MDST4559/ENMC4559 (Schedule #18572)
University of Virginia
Spring 2010
MW 5-6:15pm :: 132 New Cabell Hall
Mr. David Golumbia
Office: 419 New Cabell Hall
Spring 2010 Office Hours: MW 2-3:15pm


This class explores the role of so-called nonstandard or vernacular languages in contemporary worldwide texts and media, largely from the US and locations outside the US where English is one of the spoken languages. Vernaculars include languages and "dialects" that are widespread in culture but usually not taught in schools. Examples of vernaculars that we will touch on include African-American English, Appalachian English, Hawaiian "Creole" English, Haitian Creole, Taglish, and others. In many cases, these practices, while full and complete languages in every diagnostic and linguistic sense, remain the target of intense cultural prejudice. We will explore commonalities and differences in the presentation of these linguistic practices across several genres and places, using the fault lines between languages as a way to see in to the stakes of other cultural and political divisions. Short theoretical readings by Bakhtin, Labov, Ngugi, Lott and others; novels by writers such as Lois-Ann Yamanaka, R. Zamora Linmark, Toni Morrison, Alan Warner, Irvine Welsh, Patricia Powell, and Ken Saro-wiwa; and television and film such as The Wire, Havoc, Chan Is Missing, Clockers, and Boyz n the Hood. This class is conducted primarily through vigorous student discussion that reflects thorough preparation before class sessions. Two short response/review papers and a final research paper. Intended for advanced English, Media Studies, or Linguistics majors, though others with appropriate background will be admitted.


  1. Junot Diaz,The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (novel, US, 2007)
  2. Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation (novel, US, 2005)
  3. K'Wan, Gangsta (novel, US, 2002)
  4. R. Zamora Linmark, Rolling the R's (experimental fiction, Philippines,1995)
  5. Ken Saro-Wiwa, Sozaboy (novel, Nigeria, 1985)

Movies & Other Media

  1. Danny Boyle, dir., Trainspotting (film, UK, 1996)
  2. Barbara Kopple, dir., Havoc (film, US, 2005)
  3. New Media: Phua Chu Kang (tv series, Singapore, 1996-2006) & nonstandard languages on YouTube
  4. Music: Lil' Wayne, MIA, other music & music videos on YouTube (esp. hip-hop in US & other countries)
  5. The Wire (tv series, US, 2002-08)

Assignments and Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on written exercises and course participation as follows:


Week-by-Week Syllabus

Week 1. Introduction

Week 2. Language Politics

Week 3. Rolling the R's

Week 4. Trainspotting

Week 5. Heteroglossia

Week 6. Sozaboy

Week 7. The Wire

Week 8. Spring Break

Week 9. New Media

Week 10. Beasts of No Nation

Week 11. Havoc

Week 12. Blackface and Mimicry

Week 13.Gangsta

Week 14. Music

Week 15. Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Week 16. Final Class

Final paper due in my English Dept mailbox (Faculty Lounge, 2nd floor, Bryan Hall) by 5pm, Tuesday, May 11, 2010. There is no final exam for the course.

Last updated  March 17, 2010 .