RHE 309K • Topics in Writing-W
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
What is English? How do we define it as a language, and who does the defining? Is English a body of specific conventions constructed by any number of speakers at a given time? Is it a set of innate rules? A cognitive grammar? A political instrument?
In this class we will provide a context for these questions by analyzing the types of rhetorical situations that call for a definition of language in the first place. How have speakers responded to these situations by arguing for a particular definition of English as a language? What is at stake politically, economically, linguistically when a speaker argues about the nature of his or her language? How does the content of an argument influence both speaker and audience when that content is itself the material and vehicle for argumentation? What rhetorical figures and schemes have speakers used to define something as inherently abstract as "language"?
Exploring these situations more concretely, we will also consider the role of English in art. How have speakers argued for its aesthetic validity or invalidity? What rhetorical means have writers from Sir Philip Sidney to Derek Walcott used to comment on the proper or improper use of English in literature?
Each of the three unit analyses will count for 25% of the total grade (together, 75%). A presentation and weekly exercises compose the remaining 25%. Attendence and participation will be mandatory.
Baugh/Cable's A History of the English Language (Routledge, 2002)