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
office hours: Tu Th 11 am - 12:00 pm, and by appointment
class meets Tu Th 2 - 3:15 pm; 104 English Building
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% (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 Aug 25: Why do you watch Dr. Who, not Dr. Whom, or, What is grammar good for?
Watch: Sherlock Holmes, prescriptive grammarian
And this clip, from "The Book Group":
And don't forget "Flight of the Conchords":
And "The WIre," season 2:
And this, from "Take the Money and Run":
Th Aug 27: But there have to be rules, right?
Read the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Now, pedants have their own version of Twitter:
Oxford Dictionaries (not to be confused with the OED) add 1,000 new words in quarterly update: mkay?
Tu Sep 1 What do you know about language?
Speech codes and language bans: are they legal? educational?
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 Sep 3 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 Sep 8: 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 Sep 10: 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 Sep 15: 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 Sep 17: Phonology, continued.
Tu Sep 22: phonology, concluded: phonological rules. That nagging question about spelling
Th Sep 24: FIRST HOURLY
Tu Sep 29: English morphology: forming words from meaning-bearing parts; C&A ch. 4.
Assignment: "New Word Exercise" for Thursday.
Th Oct 1: Morphology, continued
Tu Oct 6: Morphology, concluded
Th Oct 8: 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 Oct 13: Syntax, Ch. 5, continued.
Acceptable v. grammatical
form v. function
characteristics of nouns, adjectives, and verbs
Th Oct 15: Syntax, ch. 5, continued
verbs and adverbs
the closed classes of words
descriptive syntax v. prescriptive rules
Tu Oct 20: 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 Oct 22: Syntax II, continued
Phrase structure rules and tree diagrams
disambiguation and deep structure
tense and aux
Tu Oct 27: Syntax II, continued
Transformations: questions; relative pronoun deletion; active/passive
Th Oct 29: Syntax II, concluded
Tu Nov 3: Prep for Second Hourly
Syntax 1 slides
Syntax 2 slides
Th Nov 5: Second Hourly
Tu Nov 10: 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)
Th Nov 12: Semantics, concluded
Tu Nov 17: 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
Th Nov 19: Stylistics. C&A ch. 9 Word choice in literature and in life.
Is "Double Falsehood" really a play by Shakespeare?
Tu Dec 1: Language variation. The more things change, the more they're different. C&A ch. 11.
Th Dec 3:
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 Dec 8: 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