The meanings and values we assign to words and symbols are often the subject of profound controversy. In the public sphere, such controversies often reflect a background of historical, political and ideological struggles. Issues over usage of words and symbols may arise in many ways, for example in relation to forms of address (there is a choice of terms for “you” in many languages), titles (Mrs vs. Ms), gender inclusive language (generic “he” vs. “he or she” vs. “they” vs. generic “she”), personal names (must names reflect the gender of the baby?), brand names (can I call my coffee shop McStarbucks?), ethnic designations (Eskimo vs. Innuit, Gypsy vs. Roma, Black vs. African-American), names of sports teams (The Washington Redskins) and of cities (Bombay vs. Mumbai, Peking vs. Beijing). On an even larger level, entire languages can become subject to such controversy. For example, there has been much debate about whether Putonghua should replace Cantonese as a medium of instruction in Hong Kong schools, or whether English is a global ‘killer’ language that eradicates local indigenous languages. In analysing such controversies, we gain an insight into how people assign meanings to words and symbols, which interpretations they employ and which authorities they evoke, as well as how such controversies might change over time. At stake in such controversies are questions of freedom of expression, the control and censorship of the public sphere, the boundary between private and public speech, the moral ownership of words and symbols and the right to control their use or interpretation in particular contexts.
Reading 80 hours
Final paper 26 hours
Lectures 24 hours
Tutorials 12 hours
Total 142 hours
On completing this course, students will be able to:
- Describe and explain a controversy over meaning and usage in the public sphere.
- Apply a critical vocabulary to describe linguistic and discursive controversies.
- Apply basic research skills and develop an appreciation of the role and status of different kinds of sources (blogs, media reports, discussion forums, historical texts, secondary literature), including referencing and citation conventions.
- Analyse and comment critically on the arguments, rhetorical strategies, ideologies used by people, including media.
- Identify their own case study and analyse its origins, development and the underlying issues at stake.
Four open book quizzes 40% (each 10%)
Tutorial participation and tasks 20%
Final written assignment, 1000 words 40%
- Controversies over the meanings of words and symbols
- Controversies over the appropriate name or label for a given entity
- The origin, conduct and resolution of such disputes
- Meaning and interpretation in the public sphere
- The nature and sociocultural significance of public debates over meaning
Introduction, course organisation
Political correctness and ‘just’ language: On the relationship between language and (political) justice
Reading: Xin Weimu (2018, 13 Nov) Why western political correctness hasn’t caught on in China. Sixth Tone.
Linguistic relativity: The language we use shapes the way we see the world
Reading: Duranti, Alessandro (1999) Relativity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 9(1-2): 220-222.
Viewing: Boroditsky, Lera (2017) How language shapes the way we think. TEDWomen 2017. https://www.ted.com/talks/lera_boroditsky_how_language_shapes_the_way_we_think/discussion
Mock quiz (not graded)
Shibboleths: Linguistic gatekeeping, inclusion and exclusion
Reading 1: McNamara, Tim (2005) 21st century shibboleth: Language tests, identity and intergroup conflict. Language Policy 4(4): 351-370.
Lunar New Year *** no classes ***
“It’s a boy!”: Language, gender and sexuality
Reading 1: Cameron, Deborah and Don Kulick (2003) Making connections. In: Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-14.
Reading 2: Tang, GVGK (2018, 29 May) Tongzhi: “Queer” identity politics in Hong Kong before and after the Handover. Notches.
The coloniality of language: Race, racism and colourism
Reading 1: Zhu, Michelle (2017, 27 Oct) All the times people have called me ‘chink’ to my face: A case-by-case history. Vice.
Reading 2: Akala (2018) The day I realised my mum was white. In: Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. London: Two Roads.
Reading Week ***no classes***
Please catch up on readings and read for the next session
McFit, Abibas and fake Cambridge degrees: Language, knockoffs and memes
Reading: Wainwright, Martin (2013, 2 Jan) Keep calm and carry on: Trademark battle enters new year. The Guardian.
World Englishes: Postcolonial struggles over official language policies and neoliberal realities
Reading: Park, Joseph Sung-Yul (2014) “You say ouch and I say aya”: Linguistic insecurity in a narrative of transnational work. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication 24(2): 241-260 https://www.jbe-platform.com/content/journals/10.1075/japc.24.2.05par
Cantonese, Putonghua, Queen’s English, British English, American English or Hong Kong English? A city in language-ideological crisis
Reading 1: Hansen Edwards, Jette G. (2016) The politics of language and identity: Attitudes towards Hong Kong English pre and post the Umbrella Movement. Asian Englishes 18(2): 157-164.
Reading 2: Tam, Luisa (2018, 7 May) You could never replace Cantonese as the language of Hong Kong. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2145001/you-could-never-replace-cantonese-language-hong-kong
Changing the face of beauty: Marketing ‘the real’ in beauty advertising (lecture by Jennifer Eagleton)
Reading 1: Dove takes on hurtful labels in Hong Kong. Campaign Asia. https://www.campaignasia.com/video/dove-takes-on-hurtful-labels-in-hong-kong/444362
Reading 2: Millard, Jennifer (2009) Performing beauty: Dove’s ‘real beauty’ campaign. Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 146-168. file:///F:/Second%20Semester/Performing%20Beauty.pdf
‘Writin my name in graffiti on the wall’: Illegal art and the quest for public space
Viewing: Silver, Tony and Henry Chalfant (1983) Style Wars.
Cultural appropriation, re-appropriation and appropriateness: Political correctness and correcting politics
Reading: Christensen, Wendy (2012, 13 April) Lost in translation: Tattoos and cultural appropriation. The Society Pages. https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/04/13/lost-in-translation-tattoos-and-cultural-appropriation/
Wrap up, preparation for essays, questions
Final paper due
You are expected to attend all lectures and all tutorials. If you miss more than three classes, for whatever reason, you will be considered as not having completed the course and will not receive a final grade. You are furthermore expected to actively participate in tutorials and you are encouraged to ask questions and make comments in lectures. Please be prepared to complete substantial amounts of readings in preparation for class and you are required to read independently and widely for your written assignment. Please book an office hour with Jaspal at least once during the semester to share your learning experience, ask any questions you might have and discuss your final written assignment.
Ahmed, Sara (2018-2020) Feminist Killjoys [blog]. https://feministkilljoys.com
Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin (2018) In Defence of Political Correctness. London: Biteback.
Ashcroft, Bill (2001) Language and race. Social Identities 7(3): 311-328.
Butler, Judith (1996) Burning acts: Injurious speech. The University of Chicago Law School Roundtable 3(1): 199-221. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1382&context=roundtable
Chandler, Daniel (2007) Semiotics: The Basics. London: Routledge. http://www.wayanswardhani.lecture.ub.ac.id/files/2013/09/Semiotics-the-Basics.pdf
Cram, Ian (2006) Contested Words: Legal Restrictions on Freedom of Speech in Liberal Democracies. Routledge.
Fanon, Frantz (1952) The Black man and language. In: Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto, 19-40. https://monoskop.org/images/a/a5/Fanon_Frantz_Black_Skin_White_Masks_1986.pdf
Hong, Fan (1997) Footbinding, Feminism and Freedom: The Liberation of Women’s Bodies in Modern China. London: Taylor and Francis.
Hutton, Christopher (2014) Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation: An Introductory Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Leung, Janny and Alan Durant (eds.) (2018) Meaning and Power in the Language of Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tarrow, Sidney (2013) The Language of Contention: Revolutions in Words, 1688-2012. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.