Linguistics 150: Language in Society     Fall 2014                                                  

The class meets in 100-101K.

It's not just the things we say that are meaningful, but the way in which we say them. The wording, the language, the style in which we say them, when and where we say them, who picks up what we say, etc. This course will explore many aspects of how we use language to make social meaning. A crucial purpose is to make sure you go away with a critical understanding of language issues in society. I expect you will learn quite a bit about how language works, how society works, and how they work together.

There won't be a bunch of facts to learn, but a requirement that you observe broadly and think deeply about the sociolinguistic phenomena we're going to study. Since this course is not presenting a bag o' facts, but building a new way of seeing language and the social world, it's particularly important that you come to every class having read, and reflected about, the assignment for the day.

You are responsible for reading the entire week's assignments in time for class on Monday, submitting the written assignment by 5 PM on Sunday. Since these assignments contribute to planning Monday's class, there is no tolerance for lateness. We will reduce the grade on a late assignment by 10%, and we will not accept assignments after class on Monday has begun. The written assignments are designed to get you to reflect about the topic of the week. Unless the topic of the assignment is specified, you will write a commentary on some aspect of the readings. All of these assignments should be no more than 1 single-spaced page. Often a succinctly written 1.5 spaced page will do fine.

This course will also have a research component. We will carry out small projects in groups and as a class. Each student will participate in one project based on the materials in weeks one and two, and in another project later in the quarter.

This is optionally a Writing in the Major course. Those taking the course as WIM will register for 5 units; others will register for 4 units.

Grades will be Calculated as follows:
    Commentaries 40%
    Project 1 20%
    Project 2 30%
    Class Participation 10%

Students with documented disabilities:
Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) located within the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). SDRC staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is being made. Students should contact the SDRC as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations. The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066).
     Penelope Eckert
     108 Margaret Jacks
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  Teresa Pratt
  030A Margaret Jacks
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There's lots of good stuff on Language Log
The Quebec language police
a hate speech map of the US
Weird apostrophe policy
Texas German
SNL Spanish. Thanks, Kim!
And here's the NYT dialect quiz from Rachel. Does it get your dialect?
There have been several interesting articles in the press lately:
Colonialist language giving way in Ghana
The Navajo language requirement
Speaking white
Native American Headdresses banned at Glastonbury music festival
Red trousers

 What it's about                                                                   Readings and Assignments

Week 1 (Sept. 22, 24): Initial Perspectives
We will begin with some perspective-taking. Linguists describe how people actually talk, not how they "should" talk. (The distinction that is always raised in introductory linguistics courses is descriptive vs. prescriptive grammar.) Sociolinguists take this interest in how people actually talk to the extreme. re interested in how speakers use, and mess with, language as they go about their social lives, how and why language differs among social groups and situations. We're interested in how language is used to accomplish the social, and if we're interested in judgments of correctness, we're interested in them not as linguistic facts, but as sociolinguistic ones. So we begin this course with a brief look at linguistic purism.

Protecting languages against imagined threats is an age-old occupation, giving rise to institutions such as the Académie Française, to the English Only movement in the US, and to the current media frenzy about young women's use of "Vocal Fry." You will begin by reading a few popular pieces about different kinds of purism by three linguists, Geoffrey Pullum (Edinburgh) and Geoffrey Nunberg (Berkeley), and Deborah Cameron (Oxford).

Read these blogs in preparation for class on Thursday:

If any of you are fans of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, you might want to read this one as well"

There are certainly usages that you're insecure about, and other people's usages that annoy you. Come to class on Wednesday prepared to share those. We will use them as the basis of our first project.
Week 2 (Sept. 29, Oct. 1): Appropriation and Pejoration
Purism and pejoration are two sides of a coin. A belief in language purity provides a pretext for discriminating against language varieties that do not have the seal of approval. It also makes these varieties "fair" targets of parody and stereotype. This week, we will read several articles about the appropriation of non-standard language varieties.

The issue of appropriation is most visible at the moment in athletic teams' appropriation of Native American culture/stereotypes. Stanford moved away from this forty years ago, the University of Illinois squeaked by with a half-measure more recently, and now it's the Washington Redskins:

And then there's the hipster headdress:

Similar appropriations happen with language. I don't know if there are still people who greet each other with "How" or call each other "Kemosabe", but there are certainly plenty of people appropriating elements of Latino and African American speech.
Read two of the following three articles:

Bucholtz, Mary. 1999. You da man: Narrating the racial other in the production of white masculinity. Journal of sociolinguistics, 3.443-60.

Hill, J. H. (1993). Hasta la vista, baby: Anglo Spanish in the American Southwest. Critique of Anthropology, 13, 145.

Wong, A. (2005). The re-appropriation of Tongzhi. Language in Society, 34(5), 763.

There is a fine line between bonding with, and pejorating, a cultural group. What kinds of linguistic appropriation do you hear - at Stanford, in the media, etc. Where do you draw the line and why?
We will use your observations as the basis of our second project.
Week 3 (Oct.6,8): The Organization of Talk
The purpose of readings and discussion this week is to get a handle on the extent to which language use is conventional. We're more likely to notice this when we consider other cultures, but only because their conventions are likely to be different from ours. The readings give a taste of conventions: Basso on when speech is appropriate at all, Irvine on the when, how and why of greetings, and Sachs and Schegloff on ending conversations. Each of these articles discusses what the convention is, and what it accomplishes - whether that outcome is momentary or specific, or has broader implications.
Basso, K. H. (1972) To give up on words: Silence in Western Apache culture. In P. P. Giglioli (Ed.), Language and Social Context (pp. 67-86).

