Linguistic Autobiography

When I think about language – the words I speak, the style they take on, the little idioms that get me through the day – I find it very interesting to try and recount where all of this came from. It’s equally interesting to think where my language skills may someday take me, and what will be added to the dictionary of J.D. King. Of course, everything starts at home.

My first experiences were like most people, from my childhood home. I grew up in rural Oregon, in a small, cut off valley in farm country. English was the only language I was exposed to in my childhood home, with no other dialect variations brought into play through specific family members. My parents were however, big on public television and international movies. So, there was the occasional exposure to languages like German, French, and Spanish. Basic counting, hello and goodbye phrases, and exclamations of surprise were picked up. One phrase that stands out in particular is from the book to movie adaptation of “I Remember Mama.” It revolves around a Norwegian immigrant family and my mother was a huge fan of the book and movie alike. There is a scene when the old uncle is helping the boy get over his pain, and he teaches him a swearing phrase: “dum geit,” pronounced “doom yate.” It means silly goat and I used it a lot to my own amusement as a child.

Looking ahead in life, I can finally see a shift in my accessibility to new languages. When I was in the fourth grade, we had a few Spanish lessons from a local resident, and put on a small play, singing songs in a language I do not recall to this day. I didn’t have much exposure to other languages until I was fourteen or fifteen, after I had left home. Once I was out and about on my own, I met of a lot of people different from myself with unique dialects and languages. Of course, like any rotten teenager, I went straight for swear words, exclamations, and food descriptions. Another interesting point in my teens years was my involvement in traveling Renaissance fairs. It was fun to try and shift your language to old, long expired phrases and accents. Around this time was also when a friend introduced me to anime from Japan. A linguistic love child I have yet to abandon. I later lived as a housekeeper when I was nineteen for a year and a half with a first-generation American whose family had come from the Philippines – whose language was as I’ve learned, heavily influenced by Spanish or local tongues. I was taught a lot of words relating to farming, cooking, family and sewing from her during my time there. Like kalabaw (buffalo), tocino (cured pork or bacon), adobo (pickled), ulan (rain), sakahan (farm), ina (mother).

Unfortunately, I have very little contact with my family to inquire about my ancestral language and history. But I do know the following few things from memory. My paternal grandparents were first generation Americans, having lived several generations in the Quebec-French region of Canada, and further back, in France and Ireland beforehand. My surname at birth has a French origin as well – Cormier. My mother’s family was primarily from the Missouri region of the United States, although most migrated to the Northwest just after World War Two. Sadly, I have no other information.

In terms of dialect, I think I speak what is often referred to as “Standard American English,” but I’ve lived many places and often find myself incorporating the language of that new area. Still, my accent has remained much the same. A bit faster than it should have been for the Northwest, and generally easy to understand. I was, as I mentioned, born and raised in the Oregon and Washington area. When I was in my early twenties I moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Philadelphia and frequently traveled to New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Picking up many nuances of language along the way. Cheesesteak, whiz, wit and witout, shore, ignert, the unholy thing known as scrapple, and hon (a word I still use daily). I have noticed regional differences in the way I identify long sandwiches, fizzy carbonated beverages, and my own state name. Subway, soda, Ore-gon like hexa-gon not Ore-gun. I can say that since entering higher education and working before in the software programming industry, my vernacular has shifted a lot. I use a lot of technological jargon. I utilize a lot of words typically found in political, logical, rhetorical, and literature courses. I also pick up slang easily, whether from YouTube, or others around me from the local region I’m living in. I’ve also taken two semesters of Japanese, expanding my abilities into one additional world language. Watashi wa motsu​​ to manabitai! 私はもっ​​と学びたい(I want to learn more!). I would eventually like to tack on Korean, and maybe German or Italian. If only to communicate better with worldwide friends, and have better access to media materials.

When I think about how I perceive or have perceived linguistic diversity and language, I can’t point to a specific moment, but when I was around sixteen I was working in a call center and can recall hearing so many voices from around the country. It was also the first time I was told I speak fast, people used to frequently ask if I was from the Northeast. I also know when I first started educating myself, and when I first started meeting new groups of people unlike myself – I defiantly did some judging. That was of course, before I understood the beautiful nitty gritty world of linguistics. I would judge grammar and spelling like a “grammar nazi” and touted my own skills, not realizing how diverse the world was and the harm that came from doing so.

