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Teaching Linguistic Adaptation to Context with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2019 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

Abstract

The Swedish National Agency for Education states that English students in upper secondary school in Sweden need to learn how to adapt their language according to context. This might be a skill that a large part of these students already master, to some extent. However, that specific knowledge might be implicit, and thus, the students need to both gain awareness of that skill, and to develop it. The aim of this study is to show how such awareness can be taught, and the skill developed, by means of a directed reading of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel, according to Russian theorist Mikhail Bakthin, is typically multi-voiced and stratified, and thus a productive object to analyze for the purpose of teaching adaptation to context. Additionally, Atwood’s novel specifically deals with a totalitarian society, where language adaptation is presented in an exaggerated way. This narrativized model of the function of language in different contexts, it is argued, provides an efficient text in terms of teaching how and why speakers might be forced to change their language according to context. This leads to a second teachable aspect presenting itself, since all education must rest on a foundation of democratic values and human rights. The right to one’s language is connected to this demand, in terms of variety and constraints. Hence, in a project such as the one proposed, the students also need to reflect on the relation between language adaptation and power. The study uses Pierre Bourdieu’s model of language and power as a means of showing how the code-switching of the students, and the linguistic struggles of the protagonist in The Handmaid’s Tale are both connected to power. In the study, passages where language adaptation is in effect are presented as a means of showing the potential of the novel. Furthermore, a lesson plan for the project is proposed, as well as criteria for assessment. The suggested approach to teaching these aspects of the English subject is considered, in the light of the examination presented in this research, a suitable one. However, the concept could be further explored by additional readings of other narrative texts where the usage of language is a prominent theme. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. , p. 41
Keywords [en]
Margaret Atwood, Pierre Bourdieu, Language, Power, Teaching, Code-Switching, The Handmaid’s Tale
National Category
Specific Literatures
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-165540OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-165540DiVA, id: diva2:1284321
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Available from: 2019-02-07 Created: 2019-01-31 Last updated: 2019-02-07Bibliographically approved

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