English 402, Descriptive English Grammar

or, Everything you wanted to know about the English language, but were afraid to ask . . .


Fall 2017

Instructor: Dennis BaronWelcome English Teachers. Can opener, $9.95; may opener, $19.95
office: 251 English
phone: 217-244-0568
email: debaron@illinois.edu
class meets: MW 2-3:15 pm; 1060 Lincoln Hall
office hours: MW 11-12:15 and by appointment

This is a course in English linguistics. We will study the English language: how we use it; how it uses us. We will learn and practice techniques for describing English, its words, sentences, and larger elements of discourse in context. We will look at the social, historical, and political forces that shape language and its use. And we will suggest ways to use what we learn about language both in the classroom and in the professional world.

Class policies --

Attendance: This is a discussion course. Your presence is essential, as is your participation. Excessive absence and poor preparation will affect your final grade.

Assignments: first hourly, 25%; second hourly, 25%; final exam (third hourly), 40%; class participation, 10% (you have to actually talk; attendance is not participation).

Text: Curzan, Anne, and Michael Adams, How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction. 3rd ed., New York: Pearson. (C&A in the syllabus)


Week 1 What is grammar good for?

Mon Aug 28: Why do you watch Dr. Who, not Dr. Whom?

Sherlock Holmes, prescriptive grammarian

Sherlock Holmes

And don't forget "Flight of the Conchords":

And this, from "Take the Money and Run":

Wed Aug 30: But there have to be rules, right?

What is language? 8 myths about language and linguistics

Mansplaining: a new word for an old phenom (Read the comments!)

Read the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Week 2 What do you know about language?

Mon Sep 4: Labor Day -- no class; but there's never a break from grammar.

Wed Sep 6

The NASA plaque. (5 years ago this month the Voyager probes left the solar system; they are now in interstellar space, and they'll be beaming information back to earth for a few more years.)

Read what NASA has to say about the "Golden Record"

Voyager golden record

And here's an update, from the UK, about what message to beam into space today.

Can you identify this mystery language: The Language of FUG

Week 3 In which we begin to look at language as it really is, not as someone thinks it should be . . .

Mon Sep 11 What have you been told about language? How do you know if it’s right? 

Read C&A ch. 1.

Slides for chapter 1: A language like English

Randy Cohen on Axe for ask

"Enough of this [expletive deleted]": cursing in the 21st century

George Washington on profanity

George Washington is shocked, shocked to discover that soldiers swear and use profanity.

Taboo: Watch the swearing scene from The King's Speech (2010, with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush)

From the King's Speech

Wed Sep 13 Language and authority -- What is standard English, and who said so?

Read C&A ch. 2

Lets go Illini Old Navy t-shirt with no apostrophe

Back to school special: In 2011 Old Navy offered 30% off this "Lets go Illini" women's T-shirt -- apparently you only got the apostrophe in "let's go" if you paid full price. The company quickly replaced the defective shirts and offered anything still on the shelves in Old Navy Outlets as factory second's (sic). These t's with typos were "made in USA," not in some non-English-speaking third-world country by child laborers too poor to have apostrophes. To insure quality control, the retailer announced plans to hire unemployed English majors as clothing proofreaders. Or should that be ensure? Hey, it's better than driving a cab.

Is could of a thing? Should you use it?

Ain't is in the dictionary:

ain't in the OED

ain't in the American Heritage Dictionary

ain't in Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary

ain't in Merriam-Webster's online dictionary - usage note

In further correctness news, Weird Al Yankovic (below) edits signs over express lanes in fine grocery stores everywhere, but at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (right), less is always fewer:

Weird Al corrects 10 items or less to 10 items or fewer

Week 4

Mon Sep 18: Language and authority, continued: the nature of correctness

Slides for chapter 2: Language and authority

Read: Language lessons: It's time for English teachers to stop teaching that the world is flat

Playing with correctness: Sir Philip Sidney on the Double Negative

John Witherspoon, who coined 'Americanism' in the 18th century as an insult, doesn't like contractions.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary entry for ain't

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 11e, entry for ain't

American Heritage Dictionary 5e, entry for ain't

XKCD: I could care less

Wed Sep 20: Phonology

Read C&A ch. 3 English phonology. How the sounds of English combine to make words.

