Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

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What’s so funny about Spanglish?

A joke to ponder submitted by the incredible Connie Manguno:

How does milk introduce itself in Spanish?

Soy milk

Teachers and learners of Spanish spend a lot of time on “ser” (to be) vs. “estar” (also ‘to be’).

This is a playful way to introduce English speakers to “I am” using the “ser” verb form of “to be” for permanent conditions. In this case, the double entendre and joke is “Soy milk'” (I am milk)–this would be the introduction of a native bilingual, one who can interchangeable use codes of Spanish (I am) and English (milk). This is also of course a play on “soy milk” vs. oat milk, cow’s milk etc.

The joke is mildly incomplete in my opinion. The question should be “How does a non-dairy milk introduce itself in ….Spanish? Is it Spanish or is it something else? Does it matter? What makes this joke funny is the appearance of the code-switch. Only a reader/listener who understands a bit of Spanish conjugation can understand this joke so in a way it’s intended for an insider, bilingual audience. I like it. I laughed outloud. Is this joke funny to you? Do you think it conveys a positive or negative connotation? What’s so funny? ¡Pregúntale a tu mamá!

What’s so funny? Konglish

Konglish and translingual jokes!

These Korean/Konglish jokes were shared with me by a brilliant UGA student, Ekaterina (Katya) Mushurueva 10/22. I am so grateful to work with such terrific, translingual minds in an asynchronous “e” class entitled LLED 6631e Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. The prompt to students was to read about translanguaging and post a translingual joke (or other creative transliteracy post). Reading student responses has been one of the most ecstatic moments as a professor. Thank you Katya and others for such a great day online!

Katya’s post title: Konglish and translingual jokes!

“The influence of English on Korean is quite substantial: there are many loan words and sometimes almost entire areas of content can be represented by them. Many people refer to this mixture of languages as Konglish, which I think can serve as an example of translanguaging.  Korean is also heavily influencing English due to the Korean waive – rapidly expanding popularity of Korean culture (music, cinema, fashion, etc.) in the west. So many Korean words are entering English, I think the word “skinship” (Kor. “스킨십”) is an interesting example, originally a loan word that found a new meaning in Korean culture and entered English referring to the concept of bonding between two individuals through non-sexual physical contact such as hugging.  So, with this mutual connection and influence of languages on one another, some translingual jokes are bound to appear. Below there are two of my favorite ones.  

Q: What do you call a 5-year-old onion?

A: 오년! (onyeon)

The number 5 in Korean is 오 (o), and “year” is년 . So, 오년 literally means 5 years and sounds like the word “onion” 🙂 

Q: Why did the pear go to the hospital?

A: 배아파서 (baeapaseo)

The word 배 (bae) means both pear and stomach. And, 아파 (apa) from the word 아프다 (apeuda) means pain or ache. So, the response to the question is because “pear/stomach/pear’s stomach :)” is hurting!

I think these types of jokes have a lot of educational potential. If implemented in the classroom, they may become a way for students to acquire new vocabulary by building strong associations with it.” 

What’s So Funny about Bilingualism?

– What’s considered trashy if you’re poor, but classy if you’re rich?

– Day drinking, speaking two languages, hard drugs, tax avoidance.

Misha asks: why is this joke funny? 

Misha answers and asks you to chime in:

I like how this joke raises attention to the socioeconomic disparities in values or the way perceived “deficits” can turn into assets just by one’s economic privilege.  One might look down upon day drinking (alcoholism), hard drugs (addiction), and tax avoidance (fraudulent, criminal behavior).  By placing “speaking two languages” in this list, it takes three things that are widely considered bad for one’s own or public health as parallel to speaking two languages which we might otherwise think as good.  The joke’s implications help us consider what constitutes “trashy” bilingualism in terms of wealth and privilege rather than language itself. I also like the sonic off-rhyme of “trashy/classy” in the opening question.  It sets up a playful and musical tone in its dark humor.  

I learned this joke from a group of students in 2020.  Got one? Share it and discuss!

What’s So Funny?

I am very excited to read students posts this week in my course on bilingualism and bilingual education. Among other creative requests, I asked that students share a bilingual “joke” to help us understand how humor works to reinforce messages about bilingual/translingual identity in the U.S. and the world. Here’s one of my posts. I thought I’d share some here, too, in honor of fall celebrations.

