LSA 131: The language of public discourse

Geoffrey Nunberg | session 1 | MW 10:30 – 12:15, 101 Moffitt Hall

In this course we'll be taking up some basic questions about the language that societies use in their public discussions of political and cultural issues, as shaped by the media, political groups, and other institutions. How does this language influence, mobilize or reflect popular opinion, and how is it connected to the language of everyday conversation? What role do the media play in diffusing this language? How does one or another contesting group, sector, or party establish control over a certain part of public discourse? Are there semantic and pragmatic features unique to this discourse? What is the relation between the words of public discourse and social concepts: what can we conclude about the mental life of a society from the appearance of new words or sub-vocabularies or the disappearance or alteration of old ones?

Many of these questions have long intellectual histories, which we will take as points of departure. But we'll concentrate on new approaches that draw both on insights from lexical semantics and on the extensive data about language use that we can now extract from online corpora and databases. We'll be discussing historical and contemporary examples taken mostly from American political and social contexts, but students will encouraged to contribute material from their own areas of specialization.

Reading: Selected materials available online.

Areas of linguistics: Sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology

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