I too have also been judged harshly though. I have a neurological disorder that causes my nervous system to decay and cause sporadic movements and fluctuations. I’ve also suffered extreme poverty and homelessness which has affected my physical self in many ways that affect my ability to speak clearly. As such, I have a heavy lisp at times and utter words out of order sometimes. It hurts, but it makes me try harder to speak up and be a voice for others who suffer from similar issues. I think as my interest in literature has grown, it has been my biggest linguistic influence. I’ve been fortunate to read books by many authors from a wide array of diverse backgrounds, ethnic origins, and forms. I also hope as I grow older and travel more, this exposure will continue. I have little use for my ancestral language, even with the little I know about it. However, I think one thing I’d like for my future children is exposure to other languages – something I believe I missed out on by not going through a traditional high school program. I also think whatever their own background is comprised of (since I will be adopting only), will influence my language acquisition choices. I would like to continue to pursue Japanese and I very much want to pursue American Sign Language, but have not been lucky enough to attend a college with a program just yet.

I think I have like every other person on this planet, I’ve become a product of my environment. From the family I grew up around for a time, to the many thousands of words and phrases I’ve encountered with friends, coworkers, and media. I can’t imagine that I will go from this point in my life and not add even more to my experiences. I would be quite sad if that were the case. It was fascinating to look back and try to piece together my linguistic origins. I think it is the kind of thing that really exposes your history to others and yourself in such a unique and interesting way. I hope I can utilize this information in my future work with linguistics as I move out into the world.

I’ve shared this brief language autobiography first to give some insights about my own experiences with language in the world.

Fags, Queers, and Trannys: Reclaiming the Hate

***Please note this post contains language that may be triggering to some readers.***

Sodomy, Margery, pederasty, homo, dyke, Nancy-boys, special snowflakes.

Many words have been slung at the LGBTQ community over the centuries, each targeting a specific group of the of the community, and at times more than one. While slurs are nothing new to the human experience, it is the reclamation and refashioning of these words that allows groups to take back meaning and in turn gain, power and agency in doing so.

Certain words have simply been written off thanks to time, others blacklisted by society standards, but in most cases the LGBTQ community has attempted to reclaim many of these words. The power of language is an argument needing little proof: words can quickly inspire moments of great historic action or violent responses. Taking back a slur empowers the target of its hate to overcome and stand against those that would see their words do great harm.

Still, some words remain in a period of limbo, as different members of a community argue over the appropriateness in reclaiming such slurs.

For me, Queer is a word to describe myself to many in a way I feel not easily done with other words – being queer is a fluid, all-encompassing term for me to describe my gender and sexuality. But for many others, it still induces feelings of despair and fear.

Faggot or fag is another term often up for debate and for good reason. While many within the private spaces of the community will openly use the term, nearly all are reluctant to do so in public. The word’s meaning has taken on a sort of third parallel in recent years.

In the community’s path to reclaim the word, many younger adults and teens have attempted to refashion it in other ways, which are just as harmful to the LGBTQ community. Many use the term to describe “an extremely annoying, inconsiderate person; who could be loud, rude, or of offensive in nature.”
Many who use the term in this way make claim they do not intend the phrase to be homophobic in nature, despite the fact they are not-LGBTQ themselves. In doing so, however, they fail to truly understand the power and raw emotion behind such a slur, making the task of reclamation for LGBTQ people all the more difficult.

They fail to understand the tragic murders, violence, and hatred felt by the community along side this word. They choose to ignore the fact than many world-wide hate groups still use the language to target LGBTQ people. In doing so – they spread a sense of familiarity and comfortableness with the word that LGBTQ people have worked so hard to erase.

Visual Rhetoric

As stated in my introduction post, I am analyzing the ONE National LGBTQ Archives at the University of Southern California. The Archive makes use of many visual rhetorical strategies to promote its overall goal and message to visitors of the archive. Some of which I intend to use in this blog as well.

