Project 1: Word Play

When I first started designing hypertext assignments, I tried to hard to force students to "play." By doing so, as in the assignment below, I would end up with many hypertexts that seemed to be cut from the same mold, a hypertext version of the five paragraph theme. I have since found it better to minimize written instructions and templates while emphasizing student input and collaboration to develop project ideas and forms (as well as workshops to share how students have interpreted the assignment and designed hypertext lexias).

Due Date

In our readings, we have found that language is not a simple tool of communication but a complex cultural practice loaded with ambiguity and indirection. Language does not simply communicate our ideas but shapes our perspectives and our relationships with ourselves, others, and our cultures. For this first project, your job is to show to other students who are not in our class how language works to shape perspectives and relationships.

In class we have read that the metaphors of everyday language (often unnoticed) shape how we see things. Some terms may have personal significance not available to others, but most of our definitions are based on social and cultural use. The complex interrelation of personal and social meanings for terms and concepts can make communication difficult. These complexities are multiplied when doing cross-cultural communication. We have found that categorizing is necessary but can be problematic when it turns to stereotyping. We have learned that our conversations are highly ritualized and marked by implicatures and indirectness. We also know that the way we speak can tell a great deal about who we are in terms of gender, race, and social standing. We also have learned that cultures use language differently and thus how we understand things and persuade others is often culturally specific.

Postmodern poetry addresses many of these issues calling into question not only our cultures but how we make meaning. Many of the poems directly address the problems of language. These are some of the topics addressed in class and in our readings. While you do not need to deal with all of the above, your project should show through examples several of the things we have learned about language.


The obvious sources you should use for your project are the texts we have read for class. Yet there are several other sources that you can use. In our group work and in class, we have been using several techniques to collect data about language (collecting word associations, doing conversation analysis, creating figures of speech). You can use this data or collect more from similar sources. It may be best to work with your group to collect examples and observations. Sharing research and information is encouraged (of course, no "word for word borrowing" from others without citation).

Beyond the poem and class readings, you will need to find other examples of how our cultures use language. You might find samples of language use to analyze by observing friends, other students, and social groups at places like classrooms, the union, a mall, the library, a restaurant, or any public space. Other sources for language use may be newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, film, political speeches, advertising copy, sitcoms, dramas, and anywhere else language is used. Remember to have a list of your sources in your project.


You will be writing a hypertext that begins with a poem from Paul Hoover's anthology. The hypertext may present a unique organization and form, and it may include text fragments, other poems, links, images, definitions, and much more. The best way to think of a hypertext is as a series of shorter microthemes (5-10 shorter works of 100-200 words) that are linked by association and not necessarily logical development. Your hypertext should include a "Reflections" that explains how all of your microthemes are connected as well as draw together your conclusions about language.

The poem should be used to introduce your hypertext. You might use only one word or phrase from the poem to link your reader to the next piece of text, or you may use several words and phrases to link your reader to most (if not all) of your pieces of text. There is no one right way to make a hypertext. You can take your reader in any direction, lead them into dead ends, give them several choices, force them to make the next step, or . . . (Make sure that at some point your reader hits your "reflection" so that he/she understands what the whole it trying to do.)

The best way to think about the project is to imagine you are doing an anti-drug campaign for MTV. You have been given ten minutes of air time. You could make one ten-minute program with one set of actors, one setting, one approach, and one focus and one theme. It may work great but it may also be hard to keep your audience interested in the topic. It might be more effective to create ten one-minute spots that all have the same anti-drug theme but use a variety of approaches, foci, actors, settings, and genres. The same is true for our project. You could write a single 5-7 page essay on how language shapes our perspectives, but it might prove more effective to write 5-10 short microthemes all linked by a common theme.


Due Date:
The project should be 1200 words long minimum. The first draft is due on 27 February 1996 (electronic and/or hard copy). The final draft is due on 29 February 1996 (electronic copy only).



1) Remember that you do not need to do your project on the pages supplied on the "Project Disk." You can write your project on any computer (IBM-compatible or Macintosh), save it on the "Project Disk" and turn it in. NOTE: If you use an IBM-compatible, you may need to reformat the "Project Disk." You can do so. If you are totally frustrated by computers, talk to me and you can write your project on paper.

2) Remember that postmodern poetry often directly comments on how language shapes our perspectives. You may write several microthemes that analyze the poetry and give examples. Your first page with the poem may contain analysis of the poem.

3) Use the group work we have done to create some of your microthemes. You may write about dating conversations, figures of speech, graffiti, word association, and so on. You can use the evidence generated in class or you may find more.

4) Don't forget to have a short reflection (200 words or so) explaining how the different parts of your project support and explain a central theme (how language shapes our perspectives).

5) You may create microthemes by summarizing information and ideas found in our readings (Metaphors We Live By and Talking Power).

6) Questions that may help you get started. If you answer :

  • Why are words so difficult to define?
  • How can language be deceptive?
  • How does some of the poetry we have read make you rethink the way you see things?
  • How does language we use show power relationships between people of different status? Gender? Race?
  • How does the language we use stereotype men and women?
  • How do metaphors help us to understand things?
  • How can metaphor hide things from us?
  • How do the two books we have read (Metaphors We Live By and Talking Power) overlap? Differ?
  • Why don't we always say what we want directly?
  • How can a simple word like "we" be ambiguous?


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