Special Topics Seminar II: American Vernaculars


This course explores the sociocultural-linguistic perspective on dialects and vernaculars, introduces students to the tools of dialectology and sociolinguistics, and examines how these can be linked to theories and methods in other fields that emphasize the study of language. We will start by discussing what ‘vernacular’ means in various fields, then move on to the history and methods of dialectology; an overview of American dialects; and an introduction to some concepts in phonetics, phonology, morphology and syntax to facilitate the reading of sociolinguistic descriptions of spoken language. One aspect of the course will entail examining representations of vernaculars in literature and other media as compared with their documentation by linguists, asking questions such as: Why and how are some (but not other) vernacular features chosen to construct a character’s identity or to position them in the text in a particular way? How do these representations relate to the historically contextualized sociopolitical meanings surrounding the vernaculars in question? We will focus on specific American vernaculars/dialects including varieties of Southern US English (including Appalachia, Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, and Texas), African American Vernacular English (AAVE), immigrant Englishes and hybrids (e.g. Chicano English), and others, depending on student interest (e.g. Boston dialect, New York vernaculars).

The course invokes examples from dialect research, ethnographic studies, media, literature, education, and politics. The course is targeted primarily at graduate students in English as well as Literature or other related fields, and at advanced undergraduates. The course emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of the study of language, and seeks to offer students interested in the use of vernaculars in literature, media, popular culture, film, etc., a socio-linguistic perspective on this subject. Focusing on American vernaculars, we will learn tools that can be applied to other linguistic contexts (e.g. British English, World Englishes, other languages). We will also discuss how the concept of the vernacular can be interpreted in the context of globalization and superdiversity. Students are encouraged to connect the material with their ongoing research projects, and to share their ideas about these connections in class discussions and papers.

Subjects, areas or themes that cut across historical eras, several national literatures, or genres. Satisfies Area II requirement for English majors. Topics course. One course / 3 units.