Benjamin Hary, Ph. D

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Benjamin Hary, Ph.D.
Professor and Director, NYUTA

Language, Religion, and Ethnicity Fall 2016

Class code

Instructor Details

Professor Benjamin Hary
Office: TNA

Class Details

Language, Religion, and Ethnicity

Time: Wednesdays 11:00–1:30

Place: TBA


No prerequisites

Class Description

This is a first-year seminar asking fundemental questions such as: What is a language? What is religion? What is ethnicity? And above all, what is the connection between them? The seminar offers a linguistic view of religion and ethnicity and looks into the sociolinguistic history, society, and culture of the United States as well as other case studies.

We will consider the great diversity of communicative systems we encounter both as a source of enrichment for individuals and the nation as a whole, and as a basis for problems, and will consider possible resolutions of these problems. In addition, we will study the universal phenomenon of language change and how it affects our understanding of language behavior religiously and ethnically.
Students will be introduced to basic concepts of linguistics with an emphasis on descriptive linguistics and sociolinguistics. Students will be exposed to sociolinguistic methods to examine the relationship between language and religion, language and nationalism, language and power, language and ethnicity, language and gender, and language and education.
The course includes lectures, discussions, recitations and a field trip.

Desired Outcomes

After taking this course, you will have basic kowledge in

      • the concepts of language, dialect, religiolect, ethnolect

      • the varities of languages and dialects

      • the mechanism of language change

      • the International Phonetic Alphabet and its application to American English

      • the concepts of religion and ethnicity and their relations to language

      • the notion of religiolect, including Jewish English; Musilm English and Christianese (=Christian English)

Assessment Components

• Students are expected to attend class regularly and arrive in class on time. Students must complete all assigned readings before the class meeting and be prepared to participate actively in discussions of the readings. They are also expected to attend a few out-of-class activities, including a possible field trip. There will be further readings for extra credit.

• Students are required to turn in all written assignments on the dates scheduled. Late work will not be accepted.

• Failure to submit or fulfill any required course component results in failure of the class.


  1. Two tests and several short announced quizzes (25%)

  2. Three three-page assignments (20%)

  3. An in-class oral presentation (using PowerPoint or the like) on the readings (10%)

  4. Active participation in class discussions (5%)

  5. An abstract (one page) of the intended writing project (10%)

  6. A writing project (10 pages) to be determined with the instructor (30%)

Assessment Expectations

Grade A: Active participation, excellent oral and written work, originality of thought

Grade B: Active participation, good oral and written work

Grade C: Active participation, complete oral and written work

Grade D: Participation, complete oral and written work

Grade F: Incomplete participation or work

Grade conversion











F=below 65

Grading Policy

No-shows for presentations in class and assignments due after the deadline without requesting an extension may receive zero grades. 

Attendance Policy

NYU Policy on Religious Holidays states

1. Students who anticipate being absent because of any religious observance should, whenever possible, notify the instructor in advance of such anticipated absence.

2. Whenever feasible, examinations and assignment deadlines should not be scheduled on religious holidays. Any student absent from class because of his/her religious beliefs shall not be penalized for any class, examination, or assignment deadline missed on that day or days. In the event that examinations or assignment deadlines are scheduled on a religious holiday, any student who is unable to attend class shall be permitted the opportunity to make up any examination or to extend any assignment deadline missed on that day or days.

3. That no adverse or prejudicial effects shall result to any student who avails him/herself of the provisions of the resolution.

4. A violation of these policies and principles shall permit any aggrieved student to bring forward a grievance, provided under the University Grievance Procedure.

Late Submission of Work

All works must be submitted on time, unless you have received an explicit extension. Any late submission may result in grade deduction at the sole discretion of the instructor.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is the presentation of another person’s words, ideas, judgment, images or data as though they were your own, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Plagiarism constitutes an academic offence for which you can be disciplined. Punishment may include a failing grade, suspension or expulsion. In all confirmed cases, a report will be sent to the student’s Dean.

Required Text(s)

Selected chapters from:

Joseph, John E. 2004. Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Yule, George. 2014. The Study of Language. 5th Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Additional selected chapters and articles from the bibliographical list at the end of the syllabus. Some readings are optional and strongly recommended.

