Successful experimental class on peace linguistics leads to official new class in Winter 2018

Written by: 
Leslie Owusu

Peace Linguistics will officially be offered as a TESOL class at BYU-Hawaii starting in the Winter 2018 Semester after a successful trial version during the second block of the 2016-2017 Winter Semester.

Dr. Andy Curtis, professor of TESOL at Anaheim University and president of the TESOL International Association, taught the class and said he’s excited it will be part of the permanent curriculum at BYUH. “This has never been taught anywhere. Ever. There is a nice mix of students majoring in TESOL, peacebuilding, and English.”

The trial class went well overall, added Curtis. “We’re more excited to make it a solid part of the curriculum.”

Curtis said one of the themes they discussed was the notion that peace is the absence of conflict. “Well, where does the conflict come from? We think it comes from how people say things. A lot of conflict comes from language. How does a 140-character tweet cause so much conflict?”

Students who complete the course will have a better understanding of how language and linguistics can be used to make the world a more peaceful place, said Curtis. “Think about how much conflict in the world comes from a misuse of language. The goal is to grow the class here at BYUH… and eventually it will go out to the world,” he said.

Eldon Brown, a senior international cultural studies major from Alaska, said the class focused on how the context of language promotes peace. Brown said peaceful language is important for students becoming teachers because “language teachers can be used to promote peace and not violence [by] using humanizing language that is going to help students collaborate and develop strong relationships.”

Brown said he learned how to create an environment where students can work together and use inclusive language to create a sustainable culture of peace.

Alysha Gurr, a sophomore from Canada majoring in social work and seeking certificates in TESOL and international peacebuilding, said the class was advertised as a TESOL class but had elements from several different majors. “Because it’s the first time this class has been taught, it was a learning process for all of us. Sometimes it felt like we were in a peacebuilding class, sometimes a linguistics class, and sometimes when we were analyzing text it felt like an English class.”

Mark James, associate professor of EIL, said Curtis was invited to come to campus by Professor Neil Anderson last year. “This course is a unique form of applied linguistics where we are taking linguistics and looking at the language of peace. If there was ever going to be a peace and linguistics class, this is the place it would happen. The timing is perfect.”

Curtis said BYUH is the most culturally and linguistically diverse place he’s been to. He said, “This is the first school that focuses so much on peacebuilding; it’s even in the university’s mission statement. The time and place seemed right. There is a lot of conflict in the world, maybe now is the time to be looking at the next stage of peace linguistics.”

James said getting students from different majors in the same room is a strength of the class. He said, “That cross-fertilization is something I was hoping would happen. The way the class is structured, some days the TESOL students would shine and other days the peacebuilding students would shine.”

Kaelei Haws, a senior TESOL major from Arizona, said, “The classes were entertaining. Dr. Curtis was always changing up the medium. He used songs, poems, lectures, and discussions. It was an open-question environment. We always talked about different aspects of linguistics and peace, because peace can relate to everyone. Even if you’re not in this major, you can apply something.”

Gurr said she hopes there is more advertising for the class on campus, “as learning how to create peace on so many levels - inner, interpersonal, intergroup, intercultural, international, and ecological - can benefit anybody in any major, and it goes hand in hand with President McKay’s vision for this university.”

Date Published: 
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, March 22, 2017