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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 387M • Language Theory, Language Politics: Linguistics for Students of Literature and Rhetoric

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

As long ago as 1974, the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) prepared a statement--entitled "Students' Right to Their Own Language," now a well-known document--affirming the communicative validity of vernacular dialects of English and urging in attached remarks that teachers of writing become better informed about language history, linguistic change, and dialect diversity in American English. In light of several public controversies, including the Oakland school district's 1996 fight to win funding for speakers of vernacular English and the recent proliferation of "English Only" legislation, the NCTE in 2006 affirmed its original position, updating its suggested bibliography for English-language writing teachers. Other professional organizations (notably the MLA and LSA, the Linguistic Society of America) have affirmed the NCTE document, in the latter case issuing several resolutions of its own—on minority language rights, on vernacular English, and on English Only legislation.

Given that every professional organization an English graduate student is likely to know advocates that future writing teachers acquire a background in educationally relevant linguistics, it's surprising that such training is not a usual part of the graduate program, for both rhetoric and literature specialists will teach writing—and to an increasingly diverse student body. For obvious reasons, the nonacademic world views teachers of literature and rhetoric as experts on language-related matters of educational or public policy. Yet graduate training does not always attend to such topics. Even when English graduate programs once required an introductory linguistics course, those courses traditionally focused on the formal linguistics necessary for advanced work in the field, as opposed to topics particularly relevant to future educators. (Students, that is, were more likely to learn phonetic notation, as opposed to a distinction between prescriptive errors and vernacular variants.) This course, then, aims to address this gap.

Language Theory, Language Politics is a course designed for rhetoric and literature graduate students who want to learn more about the English language, especially about its social and political meanings. Simply put, the course aims to acquaint students with the language issues most relevant to their future careers as instructors of writing. Specifically, the course will serve as an introduction to language acquisition; to basic processes of linguistic change; to sociolinguistic study, especially to issues involving language diversity and vernacular English; and to profession-relevant political disputes involving the English language and public policy.


Readings TBA, but will include work by James Crawford, Lisa Green, Lisa Delpit, Joshua Fishman, William Labov, Rossina Lippi-Green, Dennis Preston, John Rickford, Geneva Smitherman, Lucy Tse, and Walt Wolfram.


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