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PWR 1NF: Language 2.0: Investigating the Rhetoric of Digital Language

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Catalog Number: PWR 1NF

Instructor: Norah Fahim

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Our daily encounters are so intermingled with electronic media that language is witnessing a process of re-invention. Think of how people use mobile devices to write as much as to speak. Linguist John McWhorter explains that "texting actually is evidence of a balancing act that young people are using today" where we now learn multiple literacies for communication. This course investigates how digital interactions through multiple platforms, including social media change the way we write, read and even alter our perceptions of journalism and activism. Online exchange blurs the boundaries of language and access, making images, memes and emojis legitimate elements of communication, enabling code-switching between multiple languages, and providing a voice for previously silenced communities.

This course will lead us to question the merits and consequences of such fast-paced progress. We will discuss multiple perspectives that examine emerging “new literacies” in use by each new generation. We’ll look at linguistic theorists, such David Crystal, who investigate what he calls “the gr8 deb8” of texting. Through course readings and online social-media feeds, we will analyze the evolution of digital rhetoric whereby terms such as #fail, FOMO and YOLO have become part of daily spoken lingo. We will also examine the impact of fast-paced media-technology on social/political change through rhetoric, such as that witnessed in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

For this course, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. Sample research topics you might pursue include: how tablet devices result in a loss of the physical aspect of reading and how this change impacts the nature of publishing, how trending hashtags such as#ALSIceBucketChallenge or #OscarsSoWhite can trigger medical or social change, how tweets by political figures have reached the status of policy positions, how digital code-switching practices empower the multilingual online community, and how trending terms online can help predict the spread of medical epidemics and aid in disseminating collective knowledge among physicians.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) For this assignment, you will select a written, visual, or audio text that discusses or exemplifies current issues of language-in-use and the evolving nature of communication through social media platforms. Using rhetorical analysis, you will become aware of rhetorical strategies used by authors and learn how to integrate your understanding of rhetoric into your own writing.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment reviews and analyzes an existing “conversation” on an issue of interest to you. Looking at a range of scholarly and popular sources, you’ll get to explore several perspectives. Research topics will grow out of collaboration we do in class and will address the question: What can our research tell us about the effects of changing means of communication?

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Your final project builds on your research and invites you to weigh in with your own argument. Here, you help your readers answer questions about the issue, draw conclusions about its implications, and, above all, engage with your position on the matter.

Note: Part of our learning will include designing interview questions and surveys you can use for your own fieldwork.