Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Signify This, Professor!

Mystery solved. During one of the darker periods of my life, I slung lattes in a Scottsdale, Arizona, cafe tucked into a strip mall at the intersection of Hayden Road and McDonald Drive (I think. I know it was Hayden and something). I was the assistant manager and worked the morning rush, during which our regulars would expect the right drink, the right way, and right now. Mostly our customers were pretty nice people, actually, and fantastically rich.

One of our regulars, however, freaked the employees out. He looked normal, but there was something very odd about how he talked: when asking for a chocolate croissant, for example, he'd ask for a "chocky chock." When we'd ask him "for here or to go," he'd reply, "I'm a go-go today."

Now, I'm a relatively tactful guy but I just never could figure out a polite way to ask, "Dude, what the hell's wrong with you?" And I'd meant to ask my parents (both of whom are Experienced Medical Professionals and are generally great at answering what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-them kinds of questions), but just never got around to it. Every now and then I've thought about that guy, and I've always been curious to know what, exactly, the hell was going on.

Well, it turns out college is useful after all. In my Fundamentals of Linguistics class today we learned about various forms of aphasia, including Wernicke's Aphasia, which occurs only when a very specific spot in the brain's left hemisphere is damaged or otherwise impaired. My expert diagnosis: if our regular didn't have Wernicke's, then it was most definitely some form of "jargon aphasia." Pretty sure it wasn't Broca's, though.

So that was one moment in my Linguistics class that went well. Then we got our quizzes back.

It was only a 25 pointer and I managed to obtain a whopping 18 points. I mixed up the definitions of "phonetics" and "phonology," for one thing, but what hurt the most was that I lost a point for my written definition of "the arbitrary nature of signs."

Personally, I thought my explanation of the word RED not having anything to do with the color (unless it's written in red ink) was astonishingly lucid. Moreover, I just slogged through an essay by Saussure in which the difference between sign, signifier, and signified was discussed at great length. I'll be touching on this topic next week when I present some of Foucault's theory to my Senior Seminar class. I almost read The Signifying Monkey once. All due respect, professor, but I know a thing or two about the arbitrary nature of signs. It's not my fault that you don't understand my genius.

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