Skip to content
Home » Blog (hidden) » Syllabus: Language and Colonialism

Syllabus: Language and Colonialism

Janina Fenigsen of Northern Arizona University sends the following syllabus for her course, “Language and Colonialism”.

Department of Anthropology   Winter 2010

University of Michigan

Language and Colonialism
Instructor: Janina Fenigsen

Language has always been the companion of empire…
Nebrija, the 16th century Spanish grammarian

The course concerns the linguistic aspects and impact of colonialism. A corrosive and penetrating intrusion of Western interests, practices, and understandings, colonialism has transformed various aspects of life of the colonized populations, including language and communication. Drawing on a range of case studies, the course explores the ways colonial encounters have led to the emergence of new languages, refashioned the existent local languages (i.e. through lexicography and grammar-writing), and transformed communicative patterns and language relations. We will closely examine studies from diverse settings including New World, Pacific, and Africa so as to consider the specific influence of various colonial scenarios and contexts on linguistic change, politics of discourse, and the literary artistic expression. By interrogating diverse colonial scenarios, we will seek to underscore the complexity of colonial transformations whose outcomes, it is argued, have been shaped by the locally specific influences of social, political, ideological and linguistic factors.

The course is conceived as a graduate/undergraduate seminar for an interdisciplinary audience. Please read the syllabus closely as the requirements and assignments for graduate and for undergraduate students differ in volume and focus. Although some class units involve elements of formal linguistic analysis, no background in linguistics or linguistic anthropology is requisite.

The topics include a discussion of colonialism; formal system of language, linguistic change and the development of new
language varieties; language in the colonial equations of power, language choice in colonial administration – its motivation and consequences; communicative transformations, shifting genres, socio-functional shifts of the vernaculars; post-colonial writer’s dilemma.

Course requirements:

Take-home midterm essay (undergraduate students: case synthesis, approx. 7 pages; graduate students: theoretical focus, approx. 10-12 pages), @ 25% , due March 8, in class

Take-home final essay (undergraduate students: comparative case analysis, approx. 10 pages; graduate students: a research paper of approx. 15 pages) @35%, due April 28 in my mailbox, Department of Anthropology, Main Office, West Hall.

Class participation and weekly journal entries @ 45%

Please note: you can rewrite the midterm essay and improve your grade, if desired

Written assignments:

essays and exam: Essay topics and exam questions will be handed out 2 weeks before the work is due. Late papers will be graded half a grade less for each day late.

Class journal: You will be asked to keep a journal in which you will enter at least two substantive questions and reading response related to each week’s readings (to be completed by and brought to the first class of the week in which the material will be discussed). You may also use the journal to collect materials from the media.

Reading response:

undergraduate students write a response to readings chosen from the syllabus for that week; no more than 1 standard page

graduate students comment on theoretical and methodological aspects of readings from the syllabus

Note:  graduate students consider all recommended readings as required

The journal is due at the end of the semester, but you may drop it off for informal feedback at any time during the semester.

Course outline

Jan. 6. Introduction to the course and its topic. Colonialism: the nature of the beast(s)


– D’Souza, D. 2002. “Two cheers for colonialism.” The Chronicle of Higher Education May 10 (CTools)

– Pennycook, A. 1998. English and The Discourses of Colonialism, Pp: 1-26. London and New York: Routledge (CTools).

Jan. 11-13. Language and colonial governance: The West Indian experience


– Fenigsen, J. 2007 “From Apartheid to Incorporation: The Emergence and Transformations of Modern Language Community in Barbados, West Indies,” Pragmatics 17(2):231-261 (CTools).

Jan. 18. MLK Day, no classes

Jan. 20-25. Language and governance: The African experience


– Mazrui, Ali A. and Alamin M. Mazrui, 1998  The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. For 01/20 read first packet only, chapters 3-5; for 01/25 read the second packet, chapters 8, 9, 11.

