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PWR 1JJA: The Languages We Speak: Discourses of Linguistic Diversity and Language Change

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Dr. Johnson discusses the theme of PWR1JJA.

According to recent census estimates, at least 220 language are spoken in California and nearly half of California residents speak a language other than English at home. And, while cognitive and sociolinguists point to the benefits of multilingualism, bilingual education in California was banned from 1998 until the Multilingual Act in 2016. What is the effect of English language dominance both in the US and worldwide? And, think about this, while Mexico’s government recognizes 68 indigenous languages, linguists recognize 292 separate languages. Why this difference? What roles do scientific, political, and popular discourses play in shaping language ideologies?

In this course, we will develop our analytical, rhetorical, and research skills through an exploration of the languages we speak. You'll propose a research project that investigates the social, cultural or political dimensions of a language issue concerning language diversity or change as it intersects with the speakers/users of that language. Topics might include conversational AI’s impact on human interaction, the appropriation of African American Language in social media spaces, or the weaponization of language in occupied regions or post-colonial countries.

Together we will explore what language varieties, dialects, accents shape our social identities and inclusion and exclusion to groups and access to opportunities. We will start with such questions as: What is the difference between a dialect and language? What role does globalization, education and technology play in shaping language change and the social identities of its users? What social, economic and political forces are at work in language endangerment? How do policymakers, linguists and educators approach these issues? The course takes an interdisciplinary approach to course themes drawing on scholarship from sociolinguistics, cognitive science, anthropology and education as well as examines how linguistic varieties and language change are portrayed in popular discourses.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment you will chose a text that connects to an issue surrounding language variation, change, or endangerment¬–– and analyze strategies the author uses to engage and persuade the audience. You may also choose to analyze a text (including media pieces, music, spoken word or literature) that draws on a linguistic variation or rhetorical tradition outside “standard” varieties of English.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) In the TiC, you will choose a topic of interest to you, do research, and compare a range of ideas that are in “conversation” around your topic. For instance, you might compare political, media, and popular discourses of Singlish, examine how social media and technology is changing how younger generations communicate, or explore the cultural or changing metaphors we use to talk about disease, (dis)ability or mental illness.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages): Building on the research you did for the TiC, you will craft an original research question and develop your own position(s) within a “conversation.” Student are encouraged to conduct primary research in the form of textual or sociolinguistic analysis, interviews, or other methodologies.