UP IS WHAT Now?

This week I decided to get serious with studying Japanese and started with Wanikani, an online system for learning kanji. Using a system of mnemonics and spaced repetition software (SRS) WK is designed to help you learn radicals, kanji, and compounds. First, you cram the new material into your brain, and then a few hours later WK will quiz you. Do well, and it’ll extend the time until it asks you again. Miss one, and you’ll see it again sooner. Repeat, repeat, repeat until learned.

What seems so promising about WK is that while it’s relatively easy to learn a single use for a kanji, I’ve never had a system that was good about teaching me multiple uses of that kanji. I would learn that 上 is the preposition for UP, pronounced ue, and then off to the next kanji. When I’d see that 上 in a sentence, half the time it was being used in a sense I hadn’t learned yet, a grammatical brick wall. WK isn’t going to let me off so easy–instead, it makes me learn 上, 上がる, 上げる, and 上手 (up, to rise, to raise, and skilled) in rapid succession.

I’m also currently working on my preliminary literature review, linking affective experiences, conceptual schema, cognitive structures and language, and narrative. One part of this is looking at how language develops, and how the metaphoric words we use expose the way we’ve grouped ideas (schema). The idea of an UP is inherently linked to the experience we have as a person; UP requires a perspective, a vantage from which UP can be above. And having that sense of the relative direction, we have linked it to positive concepts: HAPPY IS UP so we can feel up and our spirits can rise, and GOOD IS UP so things can look up and hit a peak. These categories are complex, built from our physical experiences into a net of understanding, with tiny differences between UP, OVER, ABOVE, OUT, and ALONGSIDE all having linked but different ideas. In her book Story of Over, Claudia Brugman reportedly found over 100 related meanings for the word OVER! (More on all of this in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff.)

Which brings me back to my friend 上. Japanese kanji are inherently visual, and there’s a visible representation in 上 as UP (especially when compared to down/下), so when I look at the vocabulary I’m learning I can see abstractly the connection. But I haven’t internalized these connections quite yet. Instead, WK is teaching me mnemonics that make what is abstract to me now be relatable to my existing English-based mind. Today, I’m memorizing a toe on the ground (seriously!) but someday soon the words will form into internal links of meaning.

And so I keep going, day by day, using brute force to build the schema connections in my mind, all to the end that these meanings can become as natural and opaque as cognitive structures in my native language.

Which is all to say that researching the process while experiencing it is fascinating…enough so that I feel the urge to HAPPY IS UP jump for joy!

Video: Building a Metaphorical Foundation (for Educational Technology)

Because technology is by its nature abstract, the way that we think about these abstractions has a direct impact on how it is created and implemented. I created this video to walk through how metaphors impact technology on the levels of students, teachers, and in the big picture. Hopefully, this will provide some food for thought for those creating and using technology, both inside and outside the classroom.

Putting together a short annotated bibliography on metaphors about technology and finding that the articles range from “the metaphors we use shape our conceptions of inventing and implementing technology” to “sometimes we think computers are like people and get irritated that they are so withholding” to “existing in the global cognisphere means that we have given up our agency as individual entities”. There seems to be some healthy disagreement on this topic.

The metaphors we use to talk about things are powerful. For example, when talking about the internet lately the “flow of information” is seen as a given. It’s like drinking from a firehose. We’re engulfed. We’re drowning in it.

What if instead information online were a river, continuously available to carry us where we need to go, there to quench our thirst for knowledge, and distract us with cool waters for as long as we want to dip in our toes?

Don’t you feel calmer already?