week 4 reflections

Progress completed this week following my reading/watchlist: 

  • Watched If These Knishes Could Talk — need to rewatch and take notes this time, but wonderful documentary. Shocking that it only has 17K views. The points about constant nostalgia and the tension between the negatives and positives of gentrification were so compelling (and kind of heart-breaking). I want to pay close attention to the words these participants used to describe New York and its accent — things like dynamic, direct, honest. It seemed the documentary really positioned the accent as integral to the NY identity: at points, you can’t exactly tell if someone is referring to the accent or the city.
  • Continued reading New York City English — and pulling quotes while I’m at it. In her feedback to my presentation in class, Joanna wrote “I can’t believe how people pronounce Hoyt-Schermerhorn” which really puzzled me. I mentioned it to my husband (a native Brooklynite), wondering how else someone could pronounce it (“It’s /SHUR-mur-horn/, isn’t it?”). He also didn’t know. Then, I read on NYCE’s second chapter: “[T]he pronunciation of the first syllable of Schermerhorn Street as [skɪm] (‘skim’) is limited to those familiar with Downtown Brooklyn where it is located.” I was absolutely floored. I got to the third chapter (​​Phonetics and Phonology) and stopped halfway through the section on vowels. It’s a lot to take in at times, especially since I’m reading a book about sounds that are not all native to me — I have to constantly remember which IPA symbol denotes which phoneme (Wikipedia’s audio chart has been helpful, but not foolproof) and even then, I’m often confused about subtle distinctions. I do really like learning about these subtleties, though, so I’d love to find a more effective way to process them (asking my husband to say certain words over and over again doesn’t always help, since his NYCE is not very “strong”). 
  • Continued reading City of Dreams — about 70 pages in and past the New Amsterdam era, reaching the 1740s or so. This is a really great read, focusing on key people and events to give a broad stroke of each era in the city. Since this one is a physical book, I’m writing bullet point notes, paraphrasing the threads that stick out. So far, the deep religious tensions have surprised me — coming from a majority Catholic country (and subconsciously assuming Catholicism to be completely synonymous with Christianity; the default version of it), it’s jarring to learn there was so much hostility towards “papists” in early NY. Catholicism was referred to as a “hocus pocus, bloody religion” with “barbarous, savage, and monstrous” traits (p. 66). The hostility towards Jewish immigrants is also notable, though not as new of a concept to me — a quote that stood out there, referencing the existing religious diversity in New Amsterdam as an excuse not to allow Jews to settle: “We have here Papists, Mennonites and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents, and many Atheists and various other servants of Baal among the English […] It would create a still greater confusion if the obstinate and immovable Jew came to settle here” (said by a Dutch Reformed minister in 1655; pp. 27-28). The description fascinated me — it’s obviously meant as an insult, but to me it feels like an absolute badass way to describe someone. 
  • Looked into a visit to the Ellis Island museum — planning to go this Sunday.

This week’s readings were very helpful for this stage of the process. The strategies from How to Read a Book that resonated the most with me were “read it three times” (something I feel like I already do, but not as distinctly; I kind of blur the second and third reading together) and “use your unconscious mind” (getting a reminder that taking breaks is important/productive always helps, pragmatically and emotionally). Mapping the Terrain‘s breakdown of reviews and information-collecting methods was a great refresher — I feel I had some of this experience during my undergraduate thesis, but wasn’t nearly as rigorous as I should have been (I certainly was “tempted to over quote,” a mistake I hopefully will not make this time around). 

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