Proseminar 'English in Society'

Syllabus for Summer, 2006

Wednesdays, 14:00 - 18:00, Room B 410, June 7 - July 19

bullet Instructor bullet Assignments
bullet Required Texts bullet Course Outline
bullet Aims of the Course bullet Further Reading


Professor Dr. Richard F Young

Email: rfyoung at wisc dot edu

Office hours: Wednesdays, 10:00 to 12:00

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Required Texts


Thomas, L., Wareing, S., Singh, I., Peccei, J. S., Thornborrow, J., & Jones, J. (Eds.). (2004). Language, society and power: An introduction (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.


Tracy, K. (2002). Everyday talk: Building and reflecting identities. New York: Guilford.

bullet Wolfram, W., Adger, C. T., & Christian, D. (1999). Dialects in schools and communities. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
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Aims of the Course

Language is one of the most powerful ways in which we attempt to influence others. Whether we realize it or not, the way we use language tells other people a lot about who we are: whether we are cool or dorky, a fan of the Green Bay Packers or the Philadelphia Eagles, a high school student or a graduate student, honest and trustworthy or sly and shifty. And our impressions of other people are based in large part on the way they speak and write.

In this course we explore ways in which the English language is used to create, maintain, and challenge social attitudes and relationships. We survey the ways in which English varies across the United States, across social classes, and across ethnic groups. We reflect on the prejudices that are associated with different varieties of English, and we consider the role of teachers and schools in creating, maintaining, and challenging prejudice.

We will use two approaches to examine the relationship between English and society: linguistics and conversation analysis. The tools of linguistics involve close analysis of the structure of language, especially its sound patterns, grammatical structures, and the ways in which words are formed, distributed, and used. And in this course we will analyze in detail the ways that formal properties of language connect with what people value about speakers. But the forms of language are neither rigid nor fixed, and just as our impression of a person can change within the space of one conversation, so the ways that language is used in interaction vary from moment to moment. Understanding the dynamics of talk in interaction involves going beyond the traditional concerns of linguistic analysis to the methods of conversation analysis. Both formal linguistics analysis and conversation analysis will be methods that we use in this course.

If we understand that talk is fluid and changing, this helps us to recognize that the identities that we construct for ourselves and in which we cast others are not fixed either. We will argue in this course that identities are fragmented and in flux, and that there is a close relationship between identities and the contexts in which they are constructed, and distinguish the contradictions inherent in identities.

Finally, we recognize that language is a means by which powerful people influence our thoughts and behavior. So we explore the application of linguistic knowledge in understanding the powerful influences of politicians and the media in the hope that by understanding how they influence us we can make more lucid life choices.

In this course you will become familiar with the specific structures, features, and discourse patterns of English that have been associated with social interaction. Analysis of specific instances of language in use is central to this course.

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Attendance and Readings. You are expected to attend class regularly and to complete weekly readings assigned from the textbooks.  Attendance will be taken at each class meeting.

For a Teilnahmeschein. One group seminar presentation of one or more articles from the readings. Regular attendance and participation in seminar discussions.

For a Leistungsschein. The requirements for a Teilnahmeschein plus ... one 10 - 20 page paper that synthesizes and critically reviews literature in a relevant area of your choice.

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Course Outline


Readings and Videos

The Linguistic Facts of Life

What is language and what does it do? (Chapter 1 in Language, Society and Power)

Language variation in the United States (Chapter 1 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Language Variation and Geography

Exploring dialects (Chapter 2 Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Dialect awareness for students (Chapter 8 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

The sound of talk (Chapter 5 in Everyday Talk)

American Tongues [video]

Language Variation and Social Class

Language and class (Chapter 8 in Language, Society and Power)

People Like Us [video]

Language Variation and Ethnicity

Language and ethnicity (Chapter 6 in Language, Society and Power)

Standard English

The standard English debate (Chapter 10 in Language, Society and Power)

Oral language instruction (Chapter 5 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Dialects and written English (Chapter 6 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Language variation and reading (Chapter 7 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Language selection (Chapter 6 in Everyday Talk)

Language Attitudes

Attitudes to language (Chapter 11 in Language, Society and Power)

Language difference does not mean language deficit (Chapter 4 in Dialects in Schools and Communities)

Chapter 5 in English with an Accent

Language and Gender

Chapter 5 in Language, Society and Power)

Language and Age Chapter 7 in Language, Society and Power)

Interactional Identities

Language and identity (Chapter 9 in Language, Society and Power)

Talk and identity (Chapter 1 in Everyday Talk)

Two perspectives (Chapter 2 in Everyday Talk)

Language and Thought

Language, thought and representation (Chapter 2 in Language, Society and Power)

Person-referencing practices (Chapter 3 in Everyday Talk)

Speech acts (Chapter 4 in Everyday Talk)

Communicative Interaction and Discursive Practice

Chapter 3 in Dialects in Schools and Communities

Chapter 7 in Everyday Talk

Crosscultural Communication

Direct or indirect style (Chapter 8 in Everyday Talk)

Narratives (Chapter 9 in Everyday Talk)

Stance indicators (Chapter 10 in Everyday Talk)

Crosstalk [video]

Gatekeepers: The job interview [video]

Language and Politics

Language and politics (Chapter 3 in Language, Society and Power)

Language and the media (Chapter 4 in Language, Society and Power)

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Further Reading

You may find the following resources useful if you wish to pursue topics in this course in greater depth.


Bauer, L., & Trudgill, P. (Eds.). (1998). Language myths. London: Penguin Books.


Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal hygiene. New York: Routledge.


Cameron, D. (Ed.). (1998). The feminist critique of language: A reader (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.


Fairclough, N. (1989). Language and power. New York: Longman.


Gumperz, J. J. (1982). Language and social identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Lakoff, R. T. (1990). Talking power: The politics of language in our lives. New York: Basic Books.

bullet Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.
bullet MacNeil, R., & Cran, W. (2005). Do you speak American? A companion to the PBS television series. New York: Nan A. Talese.


Simpson, P. (1993). Language, ideology, and point of view. New York: Routledge.

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This page was last updated on August 10, 2006 .