Engl 402 Midterm Study Guide

Fall 2012

The midterm will contain essay questions based on the material outlined below. In grading the exam, I will be looking for more than a repetition of the book's definitions and examples or the comments we made in class. The format will be three short essays synthesizing material from the reading and class discussion (25 minutes each.

Good luck.

These questions are drawn chronologically from the chapters in the assigned reading. They are arranged in sections, and you must answer questions from each section. If you can answer them, you will have no trouble crafting the essays on the midterm.

I. General questions about language

  1. We can use language without explicitly understanding its grammar, so what do we gain from studying the structure of the language?
  2. Some people pronounce the word spelled ask as [æsk] while others say [æks]. Discuss the social and linguistic significance of the two pronunciations.
  3. People judge you by the words you use. Explain what this means and give examples.
  4. Language is a system. Explain.
  5. What is the difference between descriptive and prescriptive grammar?
  6. How is human language different from animal communication? Give examples.
  7. Language changes over time. Does that change represent progress or decay? Explain.
  8. We often say, "The dictionary says . . . " or "The dictionary defines x as . . ." But there are more than one dictionary, and they don't always agree. Why do we give such status to "the dictionary"?
  9. Do dictionaries actually make rules about how to use words, or do they simply record the way speakers and writers deploy the words of their language?
  10. What are some of the general characteristics of standard English?
  11. Give an example of a prescriptive grammatical rule. Comment on its appropriateness and its effect.
  12. What are some of the key differences between speech and writing? Be sure to give examples.

II. Phonetics, Phonology, and Morphology

  1. Define the phoneme, giving examples, and explain why it is a useful concept.
  2. What is the difference between a consonant and a vowel? Give examples.
  3. Explaining both stops and voicing, what is the difference between a voiced and a voiceless stop? Give examples.
  4. Vowels are classified according to tongue height and tongue position in the mouth. What is the difference in tongue placement between a high front vowel and a low back vowel. Give an example of each. You may illustrate with a diagram, but be sure to use words to describe it as well.
  5. Explain and give an example of one of the following phonological processes: assimilation, deletion, insertion, metathesis.
  6. Give three reasons why English spelling is so complex and illustrate with examples of each.
  7. Define the morpheme and explain why it is a useful concept.
  8. Discuss the difference between a free and a bound morpheme, giving examples..
  9. What is the difference between an inflectional and a derivational morpheme? Give examples of each.
  10. Discuss two ways of forming new words in English and give an example of each.

III. Syntax (chapter 5)

  1. Why do traditional school definitions of the parts of speech fall short? Give examples where they lack explanatory adequacy.
  2. How can we classify parts of speech according to their form and function?
  3. Lexical categories may be open or closed. Define and give an example of an open and a closed category. Are closed categories totally closed or what?
  4. Speakers of a language know the difference between an utterance that is grammatical and one that is acceptable. Explain what this means, and what it tells us about the nature of language competence?
  5. Some prescriptive rules attempt to sort syntax into approved and stigmatized usages. Sometimes the "stigmatized" usages are actually more common than the preferred forms. How can this be? What does it tell us about the slippage between rules and behavior? Should the grammar of English describe what speakers and writers of the language actually do, or should it push them toward an idealized use of language instead?
  6. How can you tell something is a noun even if you don't know what it means?
  7. How do English nouns form plurals? What about irregular plurals? Zero plurals? Plurals of words borrowed from Latin or Greek?
  8. Verbs in English express person, number, tense, aspect, voice and mood. What do we mean by these categories?
  9. What is transitivity in relation to verbs?
  10. How do we deal with pieces of language that don't fit neatly into categories?
  11. –ing is sometimes inflectional, sometimes derivational; explain.
  12. we can pile noun on noun on noun: English class grammar textbook cover -- are they all nouns? are some of them adjectives? how do you know?
  13. What about words like yes and no: what are they? Sentence adverbs? As in, Yes, we have no bananas.
  14. or are they discourse markers, like um, well? Yes, I see.
  15. what do such challenges tell us about grammar?
  16. what do we mean when we say, "all categories leak"?

IV. Syntax (chapter 6)--the test will cover only the first part of Ch. 6, as specified by the topics below:

  1. What is a generative grammar?
  2. Why is a generative grammar preferable to one that lists all the possible sentences in a language?
  3. Why is the sentence the basic unit of syntactic analysis?
  4. What are language universals? Why do we posit their existence?
  5. What are sentence constituents? Unlike trains, which depend on linear order, sentences depend on word groupings. Explain.
  6. Syntactic theory postulates a universal deep structure that is converted by a series of transformations into a surface structure.
  7. Explain relative, adverbial, and complementizer clauses.
  8. What do we mean when we say a sentence in a language must be both grammatical and acceptable?
  9. Phrase Structure (PS) rules and tree diagrams help us to visualize the basic constituents of all English sentences. Explain how they work.