Study Load


Number of hours





Reading / Self-study


Assessment: Essay / Report writing


Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)





Learning outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes – On completing the course, students will be able to:


Describe and explain a dispute over meaning and usage in the public sphere.


Apply a critical vocabulary to the description of such meaning disputes.


Apply basic research skills and develop an appreciation of the role and status of different kinds of sources (blogs, media reports, discussion forums, historical texts, secondary literature), including referencing and citation conventions.


Analyze and comment critically on the arguments, rhetorical strategies, ideologies used by participants, including media.


Identify their own case study and analyze its origins, development and the underlying issues at stake.




Assessment Method

Details of Assignment


In-class quizzes

Four in the semester, involving a mixture of multiple choice, short answer and reading comprehension


Tutorial tasks

Students analyze where divergent meanings/interpretations come from, based on case studies; students collect examples of discussed concepts and bring those examples to their tutorials for discussion.


Case study

Produce either a) a group case study; b) a Google site group blog; c) an individual essay. Students will be given guidance as to the relative requirements for different tasks.




Course Content and Topics

The major topics for the course are: (1) disputes about the meanings of words and symbols; (2) controversies over the appropriate name or label for a given entity; (3) the origin, conduct and resolution of such disputes; (4) meaning and interpretation in the public sphere; (5) the nature and sociocultural significance of public debates over meaning.

  1. Basic concepts in the study of meaning and usage.
  2. Disputes about meaning and interpretation.
  3. Introductory analysis of controversies.
  4. Law, media and politics and the reconstruction of a disputed incident.
  5. Naming and labelling (a): introduction to controversies in relation to personal, city, country and group names; terms of address and personal labels.
  6. Naming and labeling (b): the status of brand names, their potentially immense value, and the control of public speech.
  7. The classification of mundane objects.
  8. The classification of political activists.
  9. The classification of an event or action.
  10. Apologies, expressions of regret and the legacy of past injustice in domestic and international relations.
  11. Course overview (a): review of range and types of sources, their characteristics and limitations; citation conventions and reported speech, referencing techniques both as used by protagonists to public disputes about meaning and usage, and as academic tools.
  12. Course overview (b): review of lay and academic vocabulary for characterizing meaning and usage; guidance on final assignment, including a review of key academic concepts, controversies and issues.



Required and Recommended Reading

Required Reading
Durant, Alan (2010) Meaning in the Media: Discourse, Controversy and Debate. Cambridge UP. (chapters 1 & 2)
Hutton, Christopher (2014) Word Meaning and Legal Interpretation. Palgrave (chapter 1)
Primary texts from media sources and the worldwide web, relating to individual case studies.

Recommended Reading
Cram, Ian (2006) Contested Words: Legal Restrictions on Freedom of Speech in Liberal Democracies. Routledge.
Johnson, Sally and Astrid Ensellin (2007) (eds) Language in the Media. Continuum.
Tarrow, Sidney (2013) The Language of Contention: Revolutions in Words, 1688-2012. Cambridge UP (chapters 1 and 5)



Last updated: 7 July 2016