As we approach the fall equinox, many religions celebrate Fall holidays of importance that follow the lunar calendar, including Moon festival traditions in the East and Jewish New Year traditions.  A Jewish community member just sent out a Yom Kippur joke (a day of fasting where a ram’s horn called “a shofar” is blown).  The joke:

I asked my uncle’s family, “How is everyone’s Yom Kippur going?”

He answered: “Shofar shogood”

This joke highlighted for me some of humor’s beauty–to connect insider group community members with one another, using vocabulary and/or phonemic structures from the non-dominant language or culture.  This joke does both–a play on the Hebrew and English words “so far, so good” and “shofar, sho-good,” also highlighting the s/sh phoneme switch that often identifies Yiddish and/or Hebrew speakers as a linguistically different minority.   This accent alluded to here, using “sh” instead of “s” has a long biblical tradition when the Semitic Ephraimites tribe were identified as foreign and slaughtered because they could not pronounce the /ʃ/ (sh) phoneme.  So this joke makes light of pronunciation that can have real life/death consequences.

I welcome opportunities in small and large group discussions where you can share translingual poetry and humor!

May I ask you a personal question….

Dear friends,

When I got married, I got loads of advice. I received beautiful wedding showers with little cards filled with wisdom and well wishes. I felt so supported and guided. I knew I had places to turn.

When I had the first child–another album of wisdom. Just before the birth I was told to go out more, see a movie, take advantage of every minute I didn’t have to carry a diaper bag with me or snacks. When baby #1 was born, I was shown how to swaddle, advised how to nurse, consoled through sleepless nights and weaning. Baby#2 I was given books to help me navigate sibling love and sibling rivalry, ways to strap one child to my front and one on my back. So many other people were able to show me how it was done, openly even if exhausted. When I got my first dog–what an abundance of good advice I received!!

But now, when one by one, my friends seem to tear apart from one another, I have so little to say. The silence and taboo that surrounds the big “D” (shhhh…divorce) means that when we talk about it, it’s in hushed tones. My friends ask me to keep things confidential for obvious reasons, open new social media and/or bank accounts, slowly seek out the help they need, the new silverware, bedsets and addresses.

What do you tell a friend, a dear friend, in pain and uncertainty? What wisdom from your own D experience might you share with me and thus me with others about what to do?

I am examining my own ablism, racism, westernism, capitalism. But now I wonder about “couplism” (I think it’s a thing)–a blindness one has when in a relationship in relation to those who are not or who need to individualize again. What should a person know going through this? What should his or her community know to be a better support system? Is there anyone I know who’d be willing to email me privately some reflections or would you be willing to post something here?

Please don’t try to guess who this is or where or think this is a coded message about me. This is really just a request to those who are brave enough to share: how did you get through a divorce? What were your most important tools?

So far I learned:

  1. Get a good therapist to help YOU
  2. Get a good lawyer
  3. Get a good mediator (is that the same as 2)
  4. Know you will survive and be better for it (do all feel this way?)

Why I did not sign onto the Middle East Section Statement on Palestine

June 2, 2021

I post this message in response to the invitation and pressure for the Council on Anthropology & Education (CAE) to sign onto a statement by another section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Middle East Section (MES). Their statement [http://mes.americananthro.org/mes-statement-on-palestine-updated-5-19-21/#_ftn1] is called the MES Statement on Palestine and has been signed by many entities with the support of many peers, mentors, students, and friends in anthropology and education. I offer another perspective and an invitation to engage in nourishing dialogue. As a scholar of L2 Education who was honored to speak to the English Teachers Association of Israel including Arab, Jewish, and Palestinian teachers in Jerusalem (2017), I view English language education and ethnography as important tools for complex and caring actions toward peace.

