Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ira Shor

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Linguistics


Battles with Words analyzes the role of multi-ethnic U.S. literature as an alternative form of cultural production which critiques and challenges U.S. linguistic and literate hegemony and homogeneity. The texts comprising this field continually emphasize the ways in which words, through language and literacy, become tools of power and action used by the ethnically marginalized to negotiate everyday advantages for themselves and challenge the linguistic and cultural domination of Anglo America. Through their critiques of the culture of English-only monolingualism that has continued to dominate the national landscape of the U.S. throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, these authors indicate their concern with the ways language intersects with and impacts literature, as well as their interest in using literature to explore and critique the relationship between language, literacy, race, ethnicity, and citizenship in the U.S. Using seven contemporary multi-ethnic U.S. novels, I examine how these novels portray language and literacy as weapons of the dominant which maintain and reproduce racist, classist systems of power and bureaucracy and as tools for those who are positioned as ethnically, linguistically, and nationally unauthorized, subjugated, and illegitimate to resist their subordination and disenfranchisement. By examining these works through a rhetorical lens, my analyses attempt to elucidate what is (un)said, (un)speakable, and (un)recorded when subordinates confront authorities in various "public" and "private" contexts including classrooms, social services offices, immigration stations, neighborhoods, and homes. The high-stakes literate and linguistic exchanges these works portray offer a multitude of perspectives from which to consider the seemingly mundane, ordinary ways in which language and literacy are used by the marginalized and the powerful as they negotiate various everyday contexts and encounters. While these novels reveal the many problematic uses of literacy and language in power struggles in the U.S., especially as they relate to race, ethnicity, and citizenship, they also suggest alternative ways that language and literacy might be used less hierarchically and more democratically in everyday life, offering models for transforming bureaucratic, institutional, and social encounters. These alternative models should interest not only literary scholars, but also those in the fields of composition, pedagogy, language, literacy and education.