Language and Violence


(PHIL 6246-091 and LBST 6000-091; Tue. 6:30-9:15 PM; Winningham 107)


(Course 3 in Program Emphasis on Language and Culture, which also includes

Language and Gender, Language and Politics, and Poetry and Society)



Instructor:    Bill Gay

Office:    Winn. 103 D   (Dept. of Philosophy)

Office Phone:    704/687-2266

Office Hours:    4:30-5:30 Mon., 5:00-6:00 PM Tu.; 2:30-3:30 Tu/Th; & by appointment

FAX:    704/687-2172


Course Web Site:



Course Description


This course explores relations between language and violence.  On the one hand, although violence is often overt (physical) and personal, it can also be covert (psychological) and institutional.  On the other hand, while language is an important means of communication, it is also a social institution that reflects relations of power.  These characteristics of violence and language make possible linguistic violence, namely, situations in which individuals are hurt or harmed by words.


After examining philosophical theories on the nature of covert institutional violence and on the way language can hurt and harm individuals, this course will focus on readings that address a continuum of linguistic violence.  At one end of the continuum are subtle forms of linguistic violence, such as aggression in children's jokes and the transition from orality to literacy.  More conspicuous are abusive forms found in racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism.  At the other end of the continuum the most grievous forms occur under totalitarianism and warism.  The course will end by addressing several strategies drawn from feminism and peace studies that can serve as models for supplanting linguistic violence and developing a practice of linguistic nonviolence.



Course Materials

Required Texts:


Bosmajian, Haig A.  The Language of Oppression.  Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 1983.  ISBN 0-8191-3186-5.

Bourdieu, Pierre.  Language and Symbolic Power.  Ed. John B. Thompson.  Trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1991.  ISBN 0-674-51041-0.

Course Packet.  Available at Gray's Bookstore:  9430 University City Blvd. (704/548-8100).



Policy Statements


UNC Charlotte strives to create an academic climate in which the dignity of all individuals is respected and maintained. Therefore, we celebrate diversity that includes, but is not limited to ability/disability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.  The UNC Charlotte Diversity Website.

Students have the responsibility to know and observe UNC Charlotte's "The Code of Student Academic Integrity."  The code is on the web.

Students with documented disabilities requiring accommodation in this course should contact Disability Services (Fretwell 230).



Course Requirements

•    Students are expected to attend, have read assignment, and participate.  [10%]
Assessment of class participation will be based on whether it reflects completion of assigned readings rather than on whether a student’s understanding of the material is correct.
Nevertheless, quantity is not a substitute for quality in a student’s contributions to class discussion.

•    After Part I, an essay exam will be given.  [15%]
Essay questions will be assigned which will require students to write clear expositions of arguments presented in the readings.
This exam will be about 1,500 words (about 6 double-spaced pages).
•    During Part II or III, each student will give a class presentation on a topic listed under these parts or on a related topic approved by the instructor.  [20%]
Presentation and discussion will generally be limited to one hour.
Presenters will be expected to lead class discussion of the readings assigned by the instructor and one provided by the presenter on the topic; the presenter will also  provide the class with additional information on the topic.
•    During Parts I, II , and III, each student also will maintain a journal on the assigned readings.  [35%]
Entries are to be submitted at class for the assignment but not later than two classes afterwards.  Entries should contain a paragraph summarizing a central point and a paragraph providing reflection on or assessment of the reading.
The instructor will comment on each of about 30 entries and assign 0 to 4 points.  (Typically, an acceptable entry will receive 3 points.  Only superior entries will receive 4 points.  For each class an entry is late, 1 point will be deducted.)
•    At the end of semester, each student will submit a research paper on some aspect of linguistic violence.  [20%]
Generally, the research paper will be a more detailed and polished version of the student’s topic presented to the class.
The research paper will be about 3,000 words (about 12 double-spaced, pages).
•    On the last meeting of the class, the class will have a collective oral exam.  [Pass/Fail]
Discussion should be informed by the perspectives explored over the semester.
All students are expected to participate in this final class discussion.