Jan. 27: Language, missions, and colonialism


– Fabian, J. 1983. “Missions and the colonization of African languages: Developments in the former Belgian
Congo.”  Canadian Journal of African Studies. Vol. 17(2): 165-187 (CTools)

– Pennycook, A. Pp. 40-44 (CTools)

Feb. 1.  Language, missions, and colonialism: gained in translation


– Rafael, V. L. 1987. “Confession, conversion, and reciprocity in early Tagalog colonial society,” Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 29(2):320-339 (CTools).

Feb. 3-8. Categorical filters and blinds: (pre)texts of interpretation


– Bohannan, L. 1966. “Shakespeare in the bush,” Natural History Magazine, August-September (CTools).

– Mignolo, W. D. 1995. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization. Ann  Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Ch.1, 2. Pp. 29-125 CTools).

– Greenblatt, S. J. 1990. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York, London: Routledge. Ch. 2,  “Learning to curse: Aspects of linguistic colonialism in the sixteenth century.” Pp. 16-39 (CTools).

Feb. 10. Discourse, language, and colonial administration


– Hanks, W. F. 1987. “Discourse genres in a theory of practice,” American Ethnologist. Vol. 14(4): 668-692 (CTools).

Feb. 15. Language under plantation slavery


– Mintz. S. 1971. “The socio-historical background to pidginization and creolization.” In Hymes, D. Pidginization and Creolization of Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press. Pp. 481-498 (CTools).

Feb. 17. What happened to the language of the Inca?


– Mannheim, B. 1991. The Language of the Inca since the European Invasion. Austin: University of Texas Press. Pp. 1-9; 16-21; 27-28; 31-35; 36-40; 48-53 (CTools).

Feb. 22. Study day: no class meeting

Feb. 24. What happened to the language of the Inca (continued)?


Mannheim, B. 1991. The Language of the Inca since the European Invasion. Austin: University of Texas Press. Ch. 3 (CTools).

March 8, 10, 15. Transformations of ritual discourse


Kuipers, J. C. 1998. Language, Identity, and Marginality in Indonesia: The Changing Nature of Ritual Speech on the Island of Sumba. Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Ch. 2, 3, 6 (CTools).

March 17, 22. Language policies: administration and education


– Pennycook, A. Ch. 3, 4, 5 (CTools).

March 4, 9, 31, April 5. Colonial linguistics


– Errington, J. 2007. Linguistics in a Colonial World: A Story of Language, Meaning, and Power. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Ch. 2, 5, 6.

– Irvine, J. T. 2008. “Subjected words: African linguistics and the colonial encounter,” Language and Communication. Vol. 28: 323-343 (CTools).


– – Irvine, J. T. 1993 “The family romance of colonial linguistics: gender in 19th -century representation of African languages,”  Pragmatics. Vol. 5(2): 139-153 (CTools).

April 7, 12. From languages to identities


– Harries, P. 1988. “The roots of ethnicity: Discourse and the politics of language construction in South-East Africa,” African Affairs. Vol. 879346): 25-52 (CTools).

– Newell, S. 2009. “Enregistering modernity, bluffing criminality: How Nouchi speech reinvented (and fractured) the nation,” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. Vol. 19(2): 157-184 (CTools).

– Steedly, M. M. 1996. “ The importance of proper names: language and ‘national’ identity in colonial Karoland,” American Ethnologist 23(3): 447-475 (CTools).

April 14, 19. (Post)colonial writers’ dilemma


– Price, R. and S. Price. 1997. “Shadowboxing in the mangrove,” Cultural Anthropology 12(1): 3-36.

– Schieffelin, B. and R. Charlier Doucet. 1994. “The real Haitian creole: Ideology, metalinguistics, and orthographic choice,” American Ethnologist 21(1): 176-200 (CTools).

Fenigsen, J. 1999. “’A Broke-up mirror’: Representing Bajan in print,” Cultural Anthropology 14(1): 61-87 (CTools).