Linquistics: The Power of Code-Switching

Synthesis Paper #3 Identifying power in language.

Step 1:

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For your last Synthesis Paper you have the freedom to explore any topic you would like that gets at the use of power in language. In this paper I would like you describe specific language use observed in media reporting, or language that you have personally observed or overheard, that demonstrates how language can be used to express power or to critique the powerful. As in Synthesis Paper #2 you can, again, focus on a current event if you would like or a text or podcast that interests you. (I have also provided a few suggestions for texts from an interesting book entitled Language in the Trump Era that gets at the use of power in language. These articles could be used as the text you are analyzing. They also illustrate well how language can be analyzed by Linguistic Anthropologists.)

As before, you can choose from a number of concepts you have learned over the course of the term (see suggestions below) to help you analyze your subject (current event, observation, or text). The goal is to practice your ability to apply concepts learned in class to analyze everyday language, or an article that describes and discusses language and culture, to shed light on what we as humans do, say, and construct.

Step 2:

Your analysis: Read carefully through the subject of your paper (a written text, observation you have taken notes on, or a podcast) and reflect on what you are observing. Then start thinking through the concepts in Ahearn’s Chapter 13. These concepts are theoretical and thus highly applicable to a number of contexts. While theory is abstract and thus often difficult to understand due to its abstractness, it is also highly applicable to a variety of contexts. Then think through ways to analyze the text, observation, or current event you are focusing on. What language-related ideas or concepts from the class might you use to analyze your text(s)?

Here are some suggestions for a possible relevant idea/concept related to language and power:

Foucault’s concept of “governmentality” (Ahearn 278)
Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (Ahearn 279)
Bourdieu’s concept of a “linguistic market” and “profit of distinction” (Ahearn 284), or the related concept of Linguistic or Symbolic Capital
Practice theory

Other possibly related concepts from previous chapters that might tap into language and power might include: (you might also think of others)

Communities of practice or speech networks
Language ideology
Language death; “ideology of contempt” (Ahearn 268)

Step 3:

Describe what you are analyzing (current event, observation, podcast, article, etc.). Make careful description of specific language and action you are reading/hearing/witnessing (if need be through transcription and description of other relevant details). If analyzing everyday language, try to discern the meanings behind the language forms, both verbal and non-verbal, that are being used. What aspect of the linguistic expression leads you to the meanings you are identifying? Focus on language/expression that you find most interesting. Drawing on one or possibly two course concepts, discuss these concepts then apply them to your text, allowing the concepts to shed light on possible meanings of the text. Try to go deep in your discussion rather than just scratching the surface. If you are working with an academic text, describe the existing analysis given by the author and try to extend the discussion through applying the discussion of a course concept or two.

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