The first notable visual rhetorical strategies seen on the site is the rhetoric of display which is “rhetoric that makes ideas present through visual display” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 72). The website is careful to use a simple background with black and red coloring so that the bright images of the current collections that slide across the homepage pop out at the audience. The menu colors also reflect colors traditionally representing the LGBTQ community, purple, pink, blue, red, and others. The physical buildings of the archive and its sister gallery also include simple layouts and design meant to appeal to those interested in the archive. Such as rainbow painted wall of the gallery. As well as the simply brick facing with patterned gold bricks with the names of those that helped create the original ONE Magazine that eventually led to the archives creation.

ONE Gallery                                                                                                                                    ONE Archives

Another highly noted use of visual rhetoric is the implementation of iconic photographs, or “photographic images produced in print, electronic, or digital media that are (1) recognized by everyone within a public culture, (2) understood to be representations of historically significant events, (3) objects of strong emotional identification and response, and (4) regularly reproduced or copied across a range of media, genres, and topics,” throughout many portions of the website (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 82). Many of the images on the website represent iconic photographs for two communities: the LGBTQ community and the hegemonic community of the United States. LGBTQ specific images that are nationally recognized include pride flags, the Stonewall Riots, film posters, the Pink Triangle (a notable symbol that’s been resignified – “A process in which people reject the connotation of a symbol, expose how the meaning of the symbol is constructed, and attempt to change its connotation” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 56)), and notable pictures of icons. Images that are well known within the community include photos of famous Pride events, icons, historical locations and memorials, and much more.


One notable documentary within the community is Watermelon Woman, one of the archive’s exhibits includes some of memoirs and photographs from the film and the actresses’s life. 

The website takes these images to create a visual culture, which is defined as, “a culture distinguished by the ubiquity of visual forms of communication that appear in multiple media outlets at the same time (such as television, the Internet, cell phones, and magazines)” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 72). The One archive includes both an online and physical presence. The visual images can be viewed in person, through social media sights, in person, and in magazine and newspaper publications.

Another noted visual strategy used is a concept known as body rhetoric. Body rhetoric makes use of the physical body and senses as part of symbolic action by the rhetor (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 77). Here, the archive includes over 20,000 audiovisual artifacts, all of which create a unique physical experience of the LGBTQ community. Some notable videos include the LA Pride Festival and parade along Christopher Street West in Los Angeles, California and interview and training videos taken during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.


Pictured here is  Pat Rocco from the archives collection of his notable gay erotic shorts and home movies which was widely embraced by the gay community, and received positive reviews from the mainstream press, including Variety, the Los Angeles Times, and Playboy magazine.

Two other concepts of visual rhetoric worth discussing in regard to the ONE archive are enactment and presence. Enactment “occurs when the person engaging in symbolic action functions as proof of the argument they advance” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 77). This archive includes the viewpoints of many different rhetors – the artists who create new content and created past content. The ONE Archives also actively creates educational programming to engage and promote understanding and acceptance of the national LGBTQ communities present in the United States. The archive also creates an online and offline presence. Presence is defined as visuals that have the distinctive features of real existence because of their immediacy and lead to the “creation of something in the front of an audience’s consciousness” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 71) The archive not only includes images of the past, but often promotes and includes in its collections current art exhibitions, publications, comments on news regarding the collection and conferences, and is involved with creative art programs that engage directly with the LGBTQ community.

Looking to my own blog, I intend to use several of my own visual rhetorical strategies. One of the easiest methods I intend to use are iconic photographs. The use of iconic imagery and photographs on my blog, such as the rainbow flag, Pride Parades, Laverne Cox, Harvey Milk, and Rainbow colors in general generally automatically signify LGBT Issues and movements and will help direct my audience’s attention to the purpose of the blog and to make a specific point. Such as what I did earlier in this post when discussing the physical location of the archive and gallery.

Two other methods I will also be using are also enactment and presence. In terms of enactment I intend to use my status and personal identity as a transgender man and queer individual to establish my rhetorical agencies when participating in the rhetorical discussion on this archive. I will also utilize presence by engaging and discussing this archive in the present context and within the realm of this current class (Spring 2017), by doing so I intend to create a presence in the here and now.

Palczewski, Catherine Helen., Richard Ice, and John Fritch. Rhetoric in Civic Life. State College, PA: Strata Pub., 2016. Print.

(c) J.D. King (Formally Pratchett) March 2017