Welcome to the Idiot's Guide to the English Language
otherwise known by its more official title
English 402, Descriptive English Grammar
Instructor: Dennis Baron
office: 251 English
office hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1:00-2:00 pm and by appointment
class meets MW 2:00-3:15 pm; 108 English Building
Read the Web of Language
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 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)
Mon Aug 27: Do you watch Dr. Who or Dr. Whom?, or, What is grammar good for?
Read: What is YOLO? Only teenagers know for sure.
Merriam-Webster list of new words for 2012 includes f-bomb, sexting.
OED list of new words for 2012
Watch: Sherlock Holmes, prescriptive grammarian
Now, pedants have their own version of Twitter:
Read the excerpt from The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
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
Wed Aug 29: 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.
Mon Sep 3: Labor Day -- no class
Wed. Sep 5: What do you know about language?
The NASA plaque.
and this just in, from the Washington Post, on the record placed in Voyager 1 and 2
Here's what NASA has to say about the Golden Record:
Assign: the language of Fug.
Mon Sep 10: The language of Fug. 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
George Washington is shocked, shocked to discover
that soldiers swear and use profanity.
Taboo: Watch the swearing scene from The King's Speech
Wed Sep 12: Language and authority-- What is standard English, and who said so? Read C&A ch. 2
Old Navy offers 30% off this "Lets go Illini" women's t--you only get the apostrophe if you pay full price. The company will replace the defective shirts and offer remaining stock in Old Navy Outlets as factory second's. These t's with typos were "made in USA," not in some 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?
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:
Grammar news for 9/11/12: from Google News
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
Mon Sep 17: Rosh Hashanah -- no class today
Wed Sep 19: 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
Mon Sep 24: phonology, concluded: phonological rules. That nagging question about spelling.
Bonus: Today is National Punctuation Day, to which I say, “!*?#&$@”! This WOL reprise tells why we need to put a stop to it: http://bit.ly/Sipi9j
Wed Sep 26: Yom Kippur -- no class
Mon Oct 1: English morphology.
Forming words from meaning-bearing parts. C&A ch. 4. Do "New Word Exercise" for Wednesday.
Wed Oct 3: How we make words: new words exercise; morphology, concluded.
The class new words list
Mon Oct 8: English syntax: 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.
Wed Oct 10: No class today
Mon Oct 15: Ch. 5, on syntax, concluded
Wed Oct 17: More syntax: C&A ch. 6--phrases, clauses, sentences
Syntax powerpoint pdf.
Read "Smarter than you think"
Mon Oct 22: Syntax, continued
Wed Oct 24: Syntax, concluded
Mon Oct 29: Midterm exam -- in class, room 108, today (see midterm review, here).
Wed Oct 31:Semantics, What does it all mean?
Semantics pdf. C&A ch. 7.
Sir James A. H. Murray on, "the dictionary says..."
Mon Nov 5: Semantics, continued.
Wed Nov 7: How to do things with word: Read C&A ch. 8, Spoken Discourse
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
Mon Nov 12: We have to talk
Scripted and unscripted speech
Wed Nov 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?
Nov 17-25 Fall Break
Mon Nov 26: Language variation. The more things change, the more they're different. C&A ch. 11.
Wed Nov 28:
C&A ch. 12 American Dialects.
Did you ever notice that people in _____ speak differently from us?
American Dialect slides
Mon Dec 3: Variation and American dialects, concluded
Wed Dec 5: African American Vernacular English:
Read James Baldwin, If Black English isn't a language, then tell me, what is?
Read Baron, Ebonics and the Politics of English
Mon Dec 10: There oughta be a law
Official English and the controversy over the Spanish translation of the "Star-Spangled Banner"
Read, Baron, "English spoken here."
Wed Dec 12: 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
Prompt for the FINAL EXAMINATION
Final Exam: Saturday Dec. 15 1:30-4:30 pm Note: the exam is a take home, to be completed over email. Questions will go online after class on Weds, 12/12 and will be removed at 5:00 pm today..
Your final exam essay is due via email at 4:30 pm. Early submissions will be welcome.
Click here for the Final Examination