Internet Research Guidelines

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the internet to the build up of contemporary knowledge of the world around us. But it needs to be used wisely. This means that one must be selective and careful when relating to internet-based sources, identifying and distinguishing opinions from facts, and journalism from academics. One should make clear reference to internet sources, allowing the reader the opportunity to consult these resources as and if required. As with all sources of information, use the internet critically.

Please also note that the ‘world-wide web’ – www – exists in many languages. Many sources about language, for instance, will be aimed at the general public and, as noted above, you need to develop critical skills to differentiate between myths and academic arguments.

Week 1

September 7


What is Linguistics and what is Sociolinguistics?

What are languages, dialects, religiolects and ethnolects?

What is “correct” language?

Speech varieties
O’Grady et al. Contemporary Linguistics. Chapter 1: Language: A Preview.

Yule, chapter 18, pp. 243–254.

Week 2

September 14



English in New York City and in the US

American Tongues
Think of 10 characteristics that distinguish your own English; if you are not a native speaker of English, think of specific characteristics that distinguish your own language
Garcia and Fishman [eds.]. The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City. Chapter 1, pp. 3–50.

Kövecses, Zoltan. American English. Chapters 1–2, pp. 7–36.

Week 3

September 21


What is Religion? What is Ethnicity?

What is their connection to language?

Case Studies: Introduction to Jewish English and African American Vernacular English (AAVE)
Joseph, chapters 1–3, pp. 1–66.

Assignment I is due: Linguistic Autobiography

Week 4

September 28


The history of English

The Story of English, Part 3: A Muse of Fire
McWhorter, chapters 4–5, pp. 87–126; Roberts, Paul. 1981. “A Brief History of English.” Language: Introductory Readings. 585–596; Bryson, Bill. 1990. “Where Words Come From” (chapter 5). The Mother Tongue. 67–83.

Week 5

October 5


The disciplines of linguistics

The sounds of language; word formation and morphology

Yule, chapters 3–7, pp. 27–93.

Week 6

October 19


Language change: How does it happen? Does it have to happen? Why do we view it so negatively?

How do linguists analyze it?
McWhorter, chapters 1–2, pp. 7–58; Yule, chapter 17, pp. 227–240.

3-page Assignment II is due: Phonetic Transcription

Week 7

October 26

Students Presentations:

Language and Ethnicity: African American Vernacular English (Black English)

The Story of English, Part 5: Black on White
McWhorter, chapters 6–7, pp. 127–199.
AAVE: Recommended, McWhorter, chapter 8, pp. 200–272; selected chapters from Baugh, Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival.

Week 8

Make-up class


Language and Religion I: The Jewish Linguistic Spectrum

Hary 2009, chapter 1, pp. 5–27; Benor, Sarah. 2008. “Towards a New Understanding of Jewish Languages in the 21st Century.” Religion Compass (2/6). 1062–1080; Hary and Wein 2013. “Religiolinguistics: On Jewish-, Christian, and Muslim-Defined Languages.” International Journal for the Sociology of Language 220. 85–108;

Test 1

Week 9

November 2

Students Presentations:

Language and Religion II: Jewish English in New York City

Steinmetz, Sol. 1981. “Jewish English in the United States.” American Speech (56/1), pp. 3–16.;Benor, Sarah. 2009. “Do American Jews Speak a ‘Jewish Language’? A Model of Jewish Linguistic Distinctiveness.” Jewish Quarterly Review (99/2), pp. 230–269; Benor, Sarah and Steven M. Cohen 2011. “Talking Jewish: The ‘Ethnic English’ of American Jews.” In Ethnicity and Beyond, Eli Lederhendler [ed.]. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 62–78.

Jewish English in practice; Jewish English in the media: Seinfeld; the Nanny; Woody Allen’s work; etc.; Jewish English and rossing religious boundaries.

Use: Benor. 2012. Becoming Frum.

