Language and Power ANTH 368

Judith M. Maxwell

AB 103, x3046

Course Objectives: This course will explore the relationship between language and the indexing, creation and maintenance of power relationships. We will build a shared vocabulary for discussing the instantiation of power and then used this vocabulary to analyze the power relationships within the domains of medicine, law, media, and education.

Textbook: Power in Language (1993) Sik Hung Ng and James J. Bradac. Sage:Newbury Park

Additional readings: on electronic reserve in the library (password: power) and on hard copy reserve in the Anthropology building. For specific assignments see the daily assignments below.

The following statement comes from the Tulane Honor Code: A Tulane students are expected to familiarize themselves with the principles of this honor code and to conduct themselves in a manner that complies with it at all times.@ If you have questions about the Honor Code, you can find it at


Aug 28 Definitions: What is language? power? Ng and Bradac, pp. 1-37 or Chapts. 1 and 2

Aug 30 Language and Status standard language, speed, diversity, gender......Ng and Bradac, pp. 38-59, or Chpt. 3.

Sept 2 Labor Day Holiday

Sept 4 Does it work? What assigns power. film clips, analyses

Assignment: Using one of the clips shown in class, or an excerpt of your choosing, write a short essay on factors influencing ascription of power to individual speakers. What is the dominant factor? How does language reinforce or undermine the ascription? Papers should not exceed two pages, transcript excluded. Due Sept. 9.

Sept 6 Control Ng and Bradac, pp. 60- 88. Chpt. 4

Sept 9 Mitigation due: power ascription essay Ng and Bradac, pp. 89- 116, Chpt. 5

Assignment: Using the exerpt you have just worked with, or a new one, examine the text for examples of control and mitigation. Does the power alignment follow the expected pattern of powerful speakers controlling floor, topic and next speaker? Does the less powerful speaker mitigate assertions? If not, what other factors enter to interrupt the expected pattern? If so, is either party working to avoid face loss for hirself or hir interlocutor? 1-2 pages, not counting transcript. Due Sept. 13.

Sept 11 When is a lie not a lie? Spin-doctoring. Ng and Bradac pp. 117- 142. Chpt. 6

Sept 13 Masking due: control and mitigation essay Ng and Bradac, pp. 143-171, Chpt. 7

Assignment: look for two news stories, probably from different sources, covering the A same@ event. Evaluate how the language is doctored to suggest a proper interpretation. Use news stories, not editorials. Look for the techniques of emotive word choice, presuppositional magic, and masking. Due Sept. 20.

Sept 16 Yom Kippur Holiday

Sept 18 Politics of language choice Ng and Bradac pp. 172-194, Chpt. 8

Sept 20 due: media magic paper Discussion of papers.

Sept 23 Speech Act Theory Deborah Schiffrin (1994) A Speech Act Theory@ in Approaches to Discourse. Blackwell Publishers: Cambridge, MA. pp. 49-96.

Assignment: choose one of the exercises on pp. 91-93. Write out brief answers to the questions she poses. Be prepared to discuss this orally in class on Sept. 25.

Sept 25 How much is real? Inference and analysis through speech act theory. due: exercise from Schiffrin, class discussion

Sept 27 Schlegloff on turn-taking Emanuel A. Schegloff (2000) A Overlapping talk and the organization of turn-taking for conversation@ in Language in Society 29-1-63.

Sept 30 Grice: Anything you can infer, I can infer better Grice (1975) A Logic and Conversation@ in Syntax and Semantics Academic Press: NY. pp. 41-58.

Oct. 2 More fun with Grice

Oct. 4 Prefaces and Alignments Stubbs (1983) A On the Surface of Discourse: prefaces and alignments@ in Discourse Analysis: the sociolinguistic analysis of natural language. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. pp. 176-193.

Oct 7 Jockeying for position Hutchby (1999) A Power in Discourse: The Case of Arguments on a British Talk Radio Show@ in The Discourse Reader. Adam Jaworski and Nikolas Coupland, eds. Routledge: New York. pp. 576-588.

TERM PROJECT AND CLASS PRESENTATION: now, if not sooner, is the time to be deciding on what domain you want to be exploring for your term project. Possibilities include: medicine, law, media, and education, as well as politics, advertising, pop music, folk music, business, international aid organizations, transnational consortia, religion. For Oct 21st, decide on an area. Probably a good idea to have some notion of readings available. On Oct. 21st., hand in to me a slip of paper, or e-mail me, with your name and the name of the domain you choose to investigate. I will pair up folks wanting to work on similar topics. If you already have a A partner@ , you could speed up this process by indicating this fact on said slip of paper/e-mail.

