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John Agard Half Caste - Higher Level Social Contexts: Language and Power

Emily Prentice | Friday November 23, 2018

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From birth, aspects of power infiltrate our daily lives to such a degree that, for much of the time, we are likely to fail to recognise either its presence or at least how pervasive it can be. Influence of various kinds forms a kind of ‘backcloth’ to daily life such that we can easily see it, if at all, as ‘obvious’, ‘common sense’, ‘natural’ or ‘for the best’. Paradoxically, we hold dear to the belief that we are ‘free’ individuals with levels of ‘freedom’ that we see as our birthright and as a sacrosanct part of our progressive and advanced democracy.

The transparent nature of much influence and power means that few students will be aware of just how much power is being exercised in society, how it is being exercised and how language plays such a pivotal role in its processes.

This means that there are aspects of this unit that will be easy for students to get to grips with; and there will be some aspects that will be new and challenging. The latter often brings interest, even excitement because, when all is said and done, no one enjoys being someone else’s pawn or being ‘tricked’ by language. This moiré political ‘edge’ to the unit makes it potentially one of the most interesting and often fun units to teach.

As a unit and idea, Language and Power is so closely allied to Language and Gender, that it would make sense to teach this unit second as a grounding in ‘Power’ will provide a solid grounding in ‘Gender’. Equally, language mediated via any form of technology, too, is frequently a site where power (and gender) relations are important and so dealing with Language and Technology last of all can work well.

But first, a warning…

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

This daunting line from the Italian poet Dante’sDivine Comedy’ is an intriguing and powerful piece of language. Starting a lesson with something that catches the imagination like this and building your students’ skills from such a base can be an effective start to...


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