Welcome to Week 1!

Eng231 - Language and Culture

Notes for the Week

How and for what purposes do we use language?

We often take for granted the language(s) we speak everyday to communicate with others, and yet language plays a vital role in our society. Think about its use in our daily life. We sign it, speak it, and write it. We use it to communicate and to do various things.

As Dr. Evans notes in the article below, "We use it to buy groceries in the supermarket, to get a job, to hire or fire an employee, to buy train tickets, and to compose an email. We use it to make a telephone call, to flirt, to invite someone out on a date, to propose marriage, to get married, to quarrel, and to make up afterwards. Language allows us to make friends, and enemies, to pass the time of day, and so on."


As a method of (human) communication, language conveys messages put together in ways that conform to specific standards; it creates and maintains social realities; it reproduces cultural traditions. Of course, it also adapts to the new and different environments in which it is spoken. In fact, it is through language that identity, ethnicity, gender, and power are constructed.

Our Readings - Some Central Issues

In our first chapter, "Breaking Silences", the authors speak of the awareness of the social function attributed to language and of the anxieties they had about public language (English).

In "Another Language for the Deaf", SignWriting or visual language refers to the idea that communication occurs through visual symbols, as opposed to verbal symbols, or words.

In her article, Magalit Fox asks us to "Imagine a language that can't be written" and adds that "[h]undreds of thousands of people speak it, but they have no way to read a newspaper or study a schoolbook in the language they use all day long" (2012, p. 58). Only recently has the movement of hands and facial expressions -- what the eyes see --been encoded into a system of graphic symbols referred to as SignWriting. Along with the difficulties of reducing sign language to a two-dimensional sheet of paper, Fox examines the doubts and the promises SignWriting elicited.

The personal recollections of Helen Keller, Malcom X, Christine Marin, and Maxine Hong Kingston explore the muteness that precedes the acquisition of another language, the ambivalent relationship that one has to his or her home language, and the struggle to learn how to read and write well against all odds.

A World of Language examines and questions the dominance of the English language in many sectors of life. Robert MacNeil literally set out to listen to the English spoken in various parts of the country. The author takes a close look at the war between prescriptivists and descriptivists. "Everything in the American experience, each new frontier encountered", he claims, "has altered our language" (2012, p. 137). This argument is also present in John Eslaing, Bill Bryson, John Simon, and Mauro Mujica.

The question is: Should English in America strictly follow traditional rules or should it grow as culture grows instead?

Reference: Goshgarian, Gary. (2015). Exploring language. (14th ed.). New York: Pearson.

Did you know?

I am here to help, so please don't hesitate to contact me. Enjoy the readings and enjoy the week!