David Foster Wallace, “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage”
Group Discussion/Reading Comprehension Questions (Part One):
Discourse Communities (p. 13 – 18):
1. What is a ‘Discourse Community’?
2. Wallace states: “The dialect you use depends mostly on what sort of Group your listener
is part of and whether you wish to present yourself as a fellow member of that Group.”
How many dialects would you say you’re fluent in? List a few.
3. How do Wallace’s comments on dialects relate to the Usage Wars?
4. Why does Wallace suggest that kids with ‘perfect’ grammar get picked on? Is this a good
thing? Is it avoidable? How does this compare and/or relate to how ‘slow’ kids are
treated? Justify your responses.
5. What is SWE? Why would a student strive to be fluent in SWE, according to Wallace?
(hint: see p. 15)
6. According to Wallace, what discourse community primarily communicates in SWE, and how does he suggest this relates to social inequities?
Wallace’s ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE in academia, and PCE (p. 16 – 18):
1. How would you describe Wallace’s ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE in
academia? Do you agree with his assertions? Is this an appropriate way to speak to students? Justify your response.
2. How does Wallace justify his ‘spiel to students of color’ regarding SWE? (see also p. 19)
3. What is PCE, and what are Wallace’s attitudes toward ‘prescriptive PCE’? What does
‘prescriptive PCE’ mean?
Who does Wallace suggest PCE serves the interests of? Do you agree with this assertion?
Why or why not?
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