English 402, Descriptive English Grammar
or, Everything you wanted to know about the English language, but were afraid to ask . . .
Instructor: Dennis Baron
office: 251 English
phone: 217-305-0067 (messages only)
office hours: Tu Th 1:45 - 2:30 pm and by appointment
class meets Tu Th 2:30 - 3:45 pm; 1020 Lincoln Hall
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, both its words and 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, 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)
Tu Jan 19: Why do you watch Dr. Who, not Dr. Whom, or, What is grammar good for?
Watch: Sherlock Holmes, prescriptive grammarian
And don't forget "Flight of the Conchords":
And this, from "Take the Money and Run":
Read: Singular "they" is word of the year
Th Jan 21: But there have to be rules, right?
What is language? 8 myths about language and linguistics
Read the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Tu Jan 26 What do you know about language?
Speech codes and language bans: are they legal? educational?
Rabid sexism in Oxford Dictionaries?
The NASA plaque.
and this from the Washington Post, on the record placed in Voyager 1 and 2
Here's what NASA has to say about the 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.
Th Jan 28 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 is shocked, shocked to discover
that soldiers swear and use profanity.
Taboo: Watch the swearing scene from The King's Speech
Tu Feb 2: Language and authority -- What is standard English, and who said so?
Read C&A ch. 2
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.
In further correctness news, Weird Al Yankovic (left) edits signs over express lanes in fine grocery stores everywhere, but at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park (right), less is always fewer:
Th Feb 4: Language and authority, continued: the nature of correctness
Slides for chapter 2: Language and authority
Read Grammar sticklers may have OCD
Then read, Why did 20,000 readers misread this?
Then read: Language lessons: It's time for English teachers to stop teaching that the world is flat
Sir Philip Sidney on the Double Negative
John Witherspoon on don't, an't.
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
Tu Feb 9: 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 great variety of sounds, but increases risk of choking: human babies and dogs can swallow food while breathing through their nose; adult humans, whose larynx is descended, can't do this (don't even think about trying this!).
Endoscopic view of the larynx at work:
Watch: X-ray movie of the speech organs:
Th Feb 11: Phonology, continued.
Tu Feb 16: phonology, concluded: phonological rules. That nagging question about spelling
Th Feb 18: FIRST HOURLY
Tu Feb 23: English morphology: forming words from meaning-bearing parts; C&A ch. 4.
Assignment: "New Word Exercise" for Thursday.
Th Feb 25: Morphology, continued
Tu Mar 1: Morphology, concluded
Th Mar 3: English syntax I: the grammar of words put together into utterances. Read C&A ch. 5
The parts of speech (the Greeks 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
A Noun is a Person Place or Thing
But sometimes things get more complicated:
Play the Noun Game to see how a simple grammar lesson leads to a clash of civilizations.
Tu Mar 8: Syntax, Ch. 5, continued.
Acceptable v. grammatical
form v. function
characteristics of nouns, adjectives, and verbs
Th Mar 10: Syntax, ch. 5, continued
verbs and adverbs
the closed classes of words
descriptive syntax v. prescriptive rules
Tu Mar 15: Syntax II, Read C&A ch. 6: phrases, clauses, sentences.
generative and transformational syntax
sentence as a unit of structure
Syntax II powerpoint pdf.
Read "Smarter than you think"
Th Mar 17: Syntax II, continued
Phrase structure rules and tree diagrams
disambiguation and deep structure
tense and aux
Tu Mar 29: Syntax II, continued
Transformations: questions; relative pronoun deletion; active/passive
Th Mar 31: Syntax II, concluded
Tu Apr 5: Prep for Second Hourly
Syntax 1 slides
Syntax 2 slides
Th Apr 7: Second Hourly
Tu Apr 12 No class today
Th Apr 14: Semantics, What does it all mean? Read C&A, ch. 7
Michael Rosen: In grammar, there isn't always one right answer
Sir James A. H. Murray on, "the dictionary says..."
Dr. Johnson's definition of man (1755)
Oxford Blog: A history of the word toilet.
Tu Apr 19: Semantics, concluded
Th Apr 21: How to do things with words: Read C&A ch. 8, Spoken Discourse
A Literal Paradox
When do speech acts count? Watch: Excerpt from Four Weddings and a Funeral
And irregular speech acts occur in real life, not just in movies:
Chief Justice Roberts administers the oath of office to Barack Obama
Read: Chief Justice flubs oath
Speech Analysis Powerpoint
Tu Apr 26: Language variation. The more things change, the more they're different. C&A ch. 11.
Th Apr 28:
African American English:
Read James Baldwin, If Black English isn't a language, then tell me, what is?
Read Baron, Ebonics and the Politics of English
Tu May 3: There oughta be a law: Minority languages in the United States
Official English and the controversy over the Spanish translation of the "Star-Spangled Banner"
Read, Baron, "English spoken here."
The English Language Unity Act (2015 version)
The exam is a take-home, open-book test with three short essays, to be submitted via email attachment. Instructions for submitting your test appear on the exam link.
Click here for the Final Examination