An Endorsement for History, Ethnography, Language Education, and Peace (written in consultation with Dr. Alma Gottlieb and other scholars who may wish to remain anonymous)

Bearing witness to the takeover of the Right in the U.S., Israel, and other countries around the world is frightening, and it is important to denounce this trend as members of any institution with power–the power of words against the power of weapons.  With this statement shared with the CAE board and now with all CAE membership, I wish to express solidarity with Palestinians under the occupation, and opposition to disproportionate use of violence by the Israeli military over the 11 days of the recent war and in everyday practices of oppression.  However, I cannot endorse the MES statement as it is written.  The statement is inflammatory and assumes a monolithic “Israel” and “Palestine”–both, spaces that contain many diverse and vulnerable groups who are victims of oppressive actions taken by their respective governments.  The MES statement fails to acknowledge these ethnographically specific vulnerabilities.  

It is painful for many of us to observe that Jewish people who helped build the Jewish state of Israel as a space of refuge from the Holocaust, tracing centuries of ancestry to this homeland, could also support a prime minister and a government that actively promote the oppression and denigration of Palestinian people, and suppress LGTBQ rights and interfaith marriage within Israel. Many progressive, Jewish Israelis oppose their own prime minister’s actions and that of the right-wing settler movement actions much as many of us in the U.S. opposed the Trump leadership.  

At the same time, the MES statement now endorsed by many AAA units, including the CAE, adopts an unrealistically ahistorical perspective that concerns me.  Some of us remember the 1978 Peace Accords, when Egypt lost ten years of rights to belong to the Arab League simply for acknowledging Israel as a legitimate nation.  More of us remember in 1995 when Yizhak Rabin was promoting peace between Israel and Palestine and was assassinated by a young Jewish, right-wing Israeli.  Training in educational anthropology can help one understand the ways that words and passions mobilized to fight oppression can also unintentionally reignite other forms of oppression. As an educator and an educational anthropologist, I see an urgent need to question ‘group think’ mentality that may attract those who stand on the side of anti-oppression, and a need to consider the importance of studying both what is said and what is not said, as well as what is implied by silences and omissions.  I ask myself now, and I ask my CAE colleagues: What further damage is done when endorsing statements that omit discussion of the ways in which both the Israeli military power (backed by the U.S. government that invests wealth in violence and oppression in the name of defense) and Hamas military power (backed by a terror superpower that invests its wealth by sponsoring radical Islamist militants at the expense of Palestinian civilian safety) reject efforts to engage in any real diplomacy and forge a lasting regional peace?

I understand that the Middle East Section Statement rejects a “two sides” narrative because of clear power imbalances distinguishing Israel and Palestine.  While I recognize these power imbalances, I also recognize the on-the-ground realities that have left many Israeli civilians wounded or dead from direct attacks by Hamas into Israeli cities.  The frustration over Palestinian land rights that underlies these attacks is undeniable, but the MES statement declines to condemn Hamas attacks directed at civilians.  Neither does the MES statement acknowledge the multiple past attempts to create a viable two-state solution.  The statement falsely aligns the Jewish state and all endorsements of its right to exist as a form of white supremacy, a statement that I fear is exactly the kind of rhetoric stoking the rise in hundreds of cases of anti-Semitism recently (and ongoing) around the world.  

The MES statement selectively omits other uncomfortable truths about the region.  For example, it declines to condemn Hamas for not holding free and fair elections for Palestinians in Gaza since 2006. It declines to condemn Hamas leaders as perpetrators of cruel violence within Palestine, and for their rejection of peaceful negotiations to establish a democracy.  Likewise, the MES statement omits connections between the 11 recent days of violence and powers far outside of Israel/Palestine–both those that want a Jewish state of Israel and those that do not–that are using Israelis and Palestinians as pawns.  Furthermore, I am concerned that scholars who sign this statement are missing important acknowledgement that Hamas leadership speaks plainly for the destruction of Israel, and uses Palestinian civilians as human shields for rockets and ideology.  

The current crisis is rooted in long, complex histories, and I find myself frustrated that the MES statement does not leverage the power that a nuanced, anthropological approach to conflict can offer to complicated ethnographic realities.  As an anthropologist dedicated to probing the messy complexities of lived realities and training my students to do so with all available scholarly tools of our and adjacent disciplines, I prefer to use the great strengths of the fields of both education and anthropology to nourish understanding of the complicated history of a fraught region.  It is critical to acknowledge that that history includes attempted genocide against Jews, and anti-Semitism and violence in the Arab world against both Jewish Arab (the majority of Israel’s population) and Muslim Arab populations and, more recently, Israel’s Ashkenazi population of east European origin.  Any statement that does not acknowledge this historical complexity is one-sided and I believe should not be supported by educational scholars of anthropology.  

