The World According to Nouns

The World According to Nouns”


The state
The church
The plans
The waste
The dead
The mine
The cut
What’s the verb behind it all?

The do
The how
Thy why
The where
The when
The what
Can these words refine that truth?

“The World According to Nouns,” song by the Minutemen

(M. Watt, 1984)




  • (Lecture) What is the Adamic view of language?





  • (Saussure and lectures) Explain that signs are arbitrary and without any inherent, necessary, agreed upon, or permanent meaning. Even signs such as the English words, “sun,” “man,” and “tree” are ultimately arbitrary.




  • In lecture one, de Saussure, and in Ahearn chapter 1, we see that difference is a key element in asserting the “truth” of signs; so that signs seem to “reflect” “reality.”




  • (Ahearn, cha. 1) What is the “socially-charged life of language”?




  • (Greene, lecture) What is a dialect? What is a language?





  • What are some of the relationships that may happen between dialects and standard or “preferred” forms of a language?


  • (Greene) Using Greene’s work, discuss language standardization. Then explain how such standardization can produce “ethnic,” “minority,” or “backward” populations.





  • Discuss the role of language in naturalizing For examples, you might use dialect, gender, and ethnicity.




  • What is “competence” in language?




  • Children must learn to be “competent” in a language: they learn that they speak “incorrectly.” Describe how a boy and a girl might, in the same family, learn different ways of speaking competently.  [We didn’t cover this precise example: apply your knowledge.]





  • Thinking back to lecture 1, de Saussure, and Ahearn chapter 1, you can see that difference can be crucial for the assertion that signs “reflect” “reality.” How does this insight apply to “race”?




  • Whiteness is not something that exists naturally, biologically, or even “culturally,” per se. Using Ahearn and Hill, explain Whiteness.




  • So—if Whiteness is indeterminate, how can language be used to materialize White supremacy?



  • Explain how Whiteness can be performed, and is always a performance. I.e., instead of seeing “it” as a substance that is “reflected” in speech, how is it performed?



  • Using the essays by Barrett and Hill discuss the performance of Whiteness. Understand that there is no one Whiteness to perform; there are endless ways to do it, be it, act it out on others.



  • (Barrett) Normally, speaking poorly might result in lower status.  Why would White workers gain prestige by speaking improper Spanish?



  • (Barrett) What is “White public space,” and how was it produced in the restaurant?




  • (Barrett) How did many of the White employees use language to produce inferiority in the Latino employees?





  • (Barrett) What forms of resistance did the Latino employees engage in?



  • (Lecture) What does Clark mean by compelling performances of “race” and gender? What performances are sometimes compelled, and how can language be used to do the compelling?  Please be sure to explain the double-meaning of compelling, and explain how compelling performances can be used to promote patriarchal and racist ideologies.  Lastly, can you use an example from Barrett to illustrate compelling performances?





  • Discuss how linguistic difference is reified, naturalized, and ranked into hierarchical power. Explain, in other words, how concentrations of power are dependent on difference–dependent on forms of linguistic difference, for example–which require and insist on producing difference, which reify difference in practice (e.g. by policing those who would blur boundaries), which naturalize difference (declaring it to be non-ideological; declaring it to be factual and objective and obvious, not arbitrary), and which then use produced difference as signs of a necessarily unequal distribution of power.  Your answer may retrace these steps in the Mexican-American restaurant where Whiteness was produced (you would show how Whiteness is/was dependent on the production of “inferior” and “incompetent” Latinos), or you might situate your answer in the production of patriarchy in language, whereby the “inferiority” of women must be continuously produced in order to secure the ideologies of patriarchy.  Use examples from at least one reading.