Review for final exam, English 403 Fall 2011


The essays on the final cover four major areas of concern:

• The period of the 16th – 18th centuries, during which English grows into a modern European language.

• The period of the 19th and 20th centuries, during which English goes global.

• Issues of linguistic diversity in England and the U.S., including language laws and linguistic rights.

• Issues of the present and future of English, including the questions of who owns English, and how they are treating their property.

Thank a teacher

You may have seen a version of the bumper sticker shown above. While it was devised as one of many "support our troops" displays, its message, a mixture of support for literacy, linguistic patriotism, and linguistic imperialism, is also a provocative comment on the position of the English language in the modern world. You may find it useful to refer to this display in one of your essays.

  1. Why is variation in language often viewed as dangerous or harmful? Can it ever be viewed as beneficial, a sign of linguistic health?
  2. How do historical events like the Reformation and the age of exploration impact the role of English in England? In the world?
  3. During the EMnE period, English starts to replace Latin as the language of science and scholarship in general. But when a language takes on a new function, it must often be adapted or upgraded to assume its new role. How did the users of English upgrade their language to make it an effective vehicle for conveying the complexities of science, philosophy, and technology? What about the new literary role of English in the period?
  4. The King James translation of the Bible (400 years old in 2011) and the English Book of Common Prayer had an impact not only on the language of religion after the English Reformation, but also on the English language in general. Some have argued they are even more important than Shakespeare in creating modern written English. Discuss the role of Shakespeare and the King James Version--would it be more useful to view modern English as the result of many, many speakers and writers, not just the most well-known ones?
  5. Dr. Johnson wrote in the preface to his 1755 dictionary that language change leads to decline, but he also wrote that such change is inevitable. Is this a true paradox? How do dictionaries contribute to the standardization or stabilization of language? How do they accommodate language change?
  6. What factors contribute to the emergence of English linguistic standards in the Early Modern period? How do dictionaries, grammars, and usage guides exemplify the changing roles of English during the period and the changing attitudes toward correctness and error?
  7. How are correctness rules applied to writing? to speech? If correctness rules change over time, how can we consider language as a stable entity?
  8. What is the connection between the spread of printing in England and the rise of a linguistic standard? Why did it take several centuries for a written standard to emerge? Will the digital revolution affect language standardization in ways similar to that of the print revolution?
  9. Describe the concern for spelling reform, and explain why it is so difficult to impose on the users of a language.
  10. The EmnE period is a time of great linguistic awareness. What did people become aware of? What was going on with the language? What were the major changes to the sound system and the vocabulary during this time?
  11. What happens to the second person pronoun during EmnE? Describe the survival of forms like thou, thee, thy, and thine. Where does the form ’em come from (as in, "Give ’em hell, Harry," the slogan for Harry Truman's presidential campaign)?
  12. Discuss the rise of a prescriptive approach to written language; the codification of English through dictionaries, grammars, and usage guides.
  13. Discuss some of the prescriptive rules that were promulgated, and the rationale behind each.
  14. The prescriptive grammarians often commit the very mistakes they rail against. What does this tell us about language reform?
  15. Noah Webster’s name became synonymous with the dictionary, but during his lifetime his most successful publications were his spelling books. What does that indicate about language attitudes in the United States?
  16. The 19th century also saw English establish footholds around the globe as the British Empire extended its reach beyond the British Isles, the U.S., and Canada. Discuss the role of English as a colonial – and now, a postcolonial – language.
  17. English in America was viewed early on as different from English in England. Why does language in a colony differ from language in the parent country? How did American English remain connected to British English and diverge from it over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries?
  18. It is also frequently observed that there are fewer differences in American English from coast to coast than there are between English villages only 50 miles apart. Why might this be? What forces level language or keep one variety distinct from another?
  19. British standard English is still produced along a London-Oxford-Cambridge axis, while American standard English has no such geographical center. How do these differences impact language in the US and the UK?
  20. The United States and Great Britain have been called two great nations separated by a common language (no one is really sure who, if anyone, actually said this--Oscar Wilde, G. B. Shaw, or Winston Churchill are candidates for the honor). Noah Webster initially argued that American English should be considered a separate language, and he later changed his tune when he saw how well his dictionaries were selling in the mother country. Argue that American and British English are in effect separate languages, or argue that they are separate varieties. In that case, is there such a thing as "English" that encompasses all the varieties of the language, and if so, how would you define it?
  21. Quirk calls standard English the kind that draws the least attention to itself. Why is this definition possibly too narrow? 17th century poets worried that language change would render their work unintelligible to future readers. Why didn't this happen? What forces serve as a brake on change, creating a linguistic continuum from age to age that allows us to understand what earlier writers said? What forces may disrupt that continuum?
