Communication 275: Language and Communicative Practices

Phil Agre

Spring 1997

office: MCC 106, Wednesday 2-4
phone: 534-6328


This graduate reading seminar consists of a historical survey of theories of language as a social practice. Readings will be taken from linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. The central question is the dual nature of language: as both autonomous formal system and medium of social action, as a product of social processes and a resource for the reproduction and transformation of culture.

Although the readings will be drawn principally from primary sources, the course will be organized around William J. Hanks' textbook, Language and Communicative Practices (Westview Press, 1996). Since we will consider works by numerous authors, we will divide the readings into two groups: longer selections to be considered in detail and shorter selections to become acquainted with an author's writing. To get discussion started, each student will be required to present three of the longer readings.

In addition, weeks 6 and 10 will be devoted to presentations in which each student applies theoretical material from the course to their own research projects. To ensure that everyone gets the maximum benefit from their work in the course, we will embed these presentations in a larger structure. On the Monday night before class, each student should use e-mail to send everyone else in the class an informal letter of a few pages explaining their project and detailing the kinds of commentary that would be useful. On Tuesday morning before class, everyone should read these letters and print them out to bring to class. During the class itself, each presentation should last 15 minutes, allowing 15 minutes for discussion. During the week after the presentation, with the benefit of the class discussion, write up a formal 8-page version of it, on the model of a conference paper; provide everyone else in the class with a copy of this proposal. Everyone should then prepare written comments on everyone else's written work. Grades will be based on the presentations and written work.


Week 1:   Hanks, chapter 1

Edward Sapir, Language, in Culture, Language, and Personality, edited by David G. Mandelbaum, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958. Pages 1-44.

Week 2:   Hanks, chapters 2, 3, and 4

Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, translated by Wade Baskin, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966. Pages 7-17.

Charles S. Peirce, Logic as semiotic: A theory of signs, in Justus Buchler, ed, Philosophical Writings of Peirce, New York: Dover, 1955. Pages 98-104.

Emile Benveniste, The semiology of language, in Robert E. Innis, ed, Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Pages 226-246.

Charles Morris, Foundations of the Theory of Signs, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971 [1938]. Pages 81-91.

Leonard Bloomfield, Language, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984 [1933]. Chapter 10.

Noam Chomsky, Methodological preliminaries, in Jerrold J. Katz, ed, The Philosophy of Linguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. Pages 80-125.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, third edition, New York: Macmillian, 1958. Pages 2-56.

Week 3:   Hanks, chapter 5

J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962. Pages v-52.

Bohuslav Havranek, Theory, in Paul L. Garvin, ed, A Prague School Reader on Esthetics, Literary Structure, and Style, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1964.

Jon Barwise and John Perry, Situations and Attitudes, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983. Pages 3-19.

John Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Pages 1-12.

Week 4:   Hanks, chapter 6

Roman Ingarden, The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973. Pages 3-14.

Alfred Schutz, On Phenomenology and Social Relations: Selected Writings, edited by Helmut R. Wagner, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. Pages 72-76, 111-122, 163-184.

Aaron V. Cicourel, The interpenetration of communicative contexts: Examples from medical encounters, in Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, eds, Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Ragnar Rommetveit, On Message Structure: A Framework for the Study of Language and Communication, London: Wiley, 1974. Pages 1-51.

Week 5:   Hanks, chapters 7 and 8

Keith Basso, "Speaking with names": Language and landscape among the Western Apache, in Western Apache Language and Culture, University of Arizona Press, 1990. Pages 138-173.

Brent Berlin and Paul Kay, Basic Color Terms, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Pages 1-17.

Franz Boas, Introduction, in Handbook of American Indian Languages, Anthropological Publications, 1969. Pages 1-24.

Charles Fillmore, May we come in?, in Santa Cruz Lectures on Deixis, Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club, 1975. Pages 1-15.

Michael Silverstein, On the pragmatic "poetry" of prose: Parallelism, repetition, and cohesive structure in the time course of dyadic conversation, in Deborah Schiffrin, ed, Meaning, Form, and Use in Context: Linguistic Applications, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1984. Pages 181-198.

V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, translated by Ladislav Mateejka and I. R. Titunik, Seminar Press 1973. Translators' preface, Author's introduction, Translator's introduction, Verbal interaction (pages 82-98), and Theme and meaning in language (pages 99-106).

Week 6:   Individual projects

Week 7:   Hanks, chapter 9

Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981. Pages 160-195.

Erving Goffman, The neglected situation, American Anthropologist 66(6), 1964, pages 133-136.

M. M. Bakhtin, The problem of speech genres, in Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, translated by Vern W. McGee, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Pages 60-102.

Ronald W. Langacker, Concept, Image, and Symbol: The Cognitive Basis of Grammar, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990. Chapter 1.

Week 8:   Hanks, chapter 10

John J. Gumperz, The speech community, in Pier Paolo Giglioli, Language and Social Context: Selected Readings, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.

Dell Hymes, "In Vain I Tried To Tell You": Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981. Pages 65-76.

Hilary Putman, Is semantics possible?, in Mind, Language, and Reality: Philosophical Papers, volume 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Charles Goodwin, Conversational Organization: Interaction Between Speakers and Hearers, New York: Academic Press, 1981. Chapters 4 and 5.

Charles Goodwin, Notes on a story structure and the organization of participation, in J. Maxwell Atkinson and John Heritage, eds, Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Marjorie Harness Goodwin, He-Said-She-Said: Talk as Social Organization among Black Children, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Pages 190-238.

Charles Goodwin and Marjorie J. Goodwin, Assessments and the construction of context, in Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, eds Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Elinor Ochs, Indexing gender, in Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, eds, Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Elinor Ochs, Patrick Gonzales, and Sally Jacoby, "When I come down I'm in the domain state": Grammar and graphic representation in the interpretive activity of physicists, in Emanuel A. Schegloff, Elinor Ochs, and Sandra A. Thompson, eds, Grammar and Interaction, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Week 9:   Hanks, chapter 11

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs, translated by Richard C. McCleary, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Pages 84-97.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, translated by Colin Smith, New York: Humanities Press, 1962. Pages 98-103, 136-147, 174-199.

Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, translated by Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991. Pages 32-65.

Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, translated by Richard Nice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Pages 97-124, skimming the sections in small type.

Week 10:   Hanks, chapter 12

Individual projects

Week 11:   Conclusion