Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sixth Grade Wishes You to Know

In the sixth grade, we have been studying the evolution of language. How did English get to be the way it is? Is language alive? What is etymology? Syntax? Can you make a portmanteau? How does a word catch on? What happens when a language dies?

To further this exploration, we've written soliloquies based on the "All the World's a Stage" declamation in Shakespeare's As You Like It. If you'd like to see our attempts, visit this page.
Here are some of the attempts, lounging in the Poem Booth for public viewing. (You may be asking yourself: how is this related to the evolution of language? Well, we were inhaling Shakespearean English and breathing the tone of it into our own...or not.)


We've "translated" the poem Jabberwocky using Humpty's helpful hints from Lewis Carroll's original Through the Looking Glass. In the process of sharing our translations, we discovered that everybody came up with a different emphasis and also that Robert Frost was right: Poetry is what's lost in translation. (This is also where we found the portmanteau idea: do you know that "slithy toves" are toves that are both slimy and lithe?) We also discovered that we were able to accurately label nonsense words with parts of speech we all agreed on. Fascinating.

I also shared examples from some my books translated into French, with the help of a student also fairly fluent in the language: I Wear Long Green Hair in the Summer became L'ete au bord de la mer. Are they even the same book? Where did some of the salient details go? What happens if everything hinges on translation, such as in the United Nations? Ah, such precarious an art it is.


Next up, we'll read some Hamlet, both in the original and a modern translation, just to see how it compares. Along the way, we read parts of many different interesting articles, including this recent one from The New Yorker, on the disappearance of languages. It asks if a dying language can be saved? What is lost when a language disappears? Art, cosmology, cool sounds....so much.


Our language investigation has been suspended at times. For a long while, the students were filming an original screenplay - Kid Kool! We downsized it to a movie trailer but then discovered what was perhaps inevitable: it's hard to produce something HUGE like that when you meet only once a week. Still, what good experiences we had with the cameras and editing equipment (thanks, computer lab and Mr. Arsenault!). Students also took the time to voyage into the world cultures research - always an amazing journey.
Next, we'll plunge into some Hamlet, both in the original Shakespearean English, as well as in a modern translation. To be, or not to be. Is that the question?

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