Language as Symbolic Power: What's in it for Foreign Language teachers?

Lecture | April 5 | 3-5 p.m. | Dwinelle Hall, B-4 (Classroom side)

 Claire Kramsch, Professor Emerita, German & Graduate School of Education

 Berkeley Language Center

As I am transforming my Language & Power syllabus into a book for Cambridge UP series “Key Topics in Applied Linguistics”, I have been overwhelmed by the extent to which language these days is used to exert symbolic power, symbolic violence and even “symbolic warfare” (Brooks, 2017) both in politics and in everyday life. Yet as language teachers, we still teach language as if it consisted merely of linguistic structures and communicative acts performed by social actors who represent, interpret and negotiate intended meanings in good faith in symmetrical exchanges of information. But in the highly mediatized and politicized environments we live in, communicative intentions are often murky, our representations and interpretations are conflictual, and our meanings have become more and more difficult to “negotiate”. Drawing on Bourdieu, Foucault and post-structuralist scholars in various disciplines, this paper will review the various dimensions of symbolic power in language with ample examples taken from Donald Trump’s use of language, but also from more mundane verbal exchanges in everyday life. It will then explore the implications for communicative language teaching and for a more interpretive foreign language pedagogy.

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