Week 10

November 16


Students Presentations:

Language and Religion III: Application to Christian and Muslim languages

Christianese in the US
Leiter, Sarah. 2013. “Christianese: A Sociolinguistic Analysis of the Evangelical Christian Dialect of American English” (selections from 107 pages); Stillman, Norman. 1991. “Language Patterns in Islamic and Judaic Societies.” In Islam and Judaism: 1400 Years of Shared Values. S. Wasserstrom [ed.]. Portland: Institute for Judaic Studies in the Pacific Northwest, pp. 41–55.
Muslim English in the US

Christianese on the Square

Assignment III is due: Linguistic Interview

Week 11

November 30

Field Trip:

Language and Religion IV: Christian and Muslim identities in Lebanon

A visit to a museum displaying religious identities and language; TBA

Joseph, chapters 7–8, pp. 162–227.

Abstract of your writing project is due

Week 12

December 7


Student Presentations: American English Varieties

Baugh 1996, pp. 1–22; Benor 2010, pp. 31–51; Kövecses 2000, pp, 75–108.

Test 2

Week 13

Make-up class


Student Presentations: Language, Politics and Power

Beard 2000, 3–16; Joseph 2006, pp. 1–20; Millar 2005, pp. 1–30.

Reommended: Wein, M. J. and B. Hary. 2014. “Peoples of the Book: Religion, Language, Nationalism, and Sacred Text Translation.” Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Collaboration and Conflict in the Age of Diaspora, Sander L. Gilman, [ed.], Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 1–34.

Week 14

December 14

Students Presentations:

Student Presentations: Language and Conflict

Summary and conclusions of Language, Religion and Ethnicity

Lakoff 2000, pp. 1–41; Suleiman 2004, pp. 58–82.
The language war in the US; language and conflict in the Middle East
Writing project is due on December 23, 2016

Classroom Etiquette

Please turn off all cell phones in class. Do not use computers unless directly related to class work.

Your Instructor
I am a Professor at the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and the Director of NYU Tel Aviv. In the Fall of 2016 I will be teaching on the Square. Until 2014 I was a Professor of Hebrew, Arabic, and Linguistics and the Director of the Program in Linguistics at Emory University. I am the author of Multiglossia in Judeo-Arabic (1992), Translating Religion (2009) and Daily Life in Israel (2012, with R. Adler). I am also the editor and co-editor of Judaism and Islam (2000), Corpus Linguistics and Modern Hebrew (2003), and Esoteric and Exoteric Aspects in Judeo-Arabic Culture in 2006. I also published over 50 articles and book reviews on Judeo-Arabic, as well as Arabic and Hebrew linguistics, and has lectured widely in Europe, Israel, Egypt and North America. My research concentrates on Language and Religion, including Jewish languages in general and Judeo-Arabic in particular, Jews in the Islamic world, politics of Arabic language use in Israeli society, corpus linguistics, Language and ethnicity, dialectology, and sociolinguistics. I have recently focused my research on issues such as why and how Jews (and for that matter, Christians and Muslims as well) speak and write differently from people who are not Jews (or Christians and Muslims). I am working now on completing my book, Sacred Texts in Egyptian Judeo-Arabic and editing a volume on Jewish Languages. I am a strong believer in Global Education. While at Emory I developed semester programs in Israel, Prague and Istanbul and summer programs touring Europe and Israel while developing a “hands-on” method to teach language use and history on location.

Bibliographical List
The following bibliography is important for our seminar. You will be asked to read selected chapters from the following list; some readings are recommended and you will probably use other readings to guide you through in your assignments and in your final project.
Baron, Dennis. 1990. The English-Only Question: An Official Language for Americans? New Haven: Yale University Press.
Baugh, John. 1996. Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Beard, Adrian. 2000. The Language of Politics. London: Routledge.
Benor, Sarah Bunin. 2012. Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Ferguson, Charles [ed.]. 1980. Languages in the USA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Garcia, Ofelia and Joshua A. Fishman [eds.]. 2002. The Multilingual Apple: Languages in New York City. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Hary, Benjamin. 2009. Translating Religion. Leiden: Brill.
Joseph, John E. 2011. Language and Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Kövecses, Zoltan. 2000. American English. Ontario: Broadview Press.
Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. 2000. The Language War. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McWhorter, John. 1998. The Word on the Street: Debunking the Myth of A “Pure” Standard English. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Millar, Robert McColl. 2005. Language, Nation and Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
O’Grady et al. Contemporary Linguistics.
Suleiman, Yasir. 2004. A War of Words: Language and Conflict in the Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wardhaugh, Ronald. 1999. Proper English: Myths and Misunderstanding about Language. Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

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