The Social Life of Language

This course introduces students to the study of language-in-context. In this course, we will understand language as a system of signs that mediates social relations, power dynamics, and even thought. We focus in particular on building a toolkit to understand the way that linguistic interaction constitutes consequential social action. As such, we approach the question: how does language construct and transform social roles, categories, and groups?

We begin by drawing on foundational insights from semiotic theory to understand language as a system of signs-in-use. We then move on to consider the components of a total speech situation, focusing in particular on issues of “co-text” and context; genre and intertextuality. From there, we delve into recent linguistic anthropological work on a number of topics including style, identity, and power. Classtime will be devoted to unpacking theoretical issues and working through illustrative data. The first class of the week will be primarily lecture-based, while the second will be oriented towards group discussion.

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