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Language, Power and Identity


Topics: Language, Nationalism, Ethnicity, Globalization.
Disciplines: Sociolinguistics, Antropology.
Skills: Researching, Analysing, Collaborating, Oral communication, Written communication, Presenting, Societal awareness, Reflecting, Independent learning, Resilience.

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? Why do certain forms of language play a central role in the ways we think about ourselves and identify others?

This course examines the complex relationship between language and social life. Through the use of sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological methodologies and concepts, students will explore the linkages between language, dialects, identity and society, with special attention to the question: do national projects require that all citizens speak the same language? The first part of the course will provide students with some basic theoretical background in linguistic and anthropological approaches to the course theme. Beginning in the fourth session, we will move on to examine case studies from around the world that allow us to consider the interplay of language, power and identity from a variety of different contexts, including minority languages, postcolonialism, migration, globalization, and invented languages.

Course objectives:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand basic concepts in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology;
  2. Analyze the use of language and the attitudes/ideologies that people have towards language;
  3. Apply linguistic and anthropological concepts to analyze their own experiences or academic interests related to the intersection of language and society.

Programme and timetable:

The sessions (the topics are subject to change) of this class will take place on the following Tuesdays from 17.15 - 19.15:

Session 1: February 6
Introducing Language and Nationalism

Session 2: February 13
Studying Language and Identity

Session 3 February 20
Adding Power into the Mix

Session 4: February 27
Language as a Tool for Nation-Building

Session 5 March 5
Decolonizing “Language”

Session 6 March 12
What about Minority Languages?

Session 7 March 19
Problematizing Identity with the “Listening Subject”

Session 8 April 9
Migration and Linguistic Nationalism

Session 9 April 16
Making English “Global”

Session 10 April 23
Invented Languages

Deadline final assignment May 7

Lipsius building, room 1.18

Reading list:

  • Anderson, Benedict. 2006 [1983]. Imagined Communities. London: Verso.
    Bucholtz, Mary and Kira Hall. 2009. “Locating Identity in Language.” In Language and Identities, edited by Carmen Llamas and Dominic Watt, 18¬–28. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Johnstone, Barbara. 2009. “Locating Language in Identity.” In Language and Identities, edited by Carmen Llamas and Dominic Watt, 29–36. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. “The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Language.” Language & Symbolic Power, 43–65. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    Schieffelin, Bambi B. and Rachelle Charlier Doucet. 1994. “The ‘Real’ Haitian Creole: Ideology, Metalinguistics, and Orthographic Choice.” American Ethnologist 21(1): 176–200.

  • Alim, H. Samy, Quentin E. Williams, Adam Haupt, Emile Jansen. 2021. “‘Kom Khoi San, kry trug jou land’: Disrupting White Settler Colonial Logics of Language, Race, and Land with Afrikaaps.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 31(2):194–217.
    Ingebretson, Britta. 2022. “‘Living Fossils’: The Politics of Language Preservation in Huangshan, China.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 32(1):116–138.

  • Inoue, Miyako. 2003. “The Listening Subject of Japanese Modernity and His Auditory Double: Citing, Sighting, and Siting the Modern Japanese Woman.” Cultural Anthropology 18(2):156–193.

  • Evers, Cecile. 2018. “Not Citizens of a Classical Mediterranean: Muslim Youth from Marseille Elude a Linguistic Gentrification by the French State.” Signs & Society 6(2):435–474.

  • Blommaert, Jan. 2009. “A market of accents.” Language policy 8(3):243–259.
    Okrent, Arika. 2009. In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language. New York: Random House.

Subject to change. A final reading list will be announced via Brightspace before the first class.

Course load and teaching method:

This course load is 5 EC (140 hours):

  • Seminars: 10 seminars of 2 hours (participation is mandatory)

  • Literature reading: 5 hours/week

  • Assignments & final essay: 70 hours

Assessment methods:

  • 10% Participation assessed continually throughout the semester

  • 45% (15% each) Three reaction papers (500 words each) to a session’s reading(s), which include a discussion question or topic to share in class

  • 45% Final argumentative essay (2000 words)

Students can only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.

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.

Application process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 30 October up to and including Sunday 19 November 2023 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.


Janet Connor: