LING 232: Introduction to Language and Society
Instructor: Tucker Childs
In many introductory linguistics courses students are still told that the Eskimos have a great number of words for 'snow', many more than has, say, English. Nothing could be further from the truth; Geoff Pullum has called this false belief "unredeemed piffle", and maintains that "hardly anyone cares enough to think about trying to determine what the facts are" (Pullum 1991).
In this course we do care about the facts, especially as they concern language, grounded in and permeating SOCIETY, the focus of this course. One problem with trying to get at the facts about language is that everyone speaks a language and thus everyone is a self-appointed expert. For example, everyone knows that English is getting worse and worse, especially in the mouths of rebellious young people who probably couldn't speak proper English if they tried. At best many beliefs about language are grounded in intellectual laziness or in unexamined ideologies. At worst the cause could be any one of a number of -isms: class-ism, racism, sexism, etc. We will explore how such misperceptions arise and are perpetuated.
There are two ways in which we will seek to examine and perhaps debunk many common (mis-)perceptions about language. The first is by a set of readings in which two linguists explore, in an accessible way, popular misconceptions about language. We will concentrate on English, but we will also consider other languages and LANGUAGE in the abstract. The second way is by making relatively controlled observations about how language is actually used: What are people actually saying and how are they saying it? Do men speak differently from women? Do Portlanders have a distinct way of speaking? Etc.
By the end of the course students should have a good idea about what language is, why people believe what they do about language, and what the antidote is to many common misconceptions (a knowledge of linguistics).
Major Assignments: Final exam = Covers all lectures, presentations, and readings.
- Bauer, Laurie, and Peter Trudgill, eds. 1998. Language Myths. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc. (Bauer and Trudgill 1998) 0140260234.
- Crystal, David. 2003. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Crystal 2003) 0521530334.
- Pinker, Steven. 1994. The Language Instinct. New York: W. Morrow and Co.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K. 1991. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 0226685349.
- Rickerson, E. M., and Hilton, Barry eds. 2006. The Five-Minute Linguist: Bite-sized Essays on Language and Languages. London: Equinox Publishing. 184553199X
- Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1999. Proper English: Myths and Misunderstandings about Language. Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
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