English in the World

I am very excited because, after putting in a last-minute application for a course development grant, I learned on Friday that I have been awarded that grant and will be teaching a new course as part of a major, multi-year grant that JCU is using to increase global learning on campus, particularly through faculty learning groups and undergraduate courses in various aspects of globalization studies.

So, in Spring 2014, I will teach EN 299 English in the World, in which the students and I will “examine the close connections between language and identity, as they play out in economic, political, and cultural exchange,” as I phrased it in the application. As is probably clear, we’ll be dealing with quite a lot of sociolinguistic material (“Seeking out both the global within English and the signs of English around the globe, we will necessarily tackle concerns over language survival or revival, as well as the types and mechanisms of language contact”), and I am really looking forward to that!

I’m hoping that this course will get a healthy enrollment, boosted by some of our education-track English majors. I am fortunate enough to be able to teach a course on the history of English every fall because the education-track majors are required to take a course on language (either HEL or a contemporary grammar course), and this “English in the World” course will be designated as another option for satisfying that requirement.

I still need to work out precisely what readings I will assign to the students, but I am very much looking forward to the preparatory reading I’ll be doing this summer: David Crystal’s Language Death, Robert McCrum’s Globish, Lawrence Rosenwald’s Multilingual America, Ardis Butterfield’s The Familiar Enemy, assorted sociolinguistics textbooks, Lawrence Venuti on translation and “an ethics of difference,” sections from The Empire Writes Back, and various other books. While I’m at it, I will probably revisit Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, which launched my first forays into more sustained academic thought, after my wonderful ninth-grade history teacher recommended it to me. I’m also planning to assign a few literary and autobiographical texts, perhaps Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Francisco Jiménez’s Breaking Through, although I’d love to hear other suggestions, if you have any, especially anything related to East Asia (Peter Hessler?), since I know we’ll have South Asia, Europe, and Africa represented, one way or another. It would also be nice to get something specifically South American on the list, too.

I know that we are going to discuss some analogous theories and situations from earlier periods of history (e.g., Isidore of Seville’s seventh-century argument that nations arise out of languages, rather than languages out of nations), but aside from demonstrating that the Middle Ages are actually au courant, my hope is that we will come to a greater appreciation of the fundamental importance in human societies of these questions of language and identity and of the larger patterns of language flux, rather than falling into the trap of viewing this “global English” phenomenon as a uniquely modern phenomenon.

Throughout the course, students will maintain logs of current news items or other items of interest, probably through the Evernote app. (I am still thinking about using blogs or a single course blog, but one advantage of using Evernote would be that I would have distinct submissions to a single folder from each student, rather than having to go and count entries.) The items in these logs will form the basis for much of the group work that students will do during our class sessions, but they will also be the basis for the students’ work towards their final projects. I’m still deciding what those final projects will look like. I know that there will be a significant writing component, but I would also like students to think creatively and rigorously about multimedia possibilities, and I’m open to interviews or other experiential projects, and to proposals for collaborative work.

As you can see, this course is still taking shape, but I’m very, very pleased that I will be able to pursue it, even though I’m likely to have a very harried semester in Spring 2014, trying to stay on top of this course and another course that I’m very excited (though also very nervous) about developing. More on that second new course soon!

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