The Translation Game: Hidden Meanings in Language

Jennifer Mattson, Senior Lecturer

Course: ENGLISH 192, SEM 003
Class Number: 46087
Credits: 3 HU
Time: MW 2:00 – 3:15 PM
Place: BOL B80

Course Description:

Does “I feel trapped” mean the same in male-speak as it does in female-speak? You are somewhat of an expert translator already, perhaps without even realizing it. When a girlfriend says, “Are you hungry?” you know it means SHE is hungry. When a friend says, “Why are you hating on me?” you know you need to apologize for something. What does it mean when a professor says, “I don’t formally take attendance, but…”? Why does an international student misinterpret your friendly suggestion to “help yourself”? Does “Where do you live?” mean the same as “Where you stay at?”?

We will explore hidden and (mis)understood meanings between males and females, between advertisers and consumers, between politicians and voters, between Caucasians and African-Americans, between internationals who speak English as a second language and native speakers, between mainstream speakers of American English and non-mainstream speakers. We will also examine the language of political correctness, propaganda, text messaging, etc.

You will have the opportunity to interact with someone who speaks English as a second language, and will learn to recognize and observe various dialects, genderlects, sociolects, and idiolects. This will in turn make you more aware of the ways you and those around you use language. Your metalinguistic awareness will increase. And you will learn what all these things mean!

Work Involved:

Students will discuss articles and metalinguistic awareness fieldwork assignments in small groups in class, listen to/watch audio and video clips of dialects and various language issues, take notes on information given in class, take three exams, and meet once a week (10 times) for an hour with an international conversation partner. The grading formula is 20% for each of three exams, 20% for conversation partner participation, and 20% for class participation and posting your language observations.

Sample Reading:

“Women Are Sort Of More Tentative Than Men, Aren't They?” Science Daily, Aug. 26, 2009

“The I’s Have It” by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, New York Times, Feb. 23, 2009

About the Instructor:

Jennifer Mattson spent 11 years at 11 colleges before finishing her degrees in Linguistics (Bachelor’s) and English (Master’s). Don’t worry, though, taking that long is not contagious! She got all the restlessness out of her system and has been happily teaching here at UWM since. She has taught many intro-level sociolinguistics courses to UWM undergrads, as well as English as a second language courses to international students. She knows how to say random phrases in many languages, such as “Bai gwi gwigigula pishiwu gikum.” Unfortunately, she can’t remember what that actually means!