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; 119 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: there will be a midterm quiz and a take-home final exam.
Grading: midterm quiz, 40%; final exam, 50%; 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 Jan 20: 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 Jan 22: But there have to be rules, right?
Read the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Now, pedants have their own version of Twitter:
The State of the Union (SOTU) 2015:
Merriam-Webster list of new words for 2014 includes tweep, hashtag, selfie, and big data.
OED list of new words for 2014 includes: g'day, bitchingly, and un-PC
The Words of the Year for 2014: culture, vape, overshare, photobomb, shirtfront, torture, ♥, polar vortex, and more.
Tu Jan 27 What do you know about language?
What's in a sign? If it's in Welsh, not what you think:
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:
Can you identify this mystery language: The language of Fug.
Th Jan 29 What have you been told about language? How do you know if it’s right?
Read C&A ch. 1.
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 3: 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 5: Language and authority, continued: the nature of correctness
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
Tu Feb 10: Phonology
Read C&A ch. 3 English phonology. How the sounds of English combine to make words.
the anatomy of speech; consonants and vowels.
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 12: Phonology, continued.
Tu Feb 17: phonology, concluded: phonological rules. That nagging question about spelling
Th Feb 19: English morphology: forming words from meaning-bearing parts; C&A ch. 4.
Assignment: "New Word Exercise" for Tuesday.
Tu Feb 24: Morphology, concluded: How we make new words.
Th Feb 26: 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 3: Ch. 5, on syntax, concluded
Th Mar 5: Syntax II: Read C&A ch. 6, on phrases, clauses, and sentences
Tu Mar 10: syntax II, cont'd.
Syntax powerpoint pdf.
Read "Smarter than you think"
Th Mar 12: Syntax continued.
Tu Mar 17: Midterm Exam (see midterm review, here).
Th Mar 19: Syntax II, concluded
Spring break, March 20 - 29
Tu Mar 31: Semantics, What does it all mean?
Read C&A, ch. 7
Sir James A. H. Murray on, "the dictionary says..."
Th Apr 2: Semantics, continued.
Tu Apr 7: 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 Apr 9: We have to talk
Scripted and unscripted speech
Tu Apr 14: Stylistics. C&A ch. 9 Word choice in literature and in life.
BBC News: England's Italian football coach uses only 100 words. How many words do you need?
Th Apr 16: Language variation. The more things change, the more they're different. C&A ch. 11.
Tu Apr 21: American Dialects.Th Apr 23: African American English:
Read C&A 12 Did you ever notice that people in _____ speak differently from us?
American Dialect slides
Read James Baldwin, If Black English isn't a language, then tell me, what is?
Read Baron, Ebonics and the Politics of English
Tu Apr 28:
How a Supreme Court ruling on gun control illuminates the construction of meaning
Read: Baron, Guns and grammar: Parsing the Second Amendment
Slide show: The grammar of the second amendment.
Th Apr 30: 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 (2013 version; watch for a 2015 update)
Tu May 5: Language and the schools
Read Applebee and Langer, A Snapshot of Writing Instruction
Baron, "Language and Education: The More Things Change"
Read: Common Core Language Standards
And once again: Language lessons: It's time for English teachers to stop teaching that the world is flat
Final Exam: due Friday, May 15
Note: the exam is a take-home test with short answers and essays, to be submitted via email attachment. Instructions for submitting your test will appear on the exam link when it goes live.
Questions will go online (see link below) at 5 pm on Weds, May 5, and will be removed at 5 pmon May 15.
Your final exam essay is due via email no later than 11 am on May 14. Early submissions will be welcome.
Click here for the Final Examination