Many Americans and Europeans assume that communities normally are, or ought to be, monolingual — that language differences divide people from one another, while a common language unites them. Yet, much of the world is multilingual.
What do language differences mean for their speakers' social identities and relationships? In this course we will consider the relationship between communication and community -- particularly as these have been conceptualized (and ideologized) under the rubrics of "tribe," "ethnic group," and "nation."
We will explore what kinds of social groupings those terms might (or might not) label, and how they might (or might not) connect with languages and with communication networks. Our approach will be crossculturally comparative and, where relevant, historical. Through a discussion of selected theoretical works and case studies, we will consider topics such as language use in small-scale societies; the functions of multilingualism; the politics of language standardization and print media; language and the idea of "nation" in nineteenth-century Europe; the European colonial expansion and its influence on indigenous peoples and languages; and the role of language in nationalistic movements.
Course readings will consist mainly of journal articles and book chapters, along with books such as Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 and Anderson’s Imagined Communities. In addition to discussing general issues and some case materials presented in readings and in class, students will independently explore and report on a particular case study. Evaluation will be based on class participation (including discussion-leading and a class presentation), some short writing assignments, a take-home test, and a term paper.
No prerequisites, but students should have at least junior class standing.