A simplistic condemnation that one side in a political conflict–any political conflict–has a monopoly on righteousness to the exclusion of the other side betrays our training as anthropologists.  Due to omissions and misunderstandings perpetuated in this MES statement, I stand as a minority dissent to the CAE board decision to support the MES statement as it is written.  With this dissenting statement, I stand in solidarity with those Israelis and Palestinians who stretch out their hands for peace, and with those who say “No!” to continued violence and rhetoric that does not clearly support both Israel’s and Palestine’s right to self-determination and statehood.  I also stand in defiance of terrorists, of disproportionate use of military force, and of those who support violence against civilians.  We must stand for a complicated and considered peace.

For reasons well articulated yesterday by Zack Beauchamp on Vox, I retain hope that the struggle for a two-state solution that honors all actors in this fraught land–a struggle that precedes many of our lifetimes–can yet be realized in our lifetimes. 

Book Birthday: Enlivening Instruction with Drama & Improv!

This book is just born, April 2021!!

$23.96 now on Amazon and less if you attend AERA (AERA2021). If you use in a class, you can get an “instructor’s copy.” Teaching and Learning languages should be joyful and full of meaningful communication! Allow students make you laugh!!!!


Book is also available in “ecopy” with links to video examples of play. I will zoom into your classroom to demo.

YAYYY! Celebrating with my co-author Dr. Kathleen R. McGovern!!!

Some thoughts on publishing poetry

It doesn’t matter. I say this and yet I do dedicate some small portion of time to what I call “Po-Biz”–the business of getting the poetry I write (because I must), into a more public sphere where I can call it art.

I have put some thoughts on this link.


I keep the eye on writing new and better poems, poems that I need to get through the collective trauma of our lives. And yet, if I am to take myself seriously as a poet, a maker of art, I must share these poems to see if they work and how they work in the larger world.

Making me art helps me to see beauty in what may otherwise be scary, record it, and share.

New poem draft for a found dog

“She’s nice so someone will want her”

A black stray, mangled with grey

sluff under a thin, black coat, rib

bones so pronounced under torso

one can imagine her already under

grounds she barely stands on. Hind leg

contorted, dragged two miles to follow me

home after I’d held her a plastic water cup.

People don’t always want what’s nice.

They want four legs, Labs or Retrievers.

Or they fall on hard times and are harder

on those below them. The dog’s second

full dish of food’s gone.  Her tail’s aflame,

screen whacking in wait while  our first

rescue pup spoons with me on the sofa,

certain of two meals a day, treats to sit. Stay.

Okay! chirped and he bounds the front yard

while the back’s closed with this homeless girl.

When I said we’d take her, soon, to animal control

I was startled by my son’s words, the same I wanted

to believe. But there’s not as much niceness

going around. We’re starved for it, the full

feeling so grand, you want to feed it

from your hand, bathe its soiled, sore paw,

scratch its kind head as she bows.

*To donate to “Cardi’s” amputation surgery costs, http://athenscaninerescue.com/donations/

*Postscript December 2020: “Cardi” was taken to the shelter and then to the vet clinic for diagnostics where the vet clinician fell in love with her and adopted her. At a healthy weight, her leg seems to have healed enough to walk and run and so it has not (yet) needed amputation. It’s a happy ending. Cardi is in the happy care of a dog loving owner and has a sibling dog, gets to sleep on the owner’s bed. Ah, so there are still some really nice humans.

Poetry is a Form of Research

New Interview Published in The Napkin Poetry Review:

“According to Dr. Melisa (Misha) Cahnmann-Taylor, poetry “can wiggle its way into so many lives and minds because of its unmarked visibility. Poems are small tastes of revolution that can pass.”  Here, she talks about how poetry can be used as a research tool, particularly in ethnography, and the creative value of bridging arts and sciences—where can quantitative research miss out or benefit from poetry? How can this cross-disciplinary mindset be incorporated into classrooms?” Link below.


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