Tag Archives: English

Ursuline College reveals Inscape 2014

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Ursuline showcases the community’s talent with the recent launch of the 2014 edition of Inscape

The College began producing a fine arts magazine in 1945. Every spring since then, the English Department, in conjunction with the Art Department, publishes Inscape, an award-winning magazine featuring the writing and artwork of faculty, staff and students of the College. Submissions, including essays, reviews, poems, short stories, photographs, and artwork, are evaluated by an editorial staff made up of students and supervised by a faculty member of the English Department.

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The Death of an English Major and the Death of the English Major

For me, one of the saddest moments of the fall semester was learning of Lou Reed’s death.  Reed was a songwriter and musician whose work I had long admired.  I was especially sorry that I had never gotten to see him perform live (you can get a taste of what I missed out on in the above video).  While his fame stretched worldwide, less well-known was the fact that he was an English major.  No doubt, Reed’s English background helped him in writing such great lyrics, lyrics that even were published on their own in the book Between Thought and Expression.

Sadly, there might not be too many more Lou Reeds in the future, as the English major itself seems to be following Reed in departing the Earth.  As college gets increasingly more expensive, students increasingly choose more directly vocational majors, so they can get what they perceive as a more immediate payoff on their investment (however, there is nothing more worthless than a vocational degree when the employment marketplace shifts in another direction in contrast with a liberal arts degree that prepares students more broadly for life).  Reed graduated in 1964, likely near the zenith of English majors.  In 1970, not long after and the first year for which I could find reliable statistics for American higher education, out of 839,730 graduates, 63,914 were English majors, 7.6% of the total.  Near when Reed died and the last year for which I could find data, 2010, out of 1,650,014 graduates, 53,231 were English majors, 3.2 % of majors.  So, with essentially a doubling of students graduating from college, even fewer of them chose English.  With the pressures leading students to choose other majors showing no signs of lessening, that trend will likely only continue, making a choice of major in English truly a “walk on the wild side.”

However, in some strange way, this trend actually works somewhat to the benefit of the brave few who choose to walk on the wild side and be English majors.  Society will likely always value those who can communicate well and think critically, and, though majoring in English certainly isn’t the only way to develop those skills, majoring in English is a good way to develop those skills.  In fact, even in an article on the current societywide drumbeat for more science, technology, engineering, and math majors (STEM), one can find a CEO being quoted that “the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly,” which sounds to me a lot like the characteristics of an English major.  In fact, pairing English as a major or minor with a STEM major or minor, or even any other major or minor, is often a good decision since the combination provides students with a knowledge domain beyond English along with communication and thinking skills beyond those of most of the others in that same discipline.

But, as Reed demonstrates, just choosing an English major alone can be a way to guarantee an interesting life.  Unfortunately, these days, with the increase in college costs (an issue that would take a whole other blog post to discuss, so I won’t go into that issue here), people often only view college in economic terms, which is a shame since college should be about more than money, especially personal development and civic leadership.  Nevertheless, for those only motivated by money, English still has something to offer you.  Look at Mitt Romney.  He was an English major as well.

“Tomato, Tomato” Ursuline Style

The above clip from the 1937 film Shall We Dance makes a nice accompaniment to the rest of this post.  Go ahead and play it.  You can even watch it, then play it again and read the post while “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” plays in the background.

As the clip demonstrates, quite a variety exists in language.  Every year at Ursuline College’s commencement, I encounter a local example of this phenomenon when everyone sings the Ursuline College song.  You can see a copy of the lyrics below copyright and courtesy of the Ursuline College Archives (though you might need to click on the image to make them legible).

ursulinesong

In the song, “Ursuline” is rhymed with “serene.”  Since the usual pronunciation of “Ursuline” on campus tends to rhyme the last syllable with a word such as “fin” or “sin,” this is an unusual pronunciation of Ursuline.

However, “Ursuline” has quite a range of pronunciations.  Although people in Dallas and Louisville seem to pronounce “Ursuline” as we do on campus, people in New Orleans and Massachusetts seem to pronounce that last syllable of “Ursuline” so it rhymes with “fine” or “sign.”

Still, where does the “UrsuLEAN” pronunciation come from?  One explanation is that it might result from poetic license from the songwriters (Sisters M. Augustine and M. Pauline), who might have preferred the rhyme possibilities of that pronunciation.  The other explanation is that it might preserve an older pronunciation of “Ursuline.”  The Ursulines who eventually founded the College came from France (though a couple were English), and it appears that the pronunciation of “Ursuline” in French does indeed have that syllable rhyme with words such as “lean” and “seen” (this appears to be the case in Quebec as well; in a history of the Ursulines in Quebec, I found an English language poem from 1888 which rhymed “Ursuline” with “seen”).  In fact, the French seem to even pronounce the “e” at the end of the word as a separate syllable.  You can hear this yourself at the French dictionary site Larousse.

Without going into great linguistic detail, if, in 1850 when the first Ursuline sisters arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, they brought along with them the French pronunciation of “Ursuline” (assuming the French pronunciation itself hasn’t changed much), the French pronunciation likely became anglicized over the years to chop off the “e” syllable at the end and allow the previous vowel more or less to follow the path of the Great Vowel Shift in English, a sound chain shift which explains today why the vowels of English speakers, particularly in writing, vary from their Continental language counterparts (so, if you ever had trouble pronouncing French or Italian words, now you know what to blame).  At some point, two primary pronunciations, one more French and one less French, might have been competing, with the more French pronunciation, surrounded by Buckeye English, losing speakers every year.  By 1930, when the Ursuline College song was likely composed, it’s possible that the songwriters wished to preserve the traditional pronunciation of “Ursuline” by embedding it in the alma mater.

So, perhaps it was poetic license, or it reflects an older pronunciation of “Ursuline,” but the Ursuline College song includes an uncommon pronunciation of “Ursuline,” at least around here.  The Gershwin brothers, writers of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” would likely have sympathized either way.

Thanks to Mara Dabrishus, Sr. Virginia DeVinne, Gerri Jenkins, Sr. Ann Kelly, Sr. Janet Moore, Giuleta Stoianov, and Rebecca Wrenn for their help with this post.