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Using Language in context: Narrative and Interaction

Vak 2012-2013

Language in action: The role of choices in linguistic interaction and diversity

NB: This is the new and correct title and content as described below. However, in uSis, e-guide, schedule this course will remain under its old title (Using Language in context: Narrative and Interaction)

Admission requirements

Students with Japanese language proficiency are expected to focus on Japanese and read scholarly texts in the target language. Students without Japanese language proficiency will be encouraged to familiarize themselves with selected aspects of Japanese, for example in the form of a contrastive project.


The 1st part of the course, taught by R. Länsisalmi, explores the interrelationship between language (use), culture and society, through the analysis of discourse. While there are many definitions of ‘discourse’ or ‘Discourse’, this course focuses on understanding discourse within interactional contexts, by drawing on linguistic studies of both spoken and written forms (e.g. computer-mediated discourse).

Approaches to language through discourse analysis and (micro level) sociolinguistics are illustrated by selected topics: discourse structure, reference to interaction participants, temporary and interactionally specific stances and participant roles, framing in discourse, pragmatics of (intercultural) interaction (e.g. linguistic politeness), and discourse in institutional settings (e.g. in legal contexts) are examined by analyzing language use in its interactional context. Analytical exercises encourage students to reconsider the ‘rules’ of language, while enriching their understanding of the role of ‘context’ in the creation, negotiation and interpretation of ‘meaning’. All students are expected to build a mini-corpus of data and to collect and analyze examples of a particular discourse type (e.g. letters to the editor, TV interview, online chat).

Although the focus in this part of the course is on interactional contexts, it is important to note that systems of language use and communication operate also at more global levels of (socio-cultural and political) macro structures. Accordingly, students will be encouraged to explore how discourse analysis can contribute to broader concerns in related areas, such as social sciences and cultural anthropology. Despite this, the course does not claim to offer any unified grand theory of language (use), culture, society and interaction. Rather, it draws upon a selection of recent approaches and theories to find ways to deepen our understanding of the relationships between the structures of language use and societal and cultural micro and macrostructures, on the one hand, and the multiple interconnected forces that underlie our interpretation, on the other.

The second part of the course, taught by E. de Boer, will give an overview of the differences and agreements between the three major East Asian languages (Japanese, Chinese and Korean) and the ways in which these interacted and influenced each other historically. A global understanding of the present and past linguistic situation is important for a better understanding of East Asia in general. It is also of interest to linguists and students of Japanese, Korean or Chinese who would like to familiarize themselves with the languages spoken on the opposite side of the Sea of Japan.

Historical language change and influence of one language on another are intimately related to sociolinguistic choices. The course will therefore explore a variety of such choices. There is linguistic choice within a language boundary, such as dialect diversification, gender related speech, or different levels of politeness. There is also linguistic choice across language boundaries, which involves code switching, bilingualism, language spread and language death. In this context attention will be given to remnants of languages that were once widely spoken in the geographical range such as Ainu in Japan, and Tungusic in China (which includes Manchu, the once important administrative language of Imperial China).

Course objectives

Students will:
 learn about various approaches to research in language use in context, including methodology and ethical issues in data collection and description;
 acquire hands-on experience in linguistic analysis at the level of (spoken/written) discourse;
 develop knowledge and skills for articulating research questions for the purpose of developing a thesis or project;
 learn to design and conduct an original study on a topic of their choice in the field;
 locate and critically present, summarize and discuss readings in the field(s) for general and scholarly audiences.



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

 Attendance and participation: 30%;
 Assignments, class exercises: 20%;
 (Group) presentation: 20%;
 Final paper: 30%.


Course notes, slides, syllabus, schedules, assignments, instructions, links, required readings, etc. Enrollment in Blackboard is obligatory.

Reading list

To be announced.


Through uSis


NB: the OLD title of the course, Using Language in Context: Narrative & Interaction, may still appear in rosters and uSis.