Honors | Bad Language (COLL)
S104 | 22876 | Daniel Suslak

MW 1:00-2:15pm

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.