Language and Identity in Historical Perspective

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

The present course intends to provide students with the basic conceptual tools and interpretive strategies that will allow them to understand, explore, and deconstruct the complex relationship between language and identity, one that various modern ideologies like to present as univocal, straightforward, and unquestionable. Through a combination of theoretical surveys (in the form of interactive lectures) and practical exercises and tasks (both in-class and take-home) meant to illustrate the concepts surveyed, by the end of the course the students should acquire the necessary instruments that will allow them to question such uncritical assumptions about the relation between language and identity as well as identify the various ideological agendas on which they are based and which they serve.

Most of the sessions will be dedicated to the two concepts at the heart of our discussion, i.e., language and identity. On one hand, students will have the opportunity to get acquainted with relevant key (socio)linguistic concepts and terminology (e.g., language, dialect, speech community, sociolect, idiolect, language attitudes/policies, etc.) in a user-friendly, but informative and hands-on approach. On the other, we will look at several modern attempts to define and conceptualize identity, exploring together their advantages and pitfalls when applied to concrete historical research. Both discussions will be illustrated with numerous examples chosen from as wide a chronological and geographical area as possible, ideally tailored to the backgrounds and the interests of the course participants.

In the last part of the course we will explore specific ways in which language and identity interact, looking at examples of ethnic, social, gender, sexual, religious identities grounded in and expressed through languages. Topics addressed will include names of places (toponyms) and of people (anthroponyms) as identity markers, gender inclusive/exclusive forms of communication ('political correctness' in language), the implications of multilingualism for speakers' self-definition, modern nationalist doctrines and their impact on language policies, and speakers' language attitudes and identitarian self-perceptions.

Learning Outcomes: 

Equip students with knowledge and understanding of key (socio)linguistic terminology as well as its application to analytical discourses on identity.

Equip student with knowledge of and ability to critically assess modern theoretical models of identity constructs as well as their application to historical research.

Foster the ability to exercise critical thinking, i.e., to develop a critical approach to language and identity.

Develop the ability to select, synthesize, and disseminate academic knowledge relevant to a wider audience.

Foster multicultural understanding as manifested in the awareness of and respect for points of view deriving from other national, social, or cultural backgrounds.

Encourage acquiring a global intellectual ethos by learning to refer local/regional issues to larger structures with a full awareness of the similarities and differences as well as the limitations involved in this process.


The assessment will consist of a combination of evaluation based on in-class course participation, home assignments, and a short final written assignment, which should apply in practice some of the theoretical concepts surveyed.