Pre-College Programs
Intensive English Program

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Language, Power, and Identity in the United States

Course enrollment will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

Course Description

Our engagement with language is a social and political process. This course provides an interdisciplinary perspective on the role of the English language in US society over time. Among other topics, we will look at the politics of English-only movements, English language learning in US education, and English language vernaculars as expressions of group identity.

Language is a systematic way to communicate meaning from one speaker to another. But language use is also situated in a social and political context. This course provides an interdisciplinary perspective on the relationship between language, power, and identity in the context of the United States.

The course integrates essays of social theory, empirical case studies from the social sciences, and cultural analyses to understand how language both shapes and is shaped by its social context. Students will explore what they can learn about power structures and identity formation through the study of language practice and policy.

First, we will look at how English's position as a dominant language in society has evolved over time. We will discuss the history of English-only activist movements and ways in which these movements interact with certain political goals.

Next, we will look at the treatment of English language standards in educational policy. Issues include: educational models of English language learning and debates over informal vernacular in the educational setting.

Finally, we will study cases of mixed language communities whose dialect of English is a signifier of identity: among others, we will look at Yiddish English and Spanglish as primary cases. We will on one end examine art, literature, and recorded rhetoric of community members using these dialects; on the other end, we will examine mainstream political discourse surrounding assimilation or integration of minority hybridized English language communities.

This course is meant to be an introduction into the means by which we can study language in society. By the end of the 3 week session, students should be comfortable discussing the role of language as a complex signifier of identity and power in society.

Through this course, students will improve their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. The course will culminate in group presentations on a particular topic about the English language in the United States.

Students taking the course will engage with primary source materials of cultural and political discourse; they will also be exposed to academic literatures on language that use primary source materials in social research.

Beyond deepening understanding of language in society, students to gain exposure to ways social researchers analyze political and social phenomena. By taking one topic and examining it across disciplines, the course fosters creativity and cross-disciplinary openness as they prepare for university training in any field.

rising juniors and seniors

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