL 5183 students doing the Rhetorical Analysis Assignment, but it will help you make more sense of Kolln & Gray’s discussion of the rhetorical effects of grammatic choices.
Dominant rhetorical appeal: Consider the author’s intent for the selection of writing. An effective way to set up your introduction would be to explain the dominant rhetorical appeal of the piece. For instance, imagine you’re analyzing an application letter (not a good choice for this assignment, but it’s instructive). The dominant appeal will be of ethos; the author is convincing the audience they are the ideal candidate for a job. Their credentials, past experiences, attention to detail exhibited in a well-written letter, etc. will convince (or fail to convince) the audience that they are credible, having the necessary qualifications for employment.
Additionally, consider an environmental warning from a well-known scientist. Although the scientist’s credentials will be an appeal of ethos, the facts and logic used–appeals to logos–will or should be more dominant in order to convince readers of the environmental danger.
And another thing…consider a message from an organization like the ASPCA (first paragraph of “Breaking: Bad News for Slaughter-Bound Birds”). Obviously, their images are entirely used as emotional appeals (pathos) to invoke shame and sympathy in an audience, moving them to take action to protect animals. Of course, you’ll focus on the words in your rhetorical analyses. Although the ASPCA uses celebrity endorsements (ethos) along with facts and statistics (logos) about animal cruelty, it’s their emotional appeals (pathos) that really drive home their messages.
Next week is Thanksgiving Break, so I have nothing planned for you. The week after will be the last readings we have for the semester: Ch. 12 in Rhetorical Grammar and Ch. 17 in Perfect English Grammar Ch. 17, and there’s no homework or quiz! After that, it’s Portfolios (Due 12/07) and the Final Exam (Due 12/12), which is cumulative. The ENGL 5183 students get a bonus assignment, so check out the details for your Rhetorical Analysis–including the 9-10 min presentation on this analysis.