Schedule of Classes
(Dates are tentative)

Aug.  21    Introduction

Part I.  Recognizing Linguistic Violence

Aug.   28    Concepts of Language and Violence (1, 2, 3, 4)
Sep.    04    Structuralism and Feminist Linguistics (5, 6)
Sep.    11    Theory and Continuum of Linguistic Violence and Linguistic Alienation  (7, 8)

Text Assignment:
Bosmajian,  1 “Introduction.”  Bourdieu,  2 “Editor’s Introduction.”

Course Packet Assignment and Web:
Garver, 3 “What Violence Is.”  Platt, 4 “The concept of violence...”  Ross, 5 “How Words Hurt.”  Saussure,  6 Ch. 4 in Intro & Ch. 2 in Part One.
Web: Gay, 7 “Bourdieu...”  and 8 “Linguistic Violence

Part II.  The Continuum of Linguistic Violence

A. Subtle Forms of Linguistic Violence

Sep.    18    Children’s Jokes and Academic Verbal Assaults  (2, 3, 4)
Sep.    25    Linguistic Capital and Privilege (1)

Text Assignment:
Bourdieu, 1 “Part I  The Economy of Linguistic Exchanges.”

Course Packet Assignment:
Burtt, 2 “Philosophers as Warriors.”  Chang & Zastrow, 3 “That Martini Hit Me Like a German Tank.”  McCosh, 4 “Aggression in Children’s Jokes.”

B.  Abusive Forms of Linguistic Violence

Oct.    02    Racist and Sexist Language (1, 2, 3, 5)
Oct.    09    No Class (Fall Break)
Oct.    16    Heterosexist Language and Hate Speech (4, 6)

Text Assignment:
Bosmajian, 1 “…Indian Derision,” 2 “…White Racism,” & 3 “…Sexism.”  Bourdieu, 4 “Part II  The Social Institution of Symbolic Power.”

Course Packet Assignment:
bell hooks, 5 “Language:  Teaching New Worlds/New Words.”  McConnell-Ginet, 6 “’Queering’ Semantics:  Definitional Struggles.”

C.  Grievous Forms of Linguistic Violence

Oct.    23    Special Event:  Barnhardt Seminar on Ethics and The World of Business
                   Glenn Burkins, Deputy Managing Editor, The Charlotte Observer
                  “Ethics in Journalism,” 6:00 – 9:00 PM, dinner and seminar, SAC salons

Oct.    30    Warist Language (1, 5, 7)
Nov.   06    Nuclear Discourse (2, 3, 4)

Nov.   13    Genocidal Language

Text Assignment:
Bosmajian, “The Language of War.”  Bourdieu, “Part III Symbolic Power and the Political Field.”

Course Packet Assignment and Web:
Cohn, “Sex and Death...”  Gay, “Nuclear Discourse...”  Huxley, “Words and Behaviour.”   Lang, “Language and Genocide.”  Web:  Gay, “Language of War and Peace.”

Part III.  Supplanting Linguistic Violence

Nov.    20    No Class (Thanksgiving Break)
Nov.    27    Linguistic Responsibility and Linguistic Emancipation (1, 2, 3)

Dec.    04    Toward a Practice of Linguistic Nonviolence (4, 5, 6)

Text Assignment:
Bosmajian, 1 “Conclusion.”

Course Packet Assignment and Web:
Tirrell, 2 “Derogatory Terms.”  Blum, 3 “Antiracism, Multiculturalism, and Interracial Community.”  Web:  Gay, 4 “Exposing and Overcoming…,” 5 “Nonsexist Public Discourse...,” & 6 “The Practice of Linguistic Nonviolence.”

Dec.    04    Conclusion/Final Exam (Thu., 6:30-9:15 PM)