  22. Of the 100 most frequently used English words, 98 trace their origins back to Old English. But the majority of the 10,000 most-frequently used words are of Romance origin. What about the history of English accounts for this? One result of all the borrowing in English is that the language as many near-synonyms. This poses a problem for students learning the language, but it's also seen as a factor which enriches the language. Attempts to rid English of its borrowings haven't been particularly successful. Why do nativists want to rid the language of borrowed words? Why don't they succeed?
  23. New words may be the kind of language change that's easiest to spot. Write about one new word and what we know about its history. Describe the changing role of the modal auxiliary verb as an example of ongoing grammatical change in Modern English. As new forms enter English, old ones disappear. But they are harder to trace. Why? Find an archaic word--one that is in the process of disappearing--and discuss the reasons for its loss.
  24. Like any new technology, the digital revolution has brought with it a certain number of new words. But some people predict that it will impact other aspects of English as it reformats the ways in which we communicate. Comment?
  25. Consider the case of y’all (or, as it is sometimes spelled by purists, ya’ll). How has it functioned? Compare it to other second person plurals: youse and you’uns, or yins. Is its role changing now that the informal second person plural seems to be shifting to you guys?
  26. Some scholars associate the rise in the popularity of usage guides with the rise of the middle class in the 19th century. Explain the correlation between language and social class. Every bookstore today has a large section of English usage books, and new publications appear monthly. How can we account for today’s concern for correctness in language?
  27. What is the relationship of the regional varieties of English to the supraregional notion of English as a language of wider communication?
  28. There are 1.5 billion speakers of English around the globe. What is likely to happen to English in the future? Will it continue to spread? Will it break up into a set of new, English-derived languages, the way Latin segued into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian? Explain.
  29. Describe some of the current attempts to render the English language more tolerant, more inclusive, more correct.
  30. Discuss the impact of Spanish on the American Southwest, both in the 19th century and today.
  31. What’s happening to Spanish in the US in general? It’s a highly visible language, since immigration of Spanish speakers continues at a high rate; but there’s significant evidence that even in border areas, Spanish speakers don’t hold on to their Spanish over time – much the same thing happened with earlier immigrants. Explain the forces that lie behind language maintenance and language loss.
  32. The concentration of speakers of Spanish and of Asian languages has prompted a backlash in many states to make English “official.” What does making a language official do to the mix of languages on the ground?
  33. Governments often try to regulate the languages used by citizens. Referring to the Babel Proclamation and "Official English from the school house to the White House," discuss initiatives to ban or to promote the use of certain languages in the US. How successful are they likely to be?
  34. English has always been a majority language in the United States, but the U.S. has always been home to multiple languages. Until the later 20th century, German was the most commonly spoken non-English language. What contributed to the decline of German? What other languages have maintained a presence in the US? What factors affect their success? Their decline? Consider in particular: Native American languages and French.
  35. New immigration patterns have resulted in new language patterns. Describe some of these and discuss their impact on the linguistic make-up of the United States in the past 50 years.
  36. One variety of English that has garnered a lot of attention in the past half-century is called variously African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), African-American Language (AAL), and Ebonics, or Black English. When the Oakland School Board declared Ebonics to be a separate language, there was a strong backlash. Discuss what happened in Oakland and assess the claim that some of today’s linguists advance that the nonstandard varieties of English are diverging rather than converging.
  37. Kachru has described the spread of English around the globe in terms of expanding concentric circles. Svartvik and Leech add to this model a cone-shaped depiction of English with World Standard English at the summit and inner-circle Englishes around the periphery. Saraceni rejects these viiews, arguing instead for a non-centric analysis in which language is the property of all of its speakers, not just those who had it first. What are the rationales for these visions of English? Which model seems most accurate?
  38. French, Spanish, English, and Russian, to name just a few, have been colonial and imperial languages – as have Latin, Arabic, and Swahili. What dynamics support the spread of these languages of wider communicaton? What dynamics undercut that spread?
  39. There will soon be more native speakers of Mandarin Chinese (and possibly of Hindi), than native speakers of English. Will that impact the position of English as the language of world politics and trade? As the language of the World Wide Web?
  40. The controversy over translating the Star-Spangled Banner into Spanish is rooted partly in calls for stricter controls on immigration and partly on a sense that English has become what Nunberg has called a “truth language.” Watch the video “José can you see?” on the web site, and discuss the public reaction in terms of what you have learned about the history of English in England, in the U.S., and in the world.
  41. In what ways do the examples of Latin and Chinese explain the development of English in a global context? In what ways does global English differ from the model of Latin and Chinese?
  42. The future of English: will there be many Englishes or just one? Why is English such a sought-after language around the world? Does its popularity have anything to do with the language itself, with its complex spelling and its dizzying array of synonyms (English grammar, in contrast, is relatively simple), or does that popularity derive not from the language's instrinsic beauty or excellence but from its practical benefits? The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said everything changes. What happens to English when those benefits are gone? If English were to follow the pattern of other major lingua francas, or languages of wider communication (Greek, Latin, Arabic, Swahili, French) and eventually lose its status, what language might take its place? Why?