[lg policy] University course (Georgetown): LING-355 Language in the U.S.A

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 16 16:10:56 UTC 2010

LING-355 Language in the U.S.A

Spring only
Fasold, Ralph
Language in the U.S.A. will address language issues in this country,
with emphasis on language policy issues. We will examine various
American dialects, with special attention to Ebonics (African American
English), and also the non-English languages spoken here. You will
find that matters of language and identity, attitude and
discrimination inevitably come up. Part of the course will be about
the official English question. Laws mandating the use of English for
official purposes have been passed in over half of the states in the
past 15 years or so. Legislation or a constitutional amendment
declaring English as the official language of the United States
(English is actually not official now) has been introduced into every
Congress for the last 25 years or so but so far all have died in

Along with the official English issue, are some special related cases.
Native American languages have been steadily dying out over the course
of the history of the nation. Many of these languages would have
succumbed regardless of policy, but U.S. policy on native languages
was quite harsh for a long time.

Thirteen years ago, the Ebonics controversy burst on the national
scene, following a proposal by the Oakland, California School Board to
make use of the language or dialect Ebonics. This happened a long time
ago, but the issues involved have not changed, although they have lain
dormant since then. Because this was a policy statement by a local
governing body (the Oakland Unified School District Board), it was a
matter of language policy. I have done research on Ebonics for years
and have at times been involved with the implications of the language
variety in education, so we will spend some time on this topic. More
recently, the language of hiphop and rap music has come under
linguistic analysis. We’ll look at this briefly.

Perhaps surprisingly, language policy impacts Deaf people as well.
Most Americans see Deaf people as people like everybody else, except
with a physical handicap. They think that sign language is either a
loose system of gestures, or is a way of speaking English with one’s
hands. Deaf people see themselves as a sociocultural group, with its
own cultural norms and language, American Sign Language, which has
nothing to do with English, although it is a language. Some Deaf
people even feel that they would not want to be able to hear, since it
would remove them from Deaf society. (I am using the capital “D”
because Deaf people who have these values use that orthographical
convention). With this degree of misunderstanding, it is inevitable
there will be policy conflicts and there are. We will take a look.

Another policy issue that may surprise and interest you is official
policy on swearing and obscene language. People have been arrested for
violating state laws on public offensive language, and the issue arose
in 2004 in connection with some rude signs and chants that University
of Maryland basketball fans used, especially against their archrivals
from Duke University. We'll look at these cases and discuss the role
of government in maintaining decency in speech behavior.

Before we can begin with all of this, we will have to review the
linguist’s view of language, and some points about how language
relates to society in general. These assumptions made by linguists
have made them virtually unanimous on problems we will take up, and
opposed to the opinions of the great majority of other people, even
well-educated people. I share the typical linguist’s position on most
of these matters (not all), but that doesn’t mean that I—or we—are
correct. I have tried hard to include readings by folks who argue for
contrary opinions and I hope you will consider these views carefully
and not fall into the trap of just agreeing with the professor.

The textbooks will be Ronald Schmidt, Sr., /Language Policy and
Identity Politics in the United States/, Edward Finegan and John R.
Rickford, /Language in the USA/, and other readings which will be on
the course Blackboard web site.
Credits: 3


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