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Language, Power and Identity


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes.

Topics: Language, ethnicity, gender, religion.
Disciplines: Sociolinguistics.
Skills: Research, academic writing, fieldwork methods.

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.


What is the difference between a language and a dialect, and who decides? Should every nation have its own unique language? What are minority language “rights”? Why are some languages linked to certain religions?

Why do certain forms of language play a central role in the ways we think about ourselves and identify others? Language is an essential part of our identity, and connects us with other members of various groups in society: ethnic, national, religious, gender, class, etc. Language is not homogenous: “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

This theme examines the complex relationship between speech and society, taking language as the point of departure. Through the use of sociolinguistic methodologies and concepts, students will explore the linkages between language, dialects, identity and society, with special reference to religion, ethnicity, and nationalism.

Course objectives:

At the end of this course, students will have had a broad introduction into some of the many aspects of Sociolinguistics. They will learn analytical skills of analyzing the use of language, and studying the attitudes of people, and they will have learned how to put these to practice.

Programme and timetable:

The programme will consist of 8 thematic meetings plus an individual or team research project (sociolinguistic fieldwork). These meetings will take place on Wednesdays at 17:30 - 19:30.

7 October: Introduction
14 October: Linguistic identity and the functions and evolution of language
28 October: Approaching identity in traditional linguistic analysis
11 November: Integrating perspectives from adjacent disciplines
25 November: Language in national identities
9 December: Case study 1: The new quasi-nation of Hong Kong
6 January: Language in ethnic/racial and religious/sectarian identities
20 January: Case study 2: Christian and Muslim identities in Lebanon


This class will take place online through Kaltura.

Reading list:

We will use the following book: John E. Joseph (2004). Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious. Palgrave. Available online at
This book contains 8 chapters that correspond with the 8 thematic meetings of this class.

Course load and teaching method:

This course load is 5 EC (140 hours):

Weekly seminar meetings: 8 x 2 hours = 16 hours
Weekly reading assignments: 7 x 8 hours = 56 hours
Preparing presentation = 8 hours
Fieldwork: 20 hours
Final paper = 40 hours

Assessment methods:

The assessment method has three components:
1. Oral presentation: 30%
2. Attendance and in-class participation: 10%
3. Final paper (3000-5000 words) : 60%

It is not required to successfully complete all partial exams in order to pass this course. Students are allowed to compensate a ‘fail’ (grades up to and including 5.0). A resit is offered in the form of a final paper (5000-7000 words) that replaces all earlier partial grades.

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday 17 August 2020 up to and including Thursday 3 September 2020 through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Cesko Voeten: