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PWR 2JJ: The Rhetoric of Language, Identity, and Power

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Linguist Joshua Fishman explains that with the loss of a language “you take away its greetings, its curses, its praises, its laws, its literature, its songs, its riddles, its proverbs, its cures, its wisdom, its prayers.” Language is a mark of our identity and a site of resistance, discrimination and change. Cultural theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, explains, “So if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language.”

In this writing and speaking course, we will consider the construction and negotiation of power and difference through language as it intersects with gender, sexuality, race, ability, and class. We’ll explore how this happens across spheres such as politics, education, medicine and the media, intertwined with forces like globalization, immigration, and technology. From Rickford and King’s article “Language and linguistics on trial” to Jane Hill’s work on linguistic appropriation, we’ll take a sociolinguistic lens to understand monolingual bias and linguistic racism.

You are invited to take an interdisciplinary approach to examine an issue that matters to you. Student projects might explore translanguaging in youth culture, examine factors shaping the endangerment of an indigenous language, or look at the relationship between technology, users, and language change. Exploring new modes in written and oral communication, you will have the opportunity to consider a wide range of genres and translate your argument and findings into a presentation for live audiences. Through oral presentations and in-class workshops, we’ll focus on presentation, embodied rhetoric, and slide design.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You’ll propose a project that explores the social, cultural, or political dimensions of a language issue (this may include dialects, vernaculars, and variations) as it intersects with the speakers/users of that language. For example, you might examine language and gender in the workplace or xenophobia in political rhetoric. You might also choose to explore how language intersects with recent debates––such as in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, free speech or cancel culture.

Genre/Mode Assignment

(300-500 words/memo) This assignment consists of two “reflexivity” ethnographic memos: “Literacies & Languages” memo and “Researcher Positionality” memo. “Reflexivity” encourages us to explore how our habitus (Bourdieu, 2004), or embodied socialized practices, shape our research positionalities and understanding of the world around us. Student are welcome to translate their memo into a different mode/genre (e.g. visual, music, poem) or craft the memo in the ethnographic writing tradition.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Drawing on primary and secondary sources, you’ll expand upon the ideas expressed in your research proposal to craft a research-based argument that seeks to persuade your intended audience and make a small contribution to the conversation about the negotiation of identity and power in and through language.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) You will translate your written argument about language and identity in a political, social or cultural context for a live 10-minute oral presentation.