This course uses the topic of jargon to think about issues of language, communication, and identity. The term jargon has a number of meanings, but the focus of this course is on subgroup or subcultural varieties, that is, special languages or vocabulary sets which mark out or identify a particular group. These jargons may be technical, as in the expert terminology used in particular trades or professions (lawyers, engineers, doctors), or informal, for example the poetic, mythic or slang-like jargon used by criminals, taxi-drivers, police officers, prisoners, actors, gamblers, hospital workers, restaurant staff, and so on. The course combines viewpoints from sociolinguistics, social history, and ethnography. Students are expected to conduct their own small-scale ethnographic fieldwork on a jargon of their choice and write up a project. Students identify a subgroup, occupational class, or subculture with its own jargon and produce a research project investigating the jargon’s properties, social profile, and relationship to wider questions of communication and identity. They learn how to tackle an in-depth research project, dealing with methodological and theoretical questions, and integrating data analysis with wider intellectual questions. The student may work on English or non-English data, but any project using primarily non-English data must be presented so as to be comprehensible to a general reader.
Group identity: social distance; control & agency; efficiency & precision; euphemism: specialization; ritualization of communication; performativity; self-dramatization & language play; secrecy; nostalgia.
This course aims to:
- introduce students to the topic of jargon and provide them with an understanding of the sociocultural and intellectual issues raised by the existence of jargons
- train students to identify and critique relevant issues relating to cultural dimensions in the study of language and communication;
- give students methodological skills for conducting independent research on issues that are relevant and significant in language and communication and present findings in adequate, reflexive ways;
- provide students with opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world linguistic and communicative data, in particular in their everyday contexts of Hong Kong and Asia.
Tuesday 10:30 – 12:20
The semester will be divided into three sections. The first will consist of introductory presentations by the instructor, the analysis of selected readings, together with discussions about the topics and materials that students may be interested in exploring. The second section will involve discussion of research methods, as well as advice and assistance in choosing an appropriate topic. In the final section of the course, students will meet with the instructor individually or in groups for consultations.
Students will be required to present a research plan of no more than two pages, together with a completed application for ethical clearance (20%), and then complete a final research project of approximately 3,000 words (80%), involving original research on a particular jargon or variety. Students can work individually or in groups of two.
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Yuen King-cheung Hong Kong (1981). Hong Kong police jargon and some sociolinguistic correlates. [Hong Kong]: MA thesis, University of Hong Kong, 1981.