Missing variable in intro courses [long]

Mai Kuha mkuha at BSUVC.BSU.EDU
Sat Aug 12 22:57:10 UTC 2000

In my undergrad language and society class this fall, I'd like to assign
one reading on language in the gay community, and spend one 75-minute
period on the topic. Any recommendations for what to assign as reading and
how to spend that time in a way that is likely to do more good than harm?

The absence of this whole topic from intro texts and syllabi (at least all
the ones I have on hand at the moment) is glaring, and I've never seen or
heard this absence discussed anywhere. I hope the reason is that everyone
except me has already expertly figured out how to integrate it in the
courses they teach.

The first time I taught a course on language variation, even less had been
written, so in desperation I assigned Barry Zeve's article "The Queen's
English: Metaphor in Gay Speech." That was a dumb idea, because I didn't
fully understand the article myself. The ins and outs of the closet
metaphor were baffling.

Having looked at Gregory Ward's bibliography
(http://www.ling.nwu.edu/~ward/gaybib.html),I'm considering two
possibilities: Graf and Lippa's article in the 1995 "Beyond the Lavender
Lexicon..." book, in which they briefly demonstrate differences between
two groups of gay speakers; or chapter 4 in William Leap's 1996 book, on
characteristics of "conversations that occur outside of gay-centered
speech settings".

I have this glimmer of a sense, though, that really doing justice to the
topic might require subtle shifts or even fundamental revisions to what we
(or just I?) normally do in intro courses. To be honest, I'm not willing
to do that kind of deep thinking about it right now. Also, I'm not
prepared to facilitate a discussion based on a reading that deals with,
say, the language of personal ads or of AIDS or has a really angry tone. I
probably wouldn't do well, and students might go away remembering only
that discussing gay issues was tense. Actually, no matter how
nonthreatening the assigned reading may be, I'm worried that I won't react
fast enough to any stereotyping comments well-intentioned students may
make. That hasn't happened yet, but there is a danger that I'll
inadvertently reinforce stereotypes or myths because of lack of experience
with facilitating discussion on the topic. (But, in this sink-or-swim
occupation, what can one do but keep trying and learn from mistakes?)

So anyway, I'm asking for a quick fix (tell me what's the right thing to
do!). Thanks in advance for any insights or discussion, and I'm sorry this
message is so long.


Mai Kuha                  mkuha at bsuvc.bsu.edu
Department of English     (765) 285-8410
Ball State University

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