ENGL428I - Seminar in Language and Literature; The Rhetoric of Us and Them: The Language of Political Alignment

This course explores the ways in which linguistic and rhetorical patterns both construct and maintain in-group and out-group identities and affirm and enhance solidarity within the in-group. The focus is on politically relevant identities and groupings, including nationality, race and ethnicity, gender, religion, geographical region, social class, social group identification, profession, and ideology.

The course readings will rely heavily on articles in professional journals, including the Journal of Language and Politics, Language and Society, Discourse and Society, Critical Discourse Studies and the Rhetoric Society Quarterly.

Examples of the sorts of things the course will explore are as follows:

  1. The use of “god-terms” and “devil-terms” (terms that are automatically perceived as identifying things that are unarguably “good” or “evil”—socialism was a devil-term for a period of American history in the mid- to late twentieth century, although it is now losing that status for many younger Americans.
  2. The use of metaphors, e.g., “animal” or “disease” metaphors for the Other, metaphors in which the territory (physical or metaphorical) of the Us-group is identified as a house in danger of invasion.
  3. The use of or refusal to use certain terminology associated with the Other: the use of terms for different genders is one example, but this category also includes the pronunciation of names like “Iraq,” where the choice of vowels and stress (“EYE-RACK” versus “ee-ROCK”) is associated with political attitudes.
  4. The use of taboo terms for in- or out-group members.
  5. Information structure that puts in- and out-groups in contrast.  
  6. The use of rhetorical and discourse devices to convey position and alignment.
  7. Ways in which information is implied, requiring the hearers to “fill in the blanks” correctly. “Dog-whistles” are an obvious example, but there are many other ways in which this is done.

Texts to be examined will include political speeches, policy documents, press conferences, books, news reportage, editorials, advertisements, songs, and of course Tweets and other social media texts. Visual rhetoric will necessarily be a component of the course.

Students will develop and carry out a substantial research project.

Prerequisite: Must be enrolled in the English Honors Program.