Student Learning Goals

The MLC aims to provide students with the ability to… DSC00563

(a) identify topics and problems in the use of language and communication that are amenable to sociolinguistic, discourse and pragmatic analysis

(b) engage in critical thinking about different solutions to communicative problems and the ramifications of those solutions

(c) understand the impact of language on communication in the workplace, with possible focus on medical, legal, and business settings

(d) use a specific set of skills required to analyze language and communication, described below:

Developing a record of spoken dialogue and social interaction is crucial to analysis. Although researchers always keep audio and video tape recordings of their data, detailed analysis requires a transcription of ongoing talk-in-interaction, including information about prosody (rhythm, speed) and intonation (the ‘melody’ of talk), annotation of non-vocal communication, and indications of simultaneous talk/action (e.g. when utterances and actions start and stop, including overlaps).

Discourse analysis requires the ability to segment an ongoing stream of talk and interaction. Students should be able to find and identify linguistic forms (e.g. identify clauses, phrases and syntactic constituents), as well as units that arise during the sequential and incremental organization of talk and its underlying actions of discourse (e.g. discourse markers and particles, adjacency pairs, turns and turn-constructional-units, speech acts and moves, intonation and idea units, topics and transitions between topics).

A great deal of information is presented during discourse: some of it is already familiar to interlocutors; other information is new; still other information is partially familiar and partially new. Students should be familiar with frameworks for analyzing what is called “information status” of referents (i.e. what is being talked about) and predications (i.e. what is being said about it). Entailed in this task is an elementary ability to identify grammatical constituents (e.g. differentiate types of clauses; familiarity with tense, aspect and voice), to gloss lexical and grammatical aspect, to be familiar with presuppositions and scalar inferences.

Since the communicative content of language is not always directly stated, students need to learn the philosophical framework and linguistic tools through which to identify what is conveyed directly (or indirectly), explicitly (or implicitly, through inference). Also important here is familiarity with the face-saving strategies identified with politeness theory, along with their general social distribution and cultural variation.

Quantitative analysis is an important part of many linguistic analyses at different levels, from pronunciation (as a part of style or level of casual/careful speech), to words (e.g. the use of discourse markers, terms of address, inclusive/exclusive pronouns), sentence structure (e.g. in making requests), genre (e.g. structure of a list or narrative). Often features of setting or situation can also be subjected to quantitative analysis. Students will need to learn how to identify variables, code variants, tally results, organize their data into tables and use basic hypothesis testing statistical techniques.

Qualitative analysis is an important part of many analyses of language use. Not only is it a prerequisite for many quantitative analyses (what is ‘counted’ has to be first defined as a unit that is meaningful in linguistic or interactional terms), but qualitative analysis is also critical for other reasons. In order to understand participants’ perspectives on what they are doing when using language, a researcher often becomes a participant/observer (which entails field work, note-taking, and journal keeping), learns to use tape and video recorders and to conduct a variety of interview types. Most generally, a researcher must learn to incorporate ongoing observations into the design of a project as they emerge and as the project itself is unfolding. Finally, one must understand the strengths and weaknesses of both quantitative and qualitative research techniques, their interdependencies, and how (and when) to use both.

The abilities discussed in this section will be obtained primarily through coursework. In virtually all of our course offerings, students will read a variety of primary sources and research reports that delve into a full range of topics and problems addressed through sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and pragmatics. All courses will combine lecture, discussion and workshop sessions. Assignments and projects will require students to think critically about how different scholars have addressed an issue and try some sample analyses of their own (by examining a similar issue in different data, the same issue in different ways, and different issues in a similar way).

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