Spring 2006          ENG 703/LIBST 720: Language, Culture, and Society      M 6:20 8:00  (2307B)                       

Professor  Patkowski       718-951-5197         profmp@earthlink.net           MTTh 3:00-6:00 (2314B)


Bulletin Description: Examination of the various formulations of the interconnections among language, culture, and society. Focus on the interplay of language, society and power with particular attention to issues of linguistic diversity based on gender and ethnicity, and to issues of multilingualism in education. Readings from the fields of linguistics, linguistic anthropology, philosophy, and literary theory.


Discussion: The course comprises three units: (1) we examine, largely through Sacks’s study of the deaf and their language, how the human capacity for thought, communication, and culture depends upon the distinctively human capacity for language. Then, we consider how power is negotiated across (2) gender and (3) race and class lines. The course requirements include a midterm and final, a review of 6 articles related to a topic of your choice, and a small “field project.”


Course Objectives

-          to gain an understanding of the impact of cultural, economic, and social environments upon language

-          to appreciate diversity in language patterns across cultures, ethnic groups and geographic regions

-          to be able to read and reason, think critically, evaluate, use evidence, and make judgments

-          to be able to write clearly and effectively, incorporating print and electronic sources appropriately



Perry, T., & Delpit, L. (Eds.). (1998). The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language and the Education of African-American Children. Boston: Beacon Press.

Sacks, O. (2000). Seeing Voices. New York: Vintage Books.

Spolsky, B. (1998). Sociolinguistics. New York: Oxford University Press

Talbot, M. (1998). Language and Gender: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Polity Press (Blackwell).

(the above texts are available at Shakespeare, next to McDonald’s on Hillel Place)

Reading packet available at the Far Better Copy Center on Hillel Place at the campus entrance.



-          midterm (20%) and final (20%);  both involve short essay questions.

-          a review of  6 articles related to one of the specific areas covered in the course (25%).  You must conduct two separate searches using two different databases from those available at the Brooklyn College Library web site. You will receive further details concerning this assignment.

-          a small “field project” (25%);  this will involve either observing people in conversation or carrying out an interview-based survey, and writing up a short report.  Further details are also forthcoming.

-          Attendance (excessive absences will be penalized), preparation, and participation  (10%)


Evaluation Criteria

-          Your participation be judged on the basis of your contribution to the class discussions, your respect for other points of view, and on the extent to which your contributions reflect your having done the required readings.

-          The midterm and final will be evaluated based on your accuracy in conveying or  summarizing major points introduced in the reading selections, and your ability to provide a thoughtful critique of these ideas and to draw connections or contrasts to previous class readings and discussions.

-          Your article review and project report will be evaluated with the following issues in mind: clarity and organization of the paper, extent to which you adhere to the assignment guidelines, and basic writing skills (grammar, mechanics, spelling). You must follow either MLA or APA style.


NOTE: Students must turn off the ringers on their cell phones. Please, no cell phones ringing during class!



1/30      Normal language acquisition and issues of nativism vs. empiricism

“Three Readings from the NY Times Science Section”  (Dreifus, Fowler, Wade)

                        “Issues in Language Acquisition" (textbook extract)

                        “Language Acquisition in Children” (textbook extract)

2/6        Basic concepts of sociolinguistics

                        Sociolinguistics. Spolsky

Tue2/21            Language acquisition in special circumstances

                        Seeing Voices. Sacks  (chapters 1 and 2 – don’t skip the footnotes!)

2/27      Video: “Genie”

                        "Nature's Cruel and Unusual Experiments" (Scovel)


3/6        Language and Gender. Talbot (3-129)

3/13      Language and Gender. Talbot (130-234)

3/20      “Gender Differences in Conversational Coherence” (Tannen)

"Do Girls and Boys Have Different Dialects" (Thorne)

"When 'Difference' is 'Dominance'" (Uchida)

“The He Hormone” (Sullivan)

3/27      Discussion of article reviews – general review as needed

4/3        Midterm


4/10      Video: “American Tongues”

"Language Styles and Dialects" (textbook extract)

                        "Appalachia's Dialect" (Clines)

4/24      “A Sketch of the History of Black English” (Dillard)

            “Where It’s At: Black-White Language Attitudes” (Smitherman)

5/1        The Ebonics Debate I

            Perry and Delpit (sections 1-3)

5/8        The Ebonics Debate II

            Perry and Delpit (sections 4-5)

            “Editorials on Ebonics from the Washington Post and New York Times”

5/15      Discussion of field reports – general review as needed

5/22      Final exam


Short Bibliography

Cameron, D. (ed.) (1998).  The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader. Routledge.

Delpit, L. (1995). Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New Press.

Dillard, J. L. (1973). Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. Vintage Books.

Eckert, P. and McConnell-Ginet, S. (2003). Language and Gender. Cambridge University Press.

Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with Two Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism. Harvard U. Press.

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and Culture. Oxford University Press.

Labov, W. (1972). Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. U. Penn. Press.

Romaine, S. (2000). Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Oxford University Press.

Smitherman, G. (1977). Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Wayne State U. Press.

Spolsky, B. (ed.) (1972). The Language Education of Language Minority Children. Newbury House.

Tannen, D. (1994). Gender and Discourse. Oxford University Press.

Wardaugh, R. (1992). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Oxford University Press.

Wei, L. (2000). The Bilingualism Reader. Routledge.