First-Year Seminar:
Language's Power to Write Our Worlds

English 140
Professor Portnoy
Fall 2003

Course Description Waitlist Information

Announcements and Updates
(updated on August 25)


When Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founder of the U.S. woman's rights movement, spoke to the New York State Legislature in 1854, she listed for the legislature groups of women rendered powerless by oppressive laws. "For all these," Stanton told the legislature, "we speak." In 2000, responding to extensive criticism of his music, Eminem exclaimed in one of his songs, "Damn! How much damage can you do with a pen? . . . I just said it--I didn't know if you'd do it or not."

How powerful is language, really? What difference does it make? How much power does language have to write--or right--our worlds? How does language work to persuade people or bring about change? To engage these questions, we'll read some theories about the rhetorical dimensions of language and we'll examine a range of public texts, including but not limited to speeches, essays, letters, advertisements, and songs. I anticipate that work for this course will include regular attendance and participation; weekly readings (hard copy and online written documents, photographs, audio and video clips); several brief written responses to course texts; occasional quizzes; and two exams. Check out this course website for updates.


I will not make any adjustments to the class roster (i.e., oversubscribe or drop students) until after the second class meeting. At that point, I will automatically drop any student who has not attended both of the first two classes. After the second class, if there are spaces available I will authorize students who are on the waitlist and who have been attending class to register for the course until the course has again met its maximum capacity. Please do not email me requesting exceptions to this policy.


Most recent update: August 21, 2003.