The other day I got a beautiful red rose. I actually got other flowers too because it was my name day. But roses are special to me. I find them gorgeous and noble. And whenever I look at a single rose, I think of the famous line by Gertrude Stein: rose is a rose is a rose is a rose. It has an incredibly calming effect if you say it several times quietly. It’s almost like mediation. Sometimes I think I fully understand what Stein meant when she wrote this; things are what they are. In Stein’s view, the sentence expresses the fact that simply using the name of a thing invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it. In other words, we don’t need to say a withered rose or a dewy rose because rose is a rose. It is up to the reader to imagine their own roses. Each person has their own experience and thus their own schema of a rose.
This is obviously fascinating for me as a keen linguist and an EFL teacher. The poet inside me dreams about ways of experimenting with such an intriguing style of expressing reality, even at elementary levels of language proficiency. From a linguistic point of view, all the students need is the name of an object, an appropriate article and the verb to be. Apple is an apple is an apple is an apple. Pen is a pen is a pen is a pen. Rain is rain is rain is rain. Students can listen to the sound of the line and start experimenting. They can discuss what effect each word (apple, pen, rain) has on them when they hear it. Does the number of syllables matter? What happens if the word is too long? By doing this they are encouraged to focus on every bit of the line; they need to zoom in on the stress, rhythm and the way the words are linked when being read aloud. This could be done in pairs or as a chain activity (a warm-up, for example), students passing on an object or an image around the class, saying the simple line one by one. As the activity involves lots of repetition, it’s great for learning and revising vocabulary. If each student/pair is asked to use a different word, the class then gets more language input to work with. By writing down the same words repeatedly, students can reinforce spelling of problematic words as well as practise bits of grammar (for lower levels the focus can be the indefinite/zero article or the verb to be, while more advanced classes may want to practise difficult vocabulary items).
|… is a rose …|
It’s interesting that in her writing, Stein threw away the traditional rules of grammar, and she made her words act in a completely new way. For her, each word is a completely independent existence. She didn’t use generalizations, and unlike other writers in the 19th century, she wasn’t interested in causes, purposes and explanations. In fact, her language had no past and no future – only continuous present – because she wrote about reality which she found directly in front of her eyes. This may sound like good news to a language learner, but by no means does this mean that her language is simple or easily understood. Here is how Stein would describe a scene:
|…. is a rose …|
|… is a rose.|
References: High, P.B. (1986). An Outline of American Literature. Longman.