ENGL489R - The Rhetoric of Grammar

What is grammar and why does it matter? Are some forms of language somehow better — more beautiful, logical, expressive, or refined — than others? If so why, and if not, why do people seem to care so much about "good grammar"? This is a course about the ways language in general and English in particular have been imagined through history, and about the ways these imaginings continue to shape policies and attitudes toward linguistic variation, language education and language policy.  We will begin by considering the history of "grammar" in general as a field of study, from its roots in ancient Greece to the growth of modern linguistics, and the history of English in particular, focusing on the social and cultural forces that led to the emergence of what we now call Standard English. Next we will examine some of the dominant ideologies of language since the Renaissance, focusing in particular on the classical "doctrine of correctness", which holds that there is one correct variety of a language and that all other varieties are deviant and inferior, and the Romantic "doctrine of authenticity", which views non-standard dialects as genuine expressions of local identity and individual feeling.  This will lead us to consider the relation between language and social identity more generally, and the ways that grammatical variation can reflect not only regional differences, but also other constructions of social identity related to, among other things, race, class, gender, and sexuality. Finally, in the last part of the course we will consider implications for education and public policy, focusing on language instruction in primary and secondary education, and examining in particular some of the controversies relating to African American English in the public schools. Grades will be based on the following five sorts of written work: (i) regular contributions to an electronic discussion board (25%); (ii) a short research proposal of 1-2 pages (10%), (iii) an annotated bibliography (20%), and (iv) a final research paper of 8-12 pages (25%), and (v) a final exam (20%).