Assignment # 4: Miniature Research Paper

Format: Microsoft Word, three pages, double-spaced, 12-pt. font, standard margins

This research paper needs to have at least one research source quoted and cited per page, for a minimum total of three for the entire paper. Further documents assisting how to conduct your research will be posted on the Course Materials page of our Blackboard site.

Trace out some of the further implications of the letter-shapes in David Sacks’ “Letter Perfect: The Story of the Alphabet.” Do research online and in libraries concerning the “pictures” that some of letters represent, and how their visual impact interacts with their auditory impact. Look back to our exercise on the alphabet for help getting started on this project.
How do first words operate? Perform a survey of the opening words of magazine articles, books, online essays, etc., and analyze why authors choose the opening sentences they do.
Perform a research project on the ways in which profane or obscene word or phrase come to be regarded as forbidden. How does this relate to Lewis Black and how he achieves his humor in “The F-Word”? How do race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality factor into determinations of “profanity”?
Perform a close reading of the clothing of neighbors, fellow commuters, etc., and apply your observations to Alison Lurie’s “The Language of Clothes.” Then, conduct further research into the “vocabulary” of dress, and how certain outfits and ensembles “say” certain things to the world.
Keep a Disfluency Diary (either of your own vocal errors or someone else’s) and connect them to Michael Erard’s “What We Talk About, um, When We Talk About ‘Um.’” Them perform research on verbal errors and vocal handicaps and impediments, and how these things influence our sense of what “proper” communication is.
Research your family’s names (parents, siblings, more extended family) and weave them together into a narrative or story via Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays’ “The Language of Names.” Using external research sources as well as your own family investigations to chart your course.
For Spanish (or other “foreign”-language) speakers, analyze how the two halves of your bilingualism interact with each other, and incorporate the insights of Janice Castro: “Spanglish Spoken Here” into your analysis.
Take a few examples of very recent slang and compare them to the functions of slang described in Walt Whitman’s 19th century “Slang in America.” Find some good online and library-based dictionaries of slang and choose a particular type of slang (based on sports, sex, race, etc.) to research further.

In Salman Rushdie, “Is Nothing Sacred?,” is the author proposing a new form of religiosity? Perform some research on the current state of spirituality in our increasingly secular and skeptical nation, and speculate (with some well-grounded support) on the future of the “sacred.”
How does Sam Harris’ “Lying” define deception? How does his own wording stay on the “right” side of the honesty line, or does it? Look up the topic of “deception” in a local library and write a research-based survey on philosophical attitudes toward the act of lying.
Keep a one-day “body language” journal and close-read how people sit, gesture and walk in public. Compare these findings to the claims in James Millar’s online movie The Secrets of Body Language (available for free at Perform research on some current theories about body language in the fields of kinesiology and proxemics.
Write a three-page essay that serves as a “Memoir of a Material Object” or a “Biography of a Belonging.” Focus on a personal possession of your own and write about its function and its personal value. How is this object an extension of your personality? How does it reinforce your sense of self? Is it sponsored by a celebrity you are trying to emulate? Try to imagine where it came from and where it will go once you dispose of it. Will it have an “afterlife” as a hand-me-down or a second-hand sales item? Is it made from synthetic materials that will take centuries to biodegrade in a landfill? Is it the first thing you would grab if your house were on fire? Be as critical in your thinking as you can be. Even non-verbal objects can be objects of close reading. Is this thing you’ve chosen a matter of “conspicuous consumption” (more to impress others than to express your inner being)? Was it purchased through the hard sweat of your labor or the generosity of a relative? Would you feel ridiculous giving this thing a pet name? Would you grab this item out of a store window if New York City broke out into pre-apocalyptic riots and looting?
Instead of “close reading” an essay of a verbal document, this essay asks you to “read” our college campus. Please take a half-hour to walk around the college’s grounds and take some notes. Try to formulate your observations into an observational essay. The art of “semiotics” is the technique of treating everything like a symbol. What do the items visible on our school’s campus “say” about the school’s philosophy and reality? What do the sculptures (ranging from naked angels to objects that look like oversized pretzels in an act of lovemaking) signify? Why might a sunrise and the spikes on the Statue of Liberty’s crown be blended in the school’s logo? How does our school’s bordering the site of a national disaster affect our sense of learning (compared to a rural campus located in a forest)?

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