Language and Identity: A Linguistic Exploration of Accents, Dialects, Slang, and Grammar

II - July 20–August 6, 2021
Modality, Day & Time:
Monday–Friday, 11:10 a.m.–1:00 p.m. and 3:10–5:00 p.m.

Kathryn O'Shields, Allison Shapp

“I’ve learned more about myself and my language and the role language plays overall, including how it impacts identity.” — From a program course evaluation

Course Description

In this course students examine language as a vital part of culture and social structure while discovering how it reflects and shapes our lives. We first tackle assumptions and myths we hold about language. For example, can animals learn to use language? Do Eskimo languages really have 17 separate words for snow? Is English the hardest language to learn? Then we explore the components of language (phonemes, morphemes, words, and sentences) and how each plays a role in what we hear as an “accent” or dialect. Thus, students investigate both the structural and cultural functions of human language.

The course employs a multi-disciplinary approach to investigating language behavior and variation in different cultures. This occurs mainly through the term project, which provides each student with the opportunity to conduct fieldwork as a means to research a culture and its use of language. Participants come to better understand themselves as members of their own cultures and language as a shaper of our self-identities in human society.

In the morning sessions we examine material in a seminar format. Afternoons are devoted to research, analysis of case studies, and other hands-on applications including probing popular culture, literature, and film for evidence of language used as a way to define cultural and social identities.

Students develop the skills of data collection and cross-linguistic and cross-cultural analysis and come away with a perspective of multiple viewpoints related to language correctness and relativity.

Though this course is intended primarily for older students, it is open to highly qualified rising freshmen and sophomores.


Kathryn O'Shields

Kathryn O'Shields holds a PhD in linguistics from the City University of New York and an MA in gender studies from the University of Texas. She teaches speech pathology classes for graduate programs at New York University and Emerson College. Her areas of specialization include phonetics, grammar, child language development, and pragmatics.

Allison Shapp

Allison Shapp holds a Masters and a PhD in linguistics from New York University and a BA from Lafayette College. Her research in sociolinguistics centers on dialects (especially the New York City dialect), phonetic variation, language on the internet, and the various ways in which language is used to construct identity. She has also extensively studied the speech of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her professional claim-to-fame is that she consulted with the dialect coach on the RBG biopic On the Basis of Sex. Dr. Shapp currently teaches in the Speech@NYU program for Speech Language Pathology and also consults on linguistic matters for tech companies such as Grammarly, Inc.

Back to the Course Guide

Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.