This course is concerned with the relations among language, thought, and culture.
The first half of the course centers on how language as a system of signs makes culture possible. It looks at some basic questions about the nature of human language and its implications for how people make sense of the world. We ask such things as these:
The second half of the course focuses on language in action and interaction. We explore the dynamics of everyday conversations, the artful uses of language in performance, and aspects of power such as the politics of gender, national identity, and social status.
- What do we share with other animal systems of communication and what is peculiar about human language?
- How does language shape the way we perceive and think about the things around us — and how does the world shape language?
- How does language let people mean things?
Although most of the readings are drawn from anthropology, we will also venture into closely related areas in linguistics, sociology, and psychology.
There are four written exercises: two short (2-4 page) take-home essays and two in-class exams. The essays may involve some observations of your own surroundings but otherwise make use only of readings on the syllabus. Attendance in both lectures and discussion sections is mandatory and will be reflected in the final grade. Active participation in discussion sections is expected.
This course does not assume any background in linguistics and has no prerequisites.
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