R1A - 001 | CCN: 22138

The Craft of Writing

Language and Identity: Indexing Difference and Belonging in Speech

Instructor: Eric Prendergast

4 Units

Do men use language differently from women? What are neo-pronouns, and why has pronoun usage become so contested? Does the unity of a nation depend on a single, shared language? What happens to a culture when its language is no longer spoken? Why is it that people may feel they can identify someone’s race over the phone, without seeing the speaker? What does it mean for a person to ‘sound gay’? Do our personalities change when we speak a different language?

This course will introduce students to the rhetoric of identity. In this survey of diverse languages and ways of speaking, we will examine how people use language to define, project, disguise, and complicate their identities. Case studies, research works, and personal reflections on varied aspects of identity expressed through language will bring students into contact with topics ranging from the Hindi speech of gender nonconforming Hijras to the ways of saying ‘no' in Chinese, from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia to the controversy of writing Kikuyu in post-colonial Kenya. We will critically engage with readings at the intersections of language, gender, race, nationhood, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class in pursuit of a nuanced and broadly informed view of the relationship between language and identity.
Students will also put their learning into practice through exercises in mechanics and style that will enable them to craft expository prose in a confident, authoritative, and persuasive voice. Students will respond to the readings and draw on their own experiences with language and identity in a series of written assignments, which will be revised in a collaborative framework of peer-review and discussion.