Language in Culture and Society (Gen Ed 1177)





How are language, culture, and society related?


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Steve Caton

Clearly, ideas about what language is and what it does shape scientific inquiry well beyond the discipline of linguistics. Language serves not only as a primary medium for formulating and communicating scientific ideas, but also, and very often, as a paradigm for generating these scientific ideas. Where do these ideas about language—whether they be intuitions, assumptions, popular beliefs, rumors, trends, or theoretical models—come from? And, crucially, what are their effects?

This course introduces students to a broad, complex view of language by relating ideas about language to linguistic structure and practice (i.e., language “use”). We take a fundamentally interdisciplinary approach, drawing widely from major findings and innovations in philosophy, linguistics, semiotics, anthropology, sociology, and literary studies—an approach that reflects in its hybridity the complexity of problem. We also take a broadly multilinguistic, multicultural, and multiregional perspective. Readings and lectures will draw examples from Korean, Indonesian, Javanese, Nahuatl, Spanish, Russian, German, Nguni languages (Zulu, Khosa), languages of Senegal (Fula, Wolof, Sereer), and of Macedonia (Macedonian, Greek, Turkish)—in addition to English varieties. The aim is to view the problem of language through many different perspectives. Throughout the course, we develop a set of powerful analytical tools for studying both language and culture and, ultimately, for defining their role in, and impact on, social life.

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