Irvine, J. (1974). Strategies of status manipulation in the Wolof greeting. In R. Bauman & J. Sherzer (Eds.), Explorations in the ethnography of speaking (pp. 167)

Schegloff, E., & Sacks, H. (1973). Opening up closings. Semiotica, 8, 69. 289-327.

Your life is full of speech conventions like these. Choose one that you participate in on a regular basis, but never noticed. Don't pick anything too obvious - the purpose of this assignment (and all assignments) is to get you to stretch.
Week 4 (Oct. 13,15): Stylistic Practice
Our activities in week two made it clear that the appropriation of other group's ways of speaking serves to evoke, indeed to construct, stereotypes. This emerges from the more general fact that language is an important resource for identity, and that speakers develop linguistic styles as they construct social selves. This week we will move on to the more general way in which people use style to construct personae, and the way in which others, upon hearing them, interpret these personae. We will begin with a return to purism, by taking a look at "Vocal Fry", the current bugaboo replacing the "Uptalk" and "Like" panics that preceded it.
Watch Abby Normal on the subject of creak:
Do you recognize vocal fry? Do you hear it at Stanford? If you hadn't noticed it before, try to notice it now. How does it sound to you? Do you hear some people using it more than others? Is it part of a style? Why do you think the media are so interested in it?
Project Presentations on Monday

Podesva, R. (2007). Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(4), 478-504.

Mendoza-Denton, N. (1996). Muy macha: Gender and ideology in gang discourse about makeup. Ethnos, 61, 47-63.

Due Wednesday: Write a commentary on this week's readings.
Week 5 (Oct. 20,22): More Stylistic Practice
This week, we will continue our exploration of style, developing questions for our second research project. You will be focusing on the relation between style, communities of practice, personae, identity.
Irvine, J. (2001). Style as distinctiveness: The culture and ideology of linguistic differentiation. In: P. Eckert and J. Rickford eds. Stylistic variation in language. New York: Cambridge University Press. 21-43.

This reading is more theoretical than what you've read so far. Read it carefully, and write a commentary applying this theory to some stylistic practice you've observed.
Week 6 (Oct. 27,29): Language and Social Change
The readings for this week are about language and social change. One (Gal) involves language shift, and the other (Zhang) involves stylistic change. These two papers will get you thinking about how social hierarchies (in this case class and gender) interact. They should also orient you to change. Society and language are continually changing. Indeed, society and life are about change, and language has to change continually in order to serve our changing needs. In turn, language change helps bring about social change.
Gal, S. (1978). Peasant men can't get wives: Language change and sex roles in a bilingual community. Language in Society, 7, 1-16.

Zhang, Q. (2005). A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity. Language in Society, 34(3), 431-66.

Write a commentary on the nature of the interactions among gender, class and change in these two papers.
Week 7 (Nov. 3,5): Language and Agency
The reading for this week consists of three of the five chapters of a book that was just completed, and is not yet published. It is a remarkable story of the friendship of two small boys from vastly different backgrounds in post-colonial Kenya. Their friendship developed through a language of their own, a pidgin that emerged in the course of their fifteen-month life together. This reading has many facets: it's about colonialism, creativity, the relation between language and practice, and much more.
Gilmore, Perry. (2014). Preface, Chapters 1-4. Kisisi (Our Language): The Story Of Colin And Sadiki. A Serendipitous Study of Children's Play, Agency and Language Invention in Post-Colonial Up Country Kenya.

Write a commentary on any aspect of this story.
Week 8 (Nov. 10,12): English in California

California is a huge and ecologically and culturally diverse state. English is quite new to California, so there has not been time for prominently different dialects to emerge. Nonetheless, there is considerable dialect diversity in California, and the structure of this diversity is intimately related to social and ecological diversity. Meanwhile, California is a cultural focus and innovations that attract Hollywood's attention are transmitted around the world.
Geenberg, Kate. 2014 Chapter 1, The Other California: Marginalization And Sociolinguistic Variation In Trinity County. Pp. 47-106.
Week 9 (Nov. 17,19): Language and Hierarchy
How does language unfold from, and maintain, hierarchies? As we move on to ethnicity, we see that it also cannot be understood without considering its interactions with class and gender. This week we will talk about theories of social stratification and reproduction.
Nichols, P. C. (1983). Linguistic options and choices for black women in the rural south. In B. Thorne, C. Kramarae, & N. Henley (Eds.), Language, Gender and Society (pp. 54-68). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Gafter, Roey (2014) Chapter 1 "The Most Beautiful And Correct Hebrew": Authenticity, Ethnic Identity And Linguistic Variation In The Greater Tel Aviv Area. PhD Thesis, Stanford University. Pp. 3-23.

Write a commentary on the issues raised in these readings.
Week 10 (Dec. 1,3): Dead Week
Project Presentations