sample syllabus (Language & Power)

Background & Rationale:

On this page you will find a sample syllabus I have created for a course on language and power. This course is designed to provide students with an overview of the different ways language and power intersect. The goals of this course embody several themes which I focus on in my courses including engaged citizenry, problem solving, and scientific literacy. Students are asked to read primary research, reflect upon what they have learned, and write a public facing blog post about a topic in language and power. They are also asked to identify an issue of language and power in their own community and develop an intervention, the scope and product is to be determined by their groups.


How does language reflect our social world? Language provides us with cues about our own identity and our own social biases. The goals of this class are for you to explore the relationship between language and power. Language reflects how we shape our own identity, our relationship to others, and where we grew up in time and space. In this sense, language is a powerful tool for expression, beyond the scope of form and meaning. Due to the rich links of language and identity, people are able to use language as a tool of oppression, culture, and thought. Finally, language can also hold power and reflect our biases of the world around us: in covert and overt ways. In this class we will explore the richness of language, society, and power.

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.”

—Angela Carter

This course takes a holistic and intersectional approach to understanding language and power. As such, we will explore language through the lens of psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, language activism, anthropology, and philosophy. We will learn how language functions from a scientific perspective and use this foundation to grapple with different aspects of language in society, history, social justice, and our own usage.


By the end of this class, you will be able to:

  1. Identify and understand the systemic properties of power
  2. Explain some basic features of language and how to refute these misconceptions
  3. Explore real-world language use and better understand others’ opinions about language.
  4. Identify and challenge coded language by others.
  5. Identify language and power in your community and identify course of action or intervention for change.

Further, this class will help improve:

1.         Your writing and research skills

2.         Your ability to critically analyze language

3.         Your ability to critically assess claims made about language and society.


20%     Annotations of selected readings, discussion posts, and participation.

60%     Three reflective assignments, 20% each.  Specific instructions for each assignment is posted on [University Website]. Make sure to look these over early in the term.

20%     Final Project: You will be put in groups and work together to identify a language and power topic to explore within our community. As we reflect on our individual experiences through-out the term, this project will help you identify a problem within your community and an intervention. This project seeks to focus on: What is the problem? What can we do to address this problem?

Assignment 1: Linguistic Auto-ethnography

Assignment 2: Linguistic Landscape

Assignment 3: Blog Post


Part 1: Introducing the Class
Week 1: Introducing our terms
MM/DDWhat is Power? Laying the ground work for our class.Video on Cultural Hegemony   Mills (2000) Sociological Imagination – Ch 1 (skim) 
MM/DDWhat is Language?Mooney & Evans: Language Society & Power Ch.1Syllabus + Intro quiz
Part 2: How and why does language vary by speakers?
Week 2
MM/DDHow are languages learned?Sedivy Ch.4 The birth of a word Video 
MM/DDHow does where we acquired language shape our language use? (Geography & Social class)Wolfram & Schilling: American English Ch. 4 
Week 3
MM/DDHow do the social groups we belong to shape our language use? (Signed Languages)LeMaster & Monaghan 2005Assignment 1
MM/DDHow do the social groups we belong to shape our language use? (Ethnicity & Intersectionality)Talking Black in America – Film

Choose one: Bucholtz 2001, Goodwin & Alim 2010  
Annotations on one article due
Week 4:
MM/DDHow do the social groups we belong to shape our language use? (Gender & Sexuality)Do I sound Gay – Film

Choose one: Podesva 2007
Bucholtz & Hall 2004
McConnell-Ginet 2011 Ch. 7
Annotations on one article due
MM/DDWhat does it look like to speak more than one variety? (Multilingualism & Code Switching)Auer & Eastman 2010Groups assigned
Part 3: How do our beliefs about language and society manifest? (Overt discrimination + oppression)
Week 5
MM/DDWhat is ‘Standard Language’ and who benefits from it?Lippi-Green, English with an Accent- Ch.4

MM/DDWhat does it mean to have an ‘accent’ and what is Standard English?  Lippi-Green, English with an Accent- Ch.3   
Week 6
MM/DDWhat is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ language? How can linguists intervene?Gunter & Farrington 2022
Charity Hudley 2008 (Primer for projects, skim)
Assignment 2
MM/DDWhat is the history of language subordination in the U.S.? (Indigenous peoples & their languages)Hernandez-Chavez 1995Discussion post on project ideas
Week 7
MM/DDWhat is the history of language subordination in the U.S.? (Education)Flores 2016 Wolfram 1998Annotations due: Flores 2016
MM/DDWhat is the history of language subordination in the U.S.? (Black Signed Language)  Signing Black in America – Film

Bayley et al. 2019 Recommended: Hill et al. 2015
Week 8
MM/DDHow does knowledge of the relationship between language & identity for discrimination?Rickford & King 2016  Discussion post on project ideas, finalized
MM/DDHow does knowledge of the relationship between language & identity for discrimination?Levon & Ye 2020
McConnell-Ginet 2011 Ch.6
Assignment 3
Part 4: How do we use language that perpetuates and reflects our biases? Coded language
Week 9
MM/DDHow does our language manifest in “covert”* discrimination? (Language & Racialization)

Bonilla-Silva 2002
Kroskrity 2021   Recommended: Charity Hudley 2017; Bucholtz 2019
Annotations due
MM/DDHow does our language use manifest in “covert”* discrimination? (Gender & Sexuality)

(*covert: it may not always be obvious to the user of said language, but as we will discuss is often clear to the victims of this language use)
Zimman 2018; McConnell-Ginet 2011 Ch. 10 Recommended: CW*: Ehrlich 2014 *discusses sexual violence, optional reading 
Week 10
MM/DDHow does our language manifest in “covert” discrimination? (Ableism)Nario-Redmond 2020 (p.92-109)Discussion post due: progress report
MM/DDWhat does language and power look like in our community? What can be done? Final Projects Due
FINAL EXAM: Note: Final projects due online by week 10 time along with 5 minute presentations during the final exam time.