Oct 9 Medicine Chimombo and Roseberry (1998) A The Discourse of Medicine@ in The Power of Discourse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publisher: Mahwah, NJ. pp. 231-264

Oct 11 The medical interview, (re-)affirming status? S. Fisher and S.B. Groce (1990) A Accounting practices in medical interviews@ in Language in Society 19: 225-250. Assignment: analyze the samples of speech from Fisher and Groce and from Ainsworth-Vaughn. Do they support the arguments made by the authors? How, why? 2 pages. Due Oct. 16.

Oct 14 Columbus Day A observed@ , but no holiday Paul ten Have (1991) A Talk and Institution: a Reconsideration of the A Asymmetry@ of Doctor-Patient Interaction@ in Talk and Social Structure: Studies in Ethnomethodology and Converstion Analysis. Deirdre Boden and Don H. Zimmerman, eds. University of California Press: Berkeley. pp. 138-163.

Oct 16 topic transitions, power moves? due: medical interview transcript analysis revisited N. Ainsworth-Vaughn (1992) A Topic transitions in physician-patient interviews: power, gender, and discourse change@ in Language in Society 21: 409-426.

Oct 18 Law Chimombo and Roseberry (1998) A The Discourse of Law@ in The Power of Discourse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publisher: Mahwah, NJ. pp. 265-306.

Oct 21 Silence in the court! due: choice of domain for term project, partners, if any known. Eades (2000) A I don= t think it= s an answer to the question: Silencing Aboriginal witnesses in court@ in Language in Society 29: 161-196.

Oct 23 Equal speech before the law? Lippa-Green (1994) A Accent, standard language ideology, and discriminatory pretext in the courts@ in Language in Society 23:163-198.

Assignment: examine the Senate Confirmation Committee transcripts for Oct. 11, 1991 a.m. for the testimony of Professor Hill and the questions she was asked. Compare this with the questions directed to Justice Thomas on Oct. 12 a.m. How is power played out in the language of the questioners and the answerers? 1 page. Class discussion on the 25th. Check out web-site, or see hard copy of testimony in the Anthro reserve box.

Oct 25 Anita Hill and Judge Clarence Thomas due: examination of Senate confirmation committee transcripts of Oct. 11, 1991 a.m. for the testimony of Professor Hill and the questions she was asked. Compare this with the questions directed to Justice Thomas on Oct. 12 a.m. How is power played out in the language of the questioners and the answerers? 1 page.. Check out web-site, or see hard copy of testimony in the Anthro reserve box.

Oct 28 Media Chimombo and Roseberry (1998) A Discourse of News Media@ in The Power of Discourse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ. pp. 307-336.

Oct 30 Social epistemology, truth? Roth (2002) A Social epistemology in broadcast news interviews@ in Language in Society 31: 355-382.

Nov. 1 Constructing a version of the truth? Thornborrow (2000) A The construction of conflicting accounts in public participation TV@ in Language in Society 29: 357-378.

Nov. 4 Education Chimombo and Roseberry (1998) A Discourse of Education@ in The Power of Discourse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ. p. 197-230.

Assignment: in two of your classes note at least two types of A dispreferred@ responses and ways the professor deals with them. Is power referenced? How? due Nov. 8 1 page

Nov 6 Social control and the classroom Dorr-Bremme (1990) A Contextualization cues in the classroom: discourse regulation and social control functions@ in Language in Society 19: 379-402.

Nov 8 School as an institution, language as a group marker due: dispreferred response strategies at Tulane. Heller (1995) A Language choice, social institutions, and symbolic domination@ in Language in Society 24 :373-406.

Nov 11 Bourdieu, can= t escape him Bourdieu (1991) A The Production and Reproduction of Legitimate Langauge@ and A Price Formation and the Anticipation of Profits@ in Language and Symbolic Power. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. pp. 43-89

Nov 13-Nov. 25 class presentations

Nov. 20 American Anthropological Association 101st Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency

Nov. 22 AAAs still

Nov. 25 discussion of AAA sessions

Nov. 27-29 Thanksgiving recess

Dec. 2-4 final class presentations

Dec 6 Summary of course findings: question for debate does language create power or reinforce it, index it, all of the above? last day of class.

FINAL Tuesday Dec. 17 8:00 a.m. until Noon


Course requirements:

  1. Participation in class discussion. Note: you must be present to participate 10%

                    Do all the readings ahead of time, as class discussion will presuppose familiarity with the assigned material.

    b.   essays 60%

    c.   Hill-Thomas transcript essaylet 5%

    d.   class presentation 10%

    e.   final paper, due at time of final examination, before noon on Tuesday Dec. 17 15%