English 403 Final Examination, Fall 2011

Select one of the following and write a carefully-argued and detailed 1500-word essay which demonstrates your understanding of the history behind and the forces affecting the development of the English language, supporting and illustrating each of your claims with specific examples taken from the textbook, the links on our class website, and our class discussions, making sure to cite your sources. (Actual essay length should be between 1400-2000 words, and it's better to err on the high side than the low.)

Your essay should be narrowly focused, carefully argued, and appropriately detailed, demonstrating your mastery of the reading materials and your attention to and participation in class discussion. You should support each of your claims with specific examples. Your essay should be between 1400 and 2000 words in length. The successful essay will show off how much you know and also demonstrate how well you are able to analyze the course materials, make inferences, and focus your insights to support your thesis.

In other words, you are asked to write a short, critical paper, not simply a report or list of facts (though certainly you must list such facts to support your claims).

Save your essay with this filename:

lastname403final.docx

where lastname is your last name

example: if a student named Rajan were submitting it, the filename would be rajan403final.docx

if you prefer, you may also use the file extensions .doc, .rtf, .txt, and .pdf

don't forget to put your name on the essay, give it an appropriate title, and number the pages.

Email your essay to me when you are done, but in any case no later than 10 pm on Friday, Dec. 9, the time that the final exam would end: debaron@illinois.edu

I look forward to reading your essays. Good luck!


I. English past: Yes, that’s right, that’s English those children are speaking, but they’re not English, they’re American. And now you can speak English too . . .

MuzzySome language change is spontaneous and hard to explain: we can’t know why the Great Vowel Shift took place in Early Modern English, or why some people in northern U.S. cities are raising their short vowels today. But other linguistic changes can be traced, at least in part, to cultural, technological, political and economic factors. Looking at the OED vocabulary timeline below, we can see that there are three “growth” periods in terms of the English vocabulary:

  • in the 12th century, the English vocabulary grew much faster than it had before
  • in the Renaissance, the English vocabulary suddenly inflated again
  • and during the 19th century, the number of English words skyrocketed, growing at a faster rate than ever
  • the low number of recent words is not an indicator that vocabulary growth is slowing down, but simply reflects the fact that it may take over a decade for a new word to be noticed, tracked, and entered into the OED.

We also know that

  • the 18th century saw a move toward standardizing and codifying English
  • the British spent several centuries imposing English on colonies spread over the globe, while importing raw materials and borrowed words from these same colonies
  • during the course of the 20th century, English shifted roles from importer of words to exporter: instead of English-speaking countries forcing their language on the world, more and more non-English-speaking people around the globe began to seek out English, borrowing its words and claiming English as their own.
  • while this may be a natural process of language choice, critics who see English as threatening local languages are likely to accuse English of linguistic imperialism.

The development of English was a response, in part, to shifts in culture, technology, politics, and/or economics. The rise and spread of English prompts the question, "Who owns English?" Braj Kachru has proposed a model of inner, outer, and expanding circles, with language ownership or authority resting in the inner circle. Mario Saraceni rejects that model and suggests that the language has no single owner, but rather that language is always the property of everyone who speaks it, whether as a first or as an acquired language. He goes on to suggest that there is no center to English, and there never was--that English has no ancestral home.

Reviewing and citing the materials and topics discussed above, together with our other readings and our class discussions, write an essay in which you analyze Saraceni's claims in light of the history of English that we have studied. How does Saraceni's radical revisioning of the state of English and its history challenge, enrich, or force us to rethink what we know about the history of the language?

.od timeline

 


II. English present: A Referendum on official, standard English

vento

"Today’s English-only movement attracts two kinds of supporters: idealists who believe that language somehow embeds not just the culture but the very soul of an ethnic group, and which further associates English specifically with democracy. And xenophobes, themselves descended from immigrants, who are convinced that immigration is what’s ruining America, but since it’s rude to attack ethnicity in public, they use language as a more acceptable way to express their bias." [Baron, "Official English from the School House to the White House."]

Joey Venta (pictured left, at the take-out window) owned the popular Philadelphia landmark called Geno's Steaks and claimed to be the inventor of the original Philly cheese steak. Vento was also known for his English-only campaign requiring customers to order their sandwiches in English. But is English really in danger in the U.S., a country so anglophone that language teachers call it "the graveyard of foreign languages"?

In 1918, the Babel Proclamation required that all Iowans use English in schools, in public conversation (even on the phone), and in public worship.

In 1996, Oakland, California, raised a furor when its School Board declared Ebonics to be a language in its own right, separate from English.

Today, the English Language Unity Act, H.R. 997. (a bill to make English the official language of the United States), awaits Congressional action.

And most recently, a group of Filipino nurses filed a suit accusing their hospital of banning them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages while letting other workers speak Spanish and Hindi.

English has always existed in multilingual contexts, both in England, originally, and now, in the United States as well. official englishReviewing and citing the materials and links above, together with our other readings and our class discussions, write an essay tracing the history of multilingualism and multidialectalism in England and later, in the United States. What has been the American response to both phenomena? How has the US dealt with linguistic diversity in the past and how is it responding to continued linguistic diversity today? In light of both our language history and the present situation, is it reasonable to expect that legislation, school practice, and workplace rules can get everyone in the country to speak and write, not just English, but the same variety of English? Or is it possible to view the current state of English vis à vis other language as positive?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



III. English future: The world is very different ever since the robotic uprising of the mid-90s

robotsIt is the future. The distant future. English changed fast during the Renaissance, adding words at a breathtaking pace, in part because the role of English in England had changed dramatically.

In the 19th and 20th-century, English changed rapidly, dizzyingly, yet again, and again this change came about, in part, from changes in the role of English in the world, and in part from the technological revolution that brought us the industrial and the digital ages.

Given what you have learned in this class about the forces that shaped English in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 18th and 19th centuries, and the 20th, and how you see those forces operating today, predict the shape of English and its role one hundred years from now, in the world of the 22nd century. Explain and justify your predictions--giving specific examples from English past and present to explain what English future will look like. Assuming, that is, that the robots haven’t taken over and killed all the humans.

Note: while this essay topic may seem simpler than the others, that simplicity is deceptive. Your essay should develop a strong, cohesive, and well-supported argument connecting past, present, and future, taking into account the important caveat that what happened once won't necessarily happen again, that events have a way of interfering with prediction. As they say in Monty Python, nobody would have predicted the Spanish Inquisition. Similarly, no one could foresee the linguistic impact of inventions, invasions, and changes in political and economic status. In the 22nd century, English could rule the world; it could go the way of Latin; or it could become the sad shell of its former self, relegated once again to a rainy, windswept lands far from the new Asian centers of culture and commerce.