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, working through issues of “co-text” and context, along with genre and intertextuality. From there, we delve into recent linguistic anthropological work on a number of topics including style, identity, and power. Class time will be devoted to unpacking theoretical issues and working through illustrative data.

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