Slides for Chapter 3: Phonology

Descent of the larynx: it allows for greater variety of sounds, but also increases the risk of choking: dogs can swallow food while breathing through their nose; so can human babies, because their larynx has not yet descended. But adult humans, whose larynx has descended, can't do this (don't even think about trying !).

Descent of the larynx

Endoscopic view of the larynx at work:

In 1962, Ken Stevens recorded this x-ray video of vowel articulation:

Week 5

Mon Sep 25: Phonology, continued

Wed Sep 27: phonology, concluded: phonological rules. That nagging question about spelling

Reforming the Kazakh alphabet.

Week 6

Mon Oct 2: Review for first hourly

First HOURLY link here: First Hourly

Wed Oct 4: English morphology: forming words from meaning-bearing parts; C&A ch. 4.

Assignment: "New Word Exercise" for Monday.  

Morphology slides

Week 7

Mon Oct 9: Morphology, continued

Wed Oct 11: Morphology, concluded

Your new words click to see a sample of the words you sent in.

Week 8

Mon Oct 16: English syntax I: the grammar of words put together into utterances. (And why I'm not calling them sentences.) Read C&A ch. 5

The parts of speech (the Greeks, who first classified them, called them "pieces of speech").

When is a noun more than the name of a person, place or thing? 

Schoolhouse Rock has one way to view the parts of speech


But sometimes things get more complicated:

Play the Noun Game to see how a simple grammar lesson leads to a clash of civilizations.

Wed Oct 18: Syntax, Ch. 5, continued.

Syntax I slides

Concepts to consider:

Acceptable v. grammatical
form v. function
characteristics of nouns, adjectives, and verbs

Week 9

Mon Oct 23: Syntax, ch. 5, continued

verbs and adverbs

the closed classes of words

descriptive syntax v. prescriptive rules

Wed Oct 25: Syntax II, Read C&A ch. 6: phrases, clauses, sentences.

universal grammar

generative and transformational syntax

sentence as a unit of structure

Crash blossoms

Syntax II (ch. 6) Powerpoint

Read "Smarter than you think"

Week 10

Mon Oct 30: Syntax II, continued

Phrase structure rules and tree diagrams

disambiguation and deep structure

relative clauses

tense and aux

Wed Nov 1: Syntax II, continued

Transformations: questions; relative pronoun deletion; active/passive

Week 11

Mon Nov 6: Syntax II

Wed Nov 8: Review for second hourly

Link to second hourly

Due on Weds, nov. 15, by 5 pm via email

Week 12

Mon Nov 13: Semantics What does it all mean?  Read C&A, ch. 7

Wed Nov 15: Semantics, continued

Nov 20-24 Fall break -- no class

Week 13

Mon Nov 27: No class today

Wed Nov 29: Semantics, concluded

Semantics pdf.

Sir James A. H. Murray on, "the dictionary says..."

Dr. Johnson's definition of man (1755)

rabid feminist writes about sexism in the Oxford Dictionaries

Deborah Cameron on attempts to change the OED definition of 'woman.'

Things change: Oxford Blog history of the word toilet.

Week 14

Mon Dec 4: How to do things with words: Read C&A ch. 8, Spoken Discourse

When do speech acts count? Watch: Rowan Atkinson in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994; with Hugh Grant, John Hannah, David Haig, and Kristin Scott Thomas):

And irregular speech acts occur in real life, not just in movies: The presidential oath of office, 2009 --

Read: Chief Justice flubs oath

Speech analysis powerpoint

Wed Dec 6: African American English

Read: C&A ch. 11

Read James Baldwin, If Black English isn't a language, then tell me, what is?

Read Baron, Ebonics and the Politics of English

Week 15

Mon Dec 11: There oughta be a law: Minority languages in the United States

America's War on Language: the movie

America's war on language: the slides

The Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish? Here's a roundup to the public response:

Wed Dec 13: The English Language Unity Act: HR 997:

a bill to declare English as the official language of the United States, to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States . . .