Language is a powerful tool. We constantly manipulate language to express who we are and who we want other people to think we are, to express what we believe and to get what we want. Yet we often take language for granted and ignore how language not only reflects social identities and relationships but also produces them. In this course we will examine how language is used in daily life in our own lives and the lives of people around the world. We will ask questions such as: How do differences in language affect how we think and act? How does language provide a way to unite through the construction of social identities but also divide by institutionalizing inequality and discrimination? How is effective communication complicated by variations in region, age, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status? To do so, we will question long-held assumptions about slang, dialect, gestures, code-switching, “mansplaining,”, silence, naming practices, African American Vernacular English, “Spanglish,” and political correctness. Students will have the opportunity to conduct a series of small, field-based studies to better understand the role of language in human life, examine their own linguistic beliefs and attitudes, and appreciate linguistic and cultural diversity locally and globally.

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