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Social Sciences
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Defense of the Indefensible Social Sciences Essay Paper (Essay Sample)

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Paper Topics Language, Society, and Culture (Winter 2020) Papers should be no shorter than 5 pages, and no longer than 7. This assumes a word count of at least 200 words per page. In order to help us read them and comment on them, papers should be written on one side of the page only, with one-inch margins. They should be typed. Please staple all pages together. Here are some guidelines for the papers. It would be a good idea for you read these points periodically and think about them.  Though these papers are relatively short, they should be written as professionally as possible. For instance, they should have introductions and conclusions; they should be very carefully written, and carefully thought out; and so on.  Every paper should have a main original point or argument that 'holds it together' – whether the suggested topics below discuss this or not. A central focus is critical to a good paper. With every paragraph you write, ask yourself, "What role is this paragraph playing in the overall argument or point I am making with this paper? Is that clear to my reader?"  One aim in writing these assignments is to show that you have done the reading, that you've been engaged in the class discussions, and that you can respond critically to the material that has been covered. If you paper makes no contact with course material, it will be weak.  The purpose of the papers is to have you think critically about what you have read and about what has been happening in class. Therefore, your writing assignments should make it clear that you know the relevant reading and know what has happened in class. You should go beyond this, however, drawing on your own experience, extending the ideas to new domains, or responding critically.  It is important to base your points as much as possible on concrete examples of whatever you are writing about, rather than on general assertions alone. Also, define the concepts and terms you bring up.  Given the topics we will discuss, it is very tempting to fall into the trap of making assertions that aren't supported, relying on feeling or popular opinion more than reason. Please make every effort instead to focus your thinking, make your reasoning clear, and argue for what you say.  Many of these assignments either require you to do some research on your own, or would benefit from that. You should be comfortable using the library resources. If you need help getting started there, talk to one of us, or talk to a librarian.  Write as though your audience is an educated layperson who is not in our class and has no magic knowledge of the material.  Clarity is better than complexity. Simple sentences are OK. (Orwell's tips on good writing, which we’ll see, aren't bad!) Please write in order to get your point across, not to impress the reader with your vocabulary or prowess with complex subordinate clauses.  If you cite linguistic examples, italicize them or put them in quotes. E.g., 'In Maryland the word skillet is used for frying pan'.  It's really important to understand plagiarism and avoid it. Whenever you are repeating other people’s ideas, or quoting them, you should cite them. A separate handout provides examples of citation forms and bibliographies. 1 of 5 Topic Ideas You are free to choose your own topic so long as you get the OK from one of us. Also, even if you do one of the topics below, you don’t need to follow the suggestions exactly. Most of the content of a paper is up to you! I. Good language and bad language A) Analyze some published examples of prescriptivism. These might be in letters to the editor, or in regular columns by someone, or in a book by a prescriptivist. Or they might be found in web-based prescriptive sources, of which there are many. Your paper should give concrete examples of prescriptive judgments (points of usage, vocabulary, etc.). In addition, you should consider those examples in light of our class discussions. What sort of argument does each exemplify? Are the arguments made explicitly, or are they assumed? Do you think the assumptions/arguments are valid? Why or why not? II. Dialects A) There are two aphorisms that have often been used to describe the difference between languages and dialects. (The second can be read in several ways, but it is intended to mean something similar to the first.) 1. A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. 2. A dialect is a language which didn't succeed. Discuss the appropriateness of these aphorisms, based on your reading so far and on your understanding of class discussion. What are they trying to say? Is it true? Be sure to discuss specific examples and to make explicit reference to the reading and to class discussion. Bring in and discuss at least one relevant case that has not been discussed in class or the readings. 2 of 5 B) If you are acquainted enough with a non-standard dialect of English – or of any language – write a paper presenting it as a case study. Where is this dialect spoken? By whom? What are some features of the pronunciation, lexicon, or grammar that distinguish this dialect from the standard? Give as many specific examples as you can. What is the social status of this dialect? For example, do speakers of this dialect feel it has less prestige than the standard? Do they express feelings of inadequacy about it? Or on the other hand, is this dialect a marker of solidarity with some group? How do non-speakers of this dialect seems to regard it? Based on what evidence? It could be very helpful to conduct an interview of a speaker of this dialect (or a self-interview, if you are a speaker). C) This topic focuses you on the “Ebonics” issue. Start with the articles by A. J. Verdelle (in the “Optional” folder in the Dialect readings and Pullum on this controversy. They present different points of view. They differ, for example on whether they think AAVE is a fully grammatical form of language and its use in the classroom would benefit students. Consider how their different backgrounds and analyses lead them to their conclusions. Then discuss where you stand yourself on the issue. For this topic, you should also research the “Ann Arbor Decision” concerning education and AAVE, laying out the essential facts and using what you learn to inform this essay. (Warning: go beyond sources like Wikipedia in researching this case.) III. Language, Brain, and Variation A) We’ve discussed many ways in which variation across languages makes logical sense from a cognition standpoint, even if some of this variation is popularly viewed as deficient or ungrammatical. Pick a non-standard variety of a language and write about two or three features of that dialect that fit this pattern and describe their use and how they are viewed socially. B) In the essay "Politics and the English Language", George Orwell writes In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Discuss some of the techniques used to 'defend the indefensible' - those considered by Orwell and those we considered in class. Be as specific as you can; discuss as many particular examples as you can. It might be useful to look again at "Standard English and the Complaint Tradition", by Milroy and Milroy. Make sure to relate your essay in some detail to the concepts of linguistic relativity discussed in class. C) What does Deborah Cameron (supplemental reading) mean by 'verbal hygiene'? Be as precise as you can, and cite as many examples as you can. Much of what Cameron discusses is commonly known as 'PC speak'. Talk to your friends and relatives about 'PC speak'. How do they understand this notion? (Do they give examples?) What emerges from this talk? Does this topic elicit any derision, annoyance, or anger? Any other reactions? Why do you think this is? In your opinion, are the feelings justified? Make sure to relate your essay in some detail to the concepts of linguistic relativity discussed in class. D) Assess linguistic re-appropriation. In class we mentioned that some groups are attempting to re-appropriate or reclaim words historically used against them. Give a description of how this movement originated and what it's goals are. Critically assess these goals in terms of linguistic determinism and relativity. IV. Contact: Language Life and Death A) Choose someone you know personally who is (close to) a balanced bilingual. ‘Balanced bilingual’ means someone who speaks more than one language (near)-natively and fluently, as opposed to someone, say, who has learned a second language well through study. This person could be yourself, or a member of your family, or a friend, a classmate, or someone you work with. Talk to her or him and on the basis of what you are told, write an account of that person's linguistic history. Concentrate on questions like the following: what were the circumstances that led to that person being or becoming bilingual? At what ages or in what contexts were the different language acquired? Which of the languages does he or she still use today? What language is used under what circumstances? Have there been changes in the pattern of ability or of use over time? What caused those changes? What attitude does the person express towards his or her own bilingualism? Is he/she glad to be bilingual, does he/she feel the bilingualism to be burdensome, or is it merely a routine fact of life? With this topic it's worth stressing that the strongest papers will also try to go beyond what is suggested above, by finding ways of linking the case examined to questions or theories about bilingualism that have come up in class. B) Language issues have been the focus of political debate and social conflict in many countries. If you have a special interest in one such country, or if you have particular personal knowledge of one, describe it. Describe the language situation in that country as fully and as concisely as you can. How or why have language questions become a source of conflict? What form do those conflicts currently take? Compare the situation you are describing with some of the situations which have been discussed in this course; discuss the situation in terms of some of the concepts that have emerged in your reading and in class. If you write about one of the countries or situations that have been discussed in the course, you need to make sure that your essay goes farther than the basic information available from the course reading or from class discussion. C) Choose one of the indigenous languages of the U.S. Find out what you can about the state of that language today. Is it extinct? Is it flourishing? Is it moribund or threatened? What kind of people (young, old) speak the language today? Is it used in educational settings? When is it used (if at all)? What are the pressures working for or against this language today? As usual, relate what you find and argue to issues raised in class and in readings. D) Our optional readings also contain two essays in support of the "Official English" movement, one by Norman Shumway and one by S. I. Hayakawa. Write a critical response to these two essays, either agreeing or disagreeing with the point of view expressed, but in either case examining carefully the logic of the arguments used and especially the presuppositions that lie behind them. It is most important in this assignment that you avoid generalizations, slogans, and accusations. What is needed is a close, careful, and objective scrutiny of the arguments presented in the papers. Be sure to make specific reference to the arguments actually presented. Be sure to avoid responding emotionally to what you imagine the arguments might have been. V. Internet, Technology and Speech A) Find a popular news article or op-ed that argues that texting or a similar change in technology is degrading our language. Using materials from class and ones you find on your own, critique this article. Are some of their points valid? What points are not? B) It is very unclear exactly how modern technology, such as television, computers, and the internet, are changing language. Find an example that you believe is and example of technology influenced change and give support for the role of technology in language change and variation. VI. Language and gender A) In class we have considered a number of ways in which men's and women's speech are said to differ. One set of such differences has to do with the ways in which men and women supposedly use speech in conversation, and in other social interactions in which speech plays an important role. Present first what has been claimed about men's and women's use of speech (from class and readings). Then observe some scene around you - a class meeting, a discussion section, a formal meeting, a conversation, a family gathering. Watch as closely as you can what the patterns of verbal interaction are. If you can get away with it, you might even try getting video (with permission, of course). It’s much easier to observe with the benefit of playback. Report your observations. Do they conform to the expectations about gender and language use? Avoid generalities. Be as specific as you can. B) As we saw in class, many claims about language and gender may be wrong; or they may really have to do with something like language use and power or status (where status and gender are often confounded). Regard your observations with some probing skepticism. What do they show?

