COLL-S 104 22876 Bad Language (Suslak)(S&H)(3 cr.)


Clearly we have much to learn by studying the classic works of literature, most eloquent speeches and greatest wits. But what can we learn about our society by investigating its dark linguistic underbelly? How is it possible that certain strings of sounds, uttered in just the right social context, have the power to offend, hurt feelings, ruin careers and even spark wars?

This course provides a broad introduction to the field of linguistic anthropology, its key concepts, and its methods through an exploration of “bad language.” In it we investigate a range of speech types -- curses, oaths, insults, gossip, argument, taboo words, obscenities, blasphemy, slang -- and the essential roles they play in our lives. At the same time, we develop a cross-cultural perspective by comparing our own notions of what counts as bad language with ways of speaking that others cultural groups consider rude, vulgar, and even dangerous. We will also explore how different societies set standards for pronunciation, word choice, spelling, speaking and writing, how those standards are enforced, and how/why they sometimes get contested or resisted. Under this heading we consider such issues as plagiarism, libel, hate speech, and the policing of bad grammar.