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Defense of the Indefensible
Politics and language are two integral aspects of society since politicians depend on language to sell their plan and achieve their political goals. Sociologists, educationists, sociolinguistics and anthropologists, and many other professionals understand the importance of language as a cultural and political issue. Politicians use language to pursue citizens and make promises, especially during campaign seasons. In history, the most eloquent politicians have been the most successful ones since they possess a vocal weapon that very few people can defend against. Politicians, leaders, and other influential people in society have mastered the art of propaganda and to make societies accept concepts and ideas that are outright unacceptable. The art of defending the indefensible using the English language is the act of applying political modulations. Some of the examples of some of the methods used to justify the indefensible include propaganda, threat, and intimidation, use of meaningless words and pretentious diction.
Propaganda in modern politics is one of the most common psychological tactics used by politicians to distort our subconscious minds (Stier, Sebastian, et al., 18). Most politicians are smart and know that people are either too preoccupied with their personal lives or careless to validate news and accusations aimed at them for political reasons. Therefore, they use propaganda to attack their political opponents and claim accusations leveled against them as propaganda. They use English to engineer immoral and absurd practices and ideas to look reasonable and innocent. For instance, a politician from one political party may use terms such as inconsistency to accuse a rival politician of failing just once to deliver something he or she had promised citizens. When citizens hear the term inconsistency, they may believe that the accused politician has never performed well even though they had a good